Let’s start with one thing we all agree on: great content hinges on excellent ideas and a strong plan.

As marketers, we’re big on the plan. Whether we directly manage a brand or work on the agency side, we take a number of important and lofty measures to ensure that the content we propose and create is valuable.

We call up strategy to do a competitive sweep, and then we analyze (read: judge) everything else out there. Our planners make customer experience maps and user journeys, and, dammit, we know the difference between the two. We go on the road, hoarding M&Ms in the dark as we watch interview after target audience interview. We segment. Microsegment. Soundbyte. Make personas of the real people we interviewed so that our bosses and clients can relate to Laurie from Duluth. We survey and audit everything our own brand has ever done. And then we aim to beat it.

charts and graphs of salesTo beat it we map all these insights against a litany of other criteria: business goals, current trends, geographic need, digital uptake, calendars, key events, and the steady, oceanic rhythm of our brand. It’s all because we are hoping to turn that ebb/flow into a surge. And we know good content is going to get us there.

Okay, an impassioned writer might make it sound a bit high stakes, but it’s true: we really measure a lot to define great content. Seeing a comms plan in development is not unlike walking into the dingy, newspapered hideaway of a conspiracy theorist.

But, wait. Amidst our Carrie Mattheson-esque maps and content strategies all focused on precise idea generation, we are overlooking a wealth of insight, and it’s not evidence-based. It’s not easily quantified. But it is pretty darn qualitative.

Look up from your screen. Look at the person next to you. Look all around. You are likely right this minute surrounded by smart marketers and even savvier consumers who see your brand from a completely different angle. They may have ideas that you would never have considered. [Tweet “Research often urges us to pull insights from outside, but I recommend a look inward.”]

Sourcing information and content ideas internally—as in, within your company, within your agency—from people who serve your brand in a completely different way than you do, may yield incredible results. These people are brand experts too, and they have insights you might never have considered when creating a content plan based on traditional strategic development.

I know. I know. You run a brand and you don’t necessarily care what procurement has to say about your strategy. You’re a copy chief and no thanks, account, they need not weigh in on creative so early in development. But this exercise isn’t about curating; it’s about expanding. Internal crowdsourcing may be an extremely useful idea generation tool.

 

To Wit:

In 2013 I had the pleasure of developing a digital owner’s magazine for Cessna Aircraft. My role at the agency was creative lead, but given my magazine publishing background, I functioned as editor in chief. To plan the issue we did a tremendous amount of research into other other private aviation content. We audited all of the past stories and articles produced by Cessna. We hired a team of renowned aviation experts to write for us. And we got some great stories: general aviation news, an owner travelogue, a PR-soundbyte or two, and really great technical coverage on product news. But some of our best and most unique idea generation didn’t happen until a trip out to the headquarters of Wichita, KA, where we met the team of people who actually work in the factory.

It was there that we met gearheads with ideas that pretty directly tapped into the obsessive tastes of our small plane owners. These folks spoke with specificity and passion about the grommets that fit each wing. These are the people that make flight happen, and although it was nowhere to be found in our research, it was this content that really filled in some whitespace in the publication. It added a ton of value by addressing the care, quality, and personal attention that each plane receives in a way that great description just wouldn’t cover.

Another excellent article came from an interview we conducted with the woman who runs the interior design department. She could not be more removed from the marketing process, but she really knew the target personally because she meets every single owner to custom design each aircraft. In fact, she could name the owners who would be receiving our publication. She even had insight on which design schemes would work well for our layout based on the plane styles and interiors that had been requested that year. The talk with her was invaluable, and so was her article.

Fortunately, you need not fly out to Wichita to make internal crowdsourcing a part of the content idea generation process. But, marketers everywhere are trying to figure out how to tap their internal resources: in fact, Kapost reports only 36% of marketers feel they have a good process for gathering ideas.

 

Here are a few easy steps that can help you maximize your in-crowd.

 

1. Build A Cabinet: consider your project and your existing range of content. What’s missing? Nobody wants too many cooks in the kitchen, so doing a quick audit of the experts around you will help you identify exactly whose input you should seek.

2. Invite A Guest to Dinner: Let’s assume you are already holding regular editorial meetings with your team (you should be). Select one or two members of your cabinet to sit in on your brainstorm and contribute.

3. Use idea sharing tools: Evernote, Trello Google Docs. All of these allow you to organize your workflow so that others can contribute to content categories. The folks here at Oz use the Oz platform, which gives members of your team access to a shared database research and an idea pipeline.

4. Socialize: You don’t always have to solicit ideas directly. Following folks from other parts of your company or brand on Twitter, Linked In, etc, will keep you current, provide perspective and may inspire some new content ideas.

5. Share: When you are a cross-functional team, your success is their success. Even though the head of operations will never receive or directly benefit from your publication, she may want to see the quote you used from her. Keep the conversation loop going even after the original content development is done. Because it’s never really done, is it?

May this suggestion be the beginning of better processes. As we continue to redefine the field for ourselves, our clients, and our audiences, we face innumerable challenges—many of which I plan to tackle in future posts. But we are marketers, people. Great ideas and seizing on opportunities, well, that’s kind of our thing. Let’s not let the internal, low hanging fruit spoil. And Brad over there in consumer circulation, he’s looking like low hanging fruit to me. Happy ideating.