Creative Thinking

Are you learning to be creative?

Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate, profits."--- Edward de Bon

Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate, profits.”— Edward de Bon

Critical thinking has long been touted as the essential skill for success but in our new rapidly changing business environments– it is not enough. Creativity moves beyond synthesizing and evaluating by adding a higher level of thinking skill. This is not a new idea. In 2010, an IBM survey of 1,500 key executives spanning 33 industries rated “creativity” as the factor most crucial for success.

Creativity is our most precious resource and our most inexhaustible one. Developing the creative skill is like building muscle. You lose muscle if you don’t use it and you build muscle by lifting weights and continuing to use the skill. Practicing and continuing working on your creative abilities will strengthen your creativity skill.

What exactly is creativity? Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. It is an idea turned into action. It is seeing a problem in a new way and finding hidden patterns, making connections between what may appear on the surface to be unrelated phenomenal and to generate solutions. This puts two processes to work: thinking and producing. If you have ideas and can’t or don’t act on them you are not implementing the practical and usefulness of your creativity skill.

Viewing creativity as a practical, learnable skill is a big change from thinking that creativity requires a bit of magic, waiting time or a creative title.

What is a good framework to practice developing your creative skills..

1) Identify the problem or challenge.

During the first step of creative problem solving, it is important to get an initial working definition of the problem. Although it may need to be adapted at a later stage, a good working definition makes it possible to describe the problem to others who may become involved in the process.

Begin by finding simplicity in complexity. Start by clearly identifying the specific problem or challenge than study the problem and get to the key, base root of what is causing the problem or challenge.

Looking at the problem in terms of challenges and barriers can offer an effective way of defining many problems and splitting bigger problems into more manageable sub-problems. Sometimes it will become apparent that what appeared to be one, single problem, is more accurately a series of smaller problems.

If you misstated or don’t perceive the accurate problem at this stage than it is difficult to come up with a creative breakthrough.

2) Gather data.

If this problem has been around a long time then analyze ways that others have tried solving the problem. How and when did the problem surface? Why did the solution not work or was not ideal? Why was the idea not accepted or acted upon? Was the idea disregarded too soon?

Also try to understand everyone’s interests in solving this problem or challenge. Interests are the needs that you want satisfied by any given solution. We often ignore our true interests as we become attached to one particular solution. The best solution is the one that satisfies everyone’s interests particularly if this solution affects your team. This is the time for active listening.

3) Generate ideas.

This part of the process should be uninhibited, spontaneous, top of mind idea generating.

Begin by capturing all ideas. No critical analysis at this point. Have fun and let your imagination as well as team members generate as many ideas for alleviating the problem as possible.

If you are working in a group outline group criteria for idea generating. These criteria include leaving critiquing any idea out of the picture, there are no”bad” ideas capture them all and no naysayers. This is a time for building on the ideas no matter how ridiculous or if it has been tried before.

Sometimes people wonder where the “so called” creative population find their good ideas. The answer is usually buried in all the bad ideas that we don’t see or hear. The creative process is like finding a gem among many worthless rocks. Much of the rock has to be discarded to find the real gem. It takes time, perseverance, and the ability to cast your self critical side away and just list any and all ideas.

In a later phase, much of what what you generate is thrown away, but that does not make the digging a waste of time. If you ‘cannot think of anything’ and having difficulty with this inspiration phase, perhaps you or your team are too critical, or expect good ideas to come too quickly. Don’t allow yourself to stop at the first good idea instead allow time to fully explore.

This step will become easier as you practice it.

4) Now take a break.

Let the ideas incubate. In this step, leave your ideas alone, your subconscious will still ponder the ideas in the background.

If you are working on several projects, it does help to let yourself switch between the projects but only if this doesn’t cause a break in concentration. The break helps when you have “hit the wall” and feel that you can’t go further. It also gives your subconscious time to work on any problems encountered, it will also distance you somewhat from your ideas so that you are better able to evaluate them.

Many good ideas have occurred while outside taking a walk, exercising, in the shower or stuck in traffic. I keep a writing pad and pen with me at all times.

Other ways to increase creativity..

