You recognize that content marketing is mission critical for your B2B business, and you’re committed to making it happen.
You’ve done your homework and prioritized a list of themes and topics on which your team is going to publish.
All well and good, but how are you going to create the content itself?
More precisely, where are you going to find the inspiration, ideas, and insights that will make it relevant and engaging?
Here are five tips on where to look.
Before we dive into the sources, let’s rewind a few sentences to the statement I made about doing your homework.
In case you’re squinting at it sideways, fingers crossed behind your back, here’s a quick checklist of how I recommend laying that groundwork.
Before developing any content, you should:
1. Be clear about who you serve, what you do for them, and how it creates value.
2. Identify your ideal customer (i.e., the type of business for which your solution is perfect) and the buyer personas that makeup its buying committee.
3. Produce buyer’s journey maps for your key buyer personas to understand their needs, wants, beliefs, and emotions at each stage of their buyer’s journeys.
4. Perform a content audit to evaluate what existing content you have that supports those buyer’s journeys.
5. Assemble relevant pieces into a content library and perform a gap analysis to identify and prioritize missing topics that you need to cover.
6. Develop an editorial calendar and decide when you’re going to cover those key topics, in a sequence that makes sense to your target audience.
If you haven’t been quite that thorough, it’s worth investing the effort.
Producing content without a clear strategy can be a waste of resources and result in less-than-stellar content performance.
And with those caveats out of the way, let’s explore where to find valuable source material once you’re ready to produce new content.
One of the first places I suggest you look for content ideas is on the websites and social media pages run by your competitors.
No, I’m not suggesting you copy or plagiarize them—that would be lame.
Look for opportunities to improve upon, fill gaps in, or contradict your competitors content
Instead, look for opportunities to improve upon, fill gaps in, or contradict their content.
If they’ve written a ho-hum article about a topic on your list, write down the points they’ve missed or how you would explain things more effectively.
What have they not covered that’s important for your audience to know about?
Those nuggets of valuable information will help your content rise above the noise and become sought-after by readers.
Lastly, where do you disagree with your competitors?
If you can present a counter-narrative in a well reasoned manner, your audience will be excited to hear a different point of view and might become vicariously involved in the back-and-forth if your competitor decides to respond.
Six months ago, this source wouldn’t have been on my radar, let alone in this blog post.
Today, I’d be a fool not to include it.
Whether you use ChatGPT or one of the many other AI tools coming onto the market, this is a great application for the technology—assuming you use it wisely.
Based on the way the tools are working today*, I recommend:
· Using them for outlines more than body copy. Ask for ten things you should cover in a post about “XYZ”, rather than the entire post.
· Using them to synthesize what has already been published—a trained model’s forte—and not to produce anything original. The original stuff needs to come from you.
· Checking their sources carefully. Ask the tool to explain where a particular statement comes from, which is essential to avoid quoting myths, unqualified sources, or AI hallucinations.
Add color commentary to whatever you include from an AI tool. You and your team understand the nuances of the material and what makes it relevant to your audience, so bring that understanding to the page.
* Disclaimer: The AI landscape is developing faster than the slopes of an active volcano, so pay attention to articles on generative AI best practices and ignore this section whenever it becomes patently obsolete.
You’d be surprised how often companies fail to look inside their own walls for content.
It’s tempting to focus exclusively on technical subject matter experts (SMEs)—the ones with deeply ingrained knowledge of your solutions, their features and benefits, and the customer challenges they solve.
However, there are other types of expert whose keen insights you can tap.
Customer facing team members possess a wealth of “tribal knowledge” about how your solutions are used in practice
For example, customer facing team members—marketing, sales, support, etc.—often possess a wealth of “tribal knowledge” about how your solutions are used in practice (rather than in theory).
Journeymen employees who have worked at multiple companies in your sector will have seen the same issues and challenges from different angles and perspectives.
Team members who have worked as an end user before switching to the vendor “dark side” can often explain concepts and value propositions in ways that prospects find relatable and trustworthy.
Broaden your definition of “subject matter” and see how many experts you can find. Then, have a conversation with each to see what pearls of wisdom they’d like to share.
Another obvious but sometimes underutilized source is the good old internet search.
Don’t simply Google the topic and see what shows up—that’s unlikely to generate anything special.
Instead, search for contradictory or adjacent topics to see what’s been written there that might be adapted into—or built upon—in your piece.
For example, rather than searching for “how to select enterprise finance software”, you might go with “what’s wrong with enterprise finance software” or “how not to select enterprise software” or “why on-prem finance software still makes sense”.
There are also helpful sites like AnswerThePublic.com, which aggregate keywords related to your topic and display them together with search frequency and keyword difficulty.
This can spawn additional searches to help you write around the topic, giving your content greater depth and authority.
Since content should be written for the benefit of your prospects and customers, why not ask some of the customers you’ve already won?
I don’t understand why so many business leaders are reluctant to do this.
Are they afraid of losing a customer because they ask them for input?
If your customers are that likely to churn, your relationship with them is too fragile and must be urgently reinforced with better products, services, and support.
Perhaps they’re afraid of looking stupid in front of customers to whom they’ve hitherto presented an aura of expertise?
If that resonates, you’d better temper your ego, dial back the hubris, and ask questions from a position of learning and trying to serve your customer (even) better.
Whatever the reason, too many companies miss out on this rich vein of valuable material.
You can survey multiple customers and report on the findings.
Solicit customer best practices for selecting and implementing solutions like yours and turn them into a how-to article.
Ask them what they wish they’d known when evaluating and selecting the solution that they purchased from you—and include that in a buyer’s guide.
And so on.
There are plenty of places you can turn to for information that brings color, candor, and value to your content.
Gather information from multiple sources, assemble it into a coherent structure, and then decide which parts are worth publishing.
Always remember, you’re writing for the benefit of your audience, not (just) to sound clever. Sometimes the quest for thought leadership overrides the more important business of sharing relevant, helpful information.
If parts of the content piece aren’t adding value, strip them out.
Once you’re finished, ask yourself whether this thing your company is about to publish will contribute positively to your buyers’ ability to choose and implement a solution—or will it simply add to the online clutter and cacophony?
If you can’t make a strong case for added value, go back to your sources, and continue improving the piece until it gets there.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock