How to develop a brainstorming strategy that works so you’re never stuck without topics to write about.
I recently watched a video of a giant sea turtle slogging her way back to the ocean after laying her eggs on the beach. She must’ve weighed at least 1,000 pounds with a gigantic shell as big as a couch weighing down her efforts.
She barely progressed. Her powerful flippers, so sleekly designed to propel her along with ocean currents, were as helpful on the beach as square tires on a racecar. The sand was like gooey tar impeding her every effort.
Trudging forward in only the tiniest of increments, she resolutely plodded on.
She was out of her element and at a great disadvantage. Even though she’d probably made the same trek a hundred times before, hefting her massive body an inch at a time toward the water was a battle she was ill-equipped to win.
“That,” I thought, “is what it’s like trying to come up with new ideas to write about.”
Finding new topics to write about feels like an impossible slog sometimes. When I am struggling with a lack of creativity, I feel like that slow sea turtle on the beach. Disadvantaged. Out of my element. Heavy expectations weighing me down as I make little to no progress even after putting forth my best effort.
We all Feel Like 1,000-lb Sea Turtles Sometimes
I know I’m not alone. Coming up with new ideas to write about can make anybody feel like a 1,000-pound sea turtle mired in the sand.
On the rarest of occasions, ideas arrive spontaneously, wrapped up with a nice, pretty bow and ready to go. Some lucky people easily dream up exciting new topics for blog posts while in the shower or driving along the highway.
This type of “no-strategy” strategy for finding writing ideas might work for the first few weeks after starting a new blog. It might even work for a few months, if you’ve got a broad subject and shower a lot.
But divine inspiration is a fickle friend.
Eventually, without a plan in place, your idea barrel is going to run dry.
Establish an Idea Creation Process
Establishing a creative process for idea generation will help you find interesting, new angles to explore when creating website and marketing content. Following a process allows you to dig deeper and discover what matters most to your customers. Content that reaches these new levels will feel innovative, helpful and valuable to readers.
Making your customers feel something is imperative. Far from the cold, passionless way its name sounds, copywriting is intended to form an emotional connection with readers. The most effective writing builds stable, long-lasting relationships with loyal customers.
Feelings Play a Huge Role in Purchasing Decisions
People like to think they make completely rational decisions based on logic, but emotions are the key drivers in our decision-making processes. Peter Noel Murray, Ph.D. in Psychology Today says, “Emotions are the primary reasons consumers buy products.”
Researchers have found that people view brands as possessing human characteristics and personalities. Murray describes “brand” as the “mental representation of a product or service in a consumer’s mind.” He also points out:
- The Advertising Research Foundation found that “likeability” is the most predictive factor for whether an advertisement increases sales.
- Neuro-imagery shows consumers primarily use personal feelings and experience to evaluate brands rather than information about brand attributes, features and facts.
- Research shows that emotional response to an ad has a much greater influence on buying decisions than the ad’s actual content.
Consumers decide if they like your brand much the same way they decide whether they like their neighbors. Either your brand “clicks” with them … or it doesn’t.
The thing is, consumers can’t click with a sterile website. Murray says, “The richer the emotional content of a brand’s mental representations, the more likely the consumer will be a loyal customer.”
Reaching people on an emotional level helps them like you more. People buy from businesses they like. Pretty simple, right?
What’s not so simple is finding ideas to write about that give you an opportunity to tap into people’s emotional centers.
How do you find topics that pack an emotional wallop?
The idea with brainstorming sessions is to free associate random ideas, words and phrases to find unique angles and connections where otherwise you might not have seen them. Even though the idea is to “freely” associate, brainstorming sessions are often fruitless without establishing a focus before you start.
Find the Questions Your Customers Are Asking
Simply writing about your latest product or service won’t evoke emotions in readers. They care about their own struggles. You have to speak to your customers about their concerns. You have to point out the benefits your business brings to them and how it make their lives better.
Before you begin to brainstorm, zero in on your customers’ pain points, goals, and desires. These are the focal points of your brainstorming session.
The best way to determine these focal points is by evaluating the questions your customers ask. If you’ve already got them outlined on a FAQ’s page on your website, start there.
Any person in your business who talks to customers, whether online or in person, is a conduit for learning your customers’ pain points, anxieties, hopes, and desires.
Ask your sales team what questions they get asked most often. Talk with your receptionist about the questions customers ask and the conversations he or she has with them. Account executives are keenly positioned to provide direct insight into customers’ deepest concerns.
Talk to all of these people in your organization. Have them create a list of customers’ questions. Make it a policy to maintain and update the list on a regular basis. Even if only one customer asks a question a single time, it goes on the list. Chances are if one customer expresses a concern, others are wondering about the same thing.
Brainstorm in a Group Setting
Get your group of customer-facing employees together for a group brainstorming session that focuses on topics surrounding customer questions. Creativity has the potential to expand exponentially in a group. What may seem like inconsequential or unrelated ideas blend with others and grow into genuinely viable topics to explore.
It’s important to foster an environment that is conducive to the creative process. Common issues that prevent a successful collaboration are:
- conforming to group norms
- the conflicting spirit of competition
- differences in communication styles
Here are ways to fight these idea killers:
Focus on Ingenuity
Set the tone early. State that the purpose of the group is to come up with interesting new angles never before considered. Declare that to be successful, it will be downright necessary to come up with what seem like silly, off-the-wall ideas.
Focus on Fun
Tell group members that the whole point of the brainstorming session is to have fun. It’s not a competition. Nobody is getting a raise or a promotion out of it. The more laughter, the better.
Focus on Active Listening
Before you begin this brainstorming session, teach your team to how to actively listen. According to John M. Grohol, PsyD, active listening is about building rapport, understanding and trust.
Active listening requires suspending judgment while people are talking. It requires focusing on what people are saying rather than formulating a response in our heads while others are still talking.
Silence and pauses are not signs of failure in conversations that involve active listening. Rather, they are times of reflection that show people are seriously considering what others are saying. Silence is encouraged for the idea incubation process to flourish.
This creative process also applies to solo-entrepreneurs, writers and business owners who are struggling to come up with ideas on their own. Instead of assistants and account executives on your team, you are partnering with your subconscious and your imagination.
Tell your subconscious mind – the part that sniggers at every idea you throw out there – to take a hike. Invite your imagination to sit at the head of the table. Click To Tweet Suspend your own judgment about the ideas you create.
Focus on fun and the questions your customers ask you. Head over to your competitors’ websites and see what their customers ask them. Use the same process of responding to your customers’ needs to find new ideas to write about.
Float Your Ideas Out to Sea
Focusing on your customers’ questions and brainstorming in a healthy environment opens a treasure trove of unique content ideas. You can repeat the process to get more results. Regularly schedule time to focus on your customers’ needs and questions and brainstorm ideas for creating content that provides solutions.
Keeping the customers’ concerns at the heart of your focus is the link needed to build emotional connections. You’re looking for the moment when a reader thinks, “Wow, thank you!”
When readers are impressed by helpful information you provide, they believe you’ll be able impress them in other ways, too. You’ve got your hook into them and they’re swimming further along in their buying journey.
Speaking of swimming, that mammoth sea turtle eventually made it to the water and swam away. Even when the journey is fraught with difficulties, you’ve still got to get your ideas out there and see if they float. It’s definitely a lot easier and more successful if you’ve got a process in place that fosters creativity and keeps the customer at its focus.