Get moving. Studies prove that cognition and creativity improve with just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. The type of movement doesn’t seem to matter just so it is has a cardio benefit and enough movement to get the blood moving. The boost of a 30 minute cardio workout lasts for 2 plus hours after exertion. For those who are just starting a “get moving” program” it is best to start slowly and work up to a 30 minute goal. Even starting with 5 minutes and then increasing in 5 minute increments over a series of weeks is a great way to get started.

Sleep on it. Whenever Sir Isaac Newton had a particularly thorny problem he always worked on it just before he went to sleep. He said “I invariably woke up with the solution”. There are no guaranteed but keep that notebook and pen close in case you wake up with a solution and don’t want to forget it.

5) Distillation

Here your ideas are sifted through and evaluated. The best ideas are selected or are combined with others for stronger, better ideas.

At this point, invite your self-critical nature slowly back into the process. This phase allows for cool analysis and judgement. However it should not be so critical as to inhibit productivity entirely. Remember, the ideas you have are only ideas, not complete solutions – you should not expect too much of them. It is where the ideas can take you that counts, not just the ideas themselves.

Try to stay away from ideas which are familiar instead keep open-minded to explore those ideas that will best achieve the objective of solving the key problem.

If you are working in a team there is a balance between critiquing team members ideas but not demoralizing team members by being overly critical. Give feedback that enhances further creativity and does not crush it. This applies to all team members.

By the end of this step, you and your team will have a top list of ideas or a combination of several ideas.

6) Evaluation

In the evaluation phase you examine your remaining ideas/solutions for strengths and weaknesses. Consider how the idea could be improved.

Hardly anyone gets things perfect the first time.

At first, Many people may dislike the evaluation phase. Actually, the evaluation phase can be very rewarding, and no work of real merit will be produced without it.

7) Implement

Create an action plan and test-drive your innovation or idea.

Implementing solutions generally requires convincing others that your idea has value and incorporating your solution effectively. And, having your team buy into the solution so that as revisions or changes are needed they will help and not hinder the process.

You and your team need to be positive and persistent, deeply committed and engaged, and ready to respond positively to any shortcomings.

8) Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.

Conditions may change. Make contingency agreements to account for unforeseeable future circumstances (If-then!). How will you monitor compliance and follow-through?

Create ways to evaluate the ideas and their implementation. (“Let’s try it this way for three months and then look at it.”)

Effective problem solving does take some time and lots of attention. A problem is like a curve in the road. Take it right and you’ll find yourself in good shape for the straightaway that follows. Take it too fast and you may not be in as good a shape.

The creative process is hard work and yet can be fun and definitely rewarding. There are also many benefits of practicing the creative skill including greater achievement, career advancement, more earning potential, recognize and solve problems more easily and quickly, and making a difference.

12 ways to increase your creativity

Build on your creative ideas.

Build on your creative ideas.

Researchers recently confirmed the creative power of the effects of boredom by subjecting one group of study participants to the mundane task of copying out the telephone book for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, the study subjects were given a standard test of creativity in which they were asked to list, as many as they could, uses for a plastic cup.  Their results were compared to those of a control group that hadn’t been subjected to copying from a phone book.  The telephone book copiers were more creative.  While perhaps not a conclusive study, it provides interesting fodder for today’s company managers.  For more information on this study refer to “The Creative Benefits of Boredom” published by Harvard Business Review Blog.

A follow-up study concluded that boredom plus daydreaming may even provide a greater productivity boost.

It is important to note that this study did not refer to extended periods of boredom and daydreaming which in a company environment requires other strategies and action.

What is the Takeaway for Employees and Managers?

The author of the telephone book study, Dr Sandi Mann, commented that “boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity.”

Therefore, managers or company personnel who demand or expect constant busyness may actually be stifling their team’s creativity.  It appears that some employer’s are working under the assumption that any downtime is a problem that needs to be eliminated through increased activities, tasks, shorter timelines and what feels like a hurried and stressful environment.  

Besides requiring boredom which is, of course, unrealistic here are some things your employees can do to enhance creativity.

1) Take breaks.
It’s great to be in the moment, engaged and productive but when you or your employees feel like they hit the wall a break is welcome and in the long run productive.

2) Get out in nature.
Take a walk. Depending on the weather and applicable areas, have a meeting outside.  Being outside can add energy and stimulate the imagination. 

3) Write using pen and paper.
Try visually displaying the problem. Within the academic community, there is debate on what it better, electronic devises or pen and paper writing. Electronic devices are efficient to collect and store information.  But with email, Facebook, Twitter and a growing assortment of social media and apps it is also an opportunity for distractions and multitasking. 

