Posts tagged content marketing
10 Ways to Generate Fresh Content Ideas for Your Brand
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Whether you're a small business owner or the digital marketing lead at a major corporation, at some point you've likely struggled with the 'content conundrum':  

'What do we talk about?'  "What can be said, that hasn't already been said?" "How do we cut through the noise and keep our audience engaged?".  

Good content isn't as enigmatic as we might think, but it does take effort.  And perhaps that's the biggest myth about content leaders - that somehow, they are just uniquely pre-disposed to great ideas.  

As is the case with any creative endeavor, generating new ideas takes deliberate practice and experimentation.  It's a balance between knowing your brand and routinely seeking out new methods, tools and inspiration sources for how to bring it to life.  

Below are a few of my favorite tips and hacks to help you achieve both.

1. Re-connect with your values

When was the last time you read your brand’s mission or vision statements? If done well, they should be a reminder of the aims and values that define your organization which can in turn, serve as a framework for content.

For example, if service is a part of your mission, you could create a content series profiling employees who donate their time to important causes.  Your content should not exist in a vacuum but rather be a natural extension of your brand and all that is associated with it.  This exercise can be particularly useful for those who are struggling with how to create content that is on brand but goes beyond product.

2. Search hashtags on Instagram

To find out what kind of content is resonating with your audience, find and follow hashtags that are popular within your target community.  I typically start by identifying the top influencers in a particular space, and then look at the hashtags they’re using.  Clicking through those tags gives me a snapshot of the most popular content items among the people I most want to matter to.  Use this trending content as a source of inspiration for your own or as a way to identify potential content partners.  And with Instagram’s recent update enabling you to follow hashtags the same way you follow accounts, it’s easier than ever to track what kind of content is resonating in any given community.

3. Check out Answer the Public

Answer the Public is a tool that aggregates search data from Google and Bing to identify key questions being asked around a given subject.  Simply enter your topic or brand, and it spits out a collection of related terms (questions, propositions and comparisons) to help inform how you  should “answer the public” with content.  I don’t often hear it mentioned, but it is truly a gem of a tool.  And it’s FREE.

 
Data visualizations from Answer the Public for the query "content ideas".

Data visualizations from Answer the Public for the query "content ideas".

 

4. Use Pinterest to create a moodboard

If you’ve haven’t yet established a set of standards for visual content, Pinterest can be a great place to start experimenting.  Combine third party images with existing brand assets to find inspiration that is also aligned with your identity.  My mood boards include everything from fonts and textures and photos to book covers, film posters and quotes.  Defining the visual essence of your brand can help focus your ideation process and give your content design teams a set of references from which to execute from.

5. Expand your visual inputs

I’ve been known to check out a pile of coffee table books from my local library at the onset of a content planning exercise.  Last time I was there I ended up with an armful of vintage nautical books for a client whose brand identity was inspired by maritime culture.  The librarian asked, ‘have you thought about Google Images?’  Ha!  Indeed I have – but there’s something about the visceral act of turning from one glossy page to the next that sparks a whole different kind of creativity in me.

We tend to look in the same places for inspiration and then wonder why we can't generate any new ideas.  Try seeking out new channels to get inspired - be it at a library, a museum or from a creative leader outside of your industry.  Challenge yourself to go where you normally wouldn't go, and see if doesn't spark something new.

6. Stalk your followers

Pick 5-10 public social media profiles of fans who are most representative of your customers.  Study their pages, their likes, their interests and the kinds of stories they share.  If they’ve mentioned your product, look closely for any unique insights or applications you might not have considered.  And even if they don’t explicitly mention your brand, this can be a great way to discover other ways to connect to your audience around commonly shared values and interests.

7. Bring in fresh eyes

One of my clients is a family owned chemical manufacturing business that produces consumer and automotive cleaning products.  In one of our early meetings, I was given a tour of the entire facility, including the factory floor. Having never been inside of manufacturing facility before, it was all surprisingly fascinating to me.  From the rhythmic precision of the conveyors to the rainbow stacks of color dyes - I saw endless opportunities for visual content.  Of course to my clients,  it was just another day at the office. 

