Beginning your creative content writing work with full gusto only to find yourself stuck after the first sentence is infuriating, but what’s worse is staring at a blank page for what seems like an eternity, willing good content ideas to appear from somewhere.
Even if you have a designated topic, it can often be seemingly impossible to think of anything worthwhile to say about it.
Sadly, much to everyone’s disappointment, your work isn’t going to write itself. Creating successful creative content is hard work
For people who create content every day, it can be difficult to constantly come up with new ideas. As an SEO, digital PR and content marketing agency, we at Koozai understand this too. Luckily, if you’ve hit that creative wall, there are several techniques you can execute to get those creative juices flowing again.
Below are eight of the Koozai team’s favourite creative problem solving techniques. These don’t just apply to content creation either, they can be used in all aspects of life.
1. Mind Mapping/Brainstorming
One of the timeless classics is mind mapping or brainstorming, which is the little black dress of idea generation; it never goes out of fashion. It almost feels wrong to walk into an agency and not see some form of mind map on a whiteboard somewhere.
The key to mind mapping is to take note of every idea that comes up. Don’t neglect anything, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. Save the critical selection process for later. Generate as many ideas as possible; the more you jot down, the bigger chance of finding that golden ticket idea.
The end result will be much easier to visualise, compared to a static list.
When it comes to a brainstorm – the more brains, the more ideas! But it can be hard to manage larger groups of people without going off-piste and wasting time. This is where the Charette Procedure comes into play as a super-useful way to manage more brains. This approach works by organising your attendees into smaller groups, and then assigning a topic to each of those groups. You can then switch the topics and collate all the ideas at the end. This approach can also help shy members of the group pitch in, as they’re not in a room with 20 (or more) other people.
2. The Checklist
Young children are amazingly creative. Their curiosity, imagination and thirst for knowledge seem boundless. They ask questions about everything because practically everything is new to them. If you’ve ever played the ‘Why?’ game with a kid, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about*. It’s infuriating, yet surprisingly enlightening.
As we get older, we tend to stop asking so many questions. We accept a lot more, because it’s all been explained to us before. Perhaps it’s because of this, that adults are stereotypically perceived as having very little imagination.
Maybe if we asked more questions, our content might be a little bit more imaginative. This is where the checklist technique can help. This is essentially a list of questions that you should ask yourself before beginning your work.
Alex Osborn, who is often coined as the father of brainstorming, established around 75 creative questions to help encourage ideas in his fantastic book, Applied Imagination. It’s well worth a read if you can get hold of it, but to give you a head start, there are six universal questions that can be asked:
Ask yourself these questions (in some form) every time you create content, and chances are you’ll come up with some pretty interesting answers. At the very least it will give you more in-depth information about your initial idea, before establishing if it’s worth using in your content strategy.
This is a simple but effective method to use if you get stuck for ideas and if you are struggling to remember the questions, just repeat the original concept from Rudyard Kipling’s – The Elephant Child:
“I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who”.
3. Six Thinking Hats
(Disclaimer: This is a technique that could prove potentially confusing to all the SEOs out there, as a few may be a bit weary at the prospect of wearing a black hat)
Developed by Edward de Bono in the early 80s, this popular technique is now used by businesses all over the world. They involve putting on a selection of metaphorical hats when it comes to making a decision. Each hat represents a different direction of thinking.
- White Hat – Facts – data and information already known or needed relating to the theme
- Red Hat – Emotions – looks at feelings, initial instinct and intuition
- Black Hat – Judgement, Caution – looks at potential problems and difficulties
- Yellow Hat – Logic – looks at benefits and values
- Green Hat – Creativity – possibilities, new ideas and alternatives
- Blue Hat – Control – looks at managing the process – start with a focus, then detail the next steps, actions and plans
This method can be used in a group or on your own, and you may find yourself ‘wearing’ more than one hat at once (Of course if you’re really bored you could always physically make the hats for instant entertainment!). You can use the hats to take the ego out of the equation. They let you think and decide on topics in a rational yet creative style.
4. Lateral Thinking
Another term coined by Dr. de Bono, involves looking at your situation in a different way. The simplest answer is not always right. We solve most problems in a linear fashion, i.e. if something happens it must have been… because of….
We take a step-by-step approach to finding our answers. De Bono encouraged others to look at their situation differently, to step sideways for a second if you will. This allows people to re-examine their predicament from a much more creative point of view.
Say for example you have a client who sells tractors. If you were thinking in a linear fashion, you may feel the need to create content about how great tractors are because you need to sell tractors. Thinking about things laterally though opens up a world of possibilities. Try looking at the bigger picture.
Tractors are a key component of farming, farming produces food and resources. Farms also house animals. A popular children’s rhyme about farm animals is Old McDonald, you may wonder how that rhyme came to be. Why not create creative content around the origin of that rhyme?
That’s just a (very) basic example, but you can clearly see how lateral thinking can be used to help inspire you.
5. Random Word Generation
I love this technique. Simply pick two random words and try and tie your content to it in the most imaginative way possible. Simple as that.
The real fun part is how you choose to come up with the words. You could use an online generator; you could flick through a dictionary; or you could write words on a bunch of plastic balls, throw them into the air, and then choose the words on the first two balls you catch. Have fun.
6. Word Association
Similar to random word association, this method is a little more on the creative side of the spectrum. However, it does allow you to uncover new connections and insights that you wouldn’t normally think of.
Get started by choosing a word that’s associated with your business. Next, think of as many words associated with the initial word and see if you can make a connection between them that fits in with what your business offers.
It can sometimes be a little tricky to make the connection between the words you’ve selected, but after a few attempts, the ideas should start to flow.