In the academic arena, recent studies show that students taking notes with laptops performed poorly on conceptual questions than if the students took notes by longhand.   

How does this relate to creativity, the practice of writing ideas, problems and solution ideas by hand could help us better understand the information and therefore generate more applicable ideas and solutions.

4) Meditate.  
Meditation practice is a step to being more creative.  With meditation benefits of increased focus, increased concentration, calmness, clarity, insight and in the moment thinking, creativity is enhanced with meditation practice.

5) Mind mapping. 
What Are Mind Maps? A mind map is a diagram that connects information around a central subject.  The center encompasses the main idea and the branches are subtopics or ideas.

Mind mapping is one of the best ways to capture your thoughts and bring them to life in visual form. Beyond just note-taking, mind maps can help you become more creative, remember more, and solve problems more effectively. 

I use the mind mapping technique allot and have discovered Coggle which is a Google tool that is a simple mind mapping application. Sign in with a Google account and you are ready to access Coggle.

6) Write freely.
Ask team members to take 10 minutes to jot down anything and everything that comes to mind without judgment, a technique called “free-writing” or “free association”. Then go back over the notes and see which ideas are worth keeping.

7) Encourage openness and acceptance of new and different ideas.
Encourage employees to build on their ideas and those of other team members.

8) Engage and encourage social interaction.
When we spend time with people we work with and get to know them it leads to a more trusting relationship and the potential of a more, relaxed, sharing environment.

9) Exercise.
This is my particular favorite.  I find taking time on the treadmill and in the weight room helps me relax and come up with some of my best ideas.   It has been noted that regular exercisers performed better on creative tasks than their less active peers did.

10) Try something new.
Doing things out of habit tends to stop our creative thoughts.  We get in the habit and just do the task without thinking or experiencing . 

I recently took a creativity class and one of the assignments was to eat something different.  A simple yet creative exercise to get participants open to new experiences and tastes.  Opening and searching for new, novel experiences is associated with increased creativity.

11) Yoga is another of my personal favorites.   
Poses like child’s pose, corpse pose and downward facing dog among others facilitate creativity. Even just physically stretching can offer a big boost.

12) Get enough sleep.
If you’re trying to solve a problem, think about it before you go to bed and keep a recording device by your bed so in the morning you can write down the idea or solution before you forget it.  This might not always work but sleep does restructure new memory representations and can help us think about experiences and problems in a new way.

Or, at work, find a safe, private and quiet place and take a short power nap, which also stimulates and regenerates brain activity. 

This list is a start and I am sure as you and your team explore ways to enhance creativity you will add your own unique ideas.

 

Sharing your business story

heads-speak-bubble-960Once you have written your story then share your story with your audience.

Don’t keep your business story hidden within your company but share it in the places that your audience frequents.

Here are some ways to share your business story with your audience.

Utilize video
In addition, to sharing your stories in text format add video. Your video could feature your employees talking about why they work for your company and/or talking about why and how your company’s products or services benefit your audience. Or, your customers sharing their experiences with your company and how your company solved an issue, challenge or problem for them. Make it personal and make your message targeted and focused on what is important to your customers. Post your video on your website as well as other social media outlets that your audience frequents.

Use photos.
One of the easiest ways to tell your story is by sharing images on your site and throughout your social media outlets. Remember to think like your customer and rather than be inward focused be outward focused. If you can secure and use photos of customers using your products that is a plus. Be sure to always get permission from customers to post their pictures. In addition, use your company employees/team to highlight the people behind your brand’s success.

Use Case studies

Case studies are very effective. Case studies are a good way to demonstrate in a concrete fashion what problems, issues or challenges your company and product solve.

Steps to writing a case study include..
Clearly communicate the issue, challenge or problem.
Identify the solution or approach taken.
Outline the results.

Invite your customers/community to share their stories
Ask your customers how they use your product/service/advice and get tips? Their story is an important part of your story. Use your website and/or Facebook to capture their thoughts and encourage engagement and discussion.

Add quotes
Add testimonials or quotes from customers that reiterate your story and the value and benefits you bring to them. Customer quotes are strongest but you can also get quotes from your executive team and business partners that help tell your story.