Sometimes we are so accustomed to our own surroundings (or products) that we lose the ability to see the magic in them.  Introducing  a fresh pair of creative eyes, can help you re-see content opportunities through a brand new lens.

8. Apply the Jobs To Be Done theory

Pioneered by author and Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, JTBD is an innovation theory that examines the problems consumers are trying to solve when they make the decision to purchase or use a product.  An early iteration of this concept is the idea that “people don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”  Jobs theory takes this a step further and asserts that people actually want to hang pictures of their family on the wall. 

If we were apply the Jobs to Be Done Theory to content for said drill maker, we might create a series that highlights creative ways to frame and display your family photos. Try it out by examining why it is your customers hire your products or services and see if it doesn't uncover any new ideas for content.  And for more on how to apply the Jobs to Be Done theory in your organization, I highly recommend Competing Against Luck by the aforementioned Clayton Christensen.

9. Experiment with Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is simply a way to visually organize information and ideas around a particular subject.  It encourages you to collect as many associations as possible, without the restrictions that often come with linear thinking.

Start with your product or perhaps one of your brand values as the central subject.  Identify words or images that you immediately associate with your central subject as “branches”.  Then repeat the process adding “twigs” from those initial branches until you’ve completely exhausted your ideas.  Don’t think too much – the goal is to document the natural associations your brain is making to a particular subject – and not to come up with specific, solutions based on old paradigms.

When you’re done, review your mindmap and see if you can uncover new content themes from the branches, twigs or from reading between the two.

Mind mapping can easily be done with multi color pens and paper.  But if you’re more digitally inclined, check out this list of mind mapping software solutions or these cool, mind-mapping templates from Canva.

 
An example of mind mapping by  Paul Foreman .

An example of mind mapping by Paul Foreman.

 

10.  Know What's Possible

Technology directly informs today's creative process by setting the parameters for what can be achieved.  Knowing what's possible through the myriad of available content creation tools and platforms, can help to both ground and inspire your approach to content ideation.   Stay current on social media channel updates and third party tools so you're not limiting your capacity to be creative by what you believe isn't feasible.

What about you?  Please share your tips for creative content inspo in the comments below!

 

 
5 Awesome Examples of Behind the Scenes Brand Content (That Actually Take You Behind the Scenes.)
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When done well, 'behind the scenes' content offers a unique glimpse into the people, ideas and processes that make an organization tick.  And as the line between brand and culture grows increasingly blurred,  taking audiences "behind the scenes" is proof positive that a business isn’t just preaching values, but actively practicing them.

While many brands share their version of 'behind the scenes' content, for a narrative so entwined with a company’s unique culture, much of the content follows a pretty standardized formula.  Common examples include: generic group photos from the annual company day of service, badly lit shots of leadership speaking from a podium or the ever popular close-up of a half eaten donut platter.

The theme has become so diluted that in most cases, it conveys absolutely nothing about what actually happens behind the scenes.   Instead, “behind the scenes” content is often the default, low-effort means to filling up the company social media feed.  

But like any form of content, "BTS" still requires thought, creativity and intention, particularly when trying to convey something as proprietary as company culture.

Below are 5 examples of brands that have mastered 'behind the scenes' storytelling through their own distinct lens.

1. Zappos

The culture that powers online retailer Zappos, has quite literally been an open book, ever since CEO Tony Hsieh’s bestelling customer service manifesto Delivering Happiness was released 10 years ago. With their aptly titled Beyond the Box, Zappos turns the traditional website 'About' section into a dynamic newsroom of stories centered around the values that made them famous.  

Some highlights include:

The story of an endearing exchange between a Zappo’s CLT (Customer Loyalty Team) member and a caller ordering a new pair of Dansko’s for her nursing job caring for adults with special needs.

 

A post highlighting some of the books in the company’s in-house library, all of which encompass at least one underlying theme of the company’s core values and are free for Zapponians to borrow, and even keep.

A poignant video about an employee’s inspiring determination to live her best life, in spite of cancer.

 

To my favorite, an update on a former Zappo’s CLT member living her dream as a musician, from a series titled “Life After Zappos".

