It was probably 4 in the morning, following a wake-up call from our infant son, when the thought occurred to me: The 10-year anniversary of the start of the Great Recession loomed.
As many creatives can commiserate, sometimes content ideas strike at inconvenient and unexpected times. This light bulb turned on when the neighborhood’s lights were off. I pitched the idea the next business day to my employer, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
Interviews with six in-house experts and four outside experts would follow and, months later, we published a recession retrospective with four chapters, a 22-event timeline, audio interviews, and more.
Of course, not all ideas worthy of becoming content find us. Most of the time we must find them. Here are five sources that can inspire ideas during any given year. (You can remember this list by using the acronym IDEAS.)
Broadening the perspective of your content with industry context can lend your experts’ words more credibility and expand the audience for your content. Thus, industry sources are a surefire place to find and expand content ideas:
- Start with a truth your colleagues are witnessing. Then call your industry trade group or other pros in your industry to ask if they see it. Remember, it can make sense to include external voices in your content because an ally in creating a piece is an ally in promoting it.
- Look at something the industry says is happening. You can find these ideas in an industry publication, LinkedIn group, a report from an industry regulator or trade group, etc. Reveal through your content whether your experts see the trend, challenge, or opportunity, too.
Not every organization produces research like the Federal Reserve, but you can dig up data-based ideas using these three options:
- Conduct a survey and report its findings in infographics, articles, etc. Tell the story its data reveal: Thirty percent of business owners say x. The number of brides spending $25,000 or more on weddings is double what it was last year. Get the gist?
- Use others’ data to drum up ideas and round out those ideas with what your experts are seeing. If real estate data from a third-party source show more people are building homes, for example, cite that and then incorporate what your construction experts see customers demanding today that they didn’t a year or five years ago.
- Use informal numbers to reveal early trends. Don’t discount the importance of informal numbers your company alone observes: increased requests for some service, decreased spending on a product, and so on. These can be the genesis of pieces exploring how widespread the changes are and what the changes mean for your industry and its customers.
Sometimes content ideas schedule themselves. If your organization takes tours or hosts events, cover them.
For example, a multimedia story by the Cleveland Fed reveals the details, meetings, and overarching reasons for a tour of eastern Kentucky taken by Federal Reserve officials.
You can treat more routine meetings and business processes as events too. Develop content around your experts demonstrating a process (say, the baking of your best-selling product) or detailing the steps to the foolproof audit, toddler haircut – you name it. Approach coverage of these events the way you would approach a live demo before an audience: Immerse the audience in what happens and any lessons learned.
The benefit to most event-rooted content is the opportunity to show your audience, not tell them, what happened and why it matters. In the next six months, what can you gain access to and show audiences that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience?
As a content marketer, you possess what others may not have – access. Access to your organization’s experts. Access to your organization’s clients. (Here, I call them all associates to make my IDEAS acronym work, but what I really mean is people.) People are and always will be a robust source of content ideas because what they see, hear, and know represents information your audience may want to see, hear, and know.
Interviews with your experts can both bestow content ideas and be content because interviews can be published as Q&As, traditional articles, videos, etc.
Conversations with clients can uncover how they’re solving problems – maybe with your product or service. Your audiences may find the choices your customers make enlightening. Changing customer tastes and budgets are timely and newsworthy content ideas. When you speak one client’s truth, you’re sure to speak another’s, which makes for content ideas that prove especially authentic and relevant.
Last but not least, interviewing your competitors and the other experts who serve your client base can generate worthwhile ideas, too. I always think of the DJ I hired for our wedding. She published interviews with other DJs and wedding experts on her blog, and that convinced me she was willing to go to considerable – and maybe unexpected – lengths to help brides like me pick the right first-dance song or ask the important, yet obscure, questions of wedding vendors. Publishing what others say also conveys a confidence and an altruism about you: “I’m so secure in the value I deliver that I’m telling you what others in my field have to say about this, too.”
Seasonal and cyclical events
As a journalist who doesn’t want to tell the same story others already told, even in a different way, I’m not a fan of evergreen content ideas. I want to produce content reflective of today’s realities that makes people nod their heads while reading it and find immediately useful.
The good news is seasonal ideas can be made relevant and timely year in and year out. Some of my favorites:
- Year in review: As a year ends, what can you say about what’s happened within your industry or company? What’s changed? What’s stayed the same?
- Predictions for new year (or next season): What is likely to happen this year for your customer base, inside your industry, etc., and why does it matter? How can people prepare to meet coming challenges and take advantage of coming opportunities?
- State of your industry or core business: Pick a time of year – perhaps just before a peak business time – that makes sense for publishing.
Watch the business cycle in addition to the calendar. When the economy is down, for example, it’s a fitting time to publish a traveling-on-a-budget series if your audience is people who like to travel. When the economy is up, wealth managers would do well to advise their audiences accordingly.
3 questions to ask before investing in a content idea
No matter where you uncover ideas, be it in bed as a tired new parent or at an event like Content Marketing World, run them through my chicken test. While a journalist, I used to ask those pitching me ideas the following:
- Does our audience care about these chickens?
- Are the chickens crossing the road now or are they about to?
- Why and to whom does it matter that these chickens are crossing the road?
If you find a content idea or one finds you and it’s not relevant to your audiences, it’s not timely, and it doesn’t have a so-what, move on. Competition for your audiences’ time has never been higher. Only the strongest content ideas need apply.
Ask Michelle your own chicken question at Content Marketing World where she’ll present Stop Writing Like a Marketer and Start Writing Like a Journalist. Register today for the Sept. 4-7 event using code BLOG100 to save $100.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute