By Elizabeth Sosnow published September 9, 2010

20 Clues to Find the B2B Content Your Audience Really Wants

Shhh. Do you hear that noise? That’s the mournful cry of a program that lacks content. If I’m being honest, I’ll admit I’ve heard that sound occasionally myself.

When you work on a communications program for many years, it can sometimes feel exhausting to identify new ideas or topics that move your audience. But don’t lose hope. Play detective instead. Here’s where I start looking for clues.

Look Backwards

Old marketing materials
White papers, brochures and even branded images are a potential treasure trove if you look carefully. Plus, it can feel like a “safe starter” for those conservative types that just walked into your brainstorm.

Finished PR programs
Consider if published press releases, blogger pitches and speech content imply a direction for your next program.

Past thought leaders
Do the company founder’s words offer a useful frame for the business today? Sift through old memos, PowerPoint slides and speeches.

Company archives
Audiences love a “Before and After” story. What’s yours? (If you don’t know, better find out quick.)

Industry history
Do you know how many players were in your niche in the beginning? Or how the sector grew over time? If you do, you could hypothesize about what that means for the future.

Current best practices
How did your firm codify its processes? Why was one approach better than another? If you know why “we do it that way,” you’ll be better able to articulate why it matters to your buyers.

Look Sideways

External survey of clients and prospects
This is the oldest trick in the content book, but it is often curiously missing from many marketing plans. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking they already know what matters, or sometimes they think that pre-existing data can be the basis for unrelated marketing programs. Don’t make either mistake. Fight to design a survey that will start your program off on the right foot.

The latest headlines
Your company is not alone in the universe…and never will be. Have you reviewed your RSS feeds and news coverage on contextual trends? What are the implications for your own strategic direction?

Competitive thought leaders
I bet you closely monitor your competitors’ business moves. But how much time do you spend closely reviewing their thought leaders’ moves? Where was their most recent speech? Are they answering questions on LinkedIn? How do they compare to your thought leader on Google page rank? You can’t create business-to-business content in a vacuum.

Association news
What groups do your leaders belong to? What meetings do they attend? There’s a chance to do more than networking at association events and committee meetings. Look at newsletters and meeting agenda for blog ideas and intelligence about key market moves.

Tools
We’ve all enjoyed the benefits of Google Alerts for some time. But there is a proliferating host of tools that offer almost real-time intelligence on the analytics and topics that matter the most. For a start, look into:

Look Inside

It’s always about analytics
You are your own best resource. What does Google analytics tell you about your site? What calls to action matter most? Where are your customers coming from? Who opens your email blasts – and who doesn’t? Are your sales up in the summer or the winter? Simply put, anyone interested in content must become interested in analytics.

SEO
Search engines recognize good content. But we make it easier for them to find us when we use the right keywords against the right competitive context. Do the research to understand where you fit in. The bonus? Immediate clues as to what kinds of content need to be created.

Internal surveys
It’s kind of amazing how often leaders forget their most important advocates: their people. You should survey employees quarterly–and not just for feedback. They know the secret to why your customer decides to buy.

Bookmarks
Is your blog getting bookmarked on Delicious? By whom? How does it compare to bookmarks on a competitor’s content?

Niche communities
It’s not always a Facebook world. There are thriving communities and forums that don’t care about name brand cachet. Find them.

Location, location, location
It matters for more than real estate. Do you know how different regions or cities or countries consume your information? If you did, you could create customized stories that targeted their needs.

Adam & Eve
As a society, we are hardwired to think of the differences between male and female perspectives. Take advantage of that and look for ideas that reflect that division.

Age before beauty
It’s nearly impossible to read a newspaper without seeing at least one story that focuses on an age group. Boomers retiring, Millennials growing up, Tweens going nuts for Justin Beiber. Human beings like content that feels designed for where they are in life right now.

End users
Who are your customers’ customers? Do you know what keeps them up at night? If you did, you could develop ideas that made you essential to your clients.

So take a little time to look backwards, sideways and inside for clues. Then you’ll find it’s easy to move forward with meaningful content that activates your audience.

What clues would you add to this list?

Author: Elizabeth Sosnow

Elizabeth develops strategy for large clients in financial and professional services, with a particular emphasis on the legal, insurance, marketing services and consulting industries. She leads BlissPR’s Digital activities, including blogger outreach, influencer engagement, SEO benchmarking, email strategy and social network analytics. Elizabeth is the incoming Chair of the Digital Practice for Worldcom’s Board of Directors in the Americas region. You can follow her on Twitter @elizabethsosnow.

Other posts by Elizabeth Sosnow

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  • Llencioni

    This is a great article to read at the beginning of a brainstorming session! I will reread this several times, I’m sure.

  • Anonymous

    So glad you liked it! And I agree about brainstorming – you’ll inevitably come up with great ideas if you start off by some crowdsourcing.

    If you do a brainstorm, I recommend asking folks in the room to share one “horror” story or “success” story they’ve recently encountered with their content. I find that passion can really motivate folks to find the “good” content faster.

  • Anonymous

    Elizabeth, This is some of the best advice I’ve seen in the last month. And as you know, learning time in content marketing is like dog years so that’s like seven months in conventional marketing terms. Things are happening fast, changing faster and it’s not easy to keep up. Articles like this and sites like The Content Marketing Institute help even old dogs like me learn new tricks. Thanks!

    p.s. Never quit learning

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much, Billy. “Never quit learning” seems to have become my motto, too. This digital environment is constantly forcing me to embrace things that I never would have imagined even a few years ago from my (formerly safe) PR perch.

    Web Analytics, SEO, email marketing…these were all just words to me. But what I love about the social media era is that we all seem to have been given permission, if not encouraged, to become students again. That’s been tremendously fun. Even better, I think it’s helped me find new approaches to tasks I’ve been doing for years. What a great time to be in content marketing.

    Looking forward to sharing the journey with you!

    Elizabeth

  • Anonymous

    Great tips on unusual places to look for content ideas. As a long term blogger, I’ve used many of these.

    Congratulations on being named a top B2B marketing blog by Proteus. That’s quite an honor. I’m pleased to share the news that Fearless Competitor was also named to that great list.

    Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
    Find New Customers
    http://www.findnewcustomers.com

  • Anonymous

    I really appreciate your comment, Jeff. I do think there are always ideas out there, it sometimes just takes time to hunt for them and then shape them. Actually, I have to admit that I’ve always found the “hunting” part kind of fun.

    We were excited for Proteus to cite our blog on their B2B list and I’m glad to hear your blog made it, too. Now for the hard part – staying on the list! Blogging is rewarding, but lots of work. Content creation is not for the faint of heart!

  • Tom Levers

    Elizebeth a great article!!!