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How to Create a Persona

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Imagine you are at a party, and an attractive girl starts talking to you about how much she loves her dog. She goes into great detail about the dog, he’s her best friend and he looks so cute in a doggy t-shirt. She presents photo after photo from her phone. How interested would you be in asking the girl out for a date?

What if you were a cat person and hated dogs? What if you had a bad experience with a dog when you were younger and it left you with a phobia about dogs? Would you still want to date or spend time with this girl?

Or, maybe you love dogs, and she had you at ‘Fred is my furry BFF.’ You can already visualise your wedding.

Dating and marketing are very much alike, they both involve engaging the attention of a niche audience that you want to develop a relationship with. And in both instances having a clear idea of who you want to engage is going to make the outcome more successful.

If you love waking up early, going to the gym and lots of outdoor physical exercise, then a nightclub is not going to be the best location to find someone who shares your fitness passions. Likewise, if your idea of holiday heaven is going to Ibiza for a seven day hedonistic non-stop party experience, then approaching a potential date in a walking group reduces your match potential to minimal.

We connect with people that are similar to us. Like attracts like. So, if you have a product to sell, by knowing who your audience is you have an insight into what you can say that will capture their attention and connect with your company and product.

If you can identify your audience first, understand their needs, challenges and pain points and then address those needs with your message and your product, then your content is going to speak to your audience.

Over ten years ago I read Call To Action by Bryan Eisenberg, and opened up so many new ideas for me. At the time, I was creating websites for clients and my interest in online marketing was just starting to pique. I still cite this quote today as being the fundamental concept of all marketing:

Speak to the dog, in the language of the dog, about what matters to the heart of a dog.” Bryan Eisenberg

Why create a buyer persona?

Business is customer centric, without a customer you don’t have a business. Therefore, the starting point for any business/product should be first to define who you want to sell to and then create your product and marketing directly focused on that person. Not the other way around.

Content marketing is all about questions and about being in the right place, with the right answer at the right time.

Marketing has turned away from a one-way broadcasting style and through the catalyst of social media has become a two-way conversation with their audience. Marketing is now dominated by the audience and not the brand. A complete role reversal.

Therefore, understanding as much about who you are talking to is essential so that you can have a direct conversation.

You can’t engage a cat person if you are talking about dogs and you wouldn’t read a Stephen King novel to a five-year-old or Peppa Pig to a teenager.

I’m going to walk you through creating a persona and have provided a template for you to download (at the end) so you can complete your own version.

What is a persona?

A persona is a detailed profile and summary of a person’s life, likes, dislikes, challenges and dreams.

A persona is NOT a stereotype such as Emo, Snowflake or Millenial, which is merely a caricature and is susceptible to the reader injecting their own interpretation.

Nor is it a customer profile, which is a generalisation of demographic and not descriptive enough for persona requirements. Eg. ‘Tweenager’ or ‘Mid-Lifer’.

The persona must be realistic and believable to enable you to envisage dialogue and interaction. You should be able to imagine the persona sat across a table having coffee with you. How do they look, act, speak? What do they talk about, respond to, get turned off by?

Where to find information to inform your persona:

The first stage is to gather your data to inform your persona creation. Experts suggest speaking to or gathering information from between 5-30 people, as long as there are patterns and trends that emerge on which to base your persona.

Ideally, you would have an existing customer database that you can send a survey to or get on the phone and interview.

Depending on the resources you have available you can comfortably use social media for an informed persona.

Sales team

The people with the most knowledge about your customer are the team that interacts with them, and they can tell you everything you need to know to build your detailed persona. What you want to know are the questions most often asked about the product or the most common problems and challenges that customers experience.

If you have the opportunity, sitting in on calls with a customer facing team can offer real insights.

Questionnaires

A survey is always my first go-to when starting a content strategy. Asking direct questions such as:

  • What was your most pressing need when searching for
  • What is your biggest challenge when doing
  • What is the main reason you decided to use us
  • Is there any information that we could offer you to make your decision easier

The single most useful nugget of information that you need is to understand what your customer pain points are. Once you know this, you can build a solid and effective content marketing plan and strategy.

Analytics

Mine your analytics data for what your prospects are searching for and to get clues to their personality and behaviour. Look at metrics such as landing pages, bounce rate, pages dropped out from, user journey through the site and any keyword data you have.

Social Media

The depth of detail you can gather from social is staggering. If you have a group or page with followers, by viewing each person you can see their movies, books, sports, likes, groups and check-ins. The detail of information you can gather by this process alone is so powerful ten years ago a marketer could only have dreamt of having free access to a tool like this.

If you don’t have an existing list of followers, you can still access the same information. Consider your keywords that define your brand or product and make a list then:

Twitter

  • Search for keywords and study the bios of people tweeting
  • Use Twitter search to find people talking and hashtags about your keywords
  • Ask questions to users identified as your target, ask them questions

Facebook – for consumer profiles

  • Use Graph Search to find profiles associated with your keywords
  • Search competitors profiles and who their followers are
  • See what other brands users are associated with on their profiles to build a picture
  • Mine profiles to see other interests and groups your prospects are engaging with

Linkedin – for business profiles

  • Search profiles to find qualifications and level of education
  • See other companies they associate with and follow
  • See groups they are members of
  • Assess level of success and earnings

I recommend reading this article about using Facebook Graph Search
And this webinar: Understanding your audience using social media

How to create a buyer persona:

When you have gathered all your data, start to answer the following questions:

  • Age, sex, ethnicity
  • Family (and pets)
  • Where do they live
  • What is their job title and salary
  • What is their education standard (inc reading level)
  • Social status
  • What are their social groups/interests (clubs, gyms, photographers, cyclists, etc.)
  • Level of digital and online ability
  • Level of data trust and sharing online
  • Their brand associations (are they an Apple user, do they shop at Asda or Tesco?)
  • Media and news sources

Create a story for your persona – this will help you to visualise the person while you generate ideas or write for them. When I say story: consider what their daily routine is like, what they want out of life, what their daily challenges are and try to get the essence of their life/character.


How to create a persona - Jane Walker


For example:
Jane Walker is 34 and lives in Manchester with her boyfriend of five years. They have a city centre apartment and one car. She works in a designer clothing store as a manager and loves the perks of discounted clothing. Her parents live an hour’s drive away and she sees them on average every two weeks. She has one sister who lives and works in London, but they are not very close. Jane works from 9.30am till 6 pm and has to work every Saturday. She goes to the gym three evenings a week and meets her girlfriends for a drink every Friday night. Jane is internet savvy and uses email, facebook and twitter on a daily basis.

It would be a safe assumption that Jane would be engaged reading an article about: The Top Five Fashionista Bars to Visit in Ibiza or an ebook titled: How To Find Designer Fashion Sample Sales, (the secret that fashion houses don’t want you to know) or an infographic titled: Train Harder For Less Time – how to get the most out of your gym session and look younger.

Pain and pleasure – carrot and stick

Psychology dictates that people are motivated by pain and pleasure. It’s a carrot and stick situation, pain (stick) moves them away and pleasure (carrot) moves them towards. For example, going to the gym can be motivated by the fear of being unhealthy, having a heart attack or being over-weight, which is something you are moving away from (pain). Or, you can be motivated by the desire to have a bikini body and see yourself walking on a beach looking and feeling fantastic while catching admiring glances from men and women – that’s moving towards (pleasure).

In a content marketing strategy, we want to map the pain points, challenges and questions that a user has at each stage the funnel. The intention is to preempt all the questions that a buyer may have and be there with the answers. It’s a classic sales process to remove any obstacles to purchase by directly addressing concerns and questions, so a buyer has no reason left to say no.

In our persona template we want to consider their pain/pleasure motivators:

  • Day to day goals
  • Daily challenges they face
  • Long term goals and aspirations
  • What keeps them awake a 3 am

For Jane, we can then begin to structure our information into a table such as:

Attribute Stick Carrot
Busy Always in a rush More time
Fashionable Out-of-date Being first and unique
Broody Ticking clock Getting married

Referring to this table when planning your content will help you to generate ideas, and when writing, you can imagine Jane’s worries and fears and speak to her directly. Form that emotional connection through understanding her pains.

Tone of voice

Consider their tone of voice, what language would they use? What is their level of vocabulary, how would they construct a sentence, what local (colloquial) phrases and sayings might they use? You wouldn’t use street-slang to speak to a banker and you wouldn’t use corporate jargon with a builder.

A great tip is to imagine your persona being played by an actor/actress. Then visualise the actor speaking in the role as Jane. For example, imagine Anne Hathaway as our Hero Jane. As you think about writing you can hear her voice and imagine how she would hold a conversation. You then have a clear person in your mind to who you are speaking.

Use a photograph for your persona (but avoid illustrations):

Finally, a selection of photographs will bring Jane to life and as Anne Hathaway brings the tone of voice to life, the photograph will present you with how Jane looks.

