People use products and services that provide value to them. Customer development and iterative product development are used to gain customer insights to build the most valuable product possible (“product/market fit”). Content is no different. Similar strategies can used to develop content for either marketing or paid products (i.e. “content/market fit”).
Products that are most valuable to people solve a problem. Content solves a problem by providing information or education so that they can solve the problem themselves. Similar to developing a product, insights must be gained to determined what kind of information is truly of value to people.
Content marketing is effective as a marketing strategy because it attracts customers by providing them something of value. If the information is extremely valuable, it can be sold as a product in itself. I use the tactics described below to develop my blog posts, courses at Startup College, books, etc.
1. Listen for Frequently Asked Questions
If someone asks a question it’s a request for information. If a question comes up frequently you have a better idea of the demand for information on the topic. Three ways you can listen for questions, outlined below, are hosting office hours, keyword research, and browsing Quora. At least 75% of the topics in my upcoming book came from answering questions I received from people about blogging and browsing Quora.
a. Office Hours
During office hours people usually ask me about how they can solve problems they’re having, ask questions about specific customer development tactics, and/or ask for general advice. I can then write a blog post that essentially answers the question (at scale) if I think others would find it valuable too.
I host office hours via SoHelpful. SoHelpful makes it easy for people to schedule time with me and vice versa. By hosting 30 minute sessions via Skype (instead of in-person) I’ve connected with great people all over the world without wasting too much time.
b. Keyword Research
Another, more “rogue”, way to gain insights about what kind of information people want is using Google Keyword Planner. There you can see what kind of searches people are making. Search phrases such as “[topic] course,” “[topic] book,” “how to [topic],” or “[topic] tips” indicate a need for information.
c. Browse Quora
If someone asks or follows a question on Quora it’s an indication that they want information on that topic. Browse questions within your topic area and answer the questions with the most followers as blog posts. Beyond browsing questions, there are a number of ways bloggers can get value from Quora. Check out 6 Ways Bloggers Can Use Quora to learn more.
2. Scratch Your Own Itch
“Scratching your own itch” means solving a problem you have. This is a common technique for generating business ideas.
Given your current role, what information would be valuable to you? For example, if you’re starting your first company, you may want to learn about marketing, product development etc. If there’s a question you’re looking for an answer to and are having a hard time finding it, you could answer it.
It’s important to make sure that you’re not the only one that has the problem. But by identifying a problem that you have, you can be sure that at least someone has the problem, and it may be more likely that others to do.
I decided to test out Twitter as a customer acquisition channel for stpcollege.com. So I wanted to learn about best practices for engaging on Twitter and using it to increase traffic. I also wanted to learn about how to automate the process so I could get value from Twitter while I sleep. I spent hours scouring the web for tools. There are so many! Once I found the best ones I created the course 13 Twitter App: Twitter Marketing Optimized and Automated to save everyone the time searching the web for tools, signing up for products that might not be valuable to them, and learning how to use them to get results.
3. Do What’s Working
If you see another product getting traction, it’s validation that the product is something that people want. Similarly for content, if you see another piece of content that’s getting a lot of traction, you could create something similar, perhaps with a slightly different angle, or with more information on a certain aspect of the topic.
4. Interview Customers
If you’re still not sure what your audience wants you to produce content about…ask them! Ask them what their challenges are, what questions they have, or simply what they’d like the topic of your next blog post to be. If they’re having a challenge with, say, UX, a course on UX could be valuable. If they ask you about how to speed up their sales cycles, a blog post titled “9 Tips to Speed Up Your Sales Cycles” could be appropriate.
5. Iterative Content Development
If you’re producing long-form content, such as a book or video course, you may want to develop it iteratively (i.e. “minimum viable product”) to avoid wasting a bunch of time on something people don’t want. A minimum viable product for a book or video course might be a blog post. A minimum viable product for a blog post might be a tweet. I’ve used variations of the below cycle to develop my content:
a. Blog Post
If a blog posts on a given topic are getting a lot of traffic and engagement, it could be an indication that there’s demand for a larger offering such as a book or video course.
If you have an idea for a book or video course, you could start by summarizing it in one blog post. You could also write blog posts about individual topics within the course.
b. In-Person Class
An in-person class/workshop is like a “concierge MVP” for a video course. You can practice your content and get feedback on it before producing it fully. You can take questions throughout the course to see what you need to elaborate on/change and at the end to gain insight on what additional topics you could include.
My How to Build an Awesome Professional Network video course started as an in-person Skillshare. I taught it probably about 10 times and altered several times before finding “content/market fit.” I decided to do the in-person class after my blog posts on the topic were getting good reactions. I didn’t even prepare material for the in-person class until a handful of people signed up.
If I think of an idea for a blog post, I’ll tweet some of the main points or even the title of the post before writing it. If people reply, retweet, etc., it’s an indication that it’s an interesting topic to people.
People value content that provides information they need to solve a problem.
Just like building a product or feature, customer development and “iterative content development” can be practiced to reach “content/market fit.”
To learn more about content marketing, check out “Growth Hacking with Content Marketing.”