March 11, 2024 Content Chat Recap: Cultivating Diverse Inspirations for Content Marketing Ideas

A Content Chat header image featuring an array of flowers behind a text overlay that says today’s topic is how to cultivate diverse inspirations for content marketing ideas with guest Maureen Jann.

“We want different results, we want to get better, and we want to serve the organizations we’re working with better. And the best way to do that is to continue to drive novelty.” — Maureen Jann

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika Heald is joined by Maureen Jann, marketing leader and entrepreneur, to discuss how to cultivate diverse inspirations for content marketing ideas. They explore how marketing teams can generate content ideas, including ways to foster innovative thinking and push the creative bounds for your content and campaigns.

Watch the entire conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below.

Q1: Why should content marketing teams take risks with new or innovative content ideas?

A lot of brand content looks and sounds the same… so it fails to engage its intended audience.  

“Let’s be honest: Boring content is boring, right? We are sick to death of what’s happening out there. If you see one more white paper, are you going to be delighted? No.” — Maureen Jann

“We have to do better. We have to do something different. If we look at the definition of insanity, it’s doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We want different results, we want to get better, and we want to serve the organizations we’re working with better. And the best way to do that is to continue to drive novelty.” — Maureen Jann

Bland content will not drive results for your organization. It just adds to the noise your audience has to sift through. 

“We as consumers are no longer contented with the ‘yes, sure, fine, status quo.’ That doesn’t serve us. It’s not going to get us noticed as content marketers.” — Maureen Jann

“People have this idea that certain things are just good enough for business-related marketing. But people spend three or four hours on their mobile devices every day—that’s where you’re going to hit them. And they’re not going just to be looking at work-related content; they’re going to be looking at whatever is on their phone or tablet. They don’t differentiate anymore, there isn’t that line in the sand between ‘I am looking at my business things’ or ‘I’m looking for things that are just work related.’” — Erika Heald

“Taking [a] risk is really challenging because it puts you in the eyes of your leadership team. But on the other hand, so does winning. So does getting the good business. That also puts you right in front of your customers and actually puts you in front of leadership in a good way, because you’re starting to generate content that’s driving dollar signs.” — Maureen Jann

Most content marketing teams have an opportunity to try new content formats or revisit old formats in new ways. 

“The reality is, there might be formats you’ve tried prior that didn’t work. But the consumers are changing, the market is changing, and the technology is changing. We’re able to do some more interesting things, and it’s time to look at that and reevaluate whether or not it makes sense to do the same things we were doing. It’s time to experiment.” — Maureen Jann

“If you have this opportunity where you can sit and say ‘How can I make myself more remarkable?’ or ‘How can I make my brand more memorable?’ you’re not going to be doing it through white papers.” — Maureen Jann

How can you start? Form a deep understanding of your target audience, and use your content to provide them real value. 

“Frequently, people who are writing the white papers don’t have the background they need or the access to the people they need to talk to [they’d need] to create a white paper that would give the ‘wow.’” — Erika Heald

“If you have a research-oriented audience, you might be able to get away with a white paper, but you better make sure that white paper doesn’t suck and it’s well researched.” — Maureen Jann

“[It has to be] full of real insights and things that are going to make somebody’s life better. They can’t just be a regurgitation of the same uncited statistics that everybody’s been using all over the place and a not a so thinly veiled pitch for your product.” — Erika Heald

“If you are not seriously steeped in that customer perspective, you are legitimately wasting your time and energy and money. And we can’t afford that.” — Maureen Jann

Q2: How can content marketing teams tap into their customer or community insights to inform content ideas?

Talk to your customers directly. Or watch recordings of their conversations with your sales team.  

“The least complicated answer is: go talk to them. If you cannot sit down and actually talk to your customers, have your sales team record their conversations and listen to them. Understand what’s happening in their world and in their market.” — Maureen Jann

Some organizations restrict access to customers, which is a mistake. 

“I remember working in places where I was never allowed to talk to a customer.” — Erika Heald

“We’re not wild animals. We promise we won’t actually insult your customers just by talking to them. Please know that we respect your customers, and we’ll listen to you if you have boundaries with them.” — Maureen Jann

Social media polls or quizzes can get you helpful insights. 

“LinkedIn [or social media] polls are a great way to do it. If you want to try some original research, anecdotal or more casual polls are completely valuable and can be used to take the pulse of what’s going on in your market. I wouldn’t cite them with scientific citations, but I would certainly use them as a way to have a conversation or start a conversation around a particular topic.” — Maureen Jann

“I use quizzes as a way to get deeper insights, but quizzes are a little trickier. You have to make it worth their while to actually take it.” — Maureen Jann

As well as interactive content. 

“Interactive content. There are some technologies (like Uberflip) out there where if you have a PDF—which could be seemingly boring on the surface—you can interact with the content. What a great opportunity for you to actually learn from your customer behavior and use that as a starting point for those additional conversations.” — Maureen Jann

Surveys are a great opportunity to learn where your community gets their information and who they trust. 

