Where Does Content Come From?

Part 2 of 3

By Richard Danenberg

There’s a luminous glow from the screen in front of you, but it’s as blank as the thoughts in your head. Anyone who’s ever tried to write or create has encountered this problem. Whether you call it writer’s block or temporary brainlessness, this dearth of ideas is frustrating. As one aspiring author quipped, “It sucks . . . even your imaginary friends won’t talk to you!”

If you’re looking at content marketing as a strategy for your printing company and you intend to develop the content yourself, be forewarned. You will one day sit down with good intentions to write your weekly blog post and find yourself completely devoid of ideas. Thankfully, this brainless condition can be avoided with a bit of planning and diligence.

Ideas about Ideas

Our last postdefined content marketing and looked at a few reasons why this strategy makes sense for printers. Today we’ll begin to discuss the nuts and bolts of implementation, looking first at a couple of really important questions: Where do the ideas come from? What is there about my business that could possibly be of interest to an audience?

What really defines good content? There’s a massive amount of information out there on the interwebs. What will make yours stand out from the rest? Read any blog about content marketing and you’ll find the same numbered list. It instructs that your offerings must be:

• relevant to your audience,

• original, and

• useful.

If you create with these points in mind, you’ll convey good information that is potentially also deadly boring, so let’s add a few more criteria. Your content should also be reasonably entertaining. It should be interesting and engaging.

Don’t freak out. One of the great things about being a printer is that there’s lots to talk about. The rest of this post will provide you with a few ideas (about generating ideas) and also a couple of tips for managing the process.

Idea #1: Tell a Story

My dad trained scout dogs for the U.S. Army during WWII. His division was slated for the invasion of Japan, and you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog today were it not for a couple of powerful explosions—I’m literally a child of the Atomic Age. Dad’s nearing 90 now, but he can still recite the exploits of Topsy, one of his German Shepherd dogs. His WWII stories come from his “glory days.” They’re vividly told and they stick with the listener. And if they don’t stick, Dad will be glad to tell them again.

People love to tell stories and to hear them, and new stories are created every day. My printing company was located downtown in a small community, and there were lots of fascinating people who came through the shop every day. Their stories and their projects provided great material to write about.

Idea #2: What Was the Question?

Customers’ questions provide an endless source of ideas. In fact, if you were to simply keep a list of every question that you were asked over the course of a year, you’d probably never need another topic. Add problems into the mix and you’ll have a large surplus of subjects to write about. As an example, my printing customers could never understand the difference between a page and a sheet. They’d say that they wanted a four-page booklet and send in 16 pages. A sequence of sometimes exasperating conversations provided food for a funny blog post called, “OK, Let’s see if we can get this straight.”

Idea #3: What’s Going On?

New developments are a great source of topics for blog posts and video. If you’ve discovered a new product or technology with promise, talk about it. You’ll be educating your audience about new possibilities and hopefully you’ll also get some feedback. New capabilities are always good material, but make sure to talk about benefits in the customer’s language (as opposed to print jargon). Try to write an informational piece, not a sales message. Remember that your prospects and customers might not care much about the whiz-bang gear-head stuff that intrigues printers, but they are interested in what advantages new developments might offer them.

“Newsjacking” can also offer wonderful topic opportunities, and sometimes the possibility to become really creative. I’ve written before about the very effective ad campaign my business ran after the Florida “hanging chad” debacle in the 2000 election. It was a perfect chance to assert (tongue firmly in cheek) that the whole electoral problem would have never occurred if my printing company had produced the ballots. The recent failure of healthcare.gov might have provided equally good fodder for an enterprising printer to suggest that maybe the U.S. government would be better off sticking with the tried-and-true system of paper forms.

If your company is primarily marketing in a local area, it’s a great idea to go “off topic” from time to time to talk about something good in the community. This works especially well if your business is involved in a community project or activity. Write and post about the cause or project and opportunities for participation and encourage others to join in. Creating and publishing this kind of content has great PR value, especially if the posts are shared by others.

Idea #4: What Was the Project of the Month?

A project-of-the-month feature is another great local marketing tactic that can accomplish multiple purposes. Make sure to ask your customers before you write about a project that you’ve done for them. In most cases, they’ll be very receptive to the idea. If you’re featuring an innovative project, you might want to interview the client and produce a video or write a case study. This kind of feature can be a win for you and for your customers. It provides them with positive exposure and highlights the capabilities of your company and how you work with your clients.

Organizing Your Thoughts

Sister Grace Marie Dillard was my favorite high school English teacher and is probably responsible for the addiction to writing that I’ve succumbed to since leaving her class in the 12th grade. She’s also responsible for the series of almost exactly 235.25 spiral pocket notebooks that I carried in my shirt pocket from 1981 until the invention of the iPhone. “Journaling” was the good Sister’s nomenclature, but this word somehow engenders an impression that is much more cohesive and coherent than the scribbles that I’ve carried around.

Ideas are sneaky. They come upon writers in awkward circumstances. Some of my best ideas are generated in the shower, an unfriendly environment for either notepads or iPhones. As quickly as they come, they also depart. Unless recorded immediately, they escape my increasingly short-term memory and fly off to be used by strangers. Write them down.

Technology has changed my method of holding and organizing ideas (and publishing them), and I’ll share a few of my favorite resources in this series. The first of these is an application called Evernote. I’ve written about this wonderful little bit of cloud-enabled software before, in a post about my favorite print blogs (“Too Much Information”). The browser version includes a plug-in called Clipper that allows you to collect and curate interesting content for later use. There is also a mobile app that Sister Grace Marie would have loved. It allows the user to create multiple notebooks and enables them to tag and catalog their ideas. I am a fan.

In Our Next Issue: Blogs and Curated Content

There are many possible channels that can be used in your content marketing strategy: website, blogs, social media, email, podcasts, videos, and more. The key consideration, of course, is what makes sense. One of the first decisions you’ll need to make as you plan your strategy has to do with your capabilities and time. Just how much can you manage? Next time we’ll talk about a couple of possibilities, blogs and curated content, and look at the resources and time required to make these tactics work.

Marketing Webcast

Join Richard Dannenberg and Spencer Powell every month for a unique half-hour marketing webcast.  21/20 Marketing is a discussion of marketing ideas for printing and direct-mail companies with a new school/old school perspective. Visit our Registration Pagefor more information and a link to the webcast.

About the Author

Richard Dannenberg helps printers and small businesses with marketing planning and implementation. You can learn more about Richard and his company, DP Marketing Services, at the website. Follow Richard on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google +.