We're pleased to present this guest post by Dianna Huff, the president of DH Communications, Inc. Read on for insights into how to build a solid foundation for content development.
A while ago I got pulled into a project as part of a larger brand marketing effort. My task was to create messaging and content. As part of the ramp-up, the project leader gave me a creative brief that had been completed by the client.
Full of details, the brief included all the typical questions I ask new clients before starting B2B marketing projects of this type, some of which include:
- What’s your objective?
- How will you measure success?
- How do people hear about you?
- How many leads do you get a month?
- How long is your sales cycle?
To get this information, I normally interview clients face-to-face or on the telephone; sometimes these initial meetings can take a while.
So when I saw the creative brief for this project, I could think only one thought: Imagine the time saved! This brief looked awesome to me because the client had filled it out (versus being interviewed). At the appointed time, I began writing content based on the brief, only something was wrong because after a few rounds of drafts, it was obvious I wasn’t “getting” it.
Information gathering: The critical first step
Before you start writing content, you have to develop a strategy behind the content, and this strategy has to be based on lots of information – and trust me, you can’t have too much information. You have to consider the client’s business goals and objectives, their message (or story, as I call it), their positioning and brand, the sales process and even company culture.
Unfortunately, you can’t shortcut this process, as I learned the hard way. I also realized that I have a mighty fine process in place for gathering information – one I should have followed, which is why I immediately picked up the phone and interviewed the client to get the information I was missing.
Here then are five strategies for gathering information before you sit down to create content:
1. Interview your clients.
It does take time, but interviewing your clients pays in spades. This is because the best information is often stuck in people’s heads. By interviewing them and asking questions such as, “Why is that important?” you’ll unearth all kinds of interesting stories and insights.
2. Get a tour if possible.
If the client is local, I always ask for a tour – especially if it’s a factory. Just a few weeks ago I spent 90 minutes interviewing the owner of a manufacturing company and then said, “Can I see your production floor?” In fifteen minutes I learned more about the client and his products than I had in the interview.
3. Ask for every piece of collateral available.
Print ads, press releases, brochures, business cards, letterhead, manuals, newsletters, datasheets, capability docs, and white papers – all of this content contains a wealth of information you can use (and repurpose).
4. Review competitor websites.
I like to review my clients’ competitors to see how they position themselves and to see what kind of content strategy they’re using.
5. Run some searches.
And lastly, run a Google and social media search on your client – you might be amazed at what comes up. If the business is small, I’ll run searches on the company and the owner. The information I find gives me further insight that helps me craft a content strategy and/or message.
Gathering information for any content marketing campaign is a crucial first step. Develop a list of open-ended questions and take the time to get at the heart of your company’s (or client’s) story.
About the author: The president of DH Communications, Inc., Dianna Huff helps B2B companies get found in Google through SEO, content creation, and social media. Dianna has been quoted in numerous books, blogs, and articles; her work is also featured in David Meerman Scott’s book, World Wide Rave. Dianna’s client list includes large and small companies across the U.S. Follow her on Twitter @diannahuff.
*Image source: iStockphoto