Using illustrations instead of photographs of the persona would seem to reduce effectiveness. It can lead to selective consideration of the persona characteristics and can increase the risk of self-referential details being superimposed onto the persona. The study also reported a lower level of empathy towards the illustrated persona and a diminished ability among students to recall details about the persona after time.
Frank Long at the National College of Art and Design


User Persona Template

You now should be looking at a document like this:

How to create a persona - Jane Walker - User Persona Template


Download a copy of the User Persona Template here…


How many personas should you create?

I would suggest that you always have a minimum of two and up to four or more for any business or product to cover your audience.

Where to use your persona

Once you have created your persona have it close to hand; stick it on the wall and refer to it whenever you create content. Ideally, I would suggest creating ‘mood boards’ which are a visual collection of imagery relating to your persona. Much like an ideas wall, seeing this visual information in front of you will help to connect information and brainstorm ideas.

As suggested above, when you are working on idea generation or writing content, imagine Anne Hathaway speaking as Jane and look at your images of Jane so that you can get into her skin and understand how she feels and thinks.

The persona is the basis to inform all your marketing from your content strategy, idea generation, content writing to which influencers to approach to find and reach Jane.

Time invested in creating personas will pay back with a more focused content plan and content that connects with your intended audience. And more possibility that you will get that date!

Updated for 2019.

The post How to Create a Persona appeared first on ShellShock UK.

30 of The Best Free Data Sources

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The Best Free Data Sources to Inform Your Content Creation and Ideation


If you Google ‘best free data sources’ you will find a raft of articles based on this theme but in my experience, many of these lists are bloated with obscure and unnecessary sites.

To save your time wading through a lot of fluff I have distilled the usual round of 50+ or 90+ links to the core sources of data that are your starting point to find datasets of significant value for your content production.

Citing statistics and facts from credible sources will elevate any content piece and a visualisation of a data set of real interest to your intended audience offers the perfect illustration to a piece of content or as a standalone asset.

Creating your own survey is always the first preference – if you have the budget and means – so that you have something unique to offer but a data set from a trusted and credible source is also a worthy basis.

All of the sources below are your starting point to finding the data you need to supplement your content production.


30 of The Best Data Sources in the UK/US

Government

Data.gov.uk
Since 2010 data.gov.uk has been helping people to find and use open government data, and supporting government publishers to maintain data.

ons.gov.uk
The UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and the recognised national statistical institute of the UK.

Data.gov
The home of the U.S. Government’s open data

UK Data Service
A comprehensive resource funded by the ESRC to support researchers, teachers and policymakers who depend on high-quality social and economic data.

European Union Open Data Portal
The European Union Open Data Portal (EU ODP) gives you access to open data published by EU institutions and bodies.

Eurostat
Eurostat is the statistical office of the European Union situated in Luxembourg. Its mission is to provide high quality statistics for Europe.

US Census Bureau
The Census Bureau’s mission is to serve as the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy.


Worldwide

Google Public Data
The Google Public Data Explorer makes large datasets easy to explore, visualize and communicate. As the charts and maps animate over time, the changes in the world become easier to understand.

Google trends
Google Trends is a public web facility of Google Inc., based on Google Search, that shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages.

UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations based in Paris.

The World Factbook
The World Factbook, also known as the CIA World Factbook, is a reference resource produced by the Central Intelligence Agency with almanac-style information about the countries of the world.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
One of the key tasks of UNODC is to produce and disseminate accurate drugs and crime statistics at the international level. UNODC also works to strengthen national capacity to produce, disseminate and use drugs and crime statistics within the framework of official statistics.

UNData
UNdata is an Internet search engine, retrieving data series from statistical databases provided by the UN System. UNdata was launched in February 2008.

Dataportals.org
A Comprehensive List of Open Data Portals from Around the World


Academic

Google Scholar
Google Scholar is a freely accessible web search engine that indexes the full text or metadata of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines.

Pew Research Center’s Internet Project
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, provides free data and analysis on the social.

Uk Data Service
The UK’s largest collection of social, economic and population data resources


Economic

International Monetary Fund (IMF)
The IMF publishes a range of time series data on IMF lending, exchange rates and other economic and financial indicators. Manuals, guides, and other material on statistical practices at the IMF, in member countries, and of the statistical community at large are also available.

Google Finance
Google Finance was a website launched on March 21, 2006, by Google. The service featured business and enterprise headlines for many corporations including their financial decisions and major news events.

World Bank Open Data
This site is designed to make World Bank data easy to find, download, and use.


Health

NHS Digital
NHS Digital (formerly HSCIC) uses information and technology to improve health and care.

Global Health Observatory (GHO)
Part of WHO, The Global Health Observatory theme pages provide data and analyses on global health priorities.

US Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
The Food and Drug Administration is a federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments.

HealthData.gov
This site is dedicated to making high value health data more accessible to entrepreneurs, researchers, and policy makers in the hopes of better health outcomes for all.


Public Opinion

YouGov
YouGov is a community of 4 million people around the world who share their views. We analyse this information and publish selected findings every day on our website.

Gallup
We empower you to use data for real transformation. Through analytics and advice, we provide leaders with a road map for understanding and unlocking the full potential of individuals, teams and organizations.

Roper Center for Public Opinion Research
The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University is one of the world’s leading archives of social science data, specializing in data from public opinion surveys.


Misc

Million Song Dataset
The Million Song Dataset is a freely-available collection of audio features and metadata for a million contemporary popular music tracks.

Datasets Subreddit
Datasets for Data Mining, Analytics and Knowledge Discovery.

Statistica
Find statistics, consumer survey results and industry studies from over 22500 sources on over 60000 topics on the internet’s leading statistics database.

Google Public Data Explorer
Google Public Data Explorer provides public data and forecasts from a range of international organizations and academic institutions including the World Bank, OECD, Eurostat and the University of Denver.

The post 30 of The Best Free Data Sources appeared first on ShellShock UK.

Best Books on Creativity

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I read. A lot.

Alongside swimming, reading is my passion and the love of my life.

As a child I used to devour books, often in one evening sitting and I could always be found curled up entertaining myself with an Enid Blyton and then progressing to Stephen King in my early teens. Going to bed early (and I mean 7pm early) is my guilty pleasure so that I can relax and read. On holiday, after swimming at sunrise, I just want to chill out and catch up on reading. Easily pleased (kind of).

Over the last seven years, I started to progress my writing and as Stephen King recommends, if you want to write, you must read a lot and then write a lot. I began to research about creativity and thinking skills and working my way through and devouring a library of greats expanded my mind and taught me so much. Over the last seven years, my personal growth and ways of thinking have accelerated more than I experienced in the first 37 years of my life combined. If only I had done/known/been… etc. etc.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Stephen King

A few years ago, I wrote a short ebook entitled What Is Creativity? and during that time I read almost every classic best book on creativity that I could find on the subject, alongside watching many videos and TED talks.

The following is my essential list for a curious and creative mind thirsty to absorb some goodness. All of these books and writers are unique, original thinkers and generally heavily cited (and plagiarised) online.

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” John Green

The 10 Best Books on Creativity (To Improve Your Mind & Your Life)

Its not how good you are its how good you want to be by Paul Arden

10: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, By Paul Arden

When Victoria Beckham was a teenager her ambition was to be ‘as famous as Persil Automatic’. At a young age, she knew she wanted to be a world brand, and become a world brand she did indeed! I don’t think it is any secret that Victoria was not blessed with being a talented singer, nor is she an actress or model. Although, she was very good at pointing and pouting.

It wasn’t how good she was that mattered, it was how good she wanted to be.

A short but powerfully inspiring book for creatives and designers, Paul Arden manages to puff the wind in your sails to realise that through grit and elbow grease you can do anything. Only if you think a little differently to everyone else.

If you can’t solve a problem, you’re playing by the rules.” Paul Arden

Buy It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be in the UK
Buy It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be in the US

Think like da vinci by Michael Gelb

9: Think Like Da Vinci, By Michael Gelb

It could confidently be said, that Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. Apart from being an artist, he had many accomplishments such as engineer, inventor, mathematician and architect to name a few. He is also credited with many inventions, most notable being an early helicopter and parachute.

Da Vinci attributed his astounding creative input to seven principles that he lived his life by and Think Like Da Vinci examines each of those principles, in turn, to help boost your own genius through a series of practical tasks.

My favourite principle is Curiosita, to be insatiably curious and forever asking questions. By constantly challenging the world through questions the mind expands inwardly searching for answers. The mental process stimulates the mind and nascent ideas are teased and nurtured into life.

The ten power questions exercise is a must.

