One of the most rewarding parts of planning and writing content is landing on a new idea kernel. The undeveloped kernel is a type of node. Alone, it’s opportunity in waiting. When joined by a few other nodes, options and angles grow exponentially. The newfound bounty can power content marketing efforts for a few weeks or even longer.
But when the idea list is short or picked over so only the rubber-stamp “meh” ideas remain (I swear, those mock me)? Yeah. That totally feels like junior year of college when I had empty pockets and faced a cabinet full of ramen. Sustenance, but no joy.
So how can a content marketer keep a spark file of fresh ideas and stave off the boring, overdone, or stalled ones? Here are some suggestions for finding your content marketing inspiration.
Customers are a smart bunch. Because they’re immersed in the act of daily execution and oversight in their field, they face the intimate details of business scenarios your products or services are presumably trying to resolve or improve.
When customers voluntarily express what works, what doesn’t, and what their wish-fors are, the smart content marketer listens. Here are a few ways how:
- Amazon reader reviews – A good search query can surface business books related to your industry, product/service, emerging technologies, and more. Skim the verified reviews for keywords, criticisms, and observations written by readers. Start a worksheet like this one to keep record of possible ideas while you research.
- Mobile app reviews – See above. What features and functionality do actual users like? Often, new ideas for product performance are born out of a product release or update.
- Podcast reviews – See above (yes, your worksheet should be growing!). People who review podcasts may be as likely to comment on a speaker’s style or voice as they are actual content. Sift through those to uncover specific ideas for future episodes, straight from those concerned with the material.
- Letters to the editor – While not likely to pan out ideas in large scale, letters written to the editor of your trade association, industry-focused magazines, and general business publications could surface some useful nuggets.
- Social media – Search for active users with interest in your field. What do they share or tweet about? Do hashtag searches for keywords relevant to your business, including brand names and your competition. What’s being said by users? How can you use these insights to create shareable content?
The saying, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” It certainly applies to content marketing. A writer who invests time in the market around her will learn plenty.
Prospects, influencers, subject matter experts, and others making up the framework of an industry or market offer up a lot of interesting information. Here are some ideas:
- Industry conference web pages – Every industry has its bounty of in-person events. Sometimes an industrious practitioner will even aggregate the events into a list, like this list from Michael Gerard of Curata. Take the time to scan the websites of the events you deem the most innovative or meaty. What topics or themes resonate? What speaker sessions or lecture descriptions spark content ideas?
- Roundtable or panel notes from conferences or meetups your staff has gone to – Get more mileage out of the training and development you and peers enjoy. Encourage people to take good notes, capture contact information from friendly movers & shakers, and collect (not toss!) all the literature available from show booths. Catalog the information that stands out as potential ideas for your content marketing.
- Newsletters and emails from trade organizations, governing bodies, competitors, and your customers – You may already receive some of this information as part of your due diligence for staying abreast of your market. But you can also put the info through your “idea usefulness” filter to see if another group has a hidden gem. Sometimes those gems take the form of an opposing angle or dissenting view – and that’s OK.
- College and university websites – Certain post-secondary schools are highly acclaimed for programs specializing in one field of study or another. Identify the schools offering strong certifications and studies in your field, and skim the department pages and class guides for possible insight.
- Clicktale, UserTesting, and other software – Maybe online user feedback is already a part of your company’s product development or UX process. While discrete user observations can certainly be insightful, qualitative information gathered during those sessions could point the way to new, useful content.
Many of the suggestions above involve looking outward from your organization for new sources of content fodder. Don’t neglect the wealth of information available inside your organization as well. Here are some places to start:
- Content audit – When was the last time your website was audited? Cobbler’s children, eh? After trying some or all of the suggestions above, a thorough audit of your site content might show gaps that should be filled.
- Customer records, including survey responses, call-in notes, emails, etc. – Sifting through data from customers big and small could help you understand specific pain points, concerns, and areas of satisfaction. You might find something your company does very well is something others in the industry do very poorly. This knowledge could help you come up with content ideas that put your company in a favorable light.
- Warranty activity, returns, cancelled orders or subscriptions – You probably get the idea by now. Every customer interaction has something to teach you.
They say knowledge is power. Reach out to influencers to find out how they see your industry shifting in the next three years. What do they think the biggest opportunities are? Of the prospects who are close but just haven’t been closed, is there a way to respectfully ask “Why not us?” in a non-threatening way?
Skim through related LinkedIn groups for chatter about topics folks in other parts of the country (possibly in companies bigger or smaller than yours) are faced with. Include a postage-paid postcard with every shipment or after every in-person visit. You might get rewarded with insight into how customers view your product or service.
I hope you’ve picked up one or two new methods for sourcing out good ideas for your content marketing programs. Happy writing!