How to come up with creative content ideas

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We’ve all been there: You read a blog or view a piece of content and just think to yourself, “Man, that’s clever. Where did the author come up with this??”

Well, this is a question that writers deal with on a daily basis. How can you come up with an idea that will set your content apart, grab readers’ attention and garner engagement through the end of the piece?

To be competitive, you must address important and trending topics in a way that’s interesting and answers that all-important question, “So what?”

While there are surely different strokes for different folks, we asked around and did a little research to find out what strategies work well for our own Brafton experts, as well as for content creators at large. Let’s take a peek at where some of the greatest and most creative ideas are born:

Consider your audience

Before you come up with a topic, it’s incredibly important to think about the needs and preferences of your target audience. The readers you’re writing for will likely have specific questions about a certain subject, and pondering these queries ahead of time while aiming to answer them in the content can help you come up with a creative approach that maps to all of these demands.

Asking certain questions can be helpful in getting your creative motor running as you consider your audience. Think about things like:

  • Who, exactly, am I writing for? What types of people are included in my audience, and what kinds of roles do these individuals hold?
  • What is the purpose of my writing for this audience? What message am I looking to convey to them?
  • How will I accomplish sending this message in a way that engages the audience? How can I meet their needs for valuable and entertaining content while still supporting my purpose for writing?

We also recommend thinking about the types of things your audience might do in their free time and incorporating this into the writing to help spur interest.

For example, if your audience is made up of information technology decision-makers, think about the types of leisurely hobbies they might have, the kinds of books or magazines they might read or the movies they’re drawn to. Taking cues from these interests can be a huge help in sparking your creativity.

Go for timely tie-ins

When looking for inspiration, one look at the calendar can sometimes be enough to get the brain cells going. Keep an eye on holidays, annual events and seasonal changes and then plan around them, creating great content that will match your audience’s moods and interests.

Thinking ahead is not only a great way to spark your creative thinking, it also helps you make sure the content is well-thought-out and carefully crafted. Rather than just considering what you’re going to be posting next week, you can toss out ideas for months to come and put them down in a content calendar. This will give stakeholders time to prepare, which will be much appreciated whether you’re going for written or visual content.

A content calendar is best when it’s something you go to often. Hootsuite recommends keeping a close eye on how your scheduled posts perform, then using those insights to tweak the dates, times and contents of your upcoming posts for maximum impact.

Whenever an idea strikes you, put it at an appropriate point in the content calendar, and don’t forget to regularly check on what’s coming down the pipeline. You may discover an idea you sketched out months ago in a fit of inspiration and forgot about. When that happens, you’ll be glad you saved the concept for posterity instead of letting it be forgotten.

Improve upon the competition

Another area that’s ripe for creative content ideas is the competition.

Competitive research is a valuable approach, but it’s important to keep originality in mind. When scoping out the competition, you shouldn’t just look to borrow their ideas but to take them a step further. This improvement upon the original can – and should – lean toward your own organization’s goals and result in content that works well for your audience and furthers your mission.

During competitive research, there’s a few main aspects to consider which can help guide your efforts:

  • What ideas or types of content are trending? If you see several competitors achieving engagement for time-lapse videos, for example, it may be worth creating one of these for your organization.
  • What keywords come up in your research? SEO should always be incorporated, and it ensures that you’re creating content that aligns with what your audience is searching for.
  • Who is following whom on social media? Taking a look at who follows your competitors can provide a creative spark for your ideation. For instance, if your competition is followed by people using certain phrases in their Twitter bios, creating content that appeals to this audience can be advantageous for growing your company’s reach.

Don’t be afraid to take cues from others in your industry, but remember to keep a spirit of one-upmanship: This can take your content to the next level.

Don’t shy away from templates

When it comes to content, the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” surely applies. In other words, if you find a formula, a certain layout for content or a template that works well for your audience, don’t shy away from reusing it.

From a psychological perspective, people like repetition and things that feel familiar, even if they don’t realize it at first. Drew Boyd noted for Psychology Today that many highly successful creatives earned their status through the use of templates – The Beatles did it, author Agatha Christie did it, and there’s surely many more included in these ranks. Boyd calls this Systematic Inventive Thinking, an approach that allows you to repeatedly apply a certain pattern to a product, service or process in a way that regulates thinking without stifling creativity.

Fancy terms aside, it’s important to understand that you can leverage and repurpose a creative idea more than once. If you found success with a certain kind of infographic, for example, don’t assume that lightning won’t strike twice if you use the same approach for a similar topic.

Fit the message to the medium

As a kind of variation on the template concept, you can think about the limitations and norms of your chosen content distribution channel and use those to guide your thinking. Boxing yourself in this way can seem counterintuitive, but it can actually focus your ideas and get you on the path to compelling content creation.

You’ll benefit from having a channel in mind from the start of the content creation process. To give an example of what this looks like, imagine this scenario: You’re making a short piece of video content to explain your offerings to your target audience. By selecting which social media platform will be the primary way to distribute the content, you’ll help yourself imagine the finished clip more clearly.

An ideal length for a promotional YouTube video falls around two minutes, while one-minute videos fare better on Facebook and those designed for Instagram and Twitter should be even shorter. If you think in terms such as “How can I fill two minutes?” rather than a more general “How can I describe this product?” you may find that exciting ideas are much easier to come by.

Selecting a favored social media platform early in the content creation process can also help you perform competitor research, basing your deliverable on similar pieces on that same service. Making certain your storytelling strategy fits the medium is a good way to get started on topic ideation, and improves your chances of ending up with engaging content when it’s done.

A classic: Brainstorming

When all else fails – or even as a starting point – brainstorming can provide the spark that can get you from a blank slate to an original and engaging piece of content. Whether you’re brainstorming by yourself or in a group, remember to keep a sacred space in which no idea is a bad idea – any hesitation or questioning can smother your intuitive creativity.

It can be helpful to bounce ideas off of those without a stake in the project.

Grabbing Jan from accounting can provide the set of fresh eyes you need to see things from an outsider’s perspective, while avoiding being dragged down by your own preconceived sentiments.

 

In addition, be sure to include participants from other departments. A designer, for example, may be able to shape the writer’s idea in a way that will map to a specific visual layout, helping to garner attention while supporting an important message.

Putting it all together

When you set out to create your next piece of compelling content, chances are you’ll use more than one of the methods described above, and that the combination will feel perfectly natural. For instance, you can brainstorm with members of the design team to create an infographic template that can be reused at several key dates on your content calendar. The end result will be not just one deliverable but several, each compelling in its own way.

Audience research, competitor emulation, designing content to suit a particular social media platform — all of these can feed into a fertile creative process, separately or together. And remember, if you get on a roll, you don’t have to use any academic strategy at all. If the ideas are coming naturally, just let them flow — these tactics will be here to help you when you get stuck.

Everyone has their own process when it comes to creative content ideas. How did you come up with your best ideas? Tell us below!

Editor’s note: Updated January 2021.

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