Buy Think Like Da Vinci in the UK
Buy Think Like Da Vinci in the US

start with why by Simon Sinek

8: Start with Why, By Simon Sinek

I ‘found’ Start With Why several years ago and it was a revelation in terms of understanding how you can inspire others. I began to integrate this learning into all my work projects by helping clients to define their ‘why’ as a foundation to build their marketing on.

If you have your own business, by defining your ‘why’ you can then develop a brand with irresistible heart and soul rather than ‘me too’ blandness. The emotional connection that you can cultivate with your audience will be far stronger than trying to sell your product based on price or features. Apple were the master at leveraging this.

If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” Simon Sinek

The book can also help to define your own purpose. By writing out my ‘why’ it helped to focus my direction and purpose. Once you know your purpose in life, why you do what you do, everything else falls into place behind that.

Buy Start with Why in the UK
Buy Start with Why in the US

Confessions of an advertising man by David Ogilvy

7: Confessions Of An Advertising Man, By David Ogilvy

Long before Mad Men became popular, I discovered David Ogilvy and he was my secret. Or, so I thought. Until many others started sharing their secret too.

What I love about Ogilvy is that he went through so many different job roles until he found advertising. I myself had many random jobs from being an apple picker in Israel to a hair model for L’Oreal and I consider these experiences to be a better education than I ever found in university. Exposure to diverse roles and environments helps me to understand people better and ultimately makes me better at being creative and a marketer. You have to have a rich well of experience to draw on to be a good writer or creative.

I also respect how hard Ogilvy famously worked and the urgency with which he built his agency.

I had neither the time nor the money to wait. I was poor, unknown and in a hurry.” David Ogilvy

This book is the essential reading for anyone who wants to lead or build a creative agency. Beautifully written, Ogilvy knew how to use words sparingly and to the point and it becomes clear as to why he was so successful.

Buy Confessions Of An Advertising Man in the UK
Buy Confessions Of An Advertising Man in the US

A technique for producing ideas by James Webb Young

6: A Technique For Producing Ideas, By James Webb Young

I used to consider thinking a mystical art that came from the ether that I had neither control nor understanding of. I couldn’t explain how I had ideas, I just did (with fingers crossed). When I began my research into thinking skills I learnt there was a formulaic process and as I understood how the brain worked I had insight into taking back control of this skill.

A tiny book of only 48 pages, you can read this within an hour. But don’t be dismissive, this is a concentrated powerhouse that can show you the steps to take to generate an idea.

Buy A Technique For Producing Ideas in the UK
Buy A Technique For Producing Ideas in the US

Made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath

5: Made To Stick, By Chip and Dan Heath

I work within online marketing as a content producer and have to generate creative ideas on a regular basis that not only encourage but insist others will share. It’s demanding and can be stressful. Most of my industry network turn to books on psychology and persuasion and I am grateful to the person who gave me this book as a gift (Paddy).

Chip and Dan isolate the six elements (SUCCESS) that contribute to making ideas ‘sticky’ and use a vast array of entertaining stories and metaphors to illustrate their point. I can’t stress enough just how useful and practical this book is for anyone working within an industry that relies on attention and clicks. Probably covers most of us.

This is a book that can help your career, and that’s a bold statement to make.

Buy Made To Stick in the UK
Buy Made To Stick in the US

Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

4: Lateral Thinking, By Edward De Bono

Surprisingly, at school, no one teaches you how to think; I mean really think. The only thinking skills that you do acquire are focused on a logical approach known as ‘vertical thinking’. Inherent with flaws, this system of encourages you to stop as soon as you reach the first solution to your problem, regardless of whether this is the best solution that you can find.

Lateral Thinking expands your mind to approach problem solving and creativity in a new way with a series of thinking skills that anyone can learn.

I have devoured most of Edward de Bonos books and scoured the internet searching for prehistoric TV footage of his teaching programmes. As an introduction, I recommend starting with this book and then progressing through his catalogue if you want to learn to be a better ‘thinker’.

Buy Lateral Thinking in the UK
Buy Lateral Thinking in the US

The war of art by Steven Pressfield

3: The War of Art, By Steven Pressfield

For anyone who knows the pain of a blank piece of paper or, staring at the blinking cursor on the screen, fingers poised at the keyboard and mouse clutched in a sweating hand. Often, the thing we are supposed to do is the one thing we avoid the most. For me, it’s writing. I have been running from this for years; I feel the need to write, but I don’t know what to write.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between us stands resistance.” Steven Pressfield

Steven uses short chapters and anecdotes to illustrate how we can overcome our demons to make a start on what we really want to do. Be it, write a book, start a business or swim the channel (I’m scared of jellyfish and dark water). Pressfield is such an outstanding writer that the years of discipline he has shown to sit daily and write pour out of the pages in the craftsmanship of his text.

This would be the third book that I would rescue from a burning building. I keep reading it over and over again.

Buy The War of Art in the UK
Buy The War of Art in the US

The element by Ken Robinson

2: The Element, by Ken Robinson

As a creative, I’m sure you will relate to that compulsion that you have to create. You can’t do or be anything else. For me, this manifested as a need to work with my hands, to draw, to make things and to solve problems. As I have grown older, I have this burning sensation of energy in my solar plexus that compels me to write. I have no idea why and if I am honest, it scares me a little.

Ken Robinson delivered one of my favourite TED talks about how creativity is educated out of us. Ken is such an eloquent and dry humoured speaker that I bought all of his books and discovered my number two must read.

The Element is described as ‘the point at which natural talent meets personal passion’. It’s about overcoming the frustration and disillusionment we feel in life when we are not being our true self and harnessing your inherent passion and purpose.

A book that is so inspiring I bought copies for all of my friends.

Buy The Element in the UK
Buy The Element in the US

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

1: Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you ever experienced the feeling of being so involved with what you are doing that you transcend to a state of total focus completely unaware of anything other than the task in hand? It can temporarily remove you from all problems in your life and take you to an intensely joyful and creative state. As if everything in your life has aligned and you are fulfilling purpose in a spiritual way.

I get flow when I am absorbed in life drawing classes, when I am writing and for glorious moments in the pool when muscle memory takes over and I am a passenger within my body as I automatically glide through the water with perfect strokes. It’s beautiful and nothing else can match that feeling.

Mihaly (I can’t pronounce his surname) dissects the state of ‘flow’ and how we can achieve it.

Flow is a book that can change your life.
Buy Flow in the UK
Buy Flow in the US


“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King


The post Best Books on Creativity appeared first on ShellShock UK.

The Top 10 Books on Creativity (To Improve Your Mind & Your Life)

No Comments

I read. A lot.

Alongside swimming, reading is my passion and the love of my life.

As a child I used to devour books, often in one evening sitting and I could always be found curled up entertaining myself with an Enid Blyton and then progressing to Stephen King in my early teens. Going to bed early (and I mean 7pm early) is my guilty pleasure so that I can relax and read. On holiday, after swimming at sunrise, I just want to chill out and catch up on reading. Easily pleased (kind of).

Over the last seven years, I started to progress my writing and as Stephen King recommends, if you want to write, you must read a lot and then write a lot. I began to research about creativity and thinking skills and working my way through and devouring a library of greats expanded my mind and taught me so much. Over the last seven years, my personal growth and ways of thinking have accelerated more than I experienced in the first 37 years of my life combined. If only I had done/known/been… etc. etc.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Stephen King

A few years ago, I wrote a short ebook entitled What Is Creativity? and during that time I read almost every classic book that I could find on the subject, alongside watching many videos and TED talks. I spoke at a few conferences and started the Creativity 101 Digest as a natural progression to share all the incredible learning I was experiencing.

The following is my essential list for a curious and creative mind thirsty to absorb some goodness. All of these books and writers are unique, original thinkers and generally heavily cited (and plagiarised) online.

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” John Green

The Top Ten Books on Creativity (To Improve Your Mind & Your Life)

Its not how good you are its how good you want to be by Paul Arden

10: It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, By Paul Arden

When Victoria Beckham was a teenager her ambition was to be ‘as famous as Persil Automatic’. At a young age, she knew she wanted to be a world brand, and become a world brand she did indeed! I don’t think it is any secret that Victoria was not blessed with being a talented singer, nor is she an actress or model. Although, she was very good at pointing and pouting.

It wasn’t how good she was that mattered, it was how good she wanted to be.

A short but powerfully inspiring book for creatives and designers, Paul Arden manages to puff the wind in your sails to realise that through grit and elbow grease you can do anything. Only if you think a little differently to everyone else.

If you can’t solve a problem, you’re playing by the rules.” Paul Arden

Buy It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be in the UK
Buy It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be in the US

Think like da vinci by Michael Gelb

9: Think Like Da Vinci, By Michael Gelb

It could confidently be said, that Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. Apart from being an artist, he had many accomplishments such as engineer, inventor, mathematician and architect to name a few. He is also credited with many inventions, most notable being an early helicopter and parachute.

