Part I—Topic Development
Let’s face it, not every business is exciting. A pay parking lot, a dry cleaners, and an insurance agency are just a few examples of businesses that may elicit more “ohs” than “ooohs” when you tell someone you work there.
Boring or otherwise, every business needs a steady stream of prospects. In today’s world, online content is a primary means by which customers find and choose companies to do business with. This can be in the form of blogs, website copy, social media posts, videos or even your meta descriptions. In a recent survey, it was found that 61% of consumers said they feel better about a company that delivers custom content on a consistent basis. Not only that, 7 of 10 customers prefer to learn about a company or brand through article type content instead of ads.
Because so many potential clients base their decisions off of the content produced by your company, the quality of that content, therefore, is of great importance to your business.
Expert Topics Come From Experts
Before you can give consideration to the meat of your messages, you need to have a solid strategy and a defined set of topics about which you want to communicate. Your pool of topics should be an integral part of your overall content strategy. Too many business owners/marketing agencies rely on the judgment of a freelance writer to come up with their topics for them. While this strategy can sometimes pay off, it is risky.
A writer will do their best to select topics that are timely, interesting, and relevant, but they don’t always get it right – especially if it’s a field they aren’t currently working in (which is usually the case). In this instance, you either accept the subpar topic that the writer comes up with or you spend the time and money to go in after the fact and have the article revised. Neither of these options is ideal.
The simple truth is that YOU know your business better than anyone, and if you don’t, you are probably in the wrong business. Because of this, it makes sense that you (or someone that works directly for you and knows the ins and outs of your business) should be the one coming up with topics for your reader base. This way, you can select topics that are relevant, reflect your brand, and will engage your current or potential customers.
To sum up, engaging content starts with great ideas and great ideas are created by industry experts.
Stand on Your Head
All the methodology and strategy aside, just how do you know what to write about? Just where do you get interesting topic ideas? Topic development is sometimes the hardest part when trying to create content, hence the reason why many companies defer it to those who aren’t really qualified to do it. Topic development is the time to think outside the box and look at something in a whole new way—even upside down.
I don’t mean to suggest that you literally have to stand on your head—unless, of course, you want to—but you should mentally turn your brain upside down if you want a truly fresh perspective on things.
Your mental headstand should include the following 3 questions (among many others):
- Why would someone want my particular product or service?
- What problem does it solve for them?
- What could potentially happen if they didn’t buy it?
A lot of online content focuses heavily on the first two questions, which is important in many situations (product pages on your website should focus on features and benefits, for example). However, it is the third question that can be the true springboard to your best topics—the ones that can set you from the competition.
Scenarios, Situations and Samples
Let The Berenstein Bears: Inside, Outside, Upside Down be your mantra when you are in content topic development mode. Unless you are writing for specific product or service pages on your website, avoid just telling people about you or your offering. Instead, let them see the value it offers THEM through real-life situations.
Here are a few examples using the “boring” businesses noted above:
- A Parking Lot: Instead of writing a blog about why your parking lot is so great, create content for increasing awareness about drunk driving. Highlight the benefits of leaving a car in a safe place and taking a cab home that night.
- A Dry Cleaners: Instead of making a post on Facebook telling people how proper cleaning and storage can preserve a wedding dress, link to your blog post about the importance of family heirlooms and traditions.
- An Insurance Company: Instead of a tweet advertising a rate discount, provide homeowners with a checklist of exactly what they should do in the event of a home burglary.
In each of these examples, you are mentally taking audiences to the moment when they need what you have and the benefit of your service or product is inherent.
Connect via Content
Every business who wants to win customers must first connect with prospects. Content that resonates with audiences does this. The right topics let people know that you understand their world, their needs and their wants.
Taking the time to craft an editorial that leverages the not-so-usual topics will streamline your content execution and maximize your customer connections. Remember, it does take time to do this. It could take a few hours strewn across a few weeks of “think outside the box” brainstorming. However, learn to think of it as an investment rather than a burden. Time spent now on topic research pays off later in the form of loyal followers and a stronger brand – not to mention increased sales.
Part II—Content Execution
Creating content for any business, including the “boring” business, starts with the right topics. Once you have that securely in place, the next step is to start writing. Before you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), make sure that you are clear in your purpose. You are not writing for writing’s sake. Your writing must do something.
You have likely been told that your content should nurture prospects or customers.
But instead of thinking about nurturing prospects or customers, think about connecting with people. Yes, these two things are largely the same but the latter is more human, more real and that frame of mind will come through in your writing—and will help you connect (and therefore nurture). Rather than just prepping them for the sale, show them you know who they are.
Get Emotional – Have a Good Cry
The best content should mean something to your audience. Ideally, it should elicit some sort of emotional response as well. It is at the emotional level that people connect and ultimately make purchasing decisions.
Make people laugh at themselves, someone else or even at you. It’s also ok to tug at their heartstrings—remember the highly successful “For everything else, there’s Mastercard” campaign?
Example #1—Make Them Laugh: Your parking lot blog could recount the story of a couple’s first date—from the woman’s perspective. It could read something like this:
“I liked the fact that Jimmy was careful with his money. But then we passed the pay parking lot right next door to the restaurant I knew we were going to. We ended up parking in a dirt lot a mile away. As we walked through the dark field in the rain, I tripped in a hole. As I fell, the heel of one of my shoes came off and I got mud all over my dress. By the time we got to the restaurant, I was a soaking wet, muddy mess. That was my first—and last—date with Jimmy!”
Example #2—Tug at Their Heartstrings: Your dry cleaning business’ Facebook page could have a three-pane image showing a woman, her daughter and then her granddaughter getting married, one in each pane—and all three women are wearing the same dress. Family traditions are fascinating and sentimental, so play it up!
Example #3—Empower Them: Your insurance company could write online how-to guides on basic home security or home improvement tasks that make homeowners feel more competent and improve some aspect of their homes or lives.
Content is Not Just Copy
“Content” is not synonymous with “copy”. When considering your content, do not limit yourself to think only about words. Content is so much more than that. Video, photos, drawings, illustrations, and infographics should be integral elements of your online content. Copy will always be at the heart of your messages but should not be expected to do the job all by itself.
Map All Elements
No matter your business type or industry, you can create content that is exciting by making it useful and relevant to the people who see it. Select topics that set you apart and don’t be afraid to take some risks! Always be sure that you map the vehicle (e.g. blog, social media platform, etc) to the audience and the message. Keeping those clearly aligned while integrating an emotional element is one of the best ways to make the connections you need with the customers you want.
Featured Image: Daniela Vladimirova via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Image #1: Lauren Liston via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Image #2: Radcliffe Dacanay via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Image #3: Sean MacEntee via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Image #4: Emran Kassim via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Image #5: Nicolas Raymond via Freestock (Creative Commons)