Communicate your story on the home page of your site.

Use this prime real estate to tell people something that encourages them to learn more about you. Your home page is a great place to capture the attention of your target audience and enhance the stickiness of your site.

Write a company blog or newsletter.

Use your blog or newsletter to focus on the needs of the customer and think creatively how to tell your story effectively.

As Marketers and Content Strategists, we need to developed focused company stories that communicate the benefits to our audience of what we selling.

With so many products and noise in the marketplace, it really is your story that differentiates you from your competition.

Telling Your Company Story

The lightbulb goes on with your audience and your company when you know your audience better.

The lightbulb goes on with your audience when you tell your company story.

Every start up and small business has a story to tell.

The challenge is articulating that story in terms that connect potential customers to your brand.  As a business leader in the social media age, you and your company have an opportunity to engage with your customers by rethinking the way you express and tell your company story.

How? First of all, your company story should express your core company values.

In order to engage with your customers strive to identify an emotional pull.  However, like the TV evangelist, don’t prey on your customers emotions but be honest, open and reasonable in developing an emotional connection.

Here are three ways to connect and tell your core values and humanize your brand.

1)  Expand your idea about how to differentiate yourself in today’s market.  Define your values in human terms not in business terms.  Your real value, from your customers perspective, is about what you believe in, what you’re trying to do in the world and how you make others lives and the world better.

Getting to this information requires drilling down to what really matters most.

You might start by asking why was your product created? What is your office culture? What overall purpose does your company fill?  How does your product or service help your customers? What does your company offer that benefits others?  Your want to look for key points that your organization truly cares about.   Points that makes your business unique, valuable, and needed in the world around you.

2) Establish a common goal with common language.

You are familiar with the company that has their vision or mission on their website or on a sign outside the executive suites.  It is usually very generic and could refer to any company.  You want to be different, you want to stand out and identity your company’s core value.  Like your vision, everybody at your company needs to see, understand and buy into the core value and mission.

Using common language allows people to understand and align with your mission.

If you’re not sure if your company has a common vision, do a little research.  Start by asking a few people in your company to describe your company’s core value.  Ask them to use five or six descriptive words. Look for themes and then take those key words and put them into a clearly defined description.

3) Give your brand a human voice.

Once you have succinctly defined your mission and decided how to describe your value then develop your ideal persona or type of person that would deliver your message.  Is your persona mainstream, conservative, open-minded, etc. Develop an ideal persona or personas that match your general target audience.  Think carefully about what the persona cares about –not only directly related to your company’s products or services but as a whole person.

This clarity of mission, purpose and story leads to a real understandable persona that will help you and your company successfully develop your brand identity and build your customer base.

Successful brands are clear, transparent, open and honest about what they want to achieve.

 

What is innovation?

Thinking about innovative ideasInnovation defined.

Not surprisingly, innovation means different things to different people.  In one case, your audience might be thinking of a large, breakthrough change in technology or in the way an employee or consumer functions in their daily lives.  To someone else, an innovation may be a small step that seems small to the producer but makes a big change in enhancing the user experience.  In another case, it might be a small change that doesn’t appear to make allot of difference but over the long run and with additional changes makes a big difference. It could also mean a change in system or procedure that affects the employees in your company.  This list could go on and on.

If you read anywhere there’s lots of discussion about innovation to the point where the term seems overused.  So when you talk about innovation, it is a good idea to start by defining what innovation means to you and ask what it means to your audience, what the purpose of a new innovation might be and what lengths you or your customer is  interested or willing to go to incorporate a new innovation.

As an innovator, I hope for and work towards breakthrough innovation.  However, in tough economic times, innovation may require too much risk and expense for an organization.  It is also not uncommon for customers to resist change and therefore companies have a difficult time innovating product changes even if it is clearly a benefit to the customer.

So instead of dreaming about the next big thing for your product incorporate a step-by-step plan to develop and implement the innovation.  Focus on smaller changes and make changes easier to implement and easier for the customer to accept.  Use inexpensive and small experiments to test your new ideas. For example, add or make a small product improvement and test that improvement by watching users try the new feature.  Then evaluate how well, how significant, and how beneficial the audience considers this change to be.  Is it worth the money if the innovation affects your product’s price or the time needed for your customers to learn how to use the new feature?

