Coming up with content ideas is hard — just ask anyone with a regular blog cadence to fill. It’s also rewarding, not to mention necessary; your customer knowledge base isn’t going to fill itself. But sometimes, you just can’t get the engine running. So we’ve put together 33 prompts to keep the content ideas flowing when you’re creating content.
If your mind is totally blank and you need a content idea right now, try to…
1. Make a List of Ten
Ten what, exactly? It doesn’t matter so much. It could be ten industry influencers your readers should follow. Or the ten most exciting pieces of industry news from the last month. Or ten things you love about working in your vertical. The point is to get ideas on the page — something you put down is bound to spark an idea, and before you know it, you’re back to creating content. We recommend doing three to four lists in total (although more is great, too!) so that you have a breadth of ideas to choose from.
2. Ask “What Wouldn’t I Do?”
Brand identity is an important consideration when you’re creating content — you want your audience to feel like they know who they’re dealing with. But over time, coloring too inside the lines can leave you at risk of a lack of imagination. It can be refreshing (not to mention attention-grabbing) to do something nobody expects from your brand.
Are you a highly-technical B2B company? Do something fun and inventive. Are you a consumer-favorite brand known for wacky advertisements? Pick a nonprofit close to your heart and sponsor an initiative. The point is to break outside the norms, and in doing so, you’ll spark a flood of creativity that gets you going again.
3. Five Minutes, No Stopping
On your mark, get set, go — set the timer for 5 minutes and write until it dings. It doesn’t matter what you’re putting on the page (“I don’t know what to write about why did I do this stupid exercise” is fine); the point is to start creating. Sometimes, the roadblock to creating content isn’t a lack of ideas, but a reluctance to get started. This exercise is designed to smash that mental block and get your brain moving. After all, how else are you going to make something if you never actually start?
4. Draw Connections
How is “Love, Actually” really about your industry? What 10 “Friends” GIFs describe your vertical perfectly? Mapping cultural touchstones to ideas inside your industry is a fun and easy way to create content that’s sharable, relatable, and easy to promote. As an added bonus, it’s infinitely repeatable. Publishers like BuzzFeed have created an entire industry around the repurposing of familiar content to identify with specific groups. Who says you can’t get in on the fun?
5. Do the Opposite
Sometimes it helps to buck tradition. The web is full of content advocating for something — do optimize your content this way, definitely invest in this vertical, don’t miss out on this new retail item. Why not do the opposite? Tell your audience what they definitely shouldn’t do. It makes for an eye-catching headline and a piece of content that goes against the expected grain, which is never a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with taking a stand.
6. Work Backwards
When you’re creating content, it might be worth it to start at the end.
Think about the reaction you want your audience to have. Brand affinity? Excitement? Nostalgia? Then try and reverse-engineer what prompts those emotions, and how you could insert those elements into your content.
Beginning with the end in mind means you have a clear north star while you’re creating the content, so you’re guaranteed not to waver from your goal.
7. Look Outside Your Vertical
Everybody has something to teach you — and that includes marketers in other fields. Maybe your B2C brand could take a page out of somebody’s niche SaaS playbook, or vice versa. Work in healthcare? See how marketers in the apparel space do things. There’s never any harm in looking further afield for inspiration; you never know if the way they create content across the aisle will strike a chord in you.
8. Explain a Problem
In programming, there’s something known as “rubber-ducking”: when you have a problem with your code you can’t figure out, you explain it to a rubber duck (or any inanimate object that might have trouble following the details of computer programming). Often, in the dumbed-down, super-simple recap, the answer reveals itself.
You can do the same thing when you’re creating content.
Sit down with someone outside your team, or even outside your company, who has no conception of an issue you might write about. Give them the 10,000-foot view of what’s going on, and why it’s important.
Let them ask questions, and act as an informed tour guide. Congratulations: you just created some early-stage content.
9. Update an Old Favorite
We all have standout pieces of content — the high performers that blew our usual numbers out of the water a while back. Sometimes, lightning really can strike twice. Look back at your top performers for the last few years. Can any be updated with a modern twist? Is there sequel potential? Have the trends changed enough to be worth noting? You never know; your past successes might hold the key to future wins.
10. Learn from the Past
What “next big thing” was everybody talking about this time last year? Did it actually happen? Did it fizzle? Is it still the next big thing, but it’ll happen for sure this year? What about the now-dominant shift that nobody expected six months ago?
Retrospectives have a lot of value — try creating content around the history of your vertical, rather than the present or future. What lessons can you draw from the past? How is it being repeated today? There’s plenty to learn from what’s happened already, for you and for your audience.