So for example you might have made the connection between technology, to hardware, to Apple (brand), to fruit. These associated words can be the inspiration for potential ideas, so take the time to mind map ideas based on such associated words.
You may reject a high number of ideas with this method, although allowing the brain to think less logically can in contrast produce great results.
7. Picture Association
If you’re truly stuck for ideas, perform an image search on your topic of choice, pick a random photo. Work backwards from the picture, developing a story around how the photo was taken.
As the old adage states: “A picture is worth a thousand words”, so why not use images to your advantage in order to come up with your content ideas?
This is another simple yet effective method that allows you to think more visually and creatively, compared to writing lists. Think about what the images convey and see if you can work these ideas into your content.
For example, if you see a picture of a dog looking up at the night sky, ask yourself what it could be thinking. Is it a stargazing dog? Does that dog secretly long to be an astronaut? Perhaps a story about a space dog would be awesome! In fact, a space dog would make a great mascot for any business so we could look at the best business mascots. So on and so forth.
It might sound different from what you’ve tried before, but it could be the winning ticket to finding that killer content idea.
8. Change Perspective
This can often be hard to do but try putting yourself in other people’s shoes. Sometimes you can get too attached to your own work, I know I always do it. You may be too close to notice that there are faults visible from afar.
Share your ideas with others and get a fresh pair of eyes to look at your work. Encourage constructive criticism, you don’t have to take it all on board, but it may offer up some seriously beneficial observations.
As the world of work changed considerably when Covid19 hit we all had to find additional ways of coming up with creative content ideas and so we’ve popped in a few bonus extras from the team
Get Up and Go Out
People underestimate the value of being bored. If you work around screens all day it can often prove both relaxing and rewarding to just get up and walk about for a bit. Let your mind wander instead of focussing on a task so hard it hurts.
Take a walk around your local green space, indulge yourself in your own personal contemplation montage as you skim rocks across a pond. Let the miracle of nature, and that brief moment of what is hopefully peace and quiet, inspire and energise you.
Similarly, many believe that the practice of meditation, clearing their mind of all thoughts and allowing themselves to be at peace, is a fantastic method to help spur creativity. Although I’ve never personally tried it, I can see how people might find it rewarding.
Reframing works by changing an interpretation in order to see something in a different way or ‘frame’. Whether it’s a behaviour, object, situation, event or anything else you want to focus on, use the below questions to determine new interpretations:
- Meaning: could it mean something entirely different?
- Context: could it be useful somewhere else?
- Humour: is there a funny side?
- Silver lining: are there any opportunities that arise from this problem?
- Different points of view: what does it mean to other people?
Key Dates, Events and Seasonality
List all of the key dates and events throughout the year specific to your industry that are worth creating content around. You may want to start adding these to a calendar, so you can see them at a glance.
Come up with a second list of brainstorming ideas around any products or services that you could push at different times of the year to reflect trends in seasonality.
Once you’re done, it’s worth seeing if you can combine any of the key dates and events with seasonality trends to form the basis of your content ideas.
Creative Content Problems and Solutions
Instead of thinking of new ideas from scratch, use your most valuable business asset to your advantage – your customers.
How do you achieve creative content ideas with the help of your customers? Simple – all you need to do is ask or keep a record of all the problems/questions they’ve had previously regarding your products and services. You can even brainstorm some of these from past experiences or by putting yourself in the customers’ shoes and looking at the potential issues from their perspective.
Once you’re done, aim to offer solutions to each individual problem within the content that you create. One example of this method for a technology company could be as follows:
Problem: Customers don’t know if the company’s software works on their device
Solution: Create an Infographic or blog post that details which software is compatible with which device
Idee Konzept7. The 6-5-3 Method
This concept is built around having six people in a group spending five minutes to come up with three ideas on a piece of paper. However, this can be altered, depending on the number of people in your team and the time you wish to dedicate to your idea creation.
After the time is up, the paper is passed to the person on your right and the process is repeated again in the designated time until the first piece of paper you wrote on comes back to you.
Having to think creatively under pressure is an excellent way to detail all of the initial ideas that come to you, no matter how far-fetched and imaginative they seem. It’s also a great one to do if your team are remote workers – you don’t all need to be in the same room, you can use virtual post-it notes or Slack to ‘pass’ the piece of paper to one another.
When you end up with the same piece of paper, take a look at everyone’s ideas collectively and select the best ones to run with.
Let’s Get Tooled Up
Remember that when it comes to conjuring ideas, you’re limited only by your imagination. Don’t hold back either, even the worst of ideas may have some use. The more ideas you generate, the bigger your chances of finding the right solution.
If your idea pool is somehow still running dry after trying all of these techniques, then there are also plenty of online tools to help inspire you.
Übersuggest shows you the most popular keywords related to your search query, providing fantastic inspiration for topics to cover.
Portent’s Content Idea Generator will generate random titles around your content in order to inspire you. It can generate some pretty out-there ideas as well:
Content Strategy Generator from SEO Gadget is a really invaluable tool to have in your arsenal, as it gives you tons of information related to your relevant keywords.
With these tools, and the above techniques, you should be unstoppable when it comes to coming up with ideas.
If you’re on the opposite side of the spectrum, and you’re struggling to end your article, you could always bow out Sopranos style and just finish the content mid…
Do you use a particular technique to generate content ideas? Are there any of the ideas above that you particularly favour, or any that you hadn’t heard of before? Let me know your thoughts in comments below.
*The Why Game: Begin by asking why something is the way it is, then proceeding to further ask “Why?” after every answer your colleague gives. “Because it is!” is not an acceptable answer, no matter how loud it is screamed at you.