“I’m a huge fan of doing community or membership surveys and readership surveys where you ask where people are getting their information and who they trust and whose opinion matters to them. Once you know all of that, you’re going to make better decisions about your own content marketing.” — Erika Heald

“If you have an executive team who doesn’t want to ask those kinds of questions to your customers, you really need to have a conversation about what they’re trying to do with their content marketing. Because if it’s not putting the customers and their needs at the core, then they may be asking you to do marketing content, not content marketing.” — Erika Heald

Q3: What tools can help content marketers source new content ideas?

Invest in data and SEO tools to understand what topics your audience searches for. This includes searches they make on your website. 

“Data tools like SEO tools. Understanding what people are searching for. Building out strategies that surround both a keyword perspective as well as the topic cluster perspective. Understand the very analytical side of things and make sure it’s grounded in strong analytics and intersect that with something fun.” — Maureen Jann

“You can also find really good ideas by looking at the search terms people use on your website. That is too infrequently mined for content ideas. That tells you right there that those are things you should consider doing. And sometimes they’re quite creative.” — Erika Heald

Include open comment boxes in your customer communications, like a post-purchase survey, to solicit their feedback. 

“If you have a post-purchase survey with an open content box, that also has some really juicy opportunities. I’m working with a client now who, after you take a course, they have a survey, and the comments on there are pure gold, so useful. And not only from a customer testimonials perspective, but learning where people’s frustrations lie and where their questions still are after consuming the product.” — Maureen Jann

“So often you’ll find leaders are reluctant to have open comment fields, because ‘we won’t get quantitative results.’ That’s the entire point of having a textbox: to get something with the quality that isn’t just validation of what we think or the options we think. It’s giving people a chance to let their voice be heard. And you learn so much by giving people that opportunity to talk to you.” — Erika Heald

Combine your content topics with things that people foundationally enjoy. 

“The real innovation is the intersection between things that don’t necessarily feel like they go together. It’s when you combine unexpected things, concepts, ideas, or data and intersect them in a way that creates value for a user. Sometimes, that value looks like entertainment. Sometimes that value looks like questions answered in a novel way.” — Maureen Jann

“Generate some ideas that are absolute nonsense, silly, fun, or interesting. What do people foundationally enjoy? Almost everybody likes to color. What happens if you intersect coloring with your SEO terms? What happens if you talk about people’s favorite food with SEO terms?” — Maureen Jann

“Take your SEO terms and your silly idea and your big market trend and put it into ChatGPT and see what it comes up with.” — Maureen Jann

Continually try new ideas and measure your results to refine your approach. 

“We are going to foundationally struggle with trying new things as long as our leadership is deeply risk averse. The best thing we can do is try new things in order to see what works and what creates better results. A lot of that creativity is stymied by fear. If you are not trying new things, you’re falling behind. It’s important to do a 60/40 perspective or a 75/25. You want to make sure that you continue to grow and change and experiment, because you don’t want to fall into that rut purely because your leadership is avoidant to put a context box on a post-purchase survey.” — Maureen Jann

Q4: What is your process for putting together a content calendar?

Create a spreadsheet to track your content ideas. List your personas and key value propositions in the sheet. 

“I do a lot of spreadsheet work, even though it doesn’t feel very creative. Having that kind of structure really helps me build in creative processes within the boundaries of what’s important. We add the personas across the top and the key people and the key value propositions along the bottom. Then we add this idea for this persona, and this idea for this persona, and that process. But it can’t stop there, because then you’re just creating SEO content, or you’re just creating content.” — Maureen Jann

Ask how you can approach each content idea in a funny, sympathetic, smart, or innovative way. 

“The real magic comes in when you really understand your audience. I think the real mark of understanding your audience is when you know what they think is funny. It’s a subtle nuance. And if you really get your people, you can be funny. To be able to understand your customers well enough to understand what they find humorous is where you can really get into the hearts and minds of customers through content.” — Maureen Jann

“I use spreadsheets to create structure and then apply ‘what does it look like if it’s funny, sympathetic, smart, or clever.’ You can try a different variety of approaches and then ask how that would be delivered in a way that would be received well.” — Maureen Jann

“It’s about getting out of what is already acceptable and getting into silly. Get into unexpected. Get into surprising. Ask yourself what this campaign could look like if it is surprising. What would it look like if you appeal to their humor or their heart?” — Maureen Jann

“How do you create genuine human connection through your marketing? It’s not going to be through a generic whitepaper. That’s now how you’re going to connect with people. It’s not how you’re going to build community. It’s not how you’re going to build loyalty.” — Maureen Jann

Maureen’s team created two surveys that are great examples for you to draw inspiration from: What Kind of Marketer Are You? and How Burned Out Are You? 

“We took this serious topic about burnout on a scale of how you’re doing as marketers. And we found that like over 60% were so burned out they could barely breathe. And we intersected that with some humor and some lightness and generated an interactive ebook that allowed us to show everybody that they’re not alone and the best thing you can do is leverage your resources. And we were a resource. And then we took that foundational concept and turned it into a Content Marketing World talk. And we were able to actually interact with a bunch of burned-out marketers.” — Maureen Jann

Q5: What content formats do you think more teams should explore?

