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Back That Ask Up: Using Research for Content Ideation

Back That Ask Up: Using Research for Content Ideation
Danielle Brinkley Glover
written by
Danielle Brinkley Glover
User Experience Architect

A great content strategy consists of four main phases: research, creation, distribution, and measurement. Ideally, each of these four phases would get their fair share of the spotlight. However, the reality is that many marketers skimp on the research and wind up trying to force their audiences to engage with dry (and often irrelevant) content.

So that seemingly clever quiz idea falls flat. That beautiful infographic generates less than stellar engagement. And no one ends up watching that artfully produced video series. Sound familiar? If your content isn’t working and you’re fresh out of ideas, it’s probably time you got back to the basics of research and revamped your ideation process.

Know Your Brand

Generating quality content ideas begins with a firm understanding of your brand. Why do you exist? Can you clearly articulate what makes you different? Why should people care? Knowing the answers to these questions is paramount over everything. You should only create content that aligns with your brand values.

Once you know the why of your brand, it’s time to tackle the who. Nail down exactly who you’re talking to and how you’re speaking to them by doing the foundational work of developing personas. This will give you a clear understanding of your target audience’s motivations, habits, and ultimate goals. Armed with this information, you’ll find yourself much better equipped to create content that resonates with your customers. Once you have your personas squared away, use the following nine research methods to jumpstart your content ideation process:

1. Survey

Draw on your current email list and social following to get feedback from your customers. Find out what topics they’re just dying to know more about. Learn what information bores them. Ask how you can be more useful to them. Are there interactive tools you can create that would make their lives easier? Would a how-to video help them make the most of one of your current offerings? This one isn’t rocket science. Ask and you shall receive.

2. Consult your sales and customer service teams

With surveys you’re likely to hear from customers who have either had a very positive or very negative experience with your company. While their feedback is extremely valuable, it may only be reflective of a fraction of your customers.

You can offset any response bias with passive surveying of your sales and customer service teams. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn just by having regular, ongoing conversations with the people who interact with your customers on a daily basis. Tally your customers’ most common questions and complaints. Compile this information and use it to brainstorm how you can create support and knowledge-based content that addresses customer concerns.

3. Conduct keyword-themed research

While a full-fledged SEO plan should be part of your content strategy, there are some quick and dirty ways to extract useful data from Google and get ideas on the fly. Planit’s content team loves including Answer the Public in our ideation process. Using this free tool couldn’t be easier. Simply enter a keyword or topic and watch in amazement as it spits out a list of related questions users have actually asked Google. Other useful tools include Ubersuggest and Keyword Tool. You’ll get insight into real Google searches on specific topics and keywords, and you’ll walk away with hundreds of content ideas and most likely a few click-worthy headlines, too.

4. Size up the competition

Wanna know how your main competitor tripled their Instagram following in two months? Analyze the type of content they’re sharing and what kind of reactions it’s eliciting from customers. Audit their blog. Subscribe to their YouTube channel. Sign up for their email list and see how their subject lines and preheaders compare to yours.

Planit also loves using a feature called “Domain vs. Domain” in a service called SEMRush. It allows us to accurately see how our clients compete with their competitors’ domains for keywords. From there, we see what keywords we’d love to rank for over the competition and try to fill that gap with content that leverages those keywords.

5. Stay up on current events

Be a well-informed citizen and read the news (and gossip blogs). Once you know what everyone is talking about, find tasteful ways to interject your brand into the story. Have your PR team pitch your company as an expert to the media and then post the appearance on social. Share your support for an issue or event with a custom Snapchat filter. Run an interactive display ad that makes a play on the latest celebrity gaffe. The news never stops, so the content possibilities here are endless. But be careful with this one, as there’s potential to flop big time or come across as trying too hard.

6. Peruse industry publications

Just like reading the news can make you a smarter citizen, consuming industry publications can make you a smarter business person and marketer. Knowing what’s hot (and what’s on the horizon) in your particular industry will definitely give you and your audience something to talk about. Use these hot topics as springboards for new blog posts, video scripts, and social content.

To make the most of your time spent engaging with industry publications, take note of the types of content these periodicals create and distribute. You’ll uncover opportunities to update old marketing and communications materials. For instance, the release of a new industry report gives you an opportunity to amend old brochures and dated digital downloads, like e-books and whitepapers.

7. Leverage your experts

Get away from your desk and engage experts within your organization! Not only do people outside of your marketing department love to be recognized for their expertise, but they love being put to task to come up with content ideas. Given brand and persona parameters, their unique perspective could provide a whole new dimension to your content. Also, expertise isn’t reserved only for people within your four walls. Don’t forget about your partners’ and customers’ expertise. They’re looking to expand their visibility and are often willing to contribute a story or quote. And even better, they’re usually willing to share their contributions within their own networks.

8. Read the comments section

Look at the discussions taking place within the comments section of your blog and of other popular sites. Sure, it may take some time to weed out the trolls (and spam), but the comments section is a great place to find content ideas. Often, readers expound on the topic covered in an article and end up taking the conversation in a brand new direction—giving you ideal source material for your editorial calendar.

9. Poke around forums

Discussion forums like those found on news aggregator Reddit and question and answer website Quora contain a wealth of customer intelligence. You’ll walk away with the questions, concerns, and general habits of your buyers. Once you know what thread topics get people talking, you can easily take over the conversation on your owned media properties.

There’s a wealth of data out there just waiting to be analyzed and transformed into quality content. Start with the nine tactics above, and you’ll be astonished at the connections you’re able to build with your current and potential customers. Here’s to research and creating useful content!