This is one of the greatest challenges for experienced content marketers and subject matter experts. Sometimes it feels as if everything worth writing about in an industry or topic has already been written, either by you or by someone else. Yet, you still need to come up with fresh stories or fresh ways of talking about your “beat.” You need to move the publication or editorial mission forward and write about something your audience will want to read and then come back for more.
A year and a half ago, when I first started writing about creativity and brand storytelling for the Content Standard, the editorial team made it easy on me. I had the option to pitch my own story ideas, but if I didn’t come up with anything, they sent me topics—complete with key points to make and even a source article or two. I still did plenty of research and creative thinking in order to craft robust articles, but I had a jumping-off point, and that was at least half the ideation battle.
But before long, the training wheels came off and I was expected to come up with three unique, relevant, and compelling story ideas each month. This can be a lot of fun, and I get to write about topics that truly interest me. But it’s also hard work.
Sometimes ideas come easily. Either I’ve read about some new trend, technology, or innovative campaign throughout the month, and made a note to write about it. Or there’s a special event or holiday that makes for a great storytelling hook. For example, in February, I had no problem coming up with three pitches. With Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl, and the Academy Awards all happening in the same month, it was easy to think of timely stories about emotional storytelling and creative marketing campaigns.
Other times, coming up with three pitches feels like pulling teeth. I spend hours reading about content marketing trends online, thinking deeply, taking walks, and occasionally napping, hoping inspiration will come to me once my brain has rested (and it often does).
But along the way, I’ve picked up a few other tricks to help me expand my content arc and keep moving forward, rather than simply regurgitating already-written stories.
Try these five tricks the next time you’re stuck for something new to say about your industry, beat, or subject matter:
This one seems obvious, I know. But subject matter experts are so busy creating content that we don’t always make enough time to consume content. Finding out what other thought leaders in your industry or area of expertise have to say is a great way to stay abreast of new trends and to find information gaps that you can fill.
For example, one of my favorite ways to stay “in the know” about content marketing trends and creative storytelling campaigns is listening to the Content Marketing Institute’s weekly podcast, “This Old Marketing,” with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose.
I also like to read articles and watch TED Talks from other subject matter experts—not so I can steal their ideas, but so I can build on them and add something new to the conversations they’ve already started.
For example, my article, “Why There Might Soon Be Even Fewer Female Leaders,” was inspired by conversations Lisa Belkin, Anne Marie Slaughter, Sheryl Sandberg, and other female leadership experts had already started. But rather than simply rehash their ideas, I used their work and wisdom as a jumping-off point and then added my own perspective—how Millennial women feel about work/life balance and corporate America.
To determine what problems you can help solve for your audience, you need to understand their challenges. This article was born out of my own struggle to come up with pitches—something other content marketers undoubtedly struggle with as well.
Granted, it’s easier to identify challenges when you’re writing about what you do every day. Because I’m a brand storyteller who writes about brand storytelling, I am intimately familiar with the process and challenges of this job. On the other hand, if you write about an industry or topic that is not related to your everyday work, it’s harder to draw from your personal experiences.
The solution: Talk to people who do that job every day. For example, outside of my work with the Content Standard, I also write for both technology and healthcare companies. Because I’m not a medical professional, app developer, or engineer, it’s helpful to talk to people who are, to interview leaders in these industries, and to listen in on their conversations.
Identify thought leaders who work inside the industries you write about. Read their blogs. Follow them on social media. Check out the reader comments on their posts. What are they writing about? What questions are people asking them? This will give you insights into the challenges their readers and customers are facing. You can also check out online forums or discussion groups for leaders in these industries. What questions do they need help answering or problems do they need help solving? And how can you provide information or tell stories that address these challenges?
Look back at your most popular content to determine what your readers find most interesting or useful. Then consider how you can write a follow-up or take a deep dive into one of the key points you made.
For example, my article, “5 New Marketing Trends Brought to Us Via Wearables,” performed well. But rather than simply writing another article about creative marketing campaigns using wearables, my “follow-up” post focused on one element of what makes these mobile devices a powerful tool for marketers: location data.
Knowing which stories capture your audience’s attention can also help inspire content on a related but completely different topic. For example, the success of “4 Ways Humor Builds an Emotional Connection with Audiences” inspired me to write about an entirely different emotional hook for marketers: suspense.
When you’re writing for a company with a very specific focus, it can be challenging to find new ways of talking about your subject matter. One of the best strategies for breathing new life into the same old topic is wrapping it up in new stories.
For example, I write regular blog posts for Samsung Business about how mobile technology is revolutionizing the healthcare industry. While the types of mobile devices available to businesses and consumers are fairly limited—smartphones, tablets, wearables—the use cases for these products are practically endless. So, rather than writing about these devices and how healthcare providers could use them, I write about how organizations and their technology partners are using them in unique and innovative ways. Their real-life stories are far more compelling than the hypothetical scenarios and tips I could provide.
As a subject matter expert, you know a lot about your topic. But you are probably knowledgeable and passionate about other topics as well. Consider how you can integrate these other areas of expertise into your writing to expand your focus.
For example, my primary focus for the Content Standard has always been creative thinking and storytelling. But I have expanded my beat to include other topics that are either related to creativity or would simply interest the same audience.
For example, my experience writing for technology companies made for a smooth transition to discuss the role of wearables and location in content marketing, and helped inform my article, “When Modern Marketing Collides with Technology: AdTech, MarTech, and Beyond.”
I’m also passionate about advancing women in leadership, and actually began my writing career working for a women’s business magazine. So, I’ve used this experience to write several articles for the Content Standard about workplace diversity and female leadership.
Bottom line: There may be “nothing new under the sun,” but there are new ways of writing about old topics. So, the next time you’re stuck for ideas, take a step back, take a walk, or take a nap. Then put your thinking cap back on and go searching for new stories to tell.