Could Lateral Thinking Supercharge Your Content Marketing?

Think outside of the "content marketing" box by turning to lateral thinking.

Lateral thinking involves approaching problems from new
directions. Instead of doing the routine, logical thing, what is
termed “linear thinking,” you come at the problem from the
side. Breakthroughs can only occur when assumptions are broken
(hence the break in breakthrough). So how can we “break the
rules” of content marketing to make something great?

Start with your brand or product and take a giant step backward
from everything you think about it. To try a lateral thinking
approach, we’ve got to get rid of the assumptions around how we
think about the subject. Chances are your brand is something you
know a lot about, which can make it hard to actually consider it in
a new light.

Start By Exploring Relationships

We can start by writing the subject on a piece of paper, and
then creating a bubble chart around it exploring tangential
relationships. Write anything down that strikes you, using lines to
indicate connections to the original content or other elements you
have on the page. Don’t question if something doesn’t seem to
make sense, write down whatever comes to mind. If you get stuck,
move to a new line and think about something new. Keep doing this
until you are well and truly stuck.

Example of lateral thinking in content marketing.

The beginning of a lateral thinking exercise around
Conductor’s product: our SEO platform.

Then go do something else totally unrelated. Give any ideas some
time to incubate, but if you don’t get a Eureka moment, it’s
time to jumpstart some illumination.

Break Through Assumptions by Asking Questions

Start by asking yourself the question, “How would a typical
person approach this problem?” Map out obvious, straightforward
solutions. Then ask yourself, “What if I couldn’t go this
route?” With your chart in front of you, ask yourself these

  • How would a type of person of a different background or
    expertise look at this challenge?
  • How have other industries (not your own) approached similar
    challenges in the past?
  • If no one would get in trouble for anything you tried, what
    could you do?
  • What assumptions are we making about the question itself, and
    what if those assumptions weren’t true? (Even better: list them
    out and ask this question for each one individually.)
  • How would you stop you from succeeding with your proposed
    solution if you were someone else?
  • What would an expert recommend we do? (Then do the
  • How could we solve this problem 100 times cheaper than we
    presently do? (So cheap that you couldn’t just do the same thing
    more efficiently.)
  • How could we make this 10 times better? (So much better that
    you couldn’t just do more of what you’re already doing.)

Write the question you’re trying to solve at the top of the
page, and as quickly as you can, write down 20-30 answers. Write
some deliberately bad answers if you get stuck. It feels
counter-intuitive because it will force you to confront assumptions
you might not even be aware of. 

Once you have an idea, you need to verify it by asking other
people about it. If they are indifferent or confused, you have to
look at your idea again and judge whether or not it’s as
brilliant as you thought. In the end, only you can make that call;
once you’re all done, start developing your brilliant idea into

Bring Lateral Thinking to Your Team Through Brainstorming

You have a lot of new ingredients to add to your content
marketing strategy, and that’s the perfect time to consider them
from a creative angle with your team so they don’t too
comfortable with a status quo. So bring everyone together for some
productive, idea-generating work: the brainstorm.

But this isn’t your grandmother’s brainstorm. This is a
brainstorm dedicated to lateral thinking, just like the solo work
we discussed above. There are some rules to the brainstorm (respect
is a big one), but there are no “stupid ideas” in the room.
Encourage people to think outside the box through questions that
encourage going outside the box.

Here’s some best practices that will help you build a great

  • Know the “why” of the brainstorm. Typically, brainstorms
    are successful when they’re led as a process to discovering lots
    and lots of ideas that may or may not be successful when
    implemented. Brainstorms are not about quality, analysis, or
    decision making… they are all about quantity.
  • If possible, ask your participants to come prepared with
    questions or ideas.
  • Clarify and enforce the rules of the brainstorm. As a
    facilitator, it’s your job to clearly identify and plan for the
    desired outcome you want. It’s also your job to enforce the rules
    as a neutral party. (This is why it’s not always a good idea to
    host the brainstorm if you’re the boss—you don’t want your
    participants to fear, well, the effects of participation!)
  • Don’t brainstorm first. It’s a good idea to have “warm
    up” conversation to get your group acquainted with (read:
    comfortable with) each other. Not many people will share their
    ideas (good or bad) with a group of strangers, so ease into the
    conversation as much as possible.
  • Have a plan, and get specific with your problems. For content
    marketers, that means answering the questions your audience has (or
    doesn’t even know they have yet).
  • Stray from the middle of the road, but don’t get lost. A
    brainstorm isn’t a linear diagram. Get unorthodox. Phrase
    questions in ridiculous ways to see the range of responses you get,
    and then validate them all.
  • Don’t stick to the status quo. Ask participants to take
    certain people, functions, products, etc., out of the equation or
    add them in to see what would happen (or wouldn’t happen or what
    you would need to do to achieve your objectives.
  • Get everyone on board by implementing visual tools. Post-it
    notes, whiteboards, blank pieces of paper, play-doh, modeling
    clay… brainstorm with your whole brain (right brain
  • Think about the atmosphere: Do you have judge-y participants?
    If you have people nixing ideas that “won’t work” and
    frustrating others (thus defeating the purpose), turn it around and
    take control. Remember, as a moderator, it’s up to you to
    emphasize quantity—every idea should be weighted as equal in a
  • If the group isn’t getting involved, break up the team into
    small groups to meet for a few minutes individually to come up with
    a set number of ideas to present. This takes a bit of the pressure
    from the individual, especially those who don’t do well reacting
    without time to think first. Make sure you have someone recording
    everything, too, so you can have a record of the group’s ideas
    that you all can refer to—these notes may also spur on other
    ideas in future sessions (plus it’s easy to forget the nuances of
    your ideas after the fact).

Once you’ve got some ideas from lateral thinking, it’s time to
start creating and optimizing your content. Check out our SEO 101 for
Content Marketers
e-book to make sure your amazing content
actually gets found.

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Lateral Thinking Supercharge Your Content Marketing?
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Could Lateral Thinking Supercharge Your Content Marketing?