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Creating engaging content remains one of the biggest challenges for content marketers. Although quality writing is certainly key, you really need to start by picking the right topic. If you want to create content that interests and captures the attention of your customers—and benefits your business—look for the intersection between your products/services and customer queries.

Most marketers tend to write about their company, products, or services. That’s because, as a marketer, you want content that helps your business. You aren’t writing for fun.

It’s true that you might be able to draw tons of readers by writing about the hottest celebrities, but if you provide plumbing services or business intelligence tools, your posts about Justin Bieber probably aren’t going to get you sales.

The key is not to write about your business (most of the time, anyway). Instead, write about topics related to your business—topics that interest your clients and highlight your expertise.

Assuming that your content marketing efforts are focused on lead generation, moving potential customers toward a purchase, and supporting existing customers, identify topics by listing your company’s products and services. I find it easiest to list them in a matrix and then brainstorm from there.

Content Marketing Topics Table 1

Phases of the Customer Journey

Next, consider the phases that a customer goes through on the journey toward a purchase. (Some are more relevant than others for your customers, and you can add any that are specific to your business.)

  • Awareness of a problem, need, or opportunity. The customer realizes that she has a problem or an opportunity. Or maybe you need to help her realize that fact.
  • The search for a solution. The customer wants a solution to the problem or a way to take advantage of the opportunity, and he starts looking into the possibilities.
  • Comparison. The customer becomes aware that there are multiple products, companies, and solutions, and he is deciding which one to pick and why.
  • Validation. Your product, company, or service is a leading candidate in the customer’s mind, and she needs to validate that you are a good choice (and to be sure that there aren’t any showstoppers). In some cases, this happens before the customer actually makes a purchase. In others, it’s the final step before he contacts you to get a bid or to begin more formal, in-person discussions.

Add these phases as columns for your matrix.

Content Marketing Topics Table 2

Continuing the journey with customer-focused questions

Now, ask customer-focused questions to help fill in the table. This is where it gets tough. It’s why we often use personas at this stage and why people hire consultants to advise them. The trick is to try to forget the kind of business you are in and your specific role. Instead, put yourself in the customers’ shoes and ask, “What problem does my product or service solve?” “What need does it serve?” or “What opportunity can it offer?”

Then, for each product/service and each phase in the matrix, ask:

  • What triggers the customer to begin this phase? For example, which situations cause him to become aware that he has a problem or to begin actively searching for a solution?
  • What questions does the customer have about the problem, need, or potential solution at this stage? For example, if your product is a marketing automation tool, in the search phase, what questions do users typically have about the capabilities of automation tools?
  • What information might the customer be seeking, about both the problem and the solution, at this stage? What data do they want to see?
  • Who else is involved in the decision, and what information do they need? If your services or products are travel-related, who else might your target customers consult with or have to make arrangements with? If yours is a business-to-business (B2B) company, does the purchase require IT or management approval? What would these people need to know?
  • What information might help the customer to move from here to the next phase? Ultimately, you hope this lead will move on to the next phase. What information or tools can you provide to help them do that?

Content Marketing Topics Table 3

Paving the way with adjacent topics

Lastly, for lead generation, it’s also helpful to ask yourself, “What topics are related to my products and services which are also of interest to my target audience?” Take this blog post, for example. The service I’m focused on is “content marketing strategy,” which Resources Online provides. But I’ve identified adjacent topics of interest to content marketers, such as writing engaging content, creating good headlines, strategies for sharing content, and others. All of these topics are related to content strategy and are important to the audience I’m trying to attract.

Knowing my audience, I could even go broader. Content marketers often are “marketers” who have added content marketing to the mix. So any topic about marketing stands a good chance of attracting these folks (or those considering the profession) and would be fair game for me.

Add the adjacent topics to your matrix, with the product they pertain to. You can merge the phase cells for each row and use that space to include any additional information for the topic.

Content Marketing Topics Table 4

This matrix approach can really kick-start your list of topics to write about. Next, take the list and look at it from an authoring perspective and a search engine optimization (SEO) point of view, to identify themes and keywords. This allows you to build content pillars with subtopics, along with the queries and keywords to focus on. From there, you can plan out a full editorial calendar. You may even be able to write about Justin Bieber after all.

Don’t know what to write about? The matrix will reveal all.
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Don’t know what to write about? The matrix will reveal all.
It can be tough to come up with topics for content marketing. Using a table and asking the right questions can help you find customer-friendly topics.

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