Content marketers wear a lot of hats.

They need to be able to find prospects. Convert them into leads. And then actually retain them. It’s a complex journey, but this entire process can be traced back to one originating point: the content planning session.

If the process we described wants to have any hope of being productive, it’s mission critical that marketers learn the right questions to ask when planning content.

What are the top questions a content marketer should ask in a content planning session with the client? We’ll go through four of them. But first, let’s lay down the ground terms.

4 Questions to Jumpstart Your Next Content Planning Session

The Many Forms of Content Marketing

The Content Marketing Institute identifies content marketing as a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience. Ultimately, it’s about driving a profitable customer action. Content marketing comes in many shapes and forms:

(To name just a few of many.)

Here’s the take-away in even simpler terms: B2B marketing is impossible without great content.

Effective content marketing is a vital piece of any integrated marketing strategy. Every B2B marketer knows that content is critical. If you want more traffic and more leads, you need to produce. The content you plan and produce also needs to be good.

This is because, over time, effective content marketing …

  • Increases brand awareness
  • Drives traffic to landing pages
  • Nurtures relationships
  • Brings in revenue
  • Generates social shares and backlinks

This sounds great, but what happens when you can’t come up with content marketing ideas?

It all starts in your content planning session.

Here are four questions you should be asking in your content planning sessions to produce the best content for your brand.

Question #1: Who’s the expert I can talk to?

B2B businesses tend to offer more complex goods and services than B2C companies do. Every writer knows the headache that springs from attempting to write about a subject you have little to no expertise in.

Of course, since we’re living in the great age of search engines, you might opt to spend a few hours researching the subject to become an overnight expert. The research you conduct pre-writing stage is absolutely mission-critical. Independent research is good. Having a point person in the company whom you can contact for questions or clarifications is better.

When you are in a content planning session, be sure to clarify the contact information of the person best able to act as the point person within that company. They should demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the industry their business operates in, the problems the company’s goods or services solve, industry-specific lingo, and any governmental regulations revolving around what you can and cannot say about the product. If they have editorial or marketing experience, great.

Remember: their goal is to provide you with the company-specific information you need to produce great content.

Make the mistake of not identifying an expert in the company who is willing and able to answer yours questions outside of the content planning session, and you’re in for an inefficient string of emails and frustrating phone tag.

Question #2: What problems do the goods/services solve?

This question is integral to a productive content planning session.

Here are the facts: Your product or service solves a problem you know your audience has. As members of your audience begin to identify this problem, your content should be available to provide coaching and education on the subject.

In our experience, the most effective content planning sessions will lead to content that supports people at a variety of points in the customer journey: those who are still identifying the problems or challenges they are experiencing, and those who are already using a similar product to fix these problems.

The best way to figure out the specific problems your target audience has is to interview them. Other sources where you’ll discover these problems include:

  • Questions your sales team gets (through your website or over the phone)
  • Google queries that bring people to your site (found in Search Console)
  • Reviews users write on third-party sites (like Capterra)
  • Website pages (of yours) they engage with the most (found in Google Analytics)
  • Comments on articles posted on industry trade sites

The aim of these questions is to uncover pain points – symptoms of an underlying problem.

Once you know their questions, you can begin to write content that provides the answers they’re looking for.

Question #3. What’s the UVP?

If both you and your top competitor sell supply chain management software, for example, what sets your service apart from your competitors?

We often hear answers like, “Customers tell us they love our great customer service” or, “Our price point is more flexible to their needs” to this question.

Stop.

Those are not the answers you’re looking for. If you have them (and we hope you do), great customer service and a competitive pricing model are both aspects of your business model … but they’re not a part of the core service you’re offering. What we’re looking for here is the unique value proposition (UVP), sometimes called the unique selling proposition (USP).

 Your UVP is a clear statement that describes the benefit of your offer, how you solve your customer’s needs and what distinguishes you from the competition.

We’ll return to our supply chain management software example: maybe your competitors offer a more comprehensive visibility and management of material flows, warehouse work and product costs across the supply chain than you do. It’s what keeps people coming back to YOU in particular, and not merely the cheapest or newest vendor.

Ask yourself: what do you do differently, and why does this help your customers?

If customers have a low level of awareness of your UVP, content can step in to provide the education needed to ensure they stay on board as customers. If potential prospects are nosing around your industry hunting for a solution, content that demonstrates and explains what you do differently and why it matters will help transform valuable leads.

Question #4. What are the competitors producing?

This is the quick and dirty method to jumpstarting your content planning session.

Who are your top three competitors, and what kind of content are they producing? Do they have a blog filled with posts designed to address and solve common problems or misunderstandings in the industry? Are they publishing case studies of their services?

Consider where your competitors’ content is performing well. If they’re receiving lots of engagement on their social media platforms, that might tell you something about where customers in the industry are interacting with the company. Maybe they excel at earned media attention. Use this to your advantage and ask how you could leverage interviews, features or expert opinion.

Knowing what content your competitors are producing is also key to producing counter content that will address their claims and aid in positioning your brand over theirs.

The goal of this question is not to produce a perfect copycat of your competitors’ strategies, but to identify best practices for the industry that might transfer to your brand as well.

tl;dr: Making the Most of Content Planning

Effective content marketing requires long-term input to build momentum, but if done right, it can be one of the strongest pillars of your company’s marketing makeup. Remember these four questions in your next planning session to consistently produce killer, on-target content.