Content marketing is one of the most powerful tools in today’s marketing toolkit, but finding ideas for regular, engaging content isn’t always easy.

Fortunately, we've got a selection of easy, practical tips that will help make your search for content ideas much easier.

You'll find them all neatly summarised in the video embedded below, but scroll down for a complete write-up, together with all the slides from the video presentation (and a link to download them all too).

Tip 1: Clarify your objectives

As with everything in marketing, the first thing you want to do when planning content for either social media or broader content marketing is understand your objectives.

Many content marketing efforts fall down simply because they don’t include this step.

Remember: your task as a content marketer is not just to create content for its own sake; but to create content that delivers increased brand value.

And when I say brand value, I mean delivering a tangible difference to the brand’s bottom-line results – not just an improvement in content performance metrics like reach, likes, or followers.

Brand Success vs Content Performance

Tip 2: Identify audience needs and wants

The next step is to understand the kinds of content that your audience will find valuable.

Remember, the purpose of content marketing is to engage people and influence their attitudes and behaviours. It’s very difficult to succeed at that if you’re not offering audiences something that they’re interested in.

This needs to be a balance too, though; there’s no point in you creating content that your audiences love if your efforts don’t then bring value back to your brand as well.

The essence of marketing strategy

Having said that, many marketers put too much emphasis on what they want to say, rather than on what their audiences want.

This slide sums up a simple way to address this: your task isn’t just to deliver content, but to deliver audience contentment.

Content needs to drive contentment

There are many different ways that you can deliver that ‘contentment’, though.

  1. Sometimes, sharing straightforward information is all it takes to add value to your audience. This can be as simple as offering a new fact or a piece of news, such as ‘our sale starts on Thursday’.
     

  2. Entertainment is a popular choice for content marketers, and it can be very effective. However, remember that you need to be clear how your content will build brand value, and not just be likeable. It’s also important to note that entertainment content will compete with everything else that’s designed to entertain people too, so your ‘competitive set’ will include things like Game of Thrones, and not just other brands in your category.
     

  3. Inspiring content is a great way to add audience value, and it’s often quite easy to produce too. Examples include a travel brand sharing a list of things to do on rainy day, or a food brand offering suggestions for new recipes.
     

  4. Education can be some of the most valuable content for both brands and audiences. For example, could you offer your audience tips for solving problems, or getting better at the things they love? Make sure you put the emphasis on helping your audience though, and not just promoting your brand.

Each of those may work for different brands at different times.

Ways to add audience value using content

But how do you know what kind of value your audience is actually looking for?

Identifying what your audience wants

The easiest way to find out is to listen to what they’re talking about.

I find that a quick Instagram search can be a great source of ideas and inspiration.

There’s a simple logic to this, too. If people choose to take time out of their busy lives to snap and hashtag a photo, it’s likely that they care about the subject of that photo – and that means it probably has value for you too.

Best of all, these ideas are free. Simply go to instagram.com or open up the mobile app, and search for a word that’s generic to your category, or that relates to a basic audience need.

For example, here are a few results from a search for #OOTD, a popular hashtag that stands for ‘outfit of the day’. Fashion brands will obviously find plenty of content ideas in here, but so might brands in parallel categories like hairdressing or makeup.

#OOTD

Even generic searches like #coffee can inspire ideas. The images on this slide might inspire easy content ideas for cafes or restaurants, but they could also be helpful for interior design, furniture, or even architecture brands.

#Coffee

It’s not just small brands that can benefit from these simple searches, either.

Starbucks seems to have picked up on their audience’s habit of posting pictures to Instagram of themselves holding out their coffee cups, and a significant proportion of Starbucks’ own content on Instagram now uses this format too.

Starbucks on Instagram

The power of questions

The questions that people ask are another great source of content ideas.

It can be a bit tougher for consumer brands to identify what these questions are, but things like Google’s autocomplete suggestions can offer some interesting and unexpected ideas.