 2. 72 & Sunny
 
Agency content is notoriously unimaginative.  Most will claim it’s because they’re too busy making magic for their clients, but what better opportunity to demonstrate your creative prowess than on your own brand?
 
72 and Sunny does just that, using their one of a kind culture as the basis for beautiful content.

From their IG feed, the L.A. based agency offers a thoughtful glimpse behind the scenes from any of their five locations around the globe.  

 

3. J. Crew

It’s no secret that preppy fashion house J. Crew has struggled in recent years.  But if their social media feeds are any indication, the brand is aiming for a return to basics, taking cues from radically transparent disruptors like Everlane.  In their Behind the Design series, the iconic brand shares behind the scenes peeks into the creative and manufacturing process of some of their most lauded styles.  Each story, available from both their website and Tumblr,  offers a stripped down view of the craftsmanship and raw materials behind the clothes.  

A few highlights include:

A look at their limited edition paint splatter collection, all hand painted in NYC with the help of Parsons School of Design students.

 
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A glimpse into the creative process of their head jewelry designer:

 

And an up close view of the Italian wool maker behind it’s merino sweaters:

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4. General Electric
 
One of the hallmarks of GE’s creative strategy is their distinctive approach to photography.  Through powerful, architectural images of it’s technologies, GE has managed to make art out of industrial machines.  

In their Tumblr hosted From the Factory Floor series, GE gives users an ultra high def view of the parts that power their manufacturing process.   From thermal shields to turbine blades, everyday components come to life as sculptural works of art.

And On YouTube via a series titled In The Wild, GE takes viewers to the places innovation actually happens, from "behind the scenes of some of their leading facilities". Hosted by Adam Savage of Tested and Innovation Nation's Alie Ward, the series demystifies the backend technology helping to power GE’s latest innovations.

5. Adobe

'Behind the scenes' content can also be a powerful recruiting tool.

From it’s Adobe Life platform, the famed software company shares a view of what it’s like to work at Adobe, centered around the perspective of their employees.  They take an editorial approach to outlining employee benefits, like this post on their newly hired Executive Chef or a story about how a young associate was able to purchase her first home with the help of Adobe’s discounted stock purchase plan.

 
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The platform also features a real-time social media feed powered by the #Adobelife hashtag plus employee contributed blog posts, via the 'A Day in the Adobe Life' blog.   All of it is beautifully packaged inside their InDesign publishing software doubling as a brilliant product use case.

 
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5 "Un-Sexy" Brands Who are Winning at Content Marketing
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I often hear from less than sexier brands, that they have nothing to talk about.

That their business doesn’t really lend itself to Social Media or content.  Or that they’ve already said everything that can possibly be said about their product or industry.

But in reality, every business has the capacity to deliver value-driven content.  The myth that content or Social Media is only possible for “certain” brands misunderstands it's actual role.  

Content is about shortening the distance between your brand and your customer.  It’s not about being the slickest, or the sexiest.  Done well it deepens the relationship your audience has to what you do, by inspiring, entertaining or informing.  

To prove it, I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorite examples of content marketing underdogs in action.

IBM: Use New Mediums to Re-Imagine An Established Brand

You might not associate 'Big Blue' with creative inspiration, but then, you probably haven't seen their Tumblr feed.

Known as IBM’blr, the four-year-old channel is a consistent hotbed of original content, from the irreverent to the awe inspiring.  They’ve managed to turn everything from quantum computing to fractal geometry into irresistible bites of visual delight.  True to brand and context, IBM'bler celebrates their culture of innovation in Tumblr’s native language of gifs and snippets.  The channel is not just delightful to look at, it's a brilliant re-imagination of the ideas and people have powered 'Big Blue' for more than a century.

 

Can we teach computers how to smell?Rese...

Can we teach computers how to smell?Researchers from IBM and Rockefeller University are trying to sniff out the answer. Smell may be the least understood of the five senses, so the team trained software to identify scents in order to learn more about how our brains perceive them.

 

Turn Your Community Into Content Collaborators: Grand Central Station

When your brand happens to be a 100-year-old train terminal, maintaining a consistently fresh and inspiring content stream, might seem like a daunting task.  But Grand Central Station has managed to do just that, largely by tapping the photography skills of the entire city of New York.