11. Make What You’d Want to Consume
Above all, this is the golden rule of creating content. If you don’t think your content is interesting, why should your audience? Not only will you get more enjoyment out of creating content you think is interesting; it’ll resonate with users and drive more value for your business, too.
If you’re working on diversifying your content ideas and trying something new, try to..
12. Do “Morning Pages”
This exercise, popular among poets and other creative writers, is pretty simple: right when you wake up, write 3 pages (about 750 words) of stream-of-consciousness thought (if 3 pages is too much, you can just set a timer for 10 minutes).
What comes out of your brain then will be totally unfiltered, raw creative material — you can mine it for all sorts of ideas.
Even if you’re not primed for brand-friendly writing that early in the morning, it’s still a good idea; the creative jolt you get first thing after waking up can keep your inventiveness going later in the day when you’re focused on creating content.
13. Make a Mind Map
This one’s a favorite of designers at brands like Apple and IBM. Start with a core concept — “customer-first” or “brand identity” — in the center of a large sheet of paper. Then branch out into secondary concepts (whatever springs to mind) and create a “map” of ideas related to your central conceit. When it comes time to start creating content, grab three of the outer words — whichever ones jump out at you — and combine them together to create something new. That’s your content.
14. Open Up with Free Association
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say, “blue elephant”? Yeah, you’re not alone. Now do the same thing with your brand name, or a new key business initiative, or a product you’re launching. This is similar to mind mapping, but even more freewheeling — don’t censor yourself and don’t fall into the trap of thinking anything’s a bad idea. Write down all your associative thoughts and take stock of the field. What pops? What would be interesting to your audience? Are you especially curious about or invested in a particular topic? Start drawing mental connections, then pick your strongest idea, and start creating content.
15. Seek Out Inspiration
There’s an endless field of brilliant content influencers out there, from your favorite niche blogs to leading voices like Seth Godin. It never hurts to turn to the greats for ideas on where to go next; sometimes, seeing how your favorite content creators do it gets your own creative juices flowing in unexpected ways.
Keep a file of your favorite pieces of content and add to it continually; though this is a long-term solution, your future self will thank you when it’s content creation time.
16. Meet Your Heroes
Every industry has hotshots. Who are yours? People with huge Twitter followings or massive Instagram brands are often looking for ways to collaborate and promote their own ideas, content, and products — why not give them a hand? Cross-promotion is a tried-and-true strategy, and if you can offer some way to help the influencer, it’s mutually beneficial.
Plus, you get to collaborate with someone you respect, and the result is bound to be a piece of content you can be truly proud of.
17. Get Geeky
Data might seem like a dry, boring thing to structure content around, but it doesn’t have to be. Original research can yield extremely surprising results. At Conductor, we discovered that early-stage content makes customers 131% more likely to buy, and that one piece of research has been yielding dividends and starting conversations ever since. Surprising insights are great for driving engaging and delighting your users — not a bad place to start.
18. Start a Dialogue
It sometimes might not feel like it, but you’re actually not the only one creating content in your industry. Everybody else is putting out blog posts, white papers, infographics, and research, too. Sometimes, it’s really interesting. Find a red-hot piece of content from somebody else — an interesting take on an established issue, a popular graphic, a surprising data point — and respond in your own content, refuting or building on what they found. This gets a conversation going in your industry — one that you’re at the head of.
19. Fill in the Blanks
A good old-fashioned content gap analysis is never a bad idea. Knowing where the gaps are in your content strategy are is crucial to providing a seamless, informative, valuable experience for your audience. And once you’ve found your weak spots, it’s time to get to work shoring them up. Creating content to fill the holes in your customer journey is not only a way to keep yourself busy — it’s a proven method for increasing content ROI.
20. Become an Expert
We all have topics in our industry we just don’t know much about. Sometimes, those blank spots can be sources of discomfort or avoidance, but they don’t have to be. What aspect of your vertical are you just not very clear on?
Pick something that challenges you and takes you outside your intellectual comfort zone, then dive in, becoming a bona fide expert on the topic.
Write up your findings and hit that publish button — that way, others can benefit from what you learned.
21. Help Somebody Else’s Idea Happen
Odds are, you’re not the only content creator in your org. Some of the best ideas for content at Conductor have come from the Sales Team, or Customer Success — great ideas can come from anywhere. Put out an open call to the rest of your company to see who has an idea that might work well as a piece of content, then work with them to make it happen. This takes some of the ideation load off you, while including the rest of your organization in the content creation process. It’s a win-win.
22. Ask a Customer
After all, who is your content for in the first place? Customer surveys and other forms of feedback are invaluable for content creators — you can reach out on twitter, through your customer reps, or send around an incentivized survey to your email base — and should always guide your content creation. You’ve got to know what your customers are looking for in order to create it, so find out what’s on their mind. What are their big strategic focuses? What are they worried about? How do they use your product, and how could they use it better?