My tip is to add ‘question words’ like what, how, why, where and which to either your brand name or generic category terms to reveal the questions that people enter into Google’s search box.

Identifying valuable questions can be even easier for B2B brands, because people often ask their questions openly on LinkedIn, especially in relevant Groups.

And if you have a search tool on your website, you may find inspiration in the things that people enter there too. You should be able to find details of these searches within your website’s analytics.

If you’d like to dig a bit deeper into audience questions, there are a few free tools that can help.

One of my favourites is AnswerThePublic, which offers particularly rich insights. Simply enter the search term you want to explore in the search box, select your country from the dropdown list, and the site will show potentially hundreds of questions related to that search term that people have entered into Google.

The site only offers results for a few select countries, but even if your country isn’t listed, you’ll still find some excellent ideas in the results for other countries.

AnswerThePublic

If you’d like to try it out for yourself, go to AnswerThePublic.com

Tip 3: Identify common content themes

Another simple way to streamline your content ideation process is to identify common threads across your ideas that you can turn into recurring content themes.

These themes help kickstart idea generation by focusing your thinking. They also help to build consistency into your content marketing activities, which helps to clarify and reinforce your brand proposition.

These are the recurring themes that I use in my own content marketing efforts:

  • Regular data reports, where I share the latest figures for internet, social media and mobile use around the world.

  • Trend and forecast reports, where I offer insights into the evolution of connected consumer behaviour and device usage around the world; and

  • How-to guides – similar to the one you’re watching now – that help people to improve the success and ROI of their digital marketing activities.

Examples of recurring brand themes (content pillars)

Tip 4: Good ideas are flexible

The next tip is to look for ways to bring the same idea to life in different ways and contexts.

For example, could you adapt an idea to work across a variety of different social channels?

Or bring the same idea to life in different ways in order to deliver different levels of complexity?

The excellent John Willshire draws the analogy of a fireworks display here:

  • Some content is like the fireworks themselves: big spectacles that attract attention, but can be expensive to produce, and become a bit overwhelming if there are too many.
     

  • Smaller ideas are more like sparklers: they’re still engaging, but they’re a bit disposable. However, you can come back to them again and again, and they can spark social interactions between people too.
     

  • Lastly, we’ve got the campfire: it’s rarely the highlight of the occasion, but it’s usually the centre of the community. You need to add new logs to the fire every so often to keep it going, but as long as it’s burning, it keeps adding value.

The best brands use a mixture of these different levels of content over time.

Content complexity: fireworks, sparklers and campfires

I recommend breaking up your activities in a ratio of 1 firework to 10 sparklers to 20 new logs on the campfire.

Don’t be afraid to recycle ideas, though. Many people may miss your first version, and as long as you refresh the delivery, a good concept can be engaging across multiple executions.

Tip 5: How often should I post?The last tip for today’s video is to worry less about how often you post.

The algorithms powering social news feeds have changed significantly over the past few years, and the original rationale for posting content every day no longer delivers the benefits it used to.

As a result, brands are better off delivering fewer, bigger, better activities that add active value to their audiences, rather than pumping out mediocre content every day, just to complete a content calendar.

Quality is a better investment that quantity.

When you’re wondering how often to share content, my suggestion is to think about how often you speak with your close friends.

It’s unlikely that you ‘schedule’ a phone call with them every day; instead, you call them whenever you’ve got something interesting or valuable to share.

This should be your approach to sharing content too: you can post as often as you’ve got something meaningful to share with your audiences, but it you don’t have anything new to add today, don’t just post for the sake of it.

Learning more

Hopefully these tips have given you plenty of ideas for your own content, but if you’ve still got any questions, feel free to share them with me on LinkedIn or Twitter – you’ll find me as 'eskimon' on both platforms.

And if you’re looking for more marketing tips – such as which platforms to share your content on – you’ll find loads more useful content and resources our blog.

But that’s all for today – thanks for watching, and I’ll see you on the next episode of Forward Thinking.

Click here to download these slides in SlideShare.

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