Finding the Story: Topic Generation Tips for Content Marketers

“Where do you get your ideas?”

I’ve heard variations of that question throughout my career from a wide range of professionals, including PR practitioners and journalists, bloggers and content marketers. Plenty of people know what they want to sell and even why a potential customer should buy it, but fewer know how to write about it. Fewer still know how to gently place that sales pitch into an honest-to-gosh story format.

Yet great storytelling is the essence of any successful mat release – or any other form of content marketing, for that matter. So how do you identify a story idea that suits what you’re selling and will capture, hold and keep a reader’s interest?

  1. Realign your mindset. Think of the “end-user” as a reader, not as your customer. Salespeople sell to customers. Content marketers inform and entertain readers.
  2. Give up the misconception that there is any topic inherently too dull, dry, esoteric or overdone to write about. Nothing should be off limits because everyone and everything has a story to tell. It’s just a matter of finding it.
  3. and this relates back to No. 1 – step back. Look at your product or service as an outsider would, and not even as a particularly knowledgeable outsider. Look at it like a total neophyte. It’s the fastest way to see what you’re selling with the same fresh perspective your readers likely will have.

Once you’ve take those three steps, ask yourself these questions about what you’re trying to write about:

What’s trendy right now and does my product/service/information fit into a hot trend?

Playing off a trend allows you to incorporate your information into a subject area that is currently of interest to a large portion of the population, and present new material in the context of something familiar. For example, I recently wrote a mat release about spring cleaning your beauty routine for a cosmetics accessory manufacturer. We tied into the spring cleaning trend and gave it a twist (cleaning your routine rather than just your home).

If I were reading about XYZ product, what would I want to know?

This one is perhaps the most useful topic-generation tool I use. Apply it immediately after Step 3 above. Forget what you already know about the information you want to convey. Consider what you would want to know if you were encountering the information/product/service for the first time. What might an outsider find interesting, exciting or fresh about your information? Emphasize that aspect and use it as the foundation of your storytelling.

Is there humor to be had?

Who doesn’t love to laugh? Humor is one of my favorite storytelling vehicles. If you can find the humor in your product/service/information, share it with your readers. Make them laugh and they’ll be much more receptive to your marketing message. In a past life, while working for a boutique PR agency that specialized in the hospitality industry, I used familiar humor (a home bursting at the seams with relatives and holiday guests) to spin a promotional room rate being offered for the holidays. Our press release played on that humorous angle, teased with the headline, “Keep peace on earth for just $99 a night” and ran everywhere!

What about this product/service can make a reader’s life better?

This question relates back to the idea that your content should be about the reader, not about you. It’s human nature for readers to want to know what’s in it for them. Your product, service or information fulfills a need or solves a problem. Talk about that issue in depth, offer readers useful, non-product information and then tell them how your product can help address that issue.

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