In many cases, difficult economic times require product innovations that are easily adapted and cannot require a large investment either by the company or the consumer.

If you want to have the best possible outcome, have a plan for product innovation or for a major innovation as a series of palatable building blocks that moves toward and reaches your bigger goal. This approach, if the innovation is beneficial and is communicated that way,  should be met with less resistance from either  the company itself, company employees or their consumers.   This approach will allow for a smoother transition and incorporation of the innovation.

 

 

 

Why is a content strategy really necessary?

network-star-crop-527Because it is the foundation of your marketing program and by creating quality branded content and posting that across your applicable media outlets you can deliver a consistent message which provides your customers and potential customers with engaging material and value added information. This is not only valuable for your target but also for your company. Advantages are many including a positive brand image, the opportunity to build trust, increases sales and the ability to save money and time in the creation of marketing materials.

How do I build a content strategy?

Here is a step by step approach.

1. Outline objectives
First, conduct an audit of your current content strategy program. Is the graphic identity as well as message consistent? Is it the image you want to portray? Does it communicate your unique selling proposition? Is is geared to your target audience? When you have a clear picture of what you are currently doing you can start to evaluate weak areas and needs. Start by defining the over reaching content strategy objectives and then take each media outlet you are using and define the specific objective for each medium.

2. Define your audience(s)
Do you have a good idea of who your target audience is? What do they want to hear? What does this audience need or want from your company? What content would benefit the target as well as your company? This is a time to set objectives that will provide a focus as well as positive results. Include how you are going to measure the success of each program. Research what other communications your customers receive from you and your competitors. Where does your target audience get information about the category that you are involved in?

3. Consider targeting opportunities
Targeting different types of customer through segmented content can make the process much more efficient and cost-effective, so consider producing different versions of your publication and digital content. But if you want to segment, you will need a database or list that offers that segmented information. If you don’t have one, consider what you need and start building the database that allows for segmentation. This can be as simple as utilizing a spreadsheet to begin this process. Once you have finalized what data and criteria you need then you can look for a more sophisticated, productive method of handling your customer database.

4. Establish your distribution strategy
How will your content reach your customers? What combination of media channels best fit your target audience? From print to online, digital to video, there are a huge range of channels to choose from. If you don’t trust the accuracy of your customer database (or you don’t have one), consider buying a list that matches the profile of your customers.

5. Establish measurements
Having regular, high-quality content can be a significant investment of time and money for your company, so establish benchmarks for success based on your objectives. Your objective should include measurable results. If you can plan or estimate how this approach will benefit the bottom line or the brand image of your company. You then need establish a workable budget. Next, get internal buy-in from all relevant departments, especially if you are expecting them to contribute to the budget.

6. Consider contracting with a content marketing agency
Very few client companies have the resources or expertise to create effective content in-house, so you may need to hire an outside agency. Be specific with the agency on what you are looking for and include the items that are important to you and your company including project criteria and potential working budget. Choose wisely not every consulting content marketing agency will fit your needs. Invite several to meet with and learn about all their services and what they can offer your company. For more information on selecting and working with an outside agency read blog post.

7. Create content
Once an agency has been selected, as them to provide a full content plan for your approval before they start creating any content. At these initial meetings you should agree to a communication plan between you and the agency including working arrangements, deciding such issues as how you want the content to be presented and who will approve the content within your organization.

8. Agree to a launch strategy
Do you have a launch date in mind. Are you going to include any research or user feedback from a sample group of your trusted, loyal customers and get their opinion. Also be sure to include introducing the content program to your internal company audience.

9. Launch systematically
Take the time to launch systematically-just in case there is something that you did not anticipate.

10. Debrief/Evaluate
With the introduction of the launch and initial results gathered, you and your agency should now have a debrief meeting in which you go over all aspects of the content. With any new information and feedback, your agency can then start on the next phase of the campaign. Meanwhile, review your targeting strategy and ensure any internal results or opinions are communicated to your agency.

11. Move forward!!

 

5 hints to creating content

Scan 121990001-1One of the questions that I hear is “How do I find applicable content for my online posts?”  And, then from there the ideas seem to get very complicated and involved.

But let’s take a simple step-by-step process to help easily create meaningful and helpful content for your target audience.

1) List all the questions that your customers/clients ask everyday.