You can’t know what you need to create until you know what your customer needs to receive, so don’t hesitate to ask.
If you’re burnt out and reaching the bottom of your content idea bucket, try to…
23. Sleep on It
Sometimes you just need a little distance. Creating content is mentally intensive, sometimes draining work, and you can only burn the midnight oil so often. A good night’s rest can create a little mental break between you and the piece you’re struggling with, so don’t be afraid once in a while to leave it until tomorrow. That’s different from procrastination — banging your head against the wall isn’t a particularly productive way to create content anyway. And who knows; if you keep a notebook by your bedside, the right approach might just strike as you’re dozing off.
24. Go for a Walk
Creative greats from Rousseau to Robert Frost have extolled the virtues of walking as a way to inspire the creative process. Even if you’re not creating content to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, taking a procedural note from the pros is a good idea. Walking fosters creativity and serenity, on cognitive and biological levels we don’t completely understand. Plus, it’s refreshing and good for your health. Your content draft will still be there when you get back.
25. Put on Some Tunes
Light background noise has been proven to increase focus, and many content creators enjoy some backing music for their creation process. If you’ve never tried working to music (or white noise), give it a try. You may enjoy music with or without lyrics, and it may take some time to find the right genre, but it can really smooth out your content workflow.
26. Switch Mediums
It’s easy to stick to what you’re good at — blog posts, product shots, white papers — but it’s also worth branching out from time to time. Plus, it’s fun.
You’re a content creator; stretch your creative muscles by dipping into a medium you’ve never tried.
Wouldn’t it be fun to try your hand at video content, or go beyond short-form blogging into an eBook? When we challenge ourselves, the results can be surprisingly fruitful.
27. Share the Love
Who doesn’t love a good listicle? Pulling together a roundup of the top content in your industry is a great way to add extra value for your audience into a post that’s simple to bring together. Audiences love this sort of content, since they can serve as a touchstone for a host of great experiences. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to build relationships with the creators of the content you feature — never a bad thing.
28. Check Your Backlog
“Hey, whatever happened to that blog post from late last year? You know, the one we were talking about? I know it’s somewhere in my notes…”
Odds are, if you’ve been creating content long enough, you’ve had some great ideas slip through the cracks. Sometimes the calendar just doesn’t fit, or some key stakeholder never gets back to you. Whatever the reason, it’s worth returning to those forgotten gems — after all, you were excited about them for a reason. If you find yourself reaching for content ideas, check back on the ones that never made it past the drawing board. You might just get lucky.
29. Bring in the Cavalry
There’s no shame in a good old-fashioned guest blog. Your industry is full of smart people; why not let one of them take your audience out for a spin? Guest content has a host of benefits — it can give you a much-needed break from creating content as fast as you can; it establishes a relationship with someone in the industry who might be helpful down the line; plus, it creates some great content your audience will be happy to have.
30. Check the SERP
There are lots of brilliant content creators doing amazing work — get ready to be inspired. Tool around on Google for a few keywords you’d like to rank for and get a sense of what’s already performing well. Best-of lists? Interactive tools? Video results? Not only can you tailor the form of the content you’re creating to audience intent, but you might get inspired by what the ranking content is about. Maybe there’s an angle you hadn’t thought of, a trend you hadn’t considered, or, better yet, an approach nobody is taking that you think you can do better. Feeling inspired? Get to creating.
31. Give Yourself Constraints
Working within certain rules and restrictions can get your creativity going in ways you didn’t expect. Like illustrator Phil Hansen, the fine artist who, following nerve damage that induced permanent hand tremors, reinvented his style of painting (see his amazing TED Talk for more). What do you rely on too often when you’re creating content? Take away the thing you think is your strength — then find out what else you’re good at, too.
32. Mix and Match
Write down a list of words that come to mind when you think about your brand. Be as broad and as detailed as possible. Write down products, features, attributes, etc. Then, start shuffling them around in different combinations, producing different value propositions and other angles to highlight. Ask yourself a question like “why do people care about this?” or “what do people use this for?” Use this Tetris approach to creating content to take a new perspective on your brand, and how you can represent it.
33. Scare Yourself
What’s a topic you don’t feel like you can handle — something you’ve maybe tried to grasp before, but it just feels beyond you? Guess what: it’s time to create content around it. Diving into an issue that makes you feel out of your depth isn’t just a good way to expand your expertise in your industry. Odds are, you’ve got customers out there who feel the same way you do. And once your content is filling the gap in their knowledge, you’ll become an indispensable resource.
Ready to take your great content ideas to the planning stage? Check out our guide to content creation to dive into keyword research and beyond!