Da Vinci attributed his astounding creative input to seven principles that he lived his life by and Think Like Da Vinci examines each of those principles, in turn, to help boost your own genius through a series of practical tasks.

My favourite principle is Curiosita, to be insatiably curious and forever asking questions. By constantly challenging the world through questions the mind expands inwardly searching for answers. The mental process stimulates the mind and nascent ideas are teased and nurtured into life.

The ten power questions exercise is a must.

Buy Think Like Da Vinci in the UK
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start with why by Simon Sinek

8: Start with Why, By Simon Sinek

I ‘found’ Start With Why several years ago and it was a revelation in terms of understanding how you can inspire others. I began to integrate this learning into all my work projects by helping clients to define their ‘why’ as a foundation to build their marketing on.

If you have your own business, by defining your ‘why’ you can then develop a brand with irresistible heart and soul rather than ‘me too’ blandness. The emotional connection that you can cultivate with your audience will be far stronger than trying to sell your product based on price or features. Apple were the master at leveraging this.

If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” Simon Sinek

The book can also help to define your own purpose. By writing out my ‘why’ it helped to focus my direction and purpose. Once you know your purpose in life, why you do what you do, everything else falls into place behind that.

Buy Start with Why in the UK
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Confessions of an advertising man by David Ogilvy

7: Confessions Of An Advertising Man, By David Ogilvy

Long before Mad Men became popular, I discovered David Ogilvy and he was my secret. Or, so I thought. Until many others started sharing their secret too.

What I love about Ogilvy is that he went through so many different job roles until he found advertising. I myself had many random jobs from being an apple picker in Israel to a hair model for L’Oreal and I consider these experiences to be a better education than I ever found in university. Exposure to diverse roles and environments helps me to understand people better and ultimately makes me better at being creative and a marketer. You have to have a rich well of experience to draw on to be a good writer or creative.

I also respect how hard Ogilvy famously worked and the urgency with which he built his agency.

I had neither the time nor the money to wait. I was poor, unknown and in a hurry.” David Ogilvy

This book is the essential reading for anyone who wants to lead or build a creative agency. Beautifully written, Ogilvy knew how to use words sparingly and to the point and it becomes clear as to why he was so successful.

Buy Confessions Of An Advertising Man in the UK
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A technique for producing ideas by James Webb Young

6: A Technique For Producing Ideas, By James Webb Young

I used to consider thinking a mystical art that came from the ether that I had neither control nor understanding of. I couldn’t explain how I had ideas, I just did (with fingers crossed). When I began my research into thinking skills I learnt there was a formulaic process and as I understood how the brain worked I had insight into taking back control of this skill.

A tiny book of only 48 pages, you can read this within an hour. But don’t be dismissive, this is a concentrated powerhouse that can show you the steps to take to generate an idea.

Buy A Technique For Producing Ideas in the UK
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Made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath

5: Made To Stick, By Chip and Dan Heath

I work within online marketing as a content producer and have to generate creative ideas on a regular basis that not only encourage but insist others will share. It’s demanding and can be stressful. Most of my industry network turn to books on psychology and persuasion and I am grateful to the person who gave me this book as a gift (Paddy).

Chip and Dan isolate the six elements (SUCCESS) that contribute to making ideas ‘sticky’ and use a vast array of entertaining stories and metaphors to illustrate their point. I can’t stress enough just how useful and practical this book is for anyone working within an industry that relies on attention and clicks. Probably covers most of us.

This is a book that can help your career, and that’s a bold statement to make.

Buy Made To Stick in the UK
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Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono

4: Lateral Thinking, By Edward De Bono

Surprisingly, at school, no one teaches you how to think; I mean really think. The only thinking skills that you do acquire are focused on a logical approach known as ‘vertical thinking’. Inherent with flaws, this system of encourages you to stop as soon as you reach the first solution to your problem, regardless of whether this is the best solution that you can find.

Lateral Thinking expands your mind to approach problem solving and creativity in a new way with a series of thinking skills that anyone can learn.

I have devoured most of Edward de Bonos books and scoured the internet searching for prehistoric TV footage of his teaching programmes. As an introduction, I recommend starting with this book and then progressing through his catalogue if you want to learn to be a better ‘thinker’.

Buy Lateral Thinking in the UK
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The war of art by Steven Pressfield

3: The War of Art, By Steven Pressfield

For anyone who knows the pain of a blank piece of paper or, staring at the blinking cursor on the screen, fingers poised at the keyboard and mouse clutched in a sweating hand. Often, the thing we are supposed to do is the one thing we avoid the most. For me, it’s writing. I have been running from this for years; I feel the need to write, but I don’t know what to write.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between us stands resistance.” Steven Pressfield

Steven uses short chapters and anecdotes to illustrate how we can overcome our demons to make a start on what we really want to do. Be it, write a book, start a business or swim the channel (I’m scared of jellyfish and dark water). Pressfield is such an outstanding writer that the years of discipline he has shown to sit daily and write pour out of the pages in the craftsmanship of his text.

This would be the third book that I would rescue from a burning building. I keep reading it over and over again.

Buy The War of Art in the UK
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The element by Ken Robinson

2: The Element, by Ken Robinson

As a creative, I’m sure you will relate to that compulsion that you have to create. You can’t do or be anything else. For me, this manifested as a need to work with my hands, to draw, to make things and to solve problems. As I have grown older, I have this burning sensation of energy in my solar plexus that compels me to write. I have no idea why and if I am honest, it scares me a little.

Ken Robinson delivered one of my favourite TED talks about how creativity is educated out of us. Ken is such an eloquent and dry humoured speaker that I bought all of his books and discovered my number two must read.

The Element is described as ‘the point at which natural talent meets personal passion’. It’s about overcoming the frustration and disillusionment we feel in life when we are not being our true self and harnessing your inherent passion and purpose.

A book that is so inspiring I bought copies for all of my friends.

Buy The Element in the UK
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Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

1: Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Have you ever experienced the feeling of being so involved with what you are doing that you transcend to a state of total focus completely unaware of anything other than the task in hand? It can temporarily remove you from all problems in your life and take you to an intensely joyful and creative state. As if everything in your life has aligned and you are fulfilling purpose in a spiritual way.

I get flow when I am absorbed in life drawing classes, when I am writing and for glorious moments in the pool when muscle memory takes over and I am a passenger within my body as I automatically glide through the water with perfect strokes. It’s beautiful and nothing else can match that feeling.

Mihaly (I can’t pronounce his surname) dissects the state of ‘flow’ and how we can achieve it.

Flow is a book that can change your life.
Buy Flow in the UK
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“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King


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The post The Top 10 Books on Creativity (To Improve Your Mind & Your Life) appeared first on Creativity 101.

Why Content Campaigns Fail

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Why Content Campaigns Fail

You’re thinking about producing a big content campaign but can you justify the spend on an epic hero piece and how can you ensure its success? You love interactive pieces such as Cocainenomics, Journey to the center of the earth and The Mixtape of Love (self-promo) but what can you produce and how can you make sure you get results? What would successful results even look like? Most importantly, how do you avoid a content fail?

The state of content marketing 2017

Content production is not showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, 79% of content marketers in the UK expect to produce more content in 2017 (CMI), but the consensus is that “We’re spending more but struggling with justification and delivery.” (State of Content Marketing 2017)

Even though ‘content shock’ was first cited by Mark Schafer in 2014, ‘brands as publishers’ are forging ahead and churning out content mostly without consideration for objective, strategy or measured results. From my experience, few have the understanding of how to construct a successful content campaign.

Buzzsumo produced a report back in 2015 that highlighted how 50% of content obtains eight shares or fewer and 75% obtain zero links. And still today, many marketers are struggling to define what makes good content. Surveys show that 65% find it a challenge to produce engaging content and 60% say they can’t produce content consistently.

A prescriptive content process

After specialising in the production of content over the past six years and watching who produces what, I have seen a lot of content successes and fails. Being so focused on this space I have a clear insight into why content fails and how prescriptive content production can be.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s an easy formulaic process – no one gets it right every time.

What is a ‘big content campaign’?

Content that is produced within a strategy to gain awareness for a brand or website, is the essence of a ‘content campaign’.

As links have been the metric for content campaigns to date, what I am focusing on here is content that has the specific aim of gaining links from media or influential hub sites.

What is a content campaign fail?

There are many ways in which content can fail (depending on your objective) but in this instance, for ‘big campaign’ content, a fail is considered a piece of content that doesn’t obtain links from authority sites or have any mentions and shares.

And that brings us to: why do content campaigns fail?

From producing many pieces of content over several years and observations working alongside others, I have distilled what I think are the six predominant reasons why campaigns fail. By trying and doing lots of things I have made mistakes (and achieved big wins) to learn and develop the experience to know what makes and breaks content.

1: You didn’t conduct audience research first

The first question you should ask yourself in any campaign is:

Where do I want my content to be placed?