Don’t be afraid to try “old” content formats again, or to combine multiple formats in one asset. 

“Newer content types are just a combination of old content types in new formats. If you’re looking at online interactive ebooks, where you are able to provide multimedia like a video and tiny polls within the context of a larger story, that’s a great way to go with an easy click-and-go download that you can use as a proof point for another conversation that you’re having.” — Maureen Jann

Video is still an opportunity for many teams. 

“Video. I know that we’ve been talking about this for years and years and years, but people are still struggling with producing videos.” — Maureen Jann

Case studies are often too self-promotional. Write case studies from your customer’s perspective, using their actual words. 

“Case studies that are actually from the customer’s point of view. I’ve written several hundred case studies, and it’s always like I said something magical or handed somebody a pot of gold at a rainbow when I give them a draft of a case study that is the customer telling their story. It’s about the customer’s journey, and it’s in their own words. It’s not me, the writer, summarizing everything that the customer said. It is literally the story from the customer’s words, because wouldn’t that make you so much more likely to invest your money in a solution, especially on the B2B side, when you hear from a customer what their real experience was like, versus hearing a marketer using the marketing brand messaging to explain how you were so great?” — Erika Heald

Again: Rely on your customer intelligence to make smart bets with your content topics and formats. 

“You have to really understand how your customers are interacting with your content so that you can provide them with both the method of delivery as well as the content that’s going to vibe with them the best.” — Maureen Jann

Whatever you try, give it your all. Invest in the content to give it a legitimate chance to succeed. 

“As a B2B person, I know that we struggle with trying new formats. The idea of starting a TikTok for a corporate company, if you do it badly, it sucks. And if you do it really well, it’s magic. And there’s not a lot of middle ground there. You have to commit, and you have to invest, and you have to experiment. That goes for video or interactive PDFs or quizzes.” — Maureen Jann

Q6: What advice can you share for content marketers who are struggling to generate unique or innovative ideas?

Build a safe space for your team to be vulnerable and bring new content ideas to the table. 

“Fostering creative teams is all about building space for vulnerability for your team members. It’s creating a safe space, not just in your idea sessions. That vulnerability needs to start with the minute that you start working with them and show them that you’re on their team. And if you’re working with clients or customers, that you have their back, and you’re there for them. You really have to remove blockers to build out that sort of collaboration and vulnerability.” — Maureen Jann

“The hard part is that creativity is risky. Creativity is where you’re being vulnerable. You’re sharing an idea that’s unexpected. And if you don’t create an environment that welcomes that and they understand they’re safe—even if that idea is stupid or it doesn’t work out or whatever—you’re just not going to get the same level of innovation and novelty and remarkability.” — Maureen Jann

Create a test-and-measure environment so you can see which ideas are working. 

“Oftentimes, we as marketers are not the leaders that get to make these decisions. We have to focus on ROI. And I don’t think that’s actually a bad thing. If you can set up a test-and-measure environment for your leadership space and a trust environment from a team perspective, you’re gonna get creativity pushing up and the ability to test and measure new concepts from the top down. You’re saying, ‘I am experimenting to ensure that we are growing our revenue, and we’re not going to sit stagnant.’” — Maureen Jann

“Fun really can make money. We just need to make sure that we have the measurement in place to be able to see how it’s impacting the bottom line while also giving space to experiment and think and dream.” — Maureen Jann

Remove innovation blockers for your team, like constant back-to-back meetings. 

“As a leader you also have to be able to identify what those obstacles are in your organization and how to get them out of the way. If you have all of your people stuck in meetings eight hours a day, back-to-back, they’re not going to be able to be creative or innovative. And similarly, if you don’t have time to take people offsite, even if it’s just down the street to go have nachos and bond and come up with crazy ideas. If the idea generating session is everyone sitting at their desks remotely all the time, squeezing into one of those meetings between meetings, it’s not going to get the same energy or innovation.” — Erika Heald

“Innovation is that cross,section between different things that may be disparate. But burnout is the antithesis of innovation. Burnout will literally squash any tiny flame you might have in your team. My last employer did a ‘no-meeting Friday’ and I think that was brilliant. It was a great way to create a little space to work.” — Maureen Jann

Nurture the human element of your team. Build relationships. Discuss your interests. And find ways to blend your interests with your content. 

“You’re human beings, too. And at the heart of being a human means that you can be an exceptional marketer if you take the time to connect with each other, understand your customer, experiment, find ways to be creative, and get excited about what you’re doing.” — Maureen Jann

“It’s about combining something that everybody understands amongst your market, combining that with something that gets their attention from a visual standpoint or the way your language is structured, and intertwining that with personal stories. That’s a winning intersection of things.” — Maureen Jann

Get Fresh With Us

Ready to infuse your content strategy with a fresh perspective? Start with a blog content audit. Use our free blog content audit template to identify which topics resonate with your community and kickstart your creative ideation.  

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