George Terry
By George Terry on April 08, 2021

SaaS Content Marketing: 3 Questions I Ask to Get Better Content Ideas

There are three questions I ask myself pretty much everyday when I'm coming up with content ideas for clients. They always help to clarify and elevate my thinking. 

They are:

  • Is this idea rooted in what your customers have told you they care about, struggle with or want to achieve?
  • Is this idea unique to your brand and, if not, how can you make it so? 
  • Can this idea be repurposed or redistributed in multiple ways and across multiple channels?

Creating content is pretty easy these days. Anyone with the internet has access to all the tools and information they need to write thousands of words on almost any topic to a reasonable standard.

But coming up with awesome content ideas is really, really hard. And it's the ideas, not the execution, that people turn up for.

These three questions will help you turn lukewarm ideas into scorching hot content that's jam-packed with value, unique to your brand and easy to find.

Let's start with the most important one.

 

#1 - Is this idea rooted in what customers have told you?

One of the golden rules of copywriting is that you don’t write great copy, you steal it from your customers. I think the same goes for content.

Speaking to customers is the most reliable way to come up with solid content ideas. Marketers like to talk about ‘test and learn’. We prefer ‘listen, test and learn’.

Every client project we do starts with customer interviews and every one of those conversations pays itself back ten times over. They’re worth their weight in gold. 

If you’re not in the habit of regularly speaking to customers, get in the habit. It’s the single best use of your time as a marketer.

These are the kinds of questions I’m asking when I speak to customers:

  • What are your priorities at work right now?
  • What aspects of your role do you struggle with or find frustrating?
  • Do you ever look for advice, information, templates or tools to help solve these problems?
  • What aspects of your job do you most enjoy learning about?
  • What are your favourite websites / platforms / podcasts / blogs related to work?
  • What was the last piece of branded content you shared with your team or your network on social media?
  • Are there any company blogs or newsletters you really like and, if so, why?

Basically, I want to know:

  1. What do they care about?
  2. What are they interested in?
  3. What are they struggling with?
  4. How are they trying to solve these problems?
  5. What could we do to help them?

We then follow this up with our own quantitative research. The questions we’re asking at this stage are:

  1. What can we learn from the best performing content on social media in your industry? BuzzSumo is great for this
  2. What are the top-performing keywords in your niche and which keywords are your competitors targeting? We use SEMRush for this
  3. What else can we learn from your customer’s social and search behaviour?

By the end of the research process we end up with this.

venn diagram showing analytics, interviews and briefingsThis research process may sound long-winded compared to having a quick brainstorm with your team or doing a bit of desk research. But trust me, the more effort you put into the research, the more likely a piece of content is to work.

 


 

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#2 - Is this idea unique to your brand?

Have you ever noticed that a lot of the content in the SERPs for high-volume B2B keywords is the same? 

Years of SEO content creation has flooded the SERPs with generic content repeating the same ideas and advice over and over again. While incorporating ideas from existing content makes the research process easier and can help with SEO, it's important that your content feels unique to your brand.

Content marketing isn't just about getting more leads. It's also about differentiation, brand awareness and building meaningful relationships. The more generic your content feels, the less likely it is deliver on these 'intangible' benefits that are harder to measure but absolutely critical to growth.

Here are a few ideas for how you can take a content idea that might feel generic and make it unique to your brand.

 

Write from experience

Most of the content in the SERPs is ‘how to’ content. But people love ‘how we’ content.

In fact, telling someone how you've done something in the past is often more useful than telling them how they should do it in the future.

Here's an example of this approach from our own blog

Over the past year I’ve seen a lot more brands opening up and telling stories based on their first-hand experience. Some people call this 'building in public'.

'Building in public' first gained traction in the micro-SaaS scene on Twitter and Indie Hackers. But it's now being adopted more widely as a way to share your unique point of view and build your brand as you grow.

This thread from Jack Butcher is a useful introduction if you want to learn more about this approach. Here's a great example of this approach in action from Groove

 

Mine your own data

If you’re a SaaS platform or digital product, there are probably stories hidden in your data that your users will be interested in. Mining this data and finding those trends will give you unique insights and data that you can turn into content. 

Here's an example from email marketing platform Campaign Monitor.

This type of content is particularly good for generating backlinks and press coverage. All you really need is one killer stat that can be turned into a snappy headline and press release.

If you're wondering what stats you should go looking for, here are three approaches that work really well:

  • Take a controversial talking point of your industry and use data to prove or disprove it, ie. It's Official: 'Lead Magnets' Are Less Likely to Drive Sales Than Newsletter Signups
  • Identify the thing that your audience struggles with the most, ie. 78% of Content Marketers Say They Still Don't Understand Their Audience
  • Use data to help steer your audience towards better decisions, ie. The Ideal Marketing Newsletter Takes Just 3 Minutes to Read

 

Do some primary research

If you don’t have a digital product, you can still conduct your own primary research to create a unique story. You can do this by surveying people, using analytics tools, finding and combining and publicly-available data or by interviewing thought leaders. 

Priceonomics is a San Francisco agency that's famous for creating unique and fascinating content based on deep research. From comparing the headshots of Fortune 500 CEOs to analysing the effect of the pandemic on plastic waste, they find and combine publicly-available data and information to create unique stories.

Another great example of this is Orbit Media's annual Blogging Statistics report. This report originally launched in 2013 and it generates massive traffic and hundreds of backlinks for them every year.

 

#3 - Can this idea be repurposed for different channels and formats?

Understanding what your audience wants and finding a unique way to give them that information is a great start. But if your audience can't find the content, it may as well not exist.

People often think distribution is the final step in the content creation process but you should be thinking about distribution from the very start. The best content ideas highly-distributable and will work across multiple channels in multiple formats.

Let's imagine you've just written a blog post. Here are a few alternative formats you could consider.

 

Imagery

Most posts have core ideas that can be represented as a simple graphic or a banner. Quotes, stats and insights work particularly well for this. If there are a few key stats or insights, you could combine them to create an infographic or carousel.

 

Twitter thread

Links don't perform that well on Twitter but it's pretty straight-forward to take the key points from any article and publish them as a thread. 

Here's some great advice on writing Twitter threads if you've not done it before.

 

Videos

Videos perform well on pretty much every channel. And thanks to tools like Zoom or Whereby, it's never been easier to make your own video content.

A tried-and-tested way of repurposing content for shortform video is to record two knowledgeable people discussing the topic and then cut out the best bits and edit them together using DIY editing software like Kapwing or Filmora

 

Polls and discussions

Another way of repurposing content is to use the topic as the basis of a poll or discussion. This works particularly well if you do it as part of the research process before the article is written.  Then you can include quotes or findings from the research in the final article.

 

Thought leaders and creators

It's also worth thinking about whether there are any thought leaders or creators in your niche that would be interested in what you're writing about. 

Newsletter creators are a particularly good source of traffic.

 

Three questions for better SaaS content marketing ideas

Just in case you need a quick recap, they are:

  • Is this idea rooted in what your customers have told you they care about, struggle with or want to achieve?
  • Is this idea unique to your brand and, if not, how can you make it so? 
  • Can this idea be repurposed or redistributed in multiple ways and across multiple channels?

If you have questions, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter or LinkedIn. I’m always happy to chat!

Published by George Terry April 8, 2021
George Terry