This is the number one mistake: creating content first and then secondly thinking about where and who to outreach to. Know who and where you want to target for exposure and then create content specifically for that influencer or website. This feeds into your objective and your concepts.

Understand your primary and secondary audience

Predominantly, you want the attention of your influencer or journalist but secondary and just as important, is that you understand what their readership consume and want. You can read in-depth about creating personas here.

After identifying the website you want to gain placement on, take the time to go through it by hand to get a feel for titles and themes. Use Buzzsumo to check share counts and links to top pages.

It’s not about you, avoid self-promotion

Another issue I have dealt with is heavy-handed branding and self-promotional pieces that you can guarantee an influencer will not want to share. Big brands have internal policies and style guides to adhere to but this can impact on quality of concept and production. I’ve had awful situations arise from creating bold concepts to gain attention that initially got approval but after due diligence and several rounds of stakeholder intervention, the concept and the piece of content has become so diluted to be rendered useless and the content bombs. This is a waste of time for everyone.

2: You didn’t have an objective or strategy

Secondary to understanding your audience, I consider the objective to be one of the most important factors in content production and yet it’s so often overlooked. The number of times clients say, I want to produce an interactive piece, and my first response is, why?

The starting point for any campaign should be the end:

What do you want to achieve?

Personally, I am a big believer in ‘doing’ and just trying things to see what works. For content campaigns, if you don’t have an aim then you are shooting with a blindfold on and have little chance of hitting the target. Following on from the first fail of not understanding your audience, you want to know who and where you want exposure from – be strategic about this. Reduce your target and produce focused content just for one media/influential site. Establish contact and build a relationship with this influencer first and get them to buy into your content before you create it.

Why am I doing this?

If you churn out content without a strategy and a goal, then you are throwing your budget away. Tie your content production to specific goals. Big content campaigns are predominantly about links but your content should also tie into wider goals and should have a predetermined user journey to capture and retain traffic. My recommendation is to always be capturing email addresses – a database of ‘opted in’ users is the most valuable marketing asset you can have.

Is the tool right for the objective?

In my experience, a lot of clients take the ‘tool first’ approach and want to produce an interactive map, with no consideration for what their audience want or for a concept. They try to retro fit the concept to the tool. When new ‘tools’ become available, such as 360 video, a flurry of producers will benefit from the novelty value, but without strength of concept to add substance to the piece, it will not be sustained. If you are left with a feeling of where’s the value?, then this is more likely to turn people off than engage them with your content and brand.

How to trust a website

Example, How to Trust a Website

The objective was to achieve links from high authority sites and to engage the demographic of the brand, which was a 35+ female.

When we researched concepts for this piece, 65% of shoppers claimed they could do more to stay safe online. The concept came out of wanting to empower a shopper with enough knowledge of how to stay safe when Christmas shopping. Directed at a user (35+) with little internet understanding and timed for the pre-Christmas season.

We had very fortunate timing just before launch in the wake of a major data security breach at Talk Talk and this had opened a discussion about the safety of entering data online. The timing enabled us to obtain endorsement from Action Fraud and secure links from the police, Crimestoppers, Get Safe Online and 80 other root domains.

Internet awareness day on the 9th February also offered another window that we tapped into.


3: Your concept wasn’t useful, surprising or emotional

Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, is a book about what makes ideas ‘sticky’ and is well known in my circles for offering insight into how to generate ideas for content campaigns. The premise of the book centres around their acronym of SUCCES:

  • Simple: distilling to the most important idea at the core.
  • Unexpected: the brain is a self-organising pattern maker and something that disrupts that pattern stands out and gets attention.
  • Concrete: to make something be easily described or detected by the human senses.
  • Credible: statistics, testimonials, real life examples and testable credentials.
  • Emotional: make people care and inspire them to act.
  • Stories: it’s proven that it’s easier to retain information delivered as a story.

For content idea generation, I have a simpler acronym of USE:

  • Useful: offer real value to the audience of what they are interested in. For example, ‘how to’ or a curation of niche information.
  • Surprising: disrupting patterns and offering something unexpected will help to get attention. For example, how the information is visually delivered or a twist in the concept.
  • Emotional: recognising and addressing the pain points and the challenges of the audience is most likely to make a connection. For example, what keeps your audience awake at 3am?
  • Without a strong concept, content has neither anything to offer nor value to an audience or a journalist during outreach. This is a vast subject, so you can read a more in-depth piece about how to generate ideas here.

    Creating concepts that will attract and engage your audience is not an easy task. Consider that YouTube alone has 300 hours of video uploaded every minute! We are drowning in the stuff and the probability of having an original idea sits somewhere between slim and not a chance.

    My favourite process for creating a unique idea is to combine two random ideas to create a new one. I always cite one of the best combinations of all time: the camera phone. When I was growing up, the notion that a phone would fit in your pocket and combine with a (then film) camera was too remote to imagine. Someone somewhere had the idea that combining the two would be a gimmick to sell more phones. And sell more phones it did!

    Steps in the City

    Example, Steps in the City

    While researching for an idea, I came across an article in the Guardian about how walking was the new jogging. At the time, the craze for fitness bands was in full peak and users were embracing the goal of hitting 10,000 steps a day. Also, I love niche curated walking tours such as graffiti street art walks and all these ideas then began to connect.

    The concept that came together from these three random ideas was based on having a ‘fun’ day out whilst at the same time being healthy and achieving a 10,000 steps goal as a side result.

    Steps achieved placement on Heart.org.uk (amongst others) and as an evergreen piece of content, can benefit from rounds of promotion annually.


    4: You didn’t have a reason for journalists to share

    Outreach to journalists is very different to contacting a blogger and it’s taking a while for the SEO industry to catch up with how to work with journalists. I’m not going to go into detail here about how to contact a journalist, as there is so much to say but the main points are:

    What’s the story?

    The overriding motivation for any journalist is that they want a story for their readers – that’s their job. They don’t care about Buzzfeed-style listicles or quirky quizzes and they don’t care about you or your brand. Simply, they want something unique and newsworthy.

    Consider their position and think about how your piece of content can be turned into a story in their media publication. What do you have of unique value to offer?

    A journalist will respond to:

    • Unique data and research
    • Surveys that show insights
    • Ground-breaking news (exclusivity)

    Once I understood this, it changed my whole approach to generating content ideas.

    Email approach

    A journalist has little time and is constantly pitched to. They can see through your approach of ‘I read your publication all the time and I think you’re great. Would you share my piece of content all about how great bathrooms are?’. That might seem a little basic but there are a lot of people who simply don’t know how to write outreach emails.

    The right topic.

    Do your homework on what a journalist covers. Imagine this: you cover sports for a newspaper and get an email pitch to share content about weddings. It might seem obvious but again, writing emails takes time, research and attention to detail.

    Blanket emails

    If you think sending 200 emails to a list with the only variation being {name} then your outreach approach has a serious problem. Do not blanket email journalists.

    Endorsement

    If you can gain endorsement for your content, such as the Cats Protection League for a pet-based piece, this can significantly raise the credibility of what you offer and have far more appeal. The endorsement from the police site, Action fraud, significantly helped the ‘How to trust a website’ piece (see example).

    Food Allergy

    Example, Food allergy

    Health is a topic known to be popular for outreach to certain media sites, so we settled on a niche target audience of food allergy sufferers – one in five people have a level of food insensitivity in the UK. The concept was inspired by my own issues with a restricted diet and pre-checking a menu before visiting a restaurant is mandatory for me, to ensure that I can eat something.

    In 2014, legislation came into effect that required food businesses to provide allergy information on all food sold unpackaged. We tapped into this information to provide both an allergen food count for brand restaurants in the UK and a resource for anyone with food allergy and diet restrictions.

    We fed the campaign with a unique survey conducted from a wide database of the brands and through feedback on social media. This fed into the piece and supported the coverage we achieved.

    The objective was to target media links and we secured coverage in the Daily Mail who cited the survey information.


    5: You underestimated how much promotion is needed

    A content campaign is probably 80/20 – promotion/content – and in my experience, a lot of marketers think it is the other way around. You can have the best piece of content in the world but if you don’t put the investment and effort into the promotion and do it right then you will fail – completely.

    From experience, I found that promotion is best delivered on a tiered basis, starting with:

    • Exclusive offering to top-level publications and journalists.
    • Outreach to other influential hub sites.
    • Outreach to mid-level sites.
    • Start social media promotion (non-paid).
    • Start syndication on sites such as Reddit.
    • Start paid social ads and continue rounds when traffic/mentions slow.
    • Outreach to bloggers.
    • Search to pick up non-linking citations and placements.

