How to Come Up with Topic Ideas

Panda Photographer

Photographer Bert Hardy’s son, Mike Hardy, being photographed by Ming the panda at London Zoo, 1939 (Photo by Bert Hardy/Getty Images)

Whether you’re just starting to delve into content marketing or you’ve been doing it for a while, you’ve faced the challenge of coming up with a creative idea for that next blog post, trade article, case study, or white paper. In their book Made to Stick, science and engineering writers Chip and Dan Heath identify five factors that you can use to help brainstorm for new ideas to get the word about your product or service.

1. Simple. These days, we all live in a cluttered, noisy world, full of ideas clamoring for our attention. I read recently that for a young person to fall in love with reading, they need to be steered to books where they already know 96% of the words. Why would your busy customers be any different? But take note: a simple idea is far different than a dumbed-down sound bite. Take this phrase that I recently spotted on Facebook:


Simple words and concept, yes—simple-minded, no.

2. Unexpected. As you consider your next piece, allow your mind to wander from the boring and obvious. What has happened recently with your customers that surprised you—or them? A case study I recently wrote for a client was all about a great project that began when their customer told them their contract was about to be terminated! What’s being talking about at conferences? What’s making the news with your suppliers? Have you had any unexpected wins (or losses) lately? Whatever has made you think may be a good idea for a new content piece.

3. Concrete. The best ideas are ones you can develop from concrete, real-world examples. Suppose you want to write a piece that focuses on how your company truly goes the extra mile for its customers. Example: One of my clients had to swing into action to help a customer make a drop-dead date just weeks after the customer lost all their equipment in a catastrophic fire. Not every article can be that dramatic. But you can take almost any abstract concept, from return on investment to data analytics—and make it come alive with practical, real-life stories.

4. Credibility. Especially when developing a long-form piece such as a white paper, you need to be a credible source of information. It’s dead certain that your prospects and customers know their stuff. Information that is honest and objective will win their respect.

5. Emotion. In B2B marketing there is seldom the chance to pen a real tear-jerker or tickle someone’s funny bone. But there is still the chance to use emotion to powerfully convey your idea. Customers want to hear about how they can do their jobs faster or better, and they love stories about how people just like them saved the day.

Once you have your idea, try these pro tips:

  • Pare your message down to the essence. You can re-purpose the extras into blog posts or other pieces.
  • Try skipping the “synergy,” “value-added,” “core competencies,” and other trite jargon.
  • Get real instead!

Bear Necessities

How many of you have seen the delightful new Disney version of “The Jungle Book “? I mentioned it to my 88-year-old father and he got the biggest smile on his face. “Mowgli? Baloo the Bear? And the snake?” It seems that when my dad was small, his mother read Rudyard Kipling’s jungle fables aloud.

Imagine writing something so original, so vivid, and so powerfully observed that it will be remembered with delight 80 years from now!

What’s hot!

  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Trade articles
  • Corporate histories

Thought of the month

If a poet touches your soul, he gives you a sense of universal connection with the rest of the universe. Must he have table manners as well? – Theo Van Gogh in “Vincent”

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