By Dianna Huff published February 15, 2011

Great Content Starts with Great Questions: Tips for Asking the Right Ones

Over the years, I’ve had many B2B manufacturing clients want to include what I refer to as “so what?” information on their Websites, blog posts and press releases. This “so what?” information includes seemingly useless facts such as the square footage of the manufacturing plant or that the company has purchased new equipment.

When I get these types of requests, I’ve learned to ask, “Why is this important?” As a content creator, my job is to think like a reporter. The fact that a company spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase new equipment is important – my job is to find out why.

When I take the time to sniff out a story, I’m usually rewarded with lots of insight into the company and its values that I wouldn’t otherwise get – making it much easier to tell its story.

Case in point: MacroAir Technologies (a CMI consulting client) is a family-owned small business in San Bernardino, CA that manufacturers High Volume, Low Speed (HVLS) commercial ceiling fans. Recently, a person from the marketing team asked me to write a blog post about their newly “wrapped” 18-wheel truck (i.e. the truck was covered in MacroAir’s logos, verbiage, etc.).

When I read the email, I almost dismissed it because at first glance there’s no story in a wrapped truck – other than the fact that it looks pretty cool.

Instead, I shot back an email simply to ask why the company had purchased the truck in the first place. The answer? MacroAir purchased it for installing its six-blade HVLS fans for customers who upgraded on their Warranty and Installation package.

Nice, but again, not really that newsworthy.

So I dug a little deeper and asked more questions and hit the jackpot when Jaylin Krell, MacroAir’s Marketing Coordinator, sent me back a detailed reply – most of which you can find in this blog post, “Customer Service: Actions Speak Louder than Words.”

When purchasing MacroAir’s HVLS fans in the past, customers were responsible for installation. Even though MacroAir gave detailed instructions and simplified the process, people still made mistakes. And, if you ordered multiple fans for your warehouse or manufacturing plant, installation translated into huge downtime as well as expense: you have shut off the electricity, hire a forklift, take someone off the job to do the installation, etc.

To solve these problems, MacroAir purchased the truck. Now, someone from the company travels across the country installing fans for customers. The truck is large enough to hold customers’ fan orders, extra fan blades – and even a forklift! Now is that cool or what? (These kinds of stories always get me excited!)

Key takeaways

The mistake many companies make is to post photos or company news without explaining the story. By themselves, the photos of the MacroAir truck have no meaning. Because the photos illustrate the story, however, they now have meaning. If you’re a MacroAir customer, for example, you might read the blog post and think, “Wow! What a great company! They’re making my life easy by coming to my business and installing my fans for me.”

As a content creator, it’s your responsibility to find the news in what is seemingly boring or useless information. To do so, take a few steps back and ask yourself why this information is important – from your customers’ perspective. What do you want them to know about your values? How will that new plant equipment, for example, benefit your customers? Does it allow you to better control quality? Provide faster ship times?

Dig a little deeper for the real news – and then communicate it with a story that will resonate with your customers. You’ll find over time that you’ll naturally attract people who agree with your values and who will want to do business with you.

Author: Dianna Huff

In business since 1998, Dianna helps companies create effective websites that get leads. She knows her stuff. Follow her on Twitter @diannahuff. Download her free B2B Web Marketing Toolkit for proven web marketing strategies that work.

Other posts by Dianna Huff

  • http://www.sproutcontent.com Dechay

    Thanks for the great example of getting to the core story of a B2B company. Recently, we worked on website content for a plastic manufacturer out of Chicago. After several rounds of blah, blah facts and figures the owner said, “we started recycling plastic in the ‘60s – before recycling was the ‘cool’ thing to do.” Now, that was a nugget we could run with. I love that “ah-ha” moment when the owner or marketing person finally divulges the key piece of information that makes the story relevant.

    • Dianna Huff

      Dechay — Those kinds of moments always give me goosebumps — that’s when I know I have a great story!

  • http://www.aqute.com AquteIntel

    That’s a useful story. I learned a while ago that just because writing seems such a natural skill, doesn’t mean I can actually write well enough to tell a story. It’s difficult to trim something down to what is essential from the *reader*’s point of view.

  • http://www.dhcommunications.com Dianna Huff

    Aqutelnet — You are absolutely correct about telling a story from a reader’s perspective.

  • http://twitter.com/DCustomMedia D Custom

    Clients are so close to their business that it’s easy for them to forget that just because they know the “so what?” doesn’t mean that the audience does. A huge part of what we do as content marketers is making sure that this disconnect between client and audience doesn’t happen and that the target audience always knows the “so what?”.

    It’s also a good point that it’s the “so what?” from the audience’s perspective, not the client’s, that’s important to keep in mind for successfully leveraging the content.

    Good reminder. Good post.

    • Eugene

      That’s exactly what I found when interviewing business owners when I was copywriting for Yellow Online! Often we don’t see our own value as much as the outside world.

  • pchandra

    Great article Dianna and a great example of how to create an interesting post out of something that initially looks very boring.
    I checked out the MacroAir post and there seems to be an issue with the embedded images? They’re not showing in my Firefox browser.