When I was a teenager, a late-summer lightning strike splintered the telephone pole that served our rural Ohio farmhouse. The power was out for three days in the sweltering August heat, and pretty quickly we ran out of water.
The problem wasn't our water supply -- the well under our house was deep and swollen thanks to the thunderstorm that knocked out our electricity. But our plumbing system relied on an electric pump to pressurize the water and that pump needed electricity to run. The water was just feet from our pipes, but that well might as well have been bone dry for all the good it did us.
Do you ever feel like your "content ideas" well is dry?
When you first start writing about a new topic, you have plenty of ideas. You have this initial rush of enthusiasm and a bunch of ideas start spilling out.
The more you write, the less interesting your topic seems. Before long you feel like you've said all you have to say. You're "written out." You feel dry and empty. When you're writing about the same topic day in and day out, you start to lose your childlike curiosity.
That's because you've exhausted your internal "pressure tank" of curiosity and creativity.
Get a fresh perspective through your customer's eyes.
Why is this so important?
After you've written about a topic for a while, you eventually start trying to come up with ideas in a vacuum. Let's say you write blog posts for a company that makes bookkeeping software for small businesses. You've published posts on "how to reconcile an account" and "cash basis vs. accrual accounting," and now you start to think, "Well, what other interesting things could I say about bookkeeping?"
Working this way you naturally fall into a rut. You're starting with a general topic, bookkeeping, and trying to drill down to something specific and interesting. Instead you'll just sit and churn, because you're thinking about the topic in the same way over and over.
The answer is to get outside of your own head.
You go looking for specific questions to answer.
Your customers have a different perspective on your product. They're still curious. They've had different experiences with competitors. They have different backgrounds, education and personalities.
And as a result they're full of questions that you'd never in a million years come up with just by sitting at your keyboard and thinking.
By answering their specific questions, you're killing two birds with one stone -- you're priming your "idea pump," and you're also overcoming potential objections your customers have that keep them from buying.
Finding these questions is easy. Here are five places to look:
1. Social media.
When people are confused, frustrated or stuck, social media is often their first stop.
The 800 pound gorillas here are Facebook and Twitter. Both include robust search features, and scouring these two sites for keywords related to your business is often a great place to start.
Don't stop there, though. "Social media" isn't limited to just Twitter and Facebook.
2. Forums and Q&A sites.
On forums your customers freely share their problems, vent their emotions, and discuss solutions they've tried. Social sharing and bookmarking sites like are treasure troves as well. If you can find a group on Reddit where your market congregates, that's a goldmine.
Question and answer sites like Quora, Yahoo Answers and Stack Overflow can also provide a useful window into your customers' mindset.
Many of these sites allow you to sort threads by popularity, which makes it easy to find the burning questions that generate the most discussion.
3. Support tickets.
If your company has a help desk or customer support, then you're in luck, because your customers are already telling you every day what they're struggling with. Maybe your support team helps 20 people every day who accidentally deleted a customer from their account and can't figure out how to restore the data. Think there might be a couple of good walkthroughs in those tickets?
The ideas you get from support tickets can reduce the workload on your support team -- and even improve customer satisfaction and reduce returns and refund requests.
4. Sales calls.
Skilled sales pros don't just lob verbal hand grenades at customers until their resistance crumbles. Instead they ask questions to uncover the customer's real needs -- and they ask still more questions to probe for objections. Often prospects respond by asking still more questions about the product...
Do you see how these exchanges could help you generate content ideas?
See if you can get your hands on half a dozen recorded sales calls. Have them transcribed -- you can mine months of brilliant content ideas from those pages.
5. Customer interviews.
Interviewing customers is trickier than it seems, because you can't just come right out and ask "What do you want to know more about?" At best they'll say the same thing that the last six customer said. More likely you'll get a blank stare. So you have to think like a detective, and ask questions that get them to open up and reveal what they're really thinking.
Say your company makes bookkeeping software. You might ask:
- What are the routine tasks that you do with our software every day, or every month?
- What is the most confusing part of the software?
- Which feature saves you the most time every week?
- What's the chore you hate doing the most?
- What do you wish this software did that it doesn't currently do?
Go over their answers with a fine toothed comb. The "knowledge gaps" you uncover make for great blog posts, emails and white papers.
When your "idea well" is dry, there's plenty to write about.
You just need to prime the pump with a fresh perspective.
Track your customers down on social media and eavesdrop on their forum discussions. Rummage through support tickets and scrutinize their reactions to your sales team. And don't forget to take one or two of them out for coffee every so often.
Spend a few minutes to look at your topic through your customer's eyes and the content ideas will flow freely.