    The rule of promotion is that persistence pays off. Investing in one or two days of outreach on an isolated basis is only going to deliver limited results. Outreach needs to be conducted over weeks and months to keep picking up links and to sustain momentum. An evergreen piece of content can have renewed outreach seasonally and when relevant awareness days are due. A good piece can be outreached over several years to get real value. On this basis, I always think it is best for outreach to be conducted inhouse or a dedicated digital PR person who is constantly monitring for new opportunities as these can arise all the time.

    Note, anyone who offers a placement on their website will most likely want a graphic to use. If you have produced an interactive infographic then supplement production with a static graphic that can be used with outreach.

    6: The right content at the wrong time

    Ultimately, you can follow all the processes and formulas, and still your content can still fail. This usually happens because of timing:

    • Too much competition from other content
    • You missed the slot for an awareness day
    • A major news event just happened and knocked you out of the schedule
    • A similar idea has just been launched

    I have also found that offering seasonal content is not the best approach to take. You are competing against countless other content offerings and also, influencers and journalists will be inundated at peak seasonal times, such as Christmas or the World Cup.

    Awareness days however, are a valuable boost to tie into your concept if timed correctly. Keep note of key dates, as these can help to promote content and enable you to revisit evergreen pieces. You can find a useful PR event calendar resource here.

    Sportbluff

    Example, Sport bluff

    At the time, Sportbluff was one of my favourite combinations of two random ideas. After searching for ideas around the theme ‘rugby’ I found an article titled ‘Fat lads who played rugby once in school to talk s**t for next six weeks, warns barman’.

    This fired off a thought I had, that rugby is a complicated game and for the average person watching in the pub, it’s difficult to follow and to enjoy. A high profile tournament such as the Rugby World Cup raises popular interest and as a result, more people want to watch the game.

    The second thought to connect was from one of my favourite episodes in the IT Crowd about a website called ‘Bluffball’, which was all about football parlance.

    The focus was to deliver a basic but comprehensive level of the rules of the game, so that a total novice could refer to the site in a pub and follow a game (or just enough to bluff your way through a game).

    Unfortunately, the fail was missing the window of opportunity of outreach for the World Cup and therefore not achieving the success the piece could potentially have had. That said, it is an evergreen idea and it can benefit from subsequent rounds of outreach before key tournaments and seasons.


    Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of why content campaigns can fail and have a useful input into how you can improve your concepts and approach for greater content success.

    Why content campaigns fail takeaways:

    • Understand your audience
    • Know your objective and ask why?
    • Make a ‘sticky’ concept with USE
    • Create a ‘story’ for journalists
    • Be persistent with promotion
    • The right timing

    The post Why Content Campaigns Fail appeared first on ShellShock UK.

How to Generate Ideas for Content

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How To Generate Ideas For Content

Your client wants a piece of content and they want it to generate links. A lot of links. The word ‘viral’ has been thrown in there.

The reality is that users produce 64.3 million new posts, each month, on WordPress alone.

Talk about a crowded workspace.

And, how do we have a unique, fresh and engaging idea in a world where everything has been said and done before?

Feel the pressure.

I have to generate ideas, every month, for clients. To create engaging pieces of content that get audiences to interact with and link to. It’s a tough job.

The following is my process of how I generate ideas.


Let me introduce you to our (fictional) client:

Kwalitycars.co.uk
A car rental company that operates nationwide throughout the UK.
Turnover of 2-5 million and the website currently has 900k unique hits a month.

They want to make sure their main competitor, Rentakar.co.uk, who is snapping at their heels, doesn’t take the number one position.

So, we need good solid links from hard to replicate sites to strengthen their position.

Why are you producing content at all?

Start a project by asking why? Unless you can answer this question, you are producing content for content’s sake and wasting money for your client (or yourself).

You might also want to read, Why content campaigns fail? for more insights.

In our client example, we want to gain links from media sites to strengthen the link profile of the website and get more traffic. Your objective might be to get more traffic and a content audit combined with keyword research, will offer insight into where you can increase traffic through search results.

Once we have an objective and know why we are doing this and what we want to achieve, then we can start to put a plan together.

Who do we need to target to achieve this?

The next stage is to consider who the target audience will be for the content. We want to achieve links, so our target is to find a high domain authority site that we can pitch our concept and story to, and achieve the link back to the client site.

Our direct audience is the target site but they also have an audience and readership that we will need to consider as an indirect audience.

Start out by drafting out the niches related to your site:

To find our audience, we consider topics relevant to the brand. Relevancy is now an important factor for link building, so we want links from sites aligned with our niche. For example, links from a recipe blog to a car site offer no relevancy (in Google terms) and should be avoided.

Possible niches with relevancy to car hire are:

  • Driving/cars
  • Travel
  • Corporate/business

Drafting out themes

Starting with our niche of driving, we can start to look for ideas of themes. This is where keeping up-to-date with trends and what is popular within content pays off and it really helps to work within a specific niche consistently (but it’s not essential).

When I was an illustrator I used to keep huge scrapbooks of magazine cuttings, cards and pictures – anything that visually attracted me or was representative of a popular trend went into the scrapbook. When creating a new illustration, this was always my starting point to review what style, colour palette and compositions I wanted to include. In much the same way, I now have countless Pinterest boards and bookmarks of content that appeals and which can be referred back to as inspiration.

Valuable sources to start researching themes are:

Reddit is one of the best sites on the web to have insight into what is popular content. Be aware that this isn’t your end point. At this stage we are looking for wider themes to expand on our niche before we search for influencers. So, drill down into Subreddits around your niche and look at what is hot and trending.

If you are a content producer, Reddit should be one of your regular haunts.

how to generate ideas for contenthow to generate ideas for content

You can see here a question about music making you drive faster. This sparks my interest.

Here we have a mention of traffic rules in various countries. Another seed is planted.

Quora is one of the most valuable resources for finding questions that users are asking. I tend to find this more appropriate for blog articles and smaller pieces of content, and it offers an insight into what conversations users are having and what questions they are asking for clues into various potential themes. I type in driving:

how to generate ideas for content

Texting and driving are a potential thread of an idea I like and what are some interesting roads in the world to travel on is another.

Twitter. Search hashtags around keywords. For niches, you watch on a regular basis save keywords and hashtags to check the stream. I use Hootsuite to manage countless streams and lists.

how to generate ideas for content

The future of self-driving cars, combined with hire cars has great potential.

Pinterest can be a goldmine for reference material when brainstorming and is a natural visual scrapbook resource.
how to generate ideas for content

Another idea about great roads to drive on. The North Coast 500 in Scotland is supposed to be one of the world’s best drives. Could we produce a photo gallery or guide of where to stay on the NC500?

Google image search, see what other visual content already exists for ideas you can improve on.

how to generate ideas for content

Hmmmm, an ultimate guide to driving a rental, which could have value.

Buzzsumo (paid)
Most likely one of the favourite tools of content marketers. Buzzsumo will give you an exhaustive list of the most popular pieces of content in any niche. Simply type in your term and then mine through the list.

how to generate ideas for content

What about best places to visit within driving distance of [location]?

There are no new ideas

A key tip to remember when thinking of ideas is that you don’t have to have an original idea. Look for something that is a starting point and which can spark off a thought process. Or, anything that kinda takes an idea half way there but the execution can be vastly improved (known as the skyscraper technique).

It’s all about planting seeds.

Brainstorm

Start your brain splurge. The following two techniques always work for me:

The USE process

Create three columns:

  • Useful
  • Surprising/unexpected
  • Emotional

For each row write the first things that come into your head on your theme – don’t be precious or think too hard. The key is to let it flow and continue even after you have written something you think is a great idea. Set a timer of ten minutes – having constraints helps with creativity.

Example (these are as random as you can get):

Useful Surprising Emotional
Driving in the dark with night vision headlights along a haunted lane.
Local road maps pop-up book style landmarks of places you would like to go on holiday.
Learn whilst driving skills to impress your boss and make more money.
Improve speaking techniques for conferences and overcome nerves.
Be prepared turn your car into a bathroom and look your best for meetings.

Combine two random ideas

Get a large piece of paper and just keep writing keywords based around your theme. As before, think of useful/practical, unexpected/surprising and emotional words.
When you have a full page, start to link words and phrases – use these links to start seeds of ideas. I’ve cited ideas walls as being valuable for making random connections many times before and you can read more about this in the ebbok, How to have Ideas.

Keep a note of all your ideas

During this process, I presume you will have been filling-up a notepad with your random ideas. I use Evernote to do this but Word, Google Docs or any other preferred note-taking tool can suffice. You can now review and start to select the seedlings that are starting to grow. Take these seedlings and combine them with a story to nurture and give them traction.

Our seedling list:

  • Music making you drive faster.
  • Traffic rules in various countries.
  • Interesting roads in the world to travel on.
  • The future of self-driving cars, combined with hire cars has potential.The North Coast 500 in Scotland.
  • Ultimate guide to driving a rental.
  • Skills you can learn whilst driving. to impress your boss.
  • Improve your speaking technique to overcome nerves, whilst driving.
  • What about best places to visit within driving distance of [location]?

