Do your brainstorming sessions often look like this one illustrated below? I hope not.
Us content marketers generate content ideas around certain products, holidays and major events during the calendar year or even phases of someone’s life (going to college, starting a family or retiring). Everyone’s always trying to come up with the next best thing, but brainstorms must follow a few guidelines to be effective.
The Calm Before the Storm
Here are some key things to consider before an ideation session:
- Understand that brainstorming is about generating as many ideas as possible. Save the analysis and decision-making process about which ideas to pursue for after the brainstorm.
- Clearly define the objective and intended results of the brainstorm to the group.
- Choose a facilitator and a scribe. The facilitator upholds the rules and keeps everyone on task and on time. The scribe records the ideas and disseminates them to the group.
- Explain the rules to everyone. For example, say “Yes, and” instead of “No, but” to make sure no one’s feelings get hurt and all ideas are weighted equally. Another example, don’t bring your smartphones and laptops into the brainstorm.
- Remember: This should be fun.
There is a bevy of brainstorming techniques you can do in person and online. Here’s a small variety that might work for your company or content marketing agency:
Great for: Small groups; People who have a small number of “brainstormers” and small window of time with which to work.
How it Works: Give six people the prompt and a piece of paper. Those six people each generate three ideas within five minutes —the 6-3-5 speedstorm. Then each person passes their three pieces of paper to the right and the second person then builds on the initial person’s ideas for the next five minutes. Continue for four more rounds (for a total of six rounds) until you all have spent 30 minutes fleshing out 18 ideas.
Get more ideas by increasing the number of ideas each person has to generate. For instance, implement the 6-5-5 method (6 people each generate 5 ideas in 5 minutes). That way you can get 30 ideas in 30 minutes! Also, writing down ideas allows everyone to contribute, not just the person who’s very vocal and doesn’t mind sharing ideas openly in verbal brainstorming sessions.
2. Brain Writing
Great for: Small groups; People who need a large quantity of ideas in a short amount of time.
How it Works: To start a session of brain writing, give six people pieces of paper, give them the prompt and ask them to jot down as many ideas on sticky notes as possible within five minutes. Then each person passes his/her ideas to the next person. Within the next five minutes, the next person reads the original suggestions and generates three additional ideas. After six rounds (30 minutes), the group will have generated 108 ideas.
If you have more time, go a step further and read the ideas aloud. Place the sticky notes on a wall or board, and group like ideas together. As a group, try to vote on the top categories or ideas to pursue.
3. Reverse Brainstorming or Reverse Thinking
Great for: Small or large groups; People who find it difficult to create ideas or identify solutions to a problem directly, or people who already have an asset but want to optimize it.
How it Works: Reverse brainstorms find ways to prevent what you are trying to achieve. Then you reverse those actions to actually help you solve the problem. First, identify the problem. Then, reverse the problem. For example, if you’re trying to create an awesome piece of branded content to increase conversions and brand recognition, you might ask: “How can we get 1 million hits on this content?” But rephrase the question to: “How can we make sure no one engages with this content?” If you already have a piece of content and want to optimize it, then ask: “How can I make this asset worse?”
Brainstorm the reverse problem and generate ideas. Don’t reject anything at this stage. Now, reverse those ideas into solutions for the original problem. You might end up with a table like this based on the first example:
|Reverse Brainstorming Ideas||Converted Ideas|
|Discuss a topic that no one cares about.||Choose a hot topic and use a catchy headline.|
|Make it hard to find the products mentioned in the content.||Include hyperlinks to products and a product grid.|
|Use only text.||Include high-resolution, engaging images or graphics.|
|Include language that is hard for people to understand.||Speak human and make it simple to understand.|
|Make it hard for people to share the content via social media.||Add social share buttons to the content.|
4. Content Brainstorming Key
Great for: Small or large groups; Facilitators and brainstorm participants who thrive on structure.
How it Works: The Content Brainstorming Key from HubSpot is a visual used to frame how one thinks. The key is a spreadsheet that defines the topic, the audience, the content structure (i.e. list, how-to, Q&A, etc.) and the content medium or format (i.e. blog post, graphic, video). Using the four criteria, the “brainstormers” write down as many headlines as possible. Then you will have a clear record of the prompt and the content suggestions. Change the criteria to get even more ideas.
5. Focus Group
Great for: Small groups; People looking to target a specific demographic or subset.
How it Works: This may seem like a no-brainer technique, but some companies and agencies sometimes forget that they can find a lot of material within their building. If you have a project in which you’re trying to reach moms, college students or cooking enthusiasts, then ask people who fit those descriptions to convene for ideation. Get people from different departments. Use note cards, sticky notes or white boards to jot down ideas. I’ve been a participant of brainstorms at Pace for simply being a Millennial and for being a person who recently moved. You never know how personal experiences will come in handy.
6. Team Brainstorming
Great for: Large groups; People with competitive spirits or a facilitator with a large number of brainstormers.
How it Works: Break the team into small groups or pairs to meet for a few minutes and generate as many ideas as possible within a certain timeframe. The teams can each have their own dry erase board, poster board or large sheet of paper. The small groups will naturally try to come up with the best ideas or the highest number of ideas. When time is up, each team presents their ideas, also within an allotted timeframe. I’ve participated in this type of brainstorm at Pace. It was fun to try and best the other teams by coming up with the most or the greatest ideas.