You're out of ideas. You've exhausted your usual options for gathering ideas: reading the news, scanning your Twitter feed, and even twirling the same pen over and over, hoping that a thick blob of inspiration will somehow ooze out of its tip. But nothing's coming up. None. Nada.
What do you do?
There's still one thing, actually. You can turn to the people who, actually, are your most valuable source of ideas: your customers. And here's why they're “valuable”:
- Google is becoming more and more “customer-centric”. Back in the day, SEO was all about sprinkling the right keywords in the right places. Now, Google is pushing for updates that tailor-fit search results for each user. Pigeon forced businesses to “localize”, Hummingbird contextualized search phrases rather than individual words (“Who is the tallest man alive?”), and the aptly named “Mobilegeddon” rewarded websites with a mobile-friendly, responsive interface. The only way to keep up with all these changes is to always gear your content towards your customers.
- Customers provide an infinite supply of ideas. There's only so much you can come up with on your own. Your customers, however, bring a range of backgrounds, beliefs and personalities to the table. Combined, all of these can be channeled into content that'll leave these people asking for more.
- Customers want you to care about them before they care about you. You know that person who has a lot to say about himself, and not much else? How you feel about that person is the same as how your customers feel, when they're forced to pay attention to a brand that has a “Look at me, please!” approach to marketing. On the other hand, if you consistently churn out useful, authoritative content that isn't always a thinly veiled sales pitch, you'll gain a ton of credibility, trust and loyalty from the people you want to sell to.
Now that we've discussed the “whys” of sourcing ideas from customers, you might be thinking: “Okay, fair enough. So how do I get ideas from customers, exactly?”
Glad you asked.
Where to Find Customer-Centric Ideas
- Social Media. A Facebook post like “Hey, guys! What blog post topics would you like us to cover?” might seem a little too direct. But people love to engage in conversations, and if you've already established yourself as a brand to watch, they'll be more than happy to respond to posts like this. You can even offer a reward: “We're having a contest on the best blog post ideas. Winners will have (insert prize here).” Keep track of mentions through social media mention tools.
- Review Sites. No matter what your customers say about your company, in general, reviews are always worth a closer look. You can improve your products and/or services based on their opinion, and write about these changes: “We made these changes based on popular demand…”
- Forums. Like review sites, forums tend to bring out the honest side of your customers. Look for the ones where they're most likely to hang out, and see what they have to say. If you decide to respond to their comments, take care to sound more helpful than sales-y. Bear in mind that everything you do/say in these places will reflect not only on you but also on your company.
- Comments Sections. If you know how to moderate your blog posts' comments sections, you shouldn't have much trouble weeding out the “trolls”, and retaining the ones that have something valuable to add to the conversation. From the latter, you can have a jump-off point for future post ideas.
- Direct Customer Feedback. Use the positive ones as testimonials (more on this later). Take note of the negative ones as well, so you know how you can possibly make your offerings better.
These might be the top five places to find ideas, but they're not the only places. Keep your eyes peeled for places where your customers gather 'round to talk. You might be surprised at what they have to say.
How to Transform Customer-Centric Ideas Into Content
After collecting all those ideas, your next step is to transform them into something unique, entertaining, compelling and useful for your customers. Some of the best ways to do this include the following:
- Include a “FAQs” section on your site. Based on direct customer feedback, you can formulate the questions in this section. Make sure they address problems, as WebpageFX content marketer Rebecca Stickler would say. Write detailed answers as much as possible, but do keep them clear enough for your customers to understand.
- Use Testimonials. If you have a customer who leaves feedback that goes beyond the generic “I love your company!”, that's awesome. If not, you can subtly coax them into providing you testimonials by having them answer a questionnaire. Ask specific questions like “What do you like about my services?” and provide possible answers (e.g. “Price”, “Quality”, “Brand”). Make sure these testimonials are prominently displayed on your home page, so visitors will have an immediate reason to check what else you have to offer.
- Address Your Customers' Most Common Problems. If there are problems which can't be adequately addressed in the FAQs section, you can still help your customers using other types of content. For example, since CJ Pony Parts is in the car business, most of their buyers encounter problems with car dealers in general. So they created a “Beat the Dealer” infographic, which is more fun than, and just as informative as, regular “how to deal with car dealers” articles.
- Write Case Studies. Few things are more powerful than concrete, unquestionable proof that your product works the way you say it does. And a case study is usually the best way to show this.
Talk about the extraordinary ways your company makes a difference in the lives of people. Write about how your swift response to a complaint doubled (or tripled!) your profits. You can even write a case study based on another case study, as Neil Patel did below.
- Write About Trends. Your customers want to always be “in the know”. Use trend tracking tools to find out what's hot in your industry, write about them, and tie them somehow to your product. Be sure to focus your piece on what those trends mean for your customers, rather than on your company.
A Few More Tips on Creating Customer-Centric Content
Whether you're writing a blog post or an infographic, these tips will apply:
- Talk “to” your customers, not “at” them. Which do you think is more engaging: “People can do this to solve that problem” or “You can do this to solve that problem”? With the former, you sound like a college professor; with the latter, you sound like a helpful friend. That's a huge difference in tone, considering that you only had to make one tiny change: the use of the word “You”.
- Minimize jargon. You might think that using simple words “dumbs down” your content. In fact, 8th-grade level content works for all types of readers, regardless of literacy level. If you can write “use” instead of “utilize”, do it.
- Make it easy to read. Use varying sentence lengths. Break down your content with bolded subheads, bullets and other visuals. Write it in a way that a busy reader can put it down to go to the bathroom, get back, and still understand what you're getting at.
- Revise, Revise, Revise. Double-check your facts. See if you can phrase your blog post's words a bit better, or if your visuals can be presented in a more appealing way. Keep revising your piece, until the average reader can get through it without falling asleep or hitting the “Back” button.
- Promote it as much as you can. You don't want your piece to go to waste, do you? Let people know it exists through your social media channels. Use an eye-catching caption to tease readers (“These tips will solve 90 percent of your money problems – and help you cope better with the remaining 10 percent.”).
As a certain “Pirates of the Caribbean” captain would say, these are more guidelines than actual rules. Don't be afraid to experiment; observe which of these tips work for your customers, and which don't. Once you get the hang of it, you'll never have much trouble writing for your people again.
Sarah Landrum is a digital marketing specialist, freelance writer, and career blogger. She is also the founder of Punched Clocks, a career site all about finding happiness and success in your career. For more from Sarah, subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on Twitter @SarahLandrum