Ask yourself what questions do I hear and then ask salespeople and customer service staff or whoever in your company comes in contact with customers, current and potential, on a regular basis.  Ask them to keep a list and send you the the questions.  Ask for the most frequently asked questions as well as the more bizarre and one off question because that can get very interesting.

2) Turn that into question and answer articles for your blog.  Or, pose the question and provide the answer on your website and any other social media outlets that you use in your business.

3) Once you have a series of articles consider making them into a free eBook that can be downloaded from your site or available from other social media sources.  It is easier than ever to become your own book publisher if you have enough content to make it work.

4) Use questions and answers in the “Frequently Asked Questions” on your site.

5) Keep getting and answering those questions and use them as a base for informing and updating current and potential customers.

6) Use this content for email blasts or newsletter copy or wherever you are able to communicate with your target audience.

Once you put gathering customer questions as a practice or habit within your company you will have good content ideas.

Engaging customers with an effective content strategy.

iStock_000019172466SmallWhat is  “content strategy” versus “content marketing”?
The term “content strategy” has been around since the late 1990’s and refers to the planning, development and management of content in written and/or digital media.

Today, content strategy focuses on how organizations (for-profit, non-profit and government) use stories and smart-data to get important information to specific internal and external target audiences.

Although the “content strategy” is related to “content marketing’ it is different.  “Content Marketing” is designed to drive “profitable customer action”.   “Content Strategy” is primarily designed to help the target audience be better informed.  A content strategy includes credible, believable, trustworthy, transparent content that build’s on your organization’s strategic goals.

Why does there need to be such an emphasize on developing and sticking to a “Content Strategy”?

Today more than any other time in history there is a glut of information hitting your audience from every angle and every media that they participate in or come in contact with.

These 3 key factors apply.
1)  There is increasing mounds of information that your target audience has access to. According to IBM statistics, all of the world’s data from the beginning of history through 2003 has been doubling every two days since 2004.
2) Our time is limited.  We only have 24 hours a day or 1,440 minutes per day and much of that time is already committed to our jobs, eating, sleeping and keeping relationships with family and friends.
3) Add to that, the very complex communications messages that we get everyday from everywhere and our attention is sparse at best.

Why is knowing and understanding your organization’s strategic direction important when developing the “Content Strategy”?

Knowing and focusing on your organization’s strategic direction is important to developing an effective content strategy.  Your company strategy is a road map to the future.  Your content strategy should include and revolve around the direction and goals that the leaders of your organization have outlined.   Those goals are where the organization is going in the next 1-3 years.

What are the tactics?

The tactics are the steps that are needed to fulfill on the overall strategy.  The strategy is important and planning on how to implement that strategy is also important.

What is the first step to developing an effective “Content Strategy”?

The foundation to developing an effective content strategy lies in knowing and understanding your organization’s target audience(s).  The better your understanding of this audience or audiences the better you can develop content that is of value and perceived value to your target audience.

What information should I know about my target?

To really know and understand your audience, you should know what matters to them not only in their work environment but also in their personal lives.

Many companies have a good handle on the demographics (age, gender, life-cycle stage, income and occupation of the population) and geographic (where they live) but they don’t always have a good idea of the psychographics (what they think, feel, what is important to them).  Getting psychographic information is challenging but well worth the time.

How do I gather psychographic information about my targets?

You go where they go.  You spend time with them and you really listen both to what they say and to what they do.  Get really curious about your target. Human beings make decisions based on themselves and their time.

Why is this information important to my “Content Strategy”?

The more content that you give people that they want the more they will spend time on content that matters to you.  In addition, this valuable content must be convenient to your target and easily accessed and shared.

What are the foundational steps I need to take to create an effective “Content Strategy” ?

Start by learning your organization’s strategic goals.  Where does your leadership see your organization in 1-3 years.

Know and understand your target audience. Providing content that your audience deems valuable is key and the way to valuable content creation is  knowing and understanding your audience and what is of value to them.  How do they think and feel?   What is important to them?   What information (that your company can provide) would this audience find interesting? What content needs can your organization fulfill for your target audience?

Analyze where your audience gets their information? What and where is the best place to reach them?

Test your messages to see which resonate with your target.

What is your competition doing?  Complete a competitive analysis to see what and where your competition is providing information.

There are no quick answers.  This stage takes time and effort.