The seedling niches for outreach:

  • Self-driving hire cars
  • Traffic rules
  • Travel ideas
  • Business skills

Let’s see what else is already out there…

Self-driving cars
how to generate ideas for contenthow to generate ideas for content

Nothing showing up for ‘self-driving hire cars’ but I have found the Google Self-Driving Car Project reports. Listed in each month are all the collisions that have occurred – this could make a great visualisation of data.

Traffic rules in different countries
how to generate ideas for content

A few pieces of content exist but on review, there isn’t anything that couldn’t be vastly improved and bettered.

Best roads to drive in Scotlandhow to generate ideas for content

A lot of content around this concept, so we would have to think more laterally and put a unique twist on it to get results from outreach.

Learn whilst driving
Improve your speaking technique whilst driving has no other pieces of contenthow to generate ideas for content

Best business podcasts to listen to whilst driving, is a Google suggest title indicating there is traffic for this term.

I like both of these concepts and think there is room for progression.

Influencers and outreach targets

Once we have the seedling ideas and niches, we can start to think about where and also, who will be sharing the content. This factor is essential and in every case that content hasn’t worked out, it is usually because the content has been created without first knowing who the outreach target will be.

The final stages are about how you will sell the idea to a journalist. Without a ‘story’, a journalist will not be interested in your idea. Understanding this one point has been key to how I generate ideas and create content.

An extract from the excellent book Made To Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath, goes as follows:
Nora Ephron screenwriter recalled her first day in journalism class, lesson one, was asked to create a story. The handout contained the brief will all the research needed and an outline about a teacher training day that would improve student efficiency, to be held the following Thursday. Each student diligently created their piece based on the facts and duly submitted. The teacher then stood at the front of the class and said that everyone had missed the point. The lead of the story was that next Thursday there would be no school.

It was a breathtaking moment,” Ephron recalls. “In that instant I realised that journalism was not just about regurgitating facts but about figuring out the point.

In that analogy, it sums up the thought process you have to adopt to pre-empt how a journalist will create a story about your piece of content. This one piece of learning alone can vastly improve your entire content creation approach.

If we take the self-driving car example, what is interesting within the data is that most of the accidents happen because the car is driving to the letter of the law. Collisions occur from other human-driven cars driving into the Google car. So, our story would be, driverless cars only have accidents because they are so law abiding. Our content would illustrate this story.

How to find influencers

The term influencer is often bandied around. The reason they are so influential, is because they are the gatekeepers to having your link placed on the site you want to target. Getting access to the right person on a big media site is a challenge in itself.
You can’t just go to the Guardian contact page and send an email saying, ‘Please will you share this. I think you might like it?’. Well, you can, but good luck with that.

Personally, I love to take a long approach and pick through sites by hand. I believe that by the action of really getting to know the sites you want to pitch to and reading what articles and content they are producing, is the only way you can really get a grasp on how to produce successful content. And when I say successful, I mean content that gets links and placements from these sites – these are my metrics.

Start by mining your target site. Look at the categories and consider where your idea would fit and then check out those sections. Also look at tags and use the internal search if there is one. Also use google search site:[target domain] [keywords].

When you find articles that are on a similar theme, you have a starting point to make a connection. Check out the author biographies on each article – this is the gatekeeper you will have to connect with to reach your objective. Pay close attention to the kind of content they share and the stories they create. This is the key to your outreach and should be the last piece of the puzzle to fine-tune your idea into a workable concept, with a full plan of how you can create a story to sell. And then sell it.

For our self-driving concept, we could consider sites like TechCrunch, a complement for progressive car technology. A simple internal search for ‘self-driving’ on the site, gives several results:

how to generate ideas for content

Google crosses the two million mile mark with its self-driving cars, is a close match to our concept. If we click through and look at the author, Darrell Etherington:

how to generate ideas for content

We can scroll down and see what other posts he has written about. Darrell has written several posts about car related technology and would be the ideal person to outreach to.
how to generate ideas for content

how to generate ideas for content

So, our content needs to have an emphasis on the developing technology of cars – the final piece to our puzzle.
We now have our concept, title, story and influencer to outreach to. Our idea is generated.

Get busy creating.


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Ask Yourself The Right Questions

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Leonardo Da Vinci had many accomplishments, architect, anatomist, botanist, cartographer, engineer, geologist, inventor, mathematician, musician, painter, scientist, sculptor and writer. His work and inventions touched many areas, such as civil engineering, chemistry, geology, geometry, hydrodynamics, mathematics, mechanical engineering, optics, pyrotechnics and zoology. The inventions that he is credited for are numerous, most notable an early form of the helicopter, a parachute, underwater diving equipment and the armoured car. His notetaking was prolific, and his notebooks were exquisite and beautiful examples of a truly genius mind poured all over the pages of a book. Without a doubt, he is the epitome of a polymath and widely known as a Renaissance Man. It could confidently be said, the greatest mind the world has ever seen.

Da Vinci attributed his astounding creative input to seven principles that he lived his life by. One of those principles was Curiosita, to be insatiably curious and forever asking questions. By constantly challenging the world through questions the mind expands inwardly searching for answers. The mental process stimulates the mind and nascent ideas are teased and nurtured into life.

Children are incessantly chattering question machines. With no fear of asking the obvious, the urgent information sponge minds soak up every scrap of input they can inhale. As we grow older, we ‘learn’ to keep quiet to avoid being different, awkward or ignorant and that special ability to question the world gets smothered in a grey blanket of stifling conformity. And with it, creativity is shrouded and obscured.

“He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” Chinese proverb

A creative urge and passion may be smothered, but it can never be extinguished. It will begin its beat in your heart like a drum until one day, like me, you shout out loud ‘enough’. From the depths of your soul, with absolute conviction and meaning. Enough. Something must change. No more.

What you focus on you become. If you have sunk into a bleak space where passion for work and ideas have been sucked out of your soul, and you feel frustrated and stuck; then you are surely focusing on the grey of your life, not the gold. And, what you focus on you attract more of. More grey; more stuck.

Questions have the power to change anything and everything.

Successful people ask better questions and as a result, they get better answers. Quality questions create a quality life.” Tony Robbins

Imagine that your business is losing a big client, the one big enough to have seismic consequences. It’s serious. Scary. You feel the suffocating coldness of fear as you lie awake at 3 am in the dark feeling completely alone. This time it might just all fall apart.

Why does this keep happening?

The very nature of the brain is that it is inherently programmed to find answers to any question you should ask. The subconscious will be whirring away in the dark long after you have forgotten what, or can even relate to, the question that you asked. And then, as if by magic, your ever helpful intelligence will offer forth an answer and whisper quietly in your ear. Because you’re not good enough. Because you didn’t do a good enough job. Because you’re never going to be the creative genius that you seem to insist on thinking you are. Give up. It’s hopeless.

It’s time to take back control of your malignant mind and start impressing some discipline. Start asking better questions:

  • How can I see this as an opportunity?
  • What clients would I love to have?
  • What can I learn from this so I can rediscover my passion for the work that feeds my soul?

Once-upon-a-time, not so long ago, upon waking I would literally clench with anxiety at the thought of facing my day of constant pressure and perceived stress. Now, every morning I start the day with a series of questions:

  • What can I achieve today?
  • What can I learn today?
  • What can I choose that will help me grow and push my potential?

Mentally I now look for answers instead of seeing problems and my life has genuinely changed. I can approach a creative problem and allow myself to wrangle through the discomfort knowing that I will get to the other side. My passion has dusted itself down, shook my hand in thanks and taken back control.

What you focus on, you really do become. It’s much better this way.

“Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.” Robert Half

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Side Projects Save Your Soul

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Tiff Wood devoted his life to the sport he loved. And devote he did, forgoing career, marriage and all other pleasure for rowing. Documented in The Amateurs, Tiff dedicated himself to training for the Olympic games in 1980 and then 1984. Although rowing was the passion that sustained him, he didn’t make a living this way. The focus of Tiff’s life was something that was technically his side project.

Despite his determination, Tiff didn’t achieve his Olympic dream; other circumstances conspired against him, but the process of rowing, and everything that went with that, were the focus of his life, not the outcome. Primarily, a side project brings fulfilment from the action of ‘doing’ and not the results.

One of my passions is learning, and I devote much of my time to seeking growth and development for myself. A gem of wisdom that I recently uncovered was this: The secret of success is not about how much money you can accrue or things that you can own, it’s about finding what fulfils your soul.