Using #sharegct, commuters are asked to capture and share their perspective of the nation’s busiest train station in hopes of being featured on the official Grand Central feed.   From an ever growing stream of images (8,000+ and counting), Grand Central curates it's favorites, ensuring the photos that populate it’s feed are as diverse as the photographers behind them.   

 

Twilight views. #sharegct by @easternamigo

A post shared by Grand Central Terminal (@grandcentralnyc) on

 

Show What’s Possible with your Product: Fass Fuel Systems

Fass Fuel Systems is the leading manufacturer of aftermarket diesel lift pumps and fuel/air separation systems.  And while the systems are impressive on their own (to people that are into that stuff), Fass understands that it isn’t just about their products, but what their products make possible.  Fans of the systems don’t just love Fass, they love the diesel trucks, semis and other big boy toys that Fass helps to power.  Fass speaks directly to these passions, tapping into the culture that surrounds their products, and building a powerhouse brand in the process.  From funny memes to raw engine close-ups, content is the medium through which Fass let’s fans know, “we get you”.

 

#fassfriday #fass #fassfuelsystems #madeinamerica #dieseltrucks #diesel

A post shared by FASS Fuel Systems (@fassfuelsystems) on

Become THE Subject Matter Authority: River Pools

You may not have ever heard of River Pools, but among inbound gurus, they are practically content lore.  In just over 15 years they turned a two-man pool installation start-up into the most trafficked swimming pool website in the world – a feat they largely credit to their blog. By putting the customer at the heart of their content strategy, River Pools became the singular, online authority on all things fiberglass pools.  River's content library expertly addresses the questions of pool owners and potential pool buyers alike, through educational blog posts and videos. By providing a specialized service (in the form of free content), directly informed by real customers, they've unleashed their business’ most powerful lead generation tool.

 
 

Provide A Public Service: Alabama Power

Alabama Power is 100-year-old electric and renewable energy company serving the state of Alabama.  With 6% of it’s power provided by water, they have a vested interest in the preservation of Alabama’s lakes and rivers.  They’re using this interest as the framework for a cutting edge content resource dedicated to Alabama's waterways.  APC Shorelines isn’t simply about promoting Alabama Hydro Power, it’s about promoting  and preserving Alabama’s natural water resources.  An educational, tourism & public service, the site (and free mobile app) provides detailed guides for each of Alabama’s 14 water systems, including real-time water elevation reports, weather updates, fishing coordinates and even a list of the species you can expect to catch.  

 
 

 

 

 

  

A Simple Litmus Test for Creating Great Content
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Any good inbound marketer will tell you that buyer personas are the foundation of a successful, long-term content marketing strategy.  Considering the needs of our segment and what stage they are at in the buyers journey helps to ensure we are serving up the right content, to the right audience at the right time.

But just what is the right content?

Sure, there are best practices, expert opinions and user data to steer us towards the answer. And while those inputs all have merit, there is one, simple, reflective question that can immediately clarify just how “right” that content is.

Is this something I would engage with?

The act of considering our brand’s content in the context of our own personal, consumption habits, acts as a kind of instant quality assurance check against the uninspired.

Start by recalling your own daily interactions with content and media.  On any given day, we are inundated with hundreds of messages from a myriad of mediums and sources. From TV to tablets, it’s estimated that the average American spends nearly half of her 24 hours consuming some kind of media.  Now consider this, out of that 10.5 hours, how much time did you spend interacting with content produced by a business or brand?  According to Havas' global Meaningful Brands study that questioned over 330,000 people in 33 countries, 60% of content created by brands is “poor, irrelevant or fails to deliver”.

By evaluating content from a more personalized lens, it forces us to recognize the absurdity of expecting our audiences to actively engage with content, that we, ourselves wouldn’t seek out or share.

If we can be cognizant of the everyday realities that most modern humans face, from the sheer volume of available content, combined with the often randomized nature of what we engage with, not to mention the myriad of other demands and distractions that permeate our day, then perhaps we have a better shot at creating stories that are worth making time for.