Brainstorming sessions are a critical part of content creation for many teams. This is typically a recurring meeting in which content stakeholders (e.g. managers, writers, strategists and editors) come together to think up ideas for future content. And usually the outcome is a set of ideas based on subjectivity, or what the team liked or disliked.
I’ve joined an innumerable amount of brainstorming sessions in my almost 10-year career. And I’ve learned that while you may possibly leave the session with a ton of new content ideas, those ideas aren’t usually effective.
So let’s start by dissecting the meaning of ‘brainstorming.’
What Brainstorming Means and Why it Doesn’t Work For Your Content
Merriam-Webster defines brainstorming as “a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group.”
There’s one word that sticks out to me like a glaring red flag: spontaneous.
Now, let’s define spontaneous: “Performed or occurring as a result of a sudden inner impulse or inclination and without premeditation or external stimulus.”
Nothing about your content should be spontaneous. Therefore, you should never simply brainstorm content ideas for your business. Instead, the content you create should be strategically planned and aligned with your users’ needs and your business goals.
“The ideas that come out of most brainstorming sessions are usually superficial, trivial and not very original. They are rarely useful.” — A. Harvey Block
To be clear, I’m certainly a proponent for creativity and innovation. Creative and innovative content is not just nice to have, it’s essential in engaging users and standing apart from your competitors. But even then, creativity and innovation should be predicated on something more than an impulse or inclination.
The Missing Element in Your Brainstorming Sessions
So, you might ask, “If I shouldn’t brainstorm content, then how will we decide what content to create?”
And I’d respond, “I’m happy that you asked.” *rubbing my hands together excitedly*
The answer is pretty simple: Rely on the data.
Since the beginning of my marketing career, I’ve always looked to data to drive content decisions. Whether the data was sourced from Google Analytics, an email marketing tool or first-party research (e.g. surveys, user interviews or focus groups), I knew this was the most reliable way to determine what content should be created.
As a bonus, data adds credibility and can help you gain buy-in with the C-suite. Let’s say you need to convince executives to invest into a new content management system or to hire a content strategist, for example. You can’t just present your unsubstantiated ideas or feelings. You have to approach them with unassailable data and insights that justify your recommendations.
How to Transform Content Brainstorming into Strategic Ideation
So, how then, do you move forward from here? Here’s my take.
1. Don’t end the recurring meetings
I still believe holding recurring meetings to outline future content is worthwhile. There’s a lot of value in bringing people together to bounce ideas around.
But instead of coming to the meeting with baseless ideas, prepare ahead with relevant information that could better guide said ideas:
- User personas or customer profiles
- Analytics reports detailing content performance
- Promotional calendar/schedule
- Business strategy
Great content exists where user needs and business goals meet. The first two points will help you come up with ideas that are user-centric. While the last two will help you align your content with broader business objectives and initiatives.
2. Take time to build or refine your content strategy
Your content strategy defines the why and how of your content. It’s your “north star” for all things content. It’s also a great starting point for ideation, as it helps to define essential elements of content creation like:
- Objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs): What are you trying to achieve and how are you measuring progress?
- Target audience/personas: Who are you aiming to reach with your content?
- Style and tone: How can you create content that consistently looks, sounds and feels the same?
- Customer journey: What content is needed to get users from awareness to purchase to advocacy?
Just as important, your content strategy helps guide your content marketing efforts — the what and where of your content. Based on your strategy, you’ll understand what content types work best for your target audience. Like, do your ideal customers prefer audio or video content vs. text?
You’ll also understand which channels are best for sharing content with your ideal customers. For example, are they more likely to hang out on LinkedIn or Instagram?
All of the elements in your content strategy will get you closer to making more informed decisions for future content.
3. Understand that content creation is an iterative process
Even with the necessary data in hand, your content ideas may still miss the mark. But that’s where data plays a major role. If you’re monitoring content performance regularly, you will have a better sense of which topics resonate with your audience — and which ones fall flat.
In Google Analytics, you may look at metrics like bounce rate and average time on page to gauge the quality and engagement of your content. For even deeper insights, you might also use a tool like HotJar that provides heatmaps to help you better understand users’ interest in your content.
As a content strategist, I’ve learned the importance of adaptability. Maybe your content idea wasn’t as successful as you thought it would be. Don’t kick yourself, it’s unavoidable and testing content ideas is actually a useful tactic. The data can give you valuable insights to help you make the necessary adjustments and create better performing content moving forward.
In a future post, I’ll share how you can go from “content brainstorming” to “strategic content ideation” (yes, I made that up). Until then, begin thinking of ways you can make well-informed content decisions that will lead to better outcomes and create a system of ongoing improvement in your content program.
This article first appeared on the Endear Content blog at endearcontent.com/content-brainstorming