The loss of creative sparkle in the daily grind
Our paid work can very easily drain our creative energy and suck away all passion in the gap somewhere between the daily grind and survival. I have a love and hate relationship with my paid work that tumbles in cycles of enthusiasm from despair to elation to pressure to excitement and so on. The necessity of keeping clients happy, so that you can metaphorically put food on the table, means we often concede on our creative visions to keep equilibrium; the result being that our creative fulfilment becomes lost during the fourth or fifth amend cycle. For the perfect illustration of this process read How a web design goes straight to hell, by The Oatmeal.

The side project is our opportunity to grasp back creative control, assert our own ideas and literally save our creative soul from being ground into the final edit floor.

Labours of love
Tina Roth Eisenberg, better known as Swiss Miss, is the ultimate ambassador for the side project. She felt that her paid work was no longer enough to sustain her soul and that she wanted to move away from client work. She began Teux Deux, Creative Mornings and Tattly as ‘labours of love’ primarily as an outlet to fulfil her creative ideas. “I have a rule: If I keep complaining about something, I either do something about it or let it go,” Her 99U talk, Don’t complain, create, offers inspiration on turning your ideas into reality.

Side Projects Save Your Soul

Forget money; this is for love
The brick wall of procrastination that I always slam into first with my ideas is that I become too obsessive about how to find a showcase or generate income. I slip into ‘marketing mode’ and focus on an end result – Who is my audience? What do they want? Where will I promote this? The free reign of play and innovation becomes stunted by the temptations of additional monetary gain. After all, my time is precious, and I want to make it pay? Not so, the side project should be, as Tina says, a ‘labour of love’. Experimentation, innovation and creative risk taking. Fly in the face of everything that marketing dictates and forget your audience, forget money. This is for pure pleasure. It’s for your heart and soul.

As Tina is a testament to, often the projects that we pour our passion into are the ones that take flight and fly. By putting creativity first we have the space to experiment and the potential to produce our best work, and that level of passion is infectious to others as it pours out of us onto and into the page. People respond to passion.

Do what you LOVE and you will become a master of it and the money will follow.Alan Watts

Overwhelmed with too much choice
The second issue that I have with side project work is that often I become so overwhelmed with the options of what I could do that I’m again faced with paralysis. Too much choice. By restricting possibility, we can encourage and tease out our creativity. 100 Days is a brief for students set by Michael Beirut at the Yale School of Art. The assignment is to repeat an action for one hundred days. Inspiring ideas emerge out of the constraint, such as taking a photograph every day with a person never met, selecting a Pantone colour and responding with short poetic writing, and dancing in a different place every day. The ‘do something in X amount of days’ is now a prolific theme and trend for online showcases.

Side Projects Save Your Soul

Dear Data
After only meeting twice in person, Giorgia Lupi, and Stefanie Posavec began a correspondence of weekly postcards featuring their data visualisations. Every week, for a year, they collected and measured an area of data about their lives and had to represent this with a visualisation on a standard postcard. Dear Data became a vehicle to get to know the idiosyncrasies of the other person and develop their friendship. The process also offered insight and better understanding themselves. The beautifully rendered postcards are a shining example of how precious the almost lost art of mailed correspondence can be and elevated to such an expression of creativity. And, more importantly, how a shared idea can connect two people together. Subsequently, the project has been published as a book.

The love from a side project spills over into all areas
The near legendary Google 80/20 programme (now ceased) offered employees the opportunity to devote 20 percent of working time to side projects. According to Marissa Meyer, as many as half of Google’s products, such as Adsense, are attributed to the 80/20 programme. Apple had Blue Sky, and Linkedin had Incubator, all similar programmes that encouraged creativity and innovation through side projects.

The idea of offering a space for innovation is not exclusive to the tech companies of the last decade. In 1948, 3M launched the 15% programme (progressive in a post-war austerity era) that allowed workers valuable time to pursue ideas which ultimately took the company forward. In 1974 3M scientist, Art Fry created the Post-It Note as part of the programme.

Freedom for innovation, creativity and allowing room for employees to follow their passions benefits everyone. People are happier, more creative and more productive; and as a result, the company has new ideas and innovations that fuel their growth. A study of the positive benefits of creative activity on performance at work indicated that “organisations may benefit from encouraging employees to consider creative activities in their efforts to recover from work.” offering real evidence for the validity of side project schemes.

Julie/Julia
Within 365 days, Julie Powell of New York decided that she would cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s book, Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. Julie decided to do this as an escape from her stressful job and to give her life a creative outlet; she needed fulfilment she didn’t get from her nine-to-five. Julia Child’s recipes are infamous for being complicated and time-consuming to cook, so Julie not only had to shop, learn and cook; she had to write up her experience on her blog. After dedicating a year of her life to this, her commitment culminates in a column for the New York Times, a book deal and ultimately the movie Julie/Julia. However, that was all incidental; Julie only started the side project to give her life more meaning, that was the real success.

Give your time management a darn good shaking
As in Julie’s challenge of carving out time, my final barrier to ‘doing’ is finding time in between unrelenting demand. After wrestling with every day ending in a deficit I made a choice to grab my productivity by the shoulders and giving it a darn good shaking. I now get more completed in a morning than I did previously in a full day of disorganised and inefficient time. I considered when my creative energy peaks (early mornings) and accordingly rearranged my schedule to take advantage. I now start the day with time devoted to my side project, and instead of trying to eek out some sparkle from my utterly exhausted mind in the evenings I use this time to research and read. Time and productivity management are a wise investment.

Side Projects Save Your Soul

Just ‘DO’
Above all else, my recommendation is that you start small and just ‘do’. Don’t try to focus on the end, instead, concentrate on the love for developing the craft of the action and throw the idea of perfection into the bin. Allow yourself to play and give expression to unlimited innovation with no barriers to its realisation. Address your productivity and work smarter not harder:


  • Focus on the process and doing
  • Do it for love/passion, not money
  • Small steps every day (eat that elephant)
  • Take a risk and do something unexpected

Please, start a side project and save your creative soul.

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Eating Apples Is The Secret To Success

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Agatha Christie preferred to work in a large Victorian bath whilst eating apples. Benjamin Franklin would work naked for an hour every morning. Dame Edith Sitwell would lie down in a coffin finding inspiration in the claustrophobic and restrictive space. Does this mean we should emulate the greats and lie naked in a coffin and eat apples?

Are eating apples really the secret to what made Agatha so productive, creative and successful?

Human beings by their nature are essentially lazy; seeking short-cuts, easy solutions and full instruction manuals. That’s why our facebook feeds are stuffed with articles titled: Ten Ways to Make Money like Warren Buffet, Ten Ways to Be A Success Like Steve Jobs and How To Earn 100k As A Writer and Live The Dream.

Very few people want to be a pioneer. It’s hard work, it’s a risk and it’s very lonely. Having to think for yourself takes energy, and makes us tired. Eugh. Let me turn the TV on instead.

We believe that by eating only fruit like Steve (from Apple), having a 2pm siesta like Mark (from Facebook) or wearing the same clothes every day like Tony (from Zappos) will – by some form of magical osmosis – make us more creative, entrepreneurial and successful.

The danger in emulating other peoples routines and habits, is that it might suppress our own quirks and individualism, which is where creativity comes from. It’s your own unique interpretation. Not everyone is designed to be an early starter, just as (in my belief) not everyone has a natural metabolism suited for vegetarianism (eating lots of beans = having less friends). You should listen to your own body, your own mind and most importantly your own intuition as to what works best for you.

I wholeheartedly recommend studying how others have made a success as a foundation. Once you have the basic knowledge and technique the only way to become great yourself is to get on with it. Experiment, fail, experiment, fail, try, mess it up, fail, work hard, again, again and again until one day, you get it right. (Maybe.)

It doesn’t matter how many rituals, routines or dress codes you follow there is only one way to become more creative and that is to simply do the work. Writing every day will make you infinitely better at the craft rather than worrying about where your desk should be positioned or what colour your flip-flops are. Drawing for several hours every day is the only way to be an accomplished illustrator and not obsessing over which design package and Wacom tablet you are using. (FYI my mouse is about 12 years old and belongs in a museum.)

I’ve always had a natural talent for drawing and spent most of my life doing so. I thought I was pretty good. Then I had a stint as a shadow artist (I must have been good to get the job). I was drawing a popular cute stuffed bear and bunny for literally nine hours every day. Up to this point I had been sketching for over 25 years and even I was amazed as to how much impact this had on my ability in such a short amount of time. Ultimately though, the saccharine nature meant it wasn’t sustainable employment for my temperament.

It’s easy to become trapped in ‘analysis paralysis’ or to over-plan and forget to execute. We are so in love with how easy thinking is that we fail to do the required minimum of effort. It’s seductive to read a listicle that claims easy steps to be an entrepreneur and believe we are now half-way there.

Don’t waste your time trying to be like Steve, Mark or Elon. Do your own thing, find your own way and celebrate your own quirks and patterns.

You don’t become a thought leader by thinking. You become an expert by doing.

I’m off to buy some apples.

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