Have you ever faced the terror of an empty screen? You’ve opened up a “New document,” and there’s a blinking cursor. You may have a pressing deadline for a blog post, article, speech or other content, and no topic in mind. But there’s that cursor, and it hasn’t moved. Blink blink blink.
Here are three questions that will help you construct content that meets your business objectives, because along the way it meets the objectives of your clients. It’s only partly around what you want to say – it’s around what they want to hear.
Choosing a topic starts with getting a clear idea of whom you want to reach.
In blog post #5 I talked about how to build an image of your ideal client, called an “avatar” or a “persona,” and how this helps you tune your marketing to this person’s challenges and opportunities. If you haven’t read that post yet, please do so, because that will make this one more useful to you.
To find the ideal topics for your content, consider three circles that overlap, so that there is a ‘sweet spot’ in the middle. The topic you choose should fit within that sweet spot. By focusing there, that blank screen you’re facing will fill itself with content that meets your interests and the needs of the people you want to serve.
Find a topic matching your audience’s concerns
The first circle should involve topics that cover issues of pressing concern to your avatar. If the people matching your avatar aren’t concerned about the topic, they won’t take action.
That concern can involve a problem they need to solve – such as a new regulation. For example, some parts of the world are in the process of implementing carbon cap-and-trade. This means placing a limit on the amount of climate-changing pollutants organizations can emit, and if they exceed that limit, they will be subject to fines unless they have bought credits from another company that is emitting less than it is allowed to.
Alternatively, it can be an opportunity they may want to access. Carbon trading can also be an opportunity – by putting in place rigorous environmental controls, a company can build up carbon credits that it can then sell. This company can benefit two ways – from spending less on energy, and income sold to companies that are less environmentally forward-thinking.
But in any case, your topic must match a new or developing situation that will affect the people you want to serve. In Post #22, I’ve described how to use “trendspotting” – the analysis of a slow-moving trend – to demonstrate thought leadership.
Be sure it’s a topic you can discuss credibly
I could write a blog post about carbon cap and trade. And in fact, I’ve ghost-written many articles on this topic on behalf of clients. But it’s key to note that while the articles were ghosted by me, the author and the source of the information was in each case a qualified expert with a technical background.
I don’t have credibility to discuss carbon cap and trade, energy management, or greenhouse gasses, largely because I don’t have an engineering education or professional designation. Anything I’d say would be about as authoritative as anyone spewing a thought-free comment on the bottom of an online news article.
So, the topic you choose must be one for which you have recognized credibility. In some cases, this is easy – in order to provide legal advice, it’s essential to be a lawyer in good standing. Same with architecture and engineering. So, if you’re to be taken seriously on your topic, be sure that it’s one for which you can demonstrate qualifications that others will accept.
Be sure it’s a topic on which you want to be known
Third, the topic you choose should be one on which you want to achieve status as a recognized subject-matter expert, because it meets your business purpose.
I first bumped into this concept when I was doing media relations for the Canadian head office of the accounting/consulting firm KPMG in the mid-1990s. My role included helping partners and associates to get their ideas published in trade media – at the time, mostly print magazines.
I took a call once from the editor of one small-circulation publication, asking for an article on a highly specific topic. My first reaction was, “Great! Here’s an idea I don’t have to sell to the editor.” Then I thought about it – out of all the firm’s partners in Canada, I couldn’t think of any who had the given topic as a specialty focus for their professional practice. It wasn’t a topic for which the firm at large wanted to be known, either. So I got back to the editor and declined the opportunity.
I think you need to be equally intentional about turning down ideas on topics that aren’t related to your area of focus.
Hitting a topic in your sweet spot
This process-of-elimination procedure can help to, well, eliminate a large universe of potential topics. Just back away from topics that aren’t of interest to your avatar, on which you’re not qualified to discuss, and that don’t get you where you want to go.
So… what’s left, for you? Go there, and just make it happen.