When it’s time to do content planning to support product strategies, sometimes it’s tempting to employ an inside-out approach. This means that we might be inclined to value the things we as individuals might find interesting while overlooking the conversations our target audience finds engaging.
Product professionals are keenly aware of the dangers of ignoring customers. There is too much risk in creating a product or releasing new features without any input from the market.
And yet, that can often be the approach for content. It’s usually to save the time and resources it would cost to stop and listen before starting the first draft.
There is a big problem, though.
When content doesn’t serve the audience, you’re diminishing the impact of your assets. You might not immediately feel the adverse effects of a poorly written article or a less-than-clear landing page (at least not in the same way you’d feel the impact of a bad product launch). However, consistently having content out of touch with the market will result in a low-quality website, reduced reach and more difficulty resonating with prospects.
NIHITO (Nothing Important Happens in the Office) is a term we often share at Pragmatic Institute because there is no substitute for observing and talking to users, buyers and prospects.
So, how can we apply this same concept to the content we create? We’ve identified several sources for listening. As a result, you’ll find market-driven inspiration for your content planning strategy and ensure the audience is always the focus.
1. Start with Context
This first source for content planning is, in some ways, like taking inventory. It’s important because you want to add value without being repetitive. At Pragmatic Institute, we have nearly 30 years’ worth of content. Knowing what conversations happened in the past and what content already exists can guide future decisions and support current efforts.
For example, you might find a fantastic webinar that you published five years ago and that conversation is still extraordinarily relevant. Maybe you could re-invite the guest to do a podcast and include any new updates to the topic. You could turn the webinar into an article and give the content new life in a different format.
We have also had success updating and republishing high-quality articles that have been hidden in the archives. Resurfacing what would qualify as “old content” can be an excellent way to be a good steward of existing resources.
The best approach to taking a complete inventory of existing online content on a topic is typing a keyword into Google and then using the advanced search feature to look only at your company’s website. (Pro tip: You can do the same for competitor research)
This approach will help you know the scope of the work that already exists on your website. If you find ten search results pages, you’re likely dealing with fewer online resources than if you had 30 results pages.
There may be content that doesn’t exist on the website, so it helps to know if there are gated or unpublished assets. The goal isn’t to find every single possible piece of content. You’re objective is to get a general understanding of where you’ve been as it relates to a specific topic.
It helps to classify the content type and publication date as you locate these assets. For Pragmatic, content types might be webinars, podcasts, ebooks, infographics, articles, etc.
The helpfulness of this first source will depend on how long your company has been publishing content. Some organizations or even products might have more resources than others. Either way, this isn’t your only source for content planning.
2. Conduct a Competitive Content Analysis
This source isn’t about copying. It’s about understanding what, if any, conversations your competitors might be having about the same topics. Then, it’s uncovering whether or not you can add to the discussion interestingly and helpfully.
It helps to think about a few things while reviewing their published content:
- Do they have more assets than you on their website or less?
- Do they use video, audio or written content to drive their conversations around this topic?
- What type of experts, if any, do they have included in the content for this topic?
- Are they using a different keyword to describe a similar topic?
- How often are they publishing new content?
- Is that content themed in any specific way?
3. Study Search Engines
You can source ideas by seeing what is ranking on search engines. During this process, you’re looking for similarities and differences in the content that is performing on the first page.
This source lets you know what qualifies as a quality resource to the search engine. Most often, that search engine is Google. However, you can find different results using different platforms like Bing.
Notate what type of multimedia is on the page. Do all the pages contain video or audio in addition to text? How long are the pages? How is the content structured and the topic covered?
You have competitors to your company, but you also have competitors on search engine results, and this exercise lets you know how much it’ll take to compete with the current top results.
YouTube is owned by Google but is also a different search engine. Using a similar approach as you would on Google, determine what is considered a quality resource. You may want to compete in this space with original content. However, it’s also a good opportunity to find experts who’ll make excellent partners for webinars, podcasts or guest posts.
4. Listen to Podcasts
Website content, articles and videos are often scripted into neat structures with a clear outline. Podcasts are usually much different. They often come in three formats: monologue, Q&A or panel. But regardless of form, they are generally conversational and less scripted.
Listening to these sources helps you identify the language your audience might be hearing or using when they aren’t engaging with your brand. As a result, you can utilize different terms that you think might resonate more in the content you create. Additionally, if a competitor has a podcast, you can learn more about the guests they’re featuring. You might also find partners in the process.
5. Search for Books
Don’t search for just any book. Look for recently published content on your topic. Books are an excellent place to find partners, content structure and robust ideas. You can also read the books and then cite them in the content you’re creating.
Finding new books is simple on platforms like Amazon, where you can filter by keyword and year. Other platforms like Scribd might help you find books published within the last year or two. If you have a subscription, you can quickly vet the resource without needing to make a purchase and wait on shipping.
6. Review Formal Research
If you have access to databases that can search academic journals, you can find sources that can give your content credibility when you link to them.
Just like books, you might also find partners who can join you for conversations on podcasts or webinars.
Additionally, new research will make your content exceptionally unique and help you position your brand as a leader in covering the latest in the industry.
7. Online Learning Platforms
Sometimes, online learning platforms and courses are the best places to find partners and rich content for additional ideas. If someone did the work to build a course around a single topic, they likely covered it from many angles, some of which you could also cover in-depth.
You could take the course, sure. But sometimes, it helps to look at the course outline, especially if it is a topic you already know well.
8. Scan Social Media
Social media is where you can lurk or join conversations around the topic. These platforms are often classified as distribution channels but can also serve as excellent sources of inspiration.
You can uncover trending topics using hashtags on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Pinterest works just like a search engine and is often overlooked as a potential source of idea research in industries that aren’t aesthetically focused.
You can even try to learn what is trending on platforms like TikTok using keywords or reading conversations happening in topic-focused groups on Facebook or LinkedIn.
This outside-in content planning process aims to add to the conversations. You aren’t looking to mimic content that already exists. Instead, you’re trying to find that white space where people are looking to learn more about a topic and the resources are limited.
You can keep learning, not just about content planning, but about all things related to reaching your market at the right time, in the right place and with the right strategy in the Pragmatic Institute Market course.
You’ll also learn how to align across go-to-market teams by effectively sharing and leveraging your buyer knowledge to prioritize the right product marketing strategies. And, how to measure your strategies against the metrics that matter most to your organizations, focusing on outcomes and impact, not vanity.