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A Quick Exercise to Find Big Ideas for Your Content Marketing Strategy

colored post-it notes-whiteboardAs CMI’s fearless leader Joe Pulizzi mentioned in our newsletter this week, the CMI team set aside an hour of its most recent staff meeting to brainstorm some outside-the-box ideas for strengthening our content marketing strategy and our overall business — a concept called the “10 Percent.”

As Joe explains:

Both Robert Rose and I had the pleasure of interviewing Coca-Cola’s Jonathan Mildenhall before he made the move to AirBnB. Jonathan was, perhaps, the key individual responsible for evangelizing Coke’s content marketing strategy, the infamous Content 2020. 

An often-overlooked part of this strategy was the 10 Percent. The 10 Percent was something we at CMI have talked about for years but never executed… until now. While we were in San Francisco this week for our Executive Forum conference, the CMI team held a staff meeting where we set aside time to discuss our own 10 Percent initiatives.

What is this 10 Percent? It’s spending one-tenth of our time and resources on the wild, the crazy, the seemingly unrealistic ideas we have, and making them part of our content marketing strategy. When we asked Jonathan about this, both Robert and I assumed that the 10 Percent is where the costly creative programs come from. Not so, according to Jonathan. Actually, these are the least expensive programs. For the most part, Jonathan said, these programs actually were not time-intensive in relation to the other content marketing they were creating and distributing. 

How can small teams find their 10 Percent?

So, what does this exercise look like?

Well, if your team is small you can try the process we used (we had eight staffers in the room), which took about an hour.

Robert started the discussion by asking us to throw out ideas of what we’d like to see CMI do. No idea was off limits, no matter how implausible — and the bigger the idea, the better. Not surprisingly, we built off each other’s suggestions and started seeing some connections and themes emerge.

Once we had exhausted the pool of new thoughts coming to us, Robert grouped the ideas into a concrete list. From there, each of us voted for the two ideas we liked the most. It’s important to note that these were not necessarily the ideas we thought we could make happen but rather the ideas we had the most interest in.

The outcome of the exercise is that we identified three ideas that we’ve already gotten started actively working on, and several other possibilities that we’ve placed on the back burner. The team was so enthusiastic about these ideas that our members volunteered to take ownership of bringing them to fruition.

Brainstorming for a larger team

If your team is larger, you may want to take the approach Robert led 40+ attendees through during the Executive Forum. This time, the purpose of the exercise was a bit different in that we were not looking specifically for ideas that could inform a company’s content marketing strategy. However, the process can certainly be used to develop this kind of data.

Here’s how it worked:

  1. Prior to the event, all of the participants were asked to bring at least one big idea with them. A big idea can mean different things — and Robert left the definition intentionally vague — such as something they predicted might happen, something they might want to see happen, or even a pain point they were currently grappling with. (Again, you could narrow the field to ideas relating to a content marketing strategy, if you so desired.)
  1. At the event, people were asked to pair up and discuss their big idea. One person would share an idea and then the other person would support it by providing suggestions and encouragement. Then, the pair would switch. The only guideline was that the feedback had to be positive (phrases like, “I don’t think this would work,” were not allowed). This exercise took about 20 minutes, and the outcome was that the small teams solidified or refined their big ideas and wrote them on post-its that were then placed on a whiteboard. No one was to put their names on any of the ideas or identify who was involved in creating them.
  1. The group was then given time to view all of the big ideas on the whiteboard and think about the ones they were most intrigued by or interested in.
  1. Robert then broke all the attendees into five groups of approximately eight members, and gave each group about 20 minutes to decide what their favorite big idea was and discuss why they felt it was the most important.
  1. A spokesperson from each group was then chosen to present their big idea to all participants, with the goal of persuading people to vote for their idea. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most persuasive groups were those that used storytelling techniques and visuals to get their point across, as well as those that tapped into specific business challenges that they and their peers were most likely facing.
  1. Everyone voted for their favorite ideas and declared the winning idea that could then be explored as a 10 Percent idea.

Lessons learned from the process

This was my first time participating in this type of brainstorming exercise, but I thought it was a fun way to “get the juices flowing” and reach a consensus about next steps a team should consider taking to continuously improve their content marketing strategy.

Do you have experience in helping your team find its own 10 Percent ideas to pursue? Have you tried similar brainstorming exercises for other purposes? I’d love to hear what approaches have worked for you!

Uncover the unique story your brand was meant to tell. Download Launch Your Own Content Marketing Program for step-by-step guidance.

Cover image via Bigstock