20 Questions That Help You Write Strong, Strategic Content

by Lorraine Thompson

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Ever wonder how content mill writers churn out such a flood of copy? How they seem able to produce all that content on demand?

Tactical copy versus strategic content

Without commenting on quality, I think it’s because they’re writing tactical copy. Words that don’t fit into a larger content strategy. Copy written primarily to fill pages. With nose-to-the grindstone determination and lots of practice, you could mass-produce similar copy, if you wanted to.

But you don’t want to.

You want to write purposeful content. Copy that speaks with relevance to readers. Content that grabs and holds attention, communicates value, builds relationships and drives action to serve your customers and your business. Strategic content.

Strategic content requires you to do more than pound your head and bloody your keyboard. It forces you to ruminate on your content’s purpose. The following questions help you with the mental chewing.

20 questions that help you write action-driving, strategic content

Before you start your next copy project, ask yourself:

  1. Do you need this content? Really? Why? Could you repurpose existing content instead? With a few tweaks might old copy work as well as newly created content?
  2. Do you have a content strategy in place? How does your content fit into your company’s overall strategic plan? Where does it fit into your organization’s marketing/learning/development strategies? Have you ever done a content audit to determine content needs?
  3. How will the content serve the objectives of your organization and your audience? What does your company want and expect to get out of this content? What do your customers—or patients, donors, employees—need from the content?
  4. Where does the copy fit into your organization’s Sales Cycle/Trust Continuum? Are you at the beginning of the Continuum, the point where your audience has zero awareness of you, your product and brand? Are you at a late stage of the Continuum, where your product must continue to wow and satisfy? Or at some point in between?
  5. Have you chosen the right platform for your purposes? Are you convinced this platform or format, and not another, better serves your company goals and customer needs? Would a blog work better than a website? Might white papers prove more effective than on-hold messaging? Could email get better response than a brochure?
  6. What worked last time? What didn’t work? If you created similar tools or campaigns in the past, can you pinpoint their most effective elements? What tanked? What were the worst components of past campaigns? On what do you base your answers to these questions? Metrics? Opinions? Hunches?
  7. Who is your customer? Beyond demographic generalities, who is reading and responding to your content? If you’re writing consumer-facing content, do you first create multidimensional customer personas? When creating B2B content, do you identify your client’s place within her organization? Is she a business owner? An internal marketer? Department manager? Physician? Development officer? An intern? Will your reader need to forward content to gatekeepers before taking action? Get buy-in from others?
  8. What are your customers’ pain points—apropos of your offer and beyond? What stresses her out? What annoys her most? What does she fear? What makes her fighting mad? What are her core desires? What values does she hold to professionally? Personally? What are her ambitions and vanities? What does she yearn for in her heart of hearts? How does your product directly and indirectly address your customer’s pain points and core desires? How does it provide solutions relevant to her?
  9. What obstacles stand in the way of her taking action? What keeps her from buying your product, signing up for your mailing list or taking another conversion step right now? What mental hurdles make her pause? Is she thinking, “You don’t understand my issues”? “I don’t trust you”? “I don’t know who you are”? “I don’t need your product right now”? “I can’t afford your product or services”? How will your content overcome these obstacles and help her take action with confidence?
  10. How will you tap into your customer’s emotions with your content?
  11. What kind of voice and tone will you use to set her at ease and gain her trust?
  12. What’s unique about your product? Who are your competitors and how do they talk about their product? How is your product or service different, better or more beneficial? If you can’t claim a genuine Unique Selling Proposition, can you convey superior customer benefits? Can you communicate your value proposition without using meaningless, generic descriptors like “state-of-the-art,” “innovative,” and “cutting edge?”
  13. How can you show—not tell—customers about your value proposition? What quantitative data can you provide to bolster qualitative claims?
  14. What are your product’s 3-5 strongest, customer-relevant features?
  15. How can you turn features into real—not “fake”—benefits? How will you dig deep and uncover ways your product genuinely addresses customer’s pain points and core desires—rather than regurgitating superficial benefits that don’t really help her?
  16. What’s your conversion goal for this content? How will you avoid passive goals—like “to educate” and “to raise profile”? Can you identify specific, action-driving goals—like moving your reader to comment on your blog, getting her to put your product in the shopping cart, moving her to talk about your product online and off?
  17. What are the strongest keywords for this copy? If you’re confused about keyword research, can you find an SEO professional to uncover the words your customers use to search for your product?
  18. How will you measure response to the content? Do you have analytics in place for digital and email initiatives? Will you print responders or train customer support for offline measurement?
  19. How will you manage or govern your content after its published? Do you have a plan for tracking, updating, revising and archiving published content? Who is responsible for content governance?
  20. Can you afford the content? Will you create it yourself? Can you block out time to ask and answer the above questions? To outline, draft, rewrite revise, edit and proof your content? If not, do you have the budget to hire me or another experienced marketing copywriter? Do you have time to manage content after it’s published—or pay someone who can?

Can’t answer the questions? Don’t write the content.

Having trouble with the questions? Then truth is, you have no business creating new content. There’s no point wasting your resources and your customers’ time.

But chances are you can answer the questions. And your time and effort pay off in quality, strategic content.

P.S. Just for freelancers.

Freelancers: I’m well aware these questions put you in a double bind: You want and need information and insights to create quality content. But your client wants you to, you know, shut up and write. Reality: Your mortgage, kids’ tuition, grocery bills Circumstances may require you to keep your client happy and give her the copy she wants—tactical and shortsighted though it be.

But make a note: The marketer who’s satisfied with tactical copy is not your ideal client. If you care about quality content, sooner or later you’ll butt heads. Before things get ugly, start taking steps to target more like-minded marketers and creatives. Professionals who care as much about writing great, strategic content as you do.

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In Praise of Slow Copywriting | MarketCopywriter Blog
October 18, 2011 at 9:36 am

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather July 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Great tips, as always! But it first caught my attention on G+ because we just used that same picture for our website! Funny, no? Take a look (it’s still in progress)


Heather July 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm

The PS is the best part.

Lorraine Thompson July 20, 2011 at 9:36 am

@Heather: Thanks for the kind words and note on my P.S.–an unhappy reality of freelancing/consulting. Regarding the photo–mine is from iStock. I’ve gotten used to seeing “my” carefully chosen iStock photos show up on other sites. I like the way you customized yours.

Elaine Fogel July 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Excellent post, Lorraine. Don’t you wish more organizations would consider strategy before tactics? :(

Lorraine Thompson July 22, 2011 at 4:21 am

Thanks, Elaine. Yes, indeed, I do wish more organizations would have strategies in place, rather than