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content ideasWhile a wide variety of professionals will define content marketing in different ways, no one who actually gets it would deny the central idea is to provide valuable insights and answers. Therefore when the conversation becomes about finding powerful content ideas and the drill-down process begins, more often than not, you’ll hear:

Identify your customers’ pain points


  • Answer the questions potential customers have



You’ll get no argument from me. This is indeed the formula for success.

How do you discover what questions to answer?

Terrific question. Some of the answers could possibly include a few ideas you may not have thought of, but the following suggestions are fairly popular:

  1. Tune into the news sources your target market relies on
  2. Play particular attention to what influential leaders are writing about
  3. Find the most popular blogs in your field and uncover the topics explored there (and questions asked in comments)
  4. Set up Google Alerts (or use another online news monitoring service) to keep tabs on what’s published
  5. Go to Q&A sites such as Quora or online forums
  6. Ask your existing customers (surveys, phone calls, mail)
  7. Search the leading social media networks using keywords (or hashtags)
  8. If you host webinars, review the archives for questions that were asked

Again, I’m good with all of these. I recommend them often. However, here’s one I almost never see listed—and it might be the might powerful source of content ideas of them all.


Your inbox is a goldmine for content ideas.

I read a lot of blogs about online marketing. I download eBooks on relevant topics daily. I also read tons of books on the subject, attend conferences and interview the best in the business as often as I can.

Like most writers, I’m forever in search of the scoop. I occasionally find one, but far more often I rediscover the rock-solid fundamentals. The power of email leads the league in this department.

We obsess over the latest greatest social network, feature, update, acquisition, consumer trend and so on and then we’re reminded that email, the newfangled communication medium today’s grey-haired set ushered in as America Online rose to prominence in the mid 90s still rules when it comes to sales and marketing.

Are you shaking your head? Stop that right now. 

Today, as marketers, most messages get lost in the roaring media noise. Ad-zapping technologies help consumers eliminate traditional marketing from their line of sight.

But email, that is, the ethical variety, arrives because permission has been granted. It’s consumed by choice.

Email is the social media nearly everyone (with buying power) has. Email is the medium algorithms don’t touch, the feed you can’t ignore. Email is the home of business dialogue. It’s the number one place you field legitimate questions and address concerns. It’s time to mine those messages.

What do those nuggets look like?

First and foremost, you’ll find customer questions. What does your stuff cost? How does it compare? What are the terms? How can I best take advantage of X, Y and Z? Where can I learn more? These are obvious and generic questions, but any question you find in your inbox is likely to indicate a topic your prospects yearn to know more about. The answers make for seriously strong starting points for your content. In fact, the questions—word for word—will serve as great titles.

Email is ripe with feedback. Fan mail, hate mail and the insights in between are content nuggets as well. I often field positive responses to content I’ve created. You will too. This should validate what you’ve done and inspire follow-up content ideas. Any criticism, and complaints you receive should give birth to content ideas too. You might get a note saying “so and so was unclear.” Clear it up with a blog post or video. You might open an email where the sender states he’s failed to see how your price is justified. Justify it. You might hear your product (or content) has some holes. Fill them in or let your audience know you intend to.

Alerts, mentions and social media arrive via email. To the degree you allow it, your inbox is a news feed and monitoring tool. I have a long list of Google Alerts set up to keep me apprised of my company, personal brand, content, and keywords that relate to just about every one of my clients’ industries. Don’t miss these opportunities to uncover new content ideas.

Email analytics are really revealing. Email marketing should be a tool in your online arsenal and the reports your service provider offer will deliver invaluable insights. Stay tuned into open rates, click through rates, responses and of course landing pages (or reader entrance points to your website). Expand what’s working. 86 what isn’t. Review and revise the tweeners. Pay close attention to subject lines that performed best and worst.

Surveys work well. It’s easy, smart and highly useful to come right out and ask questions with email surveys. Multiple choice questions are bound to solicit the highest response, so set up surveys as polls to find out what readers want more and less of.

Don’t forget your email archives. If you get a lot of email (and who doesn’t?), you probably have a folder system where you stash the keepers. Click through these now and then and you’ll be reminded of action items you haven’t yet got to. In some cases, there are bound to be content ideas among them.

Make this article your next email.

Yours might be the most fertile inbox for powerful content ideas, but it may not be. If you’re just one player on the marketing team, have the rest of the squad do all of the above. Conduct a meeting or conference call with the intention of mining the email of your peers. Brainstorm ideas. Then expand the exercise to include other customer facing departments: PR, sales, support, product marketing, maybe IT, even executives.

The mailroom is probably a thing of the past at your company and the paper memo has long since been obsoleted, so I suggest your first step to sharing these secrets is to email a link to this very article to everyone and anyone you suspect receives email from information seekers.

I have a great subject line for you: A Secret Source of Powerful Content Ideas. Who could resist that email?

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