One of the most challenging parts of every content marketer’s job is developing content ideas. Nearly all content teams struggle with ideation—and few have a good process for it.
The default ideation methods—keyword research and competitor analysis—aren’t always enough for months worth of content. Many companies exhaust keyword lists quickly and find the keywords suggested by tools like Ahrefs are repetitive or uninspiring.
Where the magic comes in is having a few reliable methods for ideation, whether that’s regular group brainstorming sessions or standing meetings with the sales team. It’s like any good productivity routine—once you know how you’ll do something, it’s much easier to get it done.
Sales calls are a goldmine of potential content ideas. Watch them, write down pain points you hear, and think of content that solves those problems. Try to watch two to three sales calls at a time and look for common struggles different prospects have.
After reviewing a few sales calls on Superpath, we realized a few potential marketplace clients wanted to outsource thought leadership content. They had a founder or team members with innovative ideas but no time to write. We used this as inspiration for a blog on outsourcing thought leadership and facilitating content from in-house subject matter experts.
If you have a sales team or customer success team, ask them about common issues customers have with the product. Pain points, new features desired, and unexpected use cases can help inspire content ideas too.
Set up a regular meeting to get into the habit of reviewing customer feedback and looking for patterns. The sales team can use your content as supporting materials in sales calls, and you can create a mutually-supportive collaboration.
Many companies struggle to think of topics that their target audience will relate to, especially if their audience includes executives or C-suites who aren’t super active on LinkedIn or Twitter.
If you’re talking to your target audience’s peers (CROs, VP of Sales, etc.) on podcasts, you can use the ideas from episodes to inspire other content.
You may directly quote things said in the podcast and link back to the episode, or take a seed of an idea and expand on it. You can kill two birds with one stone: repurposing the podcast and helping distribute it.
As we mentioned earlier, keyword research is one of the more traditional ideation methods, but you can still get creative with it. Brittany Mendez, CMO of FloridaPanhandle.com, methodically goes through the alphabet for different buzzwords in her industry.
“We start typing in a word, for example, "Destin," and then we go through the alphabet. This would look like typing in "Destin A" and having search results like "Destin Airports" or "Destin Attractions" pop up.”
“Once we have a good set of ideas from Google, we then analyze our competitors by their top pages and top organic ranking words by search volume via Ahrefs,” Brittany says.
Many of these ideas were sourced from experts who replied to our query on Help a B2B Writer, a platform that Superpath recently acquired which connects writers and sources.
Pitch-offs are structured brainstorming meetings that help generate content ideas. The team meets for one hour with a clear agenda but plenty of room for riffing and conversation between the lines.
The schedule allocates 10 minutes of pitching for each of their four content lanes: SEO blog posts (based on keyword research), customer impact stories, gated content, thought leadership, and a catch-all for other ideas. Within every 10-minute segment, each content creator can pitch their ideas for the given content lane.
Each of these could be an individual ideation lane, but combining them keeps things simple.
“People seek to commiserate about and solve their pain points on Quora, Reddit, Hacker News, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and product review sites. These posts can surface new language around industries and products—similar to the process of talking to sales, but by observing attitudes and opinions expressed in the wild,” says Allie Decker, Co-founder and Head of Client Success at Omniscient Digital.
Subreddits in your niche can be a particularly good source of inspiration. To find subreddits, append “Reddit” the next time you Google something, and you’ll find discussions on the topic. For example, if I search “How to make the right hire Reddit,” I see subreddits on startups, engineering, and entrepreneurship.
Communities like the Superpath Slack are a great source of inspiration for new content. We base a lot of articles on popular threads. We’re not guessing what people want to hear about—we see their questions and concerns straight from the source.
Communities for different industries are popping up all the time. For example, Product Marketing Alliance is great for product marketers and Peak Freelance caters to freelance writers. They’re a great way to keep tabs on what people are talking about and crowdsource ideas.
Twitter is a great place to learn about communities in your niche. People often do round-ups of ones they’ve found helpful.
If you’re writing product-led content, use cases make for good topic ideas. You can talk to the customer success team for ideas about how customers use your product.
For example, we created a mini library of tutorials for the AI tool Writer, which came from exploring use cases with Founder May Habib. We also recently published an article showing how to research better with Waldo, a free chrome extension that helps you filter the SERP.
These are practical pieces of content that your audience can bookmark, come back to, and share with their peers.
Content needs to get updated anyways, so keeping an eye out for new content ideas while going through old articles.
“We structured a workflow where our product knowledge team reviews older content that’s ready for a refresh. They almost always find a nugget of information that deserves to be an article on its own (which gets added to our editorial calendar),” says Jon Davis, Content Marketing Manager at Onpay.
Asking your audience what they want to learn is a no-brainer for brands with a social media following. This ideation method works well for podcasts, articles or video-formatted content.
“Every month or so, we send out a poll to our audience on social media asking them to select one plumbing topic they'd like to learn more about in the coming weeks. The topic that gets the most votes is the one we will tackle first, but we also create in-depth articles on the other topics that didn't get as many votes.”
“Asking our audience directly what they'd like us to cover not only generates demand for our content, but also ensures that our content calendar is consistently aligned with our audience's needs,” explains Nathan Sanders, CEO of Plumbing Navigator.
Not all of these ideation methods will work for your business and content strategy, but some will help get the gears turning. Whether you’re a content team of one or managing several dozen contributors, having a backlog of ideas—and a process to get there—will help you get into a solid publishing rhythm.