How many pieces of content does your team push out every week? If you are keeping up with the content-marketing Joneses, you publish an average of 11 piece/posts weekly across platforms and post on your blog a few times a month.
Maintaining that kind of schedule requires some serious creativity and calls for an endless well of ideas. How do you do it?
Brainstorming ideas for writing isn’t new, but we’re willing to bet your team isn’t a fan and that everyone leaves sessions feeling like they accomplished little. However, it can be an effective strategy and (dare we say?) fun. Let’s explore how your team can get the most out of your brainstorming sessions so you have a library of campaigns, concepts, and topics to attract and convert your audience.
The Context for Brainstorming Ideas for Writing
The origins of creative brainstorming date back to 1939, when ad executive Alex F. Osborn developed formal brainstorming techniques after becoming frustrated with his team’s inability to generate innovative ideas. Formal brainstorming arose out of the marketing industry.
The challenges of coming up with content ideas are nothing new.
However, brainstorming, in a less formal sense, has been something humans have done for eons. How else did we become a civilized society? Those of us who are regularly brainstorming writing ideas today can learn from these predecessors.
The Challenges of Content Planning and a Lack of Ideas
Content planning has many challenges. We conducted research to determine what content ops teams struggle with the most. Respondents indicated that “coming up with creative ideas” was a significant issue.
Brainstorming ideas for writing has long been a solution to add an accelerant to a low-burning fire. But is it effective?
Research from the Harvard Business Review challenged Osborn’s belief that it enhances creative performance by up to 50% versus individual ideation. Their findings favor the latter, calling out several factors that lead to unproductive brainstorming sessions:
- Social loafing
- Social anxiety,
- Regression to the mean
- Production blocking
These results may lead you to believe that you should cancel your next brainstorming session and bask in the high fives from your team for doing so while stressing over how to generate new ideas.
The Path to Productive Brainstorming
Don’t click that cancel meeting button just yet. Brainstorming ideas for writing is a valuable exercise when done well.
You don’t need to give up on it, but you do need to pivot. Given that your enterprise content team has lots on their plates, the time you spend brainstorming must create value.
We also must recognize the changes in team dynamics and work-life structure. We’re no longer all in the same room with a whiteboard.
Aligning everyone’s schedule for an in-person brainstorming session was hard enough before remote work became such a big thing. It’s even harder now, requiring you to rethink how to brainstorm content ideas. Check out these tips to steer your team toward a more productive ideation direction.
Structure Your Brainstorm
One of the biggest challenges to overcome when brainstorming ideas for writing is your team — or, more accurately, the natural tendencies of the people on your team. You’re going to have extroverts and introverts.
It’s a personality rainbow, but every color deserves a spot at the table. A structure can help ensure everybody is active and engaged. Without it, it will be a free-for-all that’s unlikely to produce much substance, and the folks with some of the best ideas might sit quietly on the sidelines because they are uncomfortable speaking up.
Structure means rules, and that’s not a bad thing, even in the realm of creativity.
Each person on your team should have a set of responsibilities and a defined deliverable based on their roles. It’s more than just assigning a moderator and a notetaker. Consider assigning team members the following duties (or similar ones) before brainstorming ideas for writing:
- Content writers: Ask this group to offer specific trending topics, new insights on buyer behaviors, and other substantial impacts on the industry and your audience.
- Designers/art directors: Tap these team members to present examples of creative formats they find valuable to the team, including new formats you’re not currently creating, such as different types of videos, interactive content, or other innovations in design.
- SEO specialists: Ask this group to share a report on the current analysis of SEO performance per content analytics and provide insights on trends.
- Strategists: Ask that these team members analyze content performance and reveal what topics and formats have the highest engagement and conversions.
- Product marketers: Require this group to be the stewards of presenting product roadmaps so that new content ideas align with these.
A better-prepared team, looking at facts and metrics, can set the necessary guardrails for more productive sessions brainstorming ideas for writing.
Implement Time Limits
Talkers love to talk, but everyone deserves time to share their observations and metrics. In the first round of “sharing,” let everyone know that they have five minutes to hit the high points. Set a timer, preferably with an unignorable alarm, to ensure those who get caught up in their exciting ideas don’t overlook subtle hints that their time is up.
During subsequent ideation rounds, impose a shorter three-minute time limit. In that time, team members should be able to present the idea, why it matters, and its value to customers.
Use Thought Starters and Categories
Using thought starters and categories invites constraints, which can stimulate creativity when brainstorming ideas for writing. Diversity is great, but topics need to be on point, addressing your audience’s needs and your brand’s solutions.
Thought starters and categories can include:
- Content clusters, which are the existing pillars defined in your content strategy
- Ideas by audience type, whether buyer or industry
- Competitive analysis topics that siege on their vulnerabilities and shortcomings
- Keyword groups important to your company’s SEO
- Funnel stage (top, mid, and bottom)
- Content formats (blogs, videos, infographics, ebooks, whitepapers, case studies, etc.)
By assigning roles, instituting time limits, and spurring ideation with thought starters and categories, you could come away with abundant ideas to load up your content calendar. Divvy’s dynamic calendar helps you plan and track content based on audience, campaign, channel, and any other filter you assign to prevent saturation or gaps.
Separate Idea Generation From Idea Discussion
There are two components to brainstorming ideas for writing: generation and discussion. Even if you assign roles and establish parameters before a meeting, not everyone will be ready.
Without proper research and deeper analysis, ideas will likely be mediocre at best. Thus, it may be a good approach to separate the two facets.
Idea Generation Should Occur on an Individual Basis Before Brainstorming
In addition to assigning responsibilities for the brainstorming session, ask each person to come to the table with at least 10 content or topic ideas. In addition to the ideas themselves, have them support their ideas with a bit of context, including why the topic matters to the audience.
Having ideas coming into the meeting can make brainstorming ideas for writing more efficient. Everybody has the chance to present and consider topics, honing in on the best ones. This exercise might also benefit team members who are reluctant to speak up during an ideation session.
Idea Discussion Includes All Ideas and Opinions
While contributors present ideas, you can have a moderator open the floor for a quick discussion, again setting a time limit and using a timer. Within a few minutes, you can put that topic in a bucket of yes, maybe, or no.
Give equal weight and time to everyone’s ideas. Map all ideas that are a definite yes. Then, ask the team their thoughts on the granular aspects of the content — format, timing, keywords, funnel stage, buyer persona, etc.
Try Brainwriting or a Variation
Brainwriting is a type of brainstorming ideas for writing that involves participants writing down thoughts and then passing them on to others to read before adding to them. Each person starts with a sheet of paper, so there are multiple idea starters to begin with. Once it makes the round, you gather all the notes and brainstorm further to turn these initial kernels into viable topics.
Here’s how brainwriting can help you generate a significantly higher volume of ideas:
- Enables parallel idea generation: Team members generate ideas simultaneously instead of listening to one person at a time. Thus, you’ll have more of these in less time. Idea generation happening in parallel is more efficient than standard brainstorming.
- Fosters private collaboration: Often, the smartest folks at your table aren’t the most outspoken. You can encourage their participation with brainwriting since it allows for private collaboration. Collaborative idea generation that occurs privately becomes public only with group approval, which can combat feelings of fear about sharing ideas.
Distributed or partially remote teams won’t be able to participate in brainstorming ideas for writing using the traditional brainwriting structure, at least not easily. Fortunately, there are more amenable variations.
Asynchronous brainwriting doesn’t require everyone to be in the same place simultaneously. This approach works well if your team members come to the office at least once a week. You still might need that whiteboard.
This method begins with a starter, such as a pillar topic, audience segment, or audience pain point. Post the starter where everyone can see it, set a timeline for completing the brainstorming session, and establish how many ideas team members need to contribute.
Team members can add their ideas to the board throughout the allotted time frame. During an in-person or virtual follow-up meeting, your team can review all the ideas, discuss them, and flesh out topics to schedule, table, or discard. Any topics you table for later need to be stored so your team can easily access them, such as Divvy’s idea Parking Lot.
Brain-netting is an online version of brainwriting, making it easier for distributed teams to participate in brainstorming ideas for writing. It works the same way as asynchronous brainstorming, except that it takes place virtually.
All you need is a system that allows team members to access and share ideas in real-time without waiting for an email or worrying about the most recent version. Fortunately, Divvy integrates with two excellent platforms for collaborative brainstorming: Google Docs and Slack.
The Way To Simplify Brainstorming Ideas for Writing
Brainstorming is an old method in both the human evolution and marketing sense. Its initial use didn’t include data, digitization, or other modern influences.
The brainstorming environment has changed rapidly. However, it can still be fruitful when you establish foundational good practices and exercises!
We know getting everyone on board with brainstorming and crafting good content is tough. To dive deeper into these challenges, check out a few of our other resources and ideas:
- Effective Brainstorming Activities to Build Your Content Calendar
- 8 Templates to Help You Plan Content in 2022
- 5 Ways to Promote Creativity in Content Teams
Divvy’s free meeting agenda template will help keep your brainstorming sessions on track. Our platform will also help you simplify brainstorming ideas for writing with our collaboration tools, idea parking lot, dynamic calendar, and integrations. Request a demo to jumpstart your team’s creative processes!