How To Turn ‘Meh’ Ideas Into Marvelous Content

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This post was co-written by Monica Norton.

A not-so-inspiring idea somehow finds its way onto your content calendar. It might come from a well-intentioned but misguided colleague or political maneuvering within the office. Perhaps its placement happened because it felt like the only option. It seems like a piece that doesn’t fit into the jigsaw puzzle.

But what if you could turn the most underwhelming idea into captivating, audience-engaging content that leaves a lasting impression? It’s not a pipe dream – it’s a skillset and framework anyone can learn.

We break the process into two parts – gathering information and developing a communication roadmap. Let’s begin so you don’t waste more time fretting over less-than-thrilling ideas.

Part 1: Lay the groundwork with information gathering

Content marketers possess a common trait – curiosity. To turn that bad idea into something marvelous or gain alignment to kill it, let curiosity lead the journey. This framework will help make every step on the transformation journey purposeful and impactful.

Step 1: Understand the ask

“Let’s do a podcast,” says the CMO.

“Let’s create a microsite that talks all about our new customer,” says the CEO.

“Let’s do a blog post about all of our updated product features,” says the vice president of product marketing.

Even with the most developed content brief, requests like these raise one question: “But why?” When an ask comes in, try to get to the root of the request. Is the CMO asking for a podcast because they like listening to them? Does the CEO want to celebrate the new customer in a big way? Does the product marketing team think a blog post is the only way to let customers know about a product’s new features?

To gain more insight, ask the requester why this idea is top of mind. Or see what they like most about their idea. You also want to learn where the idea originated. For example, have they done it or seen another company do it?

Lastly, understand what the success of the request looks like to them. Sometimes, your partners, even with the best intentions, propose deliverables that may be better achieved in a different way. For example, that blog post could work better as a newsletter. That microsite might be more successful as a case study on the main site. And that podcast might never deliver the expected outcome.

Step 2: Align on the goals

Successful organizations have stated goals from a company level all the way down to individual team KPIs. Dive deeper into the “meh” idea by focusing on the intent of the idea.

Next, look at how that objective aligns with your already agreed-upon goals. Do the goals align? Where are they off, and why? By finding the overlap or even misalignment of what request views as successful and what your team is focusing on, you can start to evolve the idea into something new.

For example, when our CMO wanted a podcast, the goals and the metrics of the podcast were misaligned. The content KPIs related to driving traffic to the website and leading people down the funnel to acquire leads. However, the third-party platform where the podcast was hosted only tracked subscribers to the podcast. We couldn’t track any listeners who came to our website or converted to a lead. Ultimately, this misalignment contributed to the CMO’s acceptance of not doing the podcast in favor of activities that aligned better with the goals.

Step 3: Focus on the target audience’s needs

The best place to start a content initiative is by understanding the needs of your brand’s target audience. However, it’s the third step in this framework because a content marketer’s first audience is the requester of the bad idea. By understanding the ask and the expected outcomes, you can redirect the conversation to the customer.

Look for opportunities to transform the “meh” idea to help fulfill the customer’s wants. Use the “yes and” method with the original requester, such as: “Yes, I love your idea of a blog post about the product features, and let’s start the article by explaining how our customer can solve their pain point.”

Step 4: Determine where the request fits into the customer journey

Now, you must identify how the ask fits into the planned editorial calendar. Do you have content gaps along the journey that could be filled with this idea? Can you optimize other assets to help meet this request?

You may need to audit your published content to understand what is really working for your audience and why. That data can help you move the conversation to a better idea.

Step 5: Look at your resources

When everything is a priority, you have no priorities.

A lot of time, these not-so-great ideas come with a ton of enthusiasm and urgency – leading you to delay other activities or stress about how to execute them. Instead of succumbing to that disruption, assess what your team needs to help facilitate the conversation on what to do next:

  • Do you need more budget or resources?
  • Do you have the right tools to measure the impact of the request?
  • Do you have the time to do it correctly?

After walking through the first five steps, you have gathered sufficient information for the transformation framework to build a better idea.

Part 2: Make a communication roadmap to a better idea

Now, you are ready for the communication and collaboration part of the framework, so you and the requester can move forward together.

The method or channel of this communication can happen via email, a proposal or strategy document, a creative brief, a conversation, or a meeting. You’ll likely need written communication and face-to-face conversations to reach a final agreement.

Step 1: State the common ground

Start with a stated agreement with where you align, such as: “I’ve talked to everyone involved in this project, and we all agree on who the audience is and that we don’t want this project to hijack the work this quarter.”

A statement like that builds a strong foundation for what’s ahead.

Step 2: Acknowledge obstacles

Be open about what may get in the way of success. Be upfront about the uncovered challenges, anticipated problems, and areas of disagreement. Is the budget adequate? Is the team that would execute this project already overloaded, forcing a reprioritization? You don’t need to spend a lot of time on this step. Simply naming the challenges makes it easier for everyone to discuss them and work together to overcome them.

Step 3: Restate the known goals

Next, build the business case for the revised idea. Lay out the goals identified in the information-gathering steps. You don’t need an exhaustive list, but be sure to capture the most important top-line goals from the major stakeholders and goals similar to more than one person or team.

Step 4: Find a common goal

If you’re lucky, step three will reveal a common goal or at least identify overlap to create one or two shared goals.

More commonly, though, shared goal-setting requires in-person conversation or debate. To make this discussion productive, use everything you learned in step three to narrow the list. Kick off the debate by suggesting three to four likely goals.

Let the original requester and other stakeholders engage in narrowing the list to a single, shared goal to secure a greater level of buy-in and agreement. (If one goal isn’t possible, identify a primary and secondary goal.)

Setting the common goal(s) is critical before moving to the next step. It anchors the brainstorming to ensure the new ideas could achieve that goal.

Step 5: Let the ideas roll

Now comes the part that can be the hardest but also the most fun. Your approach to exploring new ideas will vary to suit your situation, the culture of the organization, and the nature of the original request.

For many, a brainstorming session involving most or all the players will be a fruitful exercise likely to generate several options. If that number is too unwieldy, brainstorming with a smaller subset may be more productive. In any brainstorming group, include an outsider – someone in your organization who isn’t a stakeholder or directly involved in the project. This fresh, baggage-free perspective can be just what’s needed to get that aha moment that often precedes the emergence of the winning idea.

Another option is to kickstart the ideation process by putting forth a short list of alternative ideas that you created or cultivated from others. To get buy-in, present more than just your “great idea.” Even if the decision-making process isn’t democratic, consider more than one option to get everybody to support the chosen idea and do their best work on the project.

As you work through the ideas generated from the brainstorming exercise or the shortlist of options you prepared, orient everybody around the common goal identified in the previous step. Set aside really cool ideas that won’t achieve that goal for discussion at another time. Pointing your colleagues back to the goal is also a handy way to stop new “bad ideas” from emerging.

Step 6: Repeat as needed

It’s time to admit a hard truth: This process may not be linear. It’s perfectly normal to take two steps forward and one step back. You may need to revisit earlier steps or even start over. But even that signals progress – your previous learning will make it easier and faster the second (or third) time around.

Step 7: Get a final agreement

While everyone’s path through these steps may be unique, the feeling of triumph in moving in a better direction is universal. At this stage, it’s helpful to summarize the journey and thank everyone for their involvement. Remember, you want them to feel invested in the process and the outcome because you’ll likely need their help and support in the execution mode.

Work together to get to a better idea

Even if the information-gathering and transformation framework process isn’t straightforward, turning those “meh” ideas into something wonderful is incredibly satisfying. You work together to consider more options and get everybody on board for a smooth transition from ideas to action.

So say to all those “meh” ideas: “Come at us. Give us all you’ve got. Let’s transform the terrible into terrific to uncover the real magic of innovation with top-notch content.”

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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