Then, develop a “Content Strategy” based on the information you and/or your company representatives collected.  And test, test and test.

Content should be story driven, useful, findable, current, engaging, flexible and sharable.

Why is gathering this information time well spent?

You can write all the content that you want and distribute it over many channels however if it can’t be found by your target and if they do find it and it isn’t valued by your target they won’t pay attention to your message.  Then, when you do develop valuable content for them they may disregard it because of their past experiences with your organization’s content.


Busy, overwhelmed, complicated

speak-bubble-960Every client I work with wants to be assured that their content and message is being found, heard, understood and acted upon.  I do too!

The challenge is to get customers attention at the right time, in the right place with an engaging message.  That is often a tall order.

As we look at the marketplace,  let’s start with the 3 basic points that all organizations need to understand and deal with when developing a content strategy.

1) There is an overwhelming wave of readily available information about anything and everything. With more technology advances, our access to information has become increasingly easier and almost limitless. Search “communication” and there are 290,000,000 results or “content strategy” with 563,000,000 or “spoon” 32,600,000 results. These numbers are only going to increase. I am sure we would all agree and recognize the depth of information and how that affects our content strategy.

2) Time is limited. All of us have only 24 hours a day or 1,440 minutes a day. And, all of us are prioritizing our time as best we can to include the basics of eating, sleeping, taking care of ourselves and keeping relationships with loved ones, colleagues and friends.   No one can add to their time.

3) The marketing environment is complicated. There are many communications vehicles and marketing messages are around us all the time.

So, we are all busy, inundated with information and overwhelmed by the complicated options and information available to us.

What does that mean and what can we do?

Start by developing a deeper understanding of your audience.  This is definitely not easy but worth the time and effort.  In the past, companies have relied on demographics (age, race, gender, annual income) and geographic (where they live) to segment their audience sometimes psychographic elements were added but since psychographics is more difficult to define it has been a smaller part of the mix.  However, psychographics is really important to a more thorough and in depth knowledge of the audience.  Psychographics is also more effective at getting to the real motivators–it includes a study of how your target audience thinks, feels, acts and what they believe.

This requires that we acquire a deeper (much deeper) knowledge of our audience and that the communications message not only be delivered when, how and where our audience is but also be compelling and engaging to get the little time and attention that is currently being filled with vast amounts of information.

8 Steps to Identifying Relevant Marketing Content

people-target-fullsize-960What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is an ongoing process that involves creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience.

The primary objective is to attract current and potential consumers to engage, take action and support your product or service by sales and positive referrals and reviews.

Content marketing is not only an art but a creative process that provides relevant communication to your customers and prospects without overtly selling and potentially driving the consumer away. Instead of talking only about your products or services, you deliver information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, consumers ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.

To identify relevant content, I recommend using an 8 step content mapping approach that defines a process to gather appropriate, relevant information for the purposes of identifying and implementing the right content.

8 step content mapping process

Step 1.  Identify key personas.

In a previous post, I identified key identifiers for your target persona.  These identifiers include title, time in job, works with, daily tasks, responsibilities, likes as well as dislikes, frustrations, pressures, needs, activities, emotional mindset and role in buying process. For more information regarding identifiers refer to my previous blog post on building personas.

Step 2. Information/questions

What information or questions is the persona or personas, identified in step 1,  asking at each stage of the buying process?  The buying process includes 6 steps–awareness, interest, research, desire, user and finally evangelism.

Step 3.  What are the answers to their questions?

What answers can you provide for each of the questions identified?  Answer specifically and in depth those questions you anticipate your persona to be asking.

Step 4.  Review

Carefully look at your answers and identify what value added information you can provide that would be beneficial to your persona.   How are the products or services you provide able to tie into this process?

Step 5.  Map

Now take the time to mind map this information and see what content you have available or could research that would help your persona answer their questions and learn more in the process.  Take this time to identify steps to answering the questions-if the questions have multiple parts to the answer.

Step 6.  Research and Analyze

Look for places where more information is needed. Look at areas where you might be missing content.  Research and find answers to the holes in the content.

Step 7.  Create

Start creating content to fill the holes, answer the questions and add value to your customers with your product or service.

Step 8.  Evaluate

Keep track of the content you provide and evaluate analytically what benefit this information provided your company.

As with anything, this process takes time, effort and work but is well worth doing.