How To Have a Content Marketing Idea

Popzazzle | Monday, 26 October 2020 |

Is there a technique for having ideas, or is it all just lightning flashes from the God of Creative Marketing?... Strap yourself in, there really is a technique...


Work Harder
Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash (image modified).

It's one of those things that ninety-five out of a hundred people just assume they can't do, and the other five are happy to shroud in mystique. Having an idea. It's the cornerstone of elevated success, and in content marketing it is absolutely essential. If you're creating to win web traffic through organic search engine results, ideas are like digital inventions that solve web-surfers' unsolved problems.

Almost everything a search engine's crawler finds on its travels is derivative. Same keywords, same information, and roughly the same presentation. Only the wording changes. So when the trudging bot finds something completely new, it pounces on that little gem like a kitten on a ball of string. Especially if the idea solves an existing problem, and there's demand for that solution, it's going to head up to the top of those search results, backlinks or not.

I've got individual blog posts drawing in hundreds of hits per day - no keyword research, no significant backlinks. They get the hits because no one else on the Internet thought to solve those problems. And that's completely free, zero-maintenance traffic. If I slept for two years, those visitors would still be coming in when I woke up.

But how does one have an idea? Or does everyone just have to accept that some people are blessed with a divine, ideas-having gift, and some aren't?...

We've all seen that brilliantly successful public figure reclining on a chat show to relate an anecdote about their greatest commercial triumph.

“Oh yes, I remember it well. It was a Thursday morning. At 09:00 I was still just an Office Manager. Then it happened. Out of nowhere. Two minutes, and one flash of magical inspiration later, I'd had the idea that would change my life! And here I am...”

The tale may or may not have been true (cynic alert - more likely not, I'd suggest). But what that yarn-spinnin' celeb conveniently forgot to mention, was that they also spent about four years coming up with other ideas, which were met with general discombobulation, and were placed lovingly into ye inglorious trash can of creative failure.

You see, having an idea isn't like having a dream. It's the result of hard thinking - a huge tidal wave of mental effort. And it is extremely draining work. As Henry Ford once said (and I'm paraphrasing slightly)...

“Thinking is the hardest work there is. That's why so few people do it.”

That's a cloaked encapsulation of ideas theory, from someone who understood the ideas process inside out.

Yes, with IQ like for like, everybody in the world has the same capacity to come up with ideas. People say they can't come up with ideas, but they can. The reason they don't is that they won't invest the tidal wave of mental energy that it takes to bring ideas into the world.

Very rarely, if ever, do ideas just magically appear. They develop through a process of trial and error. You're constantly asking yourself: “What if...?”. And in most cases, the answer to that question is: “Boring result - no one cares”. So to have ideas - good ideas - you need to be asking yourself “What if?...” on a perpetual loop. For real creatives, literally as a lifestyle. And once one of those what-ifs throws out an interesting answer, you have the raw basis of an idea.

Using the raw basis of an idea can sometimes work as is. But it's normally better when you twist it around. Refine it. So, how does the refinement process work? Let me give you an example...

Did you know that most joke writers work backwards? They come up with the punchline first, and then they twist the build-up to make it look like it's going somewhere else. That makes the punchline seem very clever, when in fact, within the writing process, it's often the easiest and most obvious line in the joke.

Here's a dialogue joke I came up with for one of my Twitter accounts...


That's a classic example of a joke written backwards. The idea came from the question: “What if a telesales agent insulted me?” I thought that could be quite funny, so I pursued it with more what-ifs, and arrived at an extended version of the theme. "What if a telesales agent insulted me by interpreting my misery as something to celebrate?"...

It was a foregone conclusion that the agent would have to be selling something connected with celebration, so the champagne line wrote itself. It was an obvious choice, because everyone associates champagne with celebration.

Then it was a case of twisting the build-up to throw the reader of the scent. So I asked myself what I might mistakenly have thought the salesperson was selling? What if it was double glazing?... What if it was loft insulation?... Notice how all these stages still begin with a “What if?...” Trial and error throughout. Once I landed on insurance, I had a comical concept. I think the agent is being very reverent, but it turns out that they're being deeply insulting. All that remained was the first line, which needed to be a question insurers often ask, with an extra twist to make it funnier. And so began another series of what-ifs...

It took some time and a lot of trial and error to get it right, but that's all it is. Trial and error until it works. Jokes are often a lot less clever than they look. But equally, they often take a lot more time to create than most people imagine. Incredibly quick to deliver, but the best of them can take a number of hours to assemble. They're typically a very poor investment for content marketing, because of their portability and susceptibility to dilution of source. But they're a great dissection project to illustrate how the creative ideas process works.

A joke also highlights how critical the refinement process is within any creative task. It shows how an idea also depends on being well structured. At the end of the road, the reader or viewer sees the refined, structured concept as a simple idea, which is pictured as having materialised as one creative blob. But almost never does a really great idea arrive fully formed. It starts off as a crude concept that might work, and then progressively improves as it's reshaped into a truly dynamic product.

It's true that people who are used to the ideas process get better and quicker at it over time. Practice and familiarity will always have that effect. But never imagine that the very limited number of people who regularly stream new ideas are imbued with some kind of magical gift that the rest of the world can't access. Ideas are the result of hard thinking, in high volume. And people who are serious about ideas dedicate their life to that process. But that's the only difference between them, and the people who never have an idea. Those who never have ideas give up thinking after a few minutes, persuading themselves that no one, surely, would invest more time than this on a mere idea.

Wrong on two counts. Creatives will and do invest a lifetime. And the word “idea” should never, ever be prefixed by the word “mere”.