I can’t tell you how many times my son has come into my office and asked, “What are you doing?” and I answer, “Writing.”
Then we both look at my blank Google Doc.
“It’s a process,” I explain.
He, of course, doesn’t believe me. But other writers know the drill. Coming up with a topic to write about is often the most difficult and time-consuming part of the writing process.
As content creators, we spend a lot of time thinking about our marketing goals and messages, and trying to figure out how to package our messages in a way that audiences might want to read them. But what if we have it all backwards? What if, instead, we started by thinking about what our audience wants to read and then — and only then — we figure out how to work in our messaging?
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to figure out what your audience wants. Here are four to try before your next brainstorm.
1. Read what they’re reading.
Back in the day when I worked for a custom publishing company, I had files and files of tear sheets (pages ripped out of magazines) of articles I liked, creative layouts, striking artwork, etc. Today, I store links of content that inspires me in a Google Doc (although I do still love me some actual tear sheets, too).
The point is, you need to tune in to the content your audience is consuming. Find out what websites they visit most frequently, where they’re reading their news, which social handles they’re following, which apps they’re downloading, and visit, read, follow and download accordingly.
2. Figure out what customers are asking.
Take a look at customer service logs. Talk to your salespeople. Find out what they’re searching for on Google and your website. What are your audience’s pain points? What do they want to know?
For example, let’s say you’re a radiology center, and you just recently purchased a shiny, new piece of equipment. It’s 10 times better at X, Y, Z than what your competitors are using, and all your marketing content centers around that. Logical, right? But what if, after some digging, you discover that patients are most concerned with how comfortable/uncomfortable the scan will be and how long it will take to get their results? That would change your messaging a bit, wouldn’t it?
3. Review your analytics data.
Instead of logging on to Google Analytics just to print a report to send to the higher-ups, take a good look at the data. It’s the closest thing to a report card of your digital content plan you’re going to get. What specific pieces of content have been clicked the most, shared the most, downloaded the most? How did you promote those pieces? What was going on in the world at the time?
The single most popular piece of content on Active Voice Communications’ website is one that almost never saw the light of day. It’s our assignment letter template. We initially assumed it was too basic for our audience — surely, they have their own templates already. But we were clearly wrong. In fact, it continues to get downloaded month after month. And, it was one of our easiest-to-produce assets. For us, it’s been a helpful reminder that a lot of what people are looking for is tactical information and tips.
Likewise, the most popular element of our monthly e-newsletter is our proofreading tips. People click and comment on those more than any other piece of content. Knowing that, we’ll be keeping them for 2021.
When you review your analytics data, remember that it’s important to spend time analyzing the data. Don’t just glance and assume you know what it means. You may be learning the types of content people are interested in. But you also may be learning boosted content or ads are working. You may be looking at whether certain headlines or subject lines are working. Gleaning insights from analytics can help you build a better content calendar.
4. Ask them!
Novel idea, right? Sometimes we get so wrapped up in analytics and customer personas that we forget we can just ask people what they want or need from us. So, create a survey or host a focus group. Ask general questions about the types of content people want or ask very specific questions about story angles. Or both! As long as you don’t make requests of your audience too often (or make your surveys too long), people are generally more than happy to tell you what’s on their mind. And, you can always throw in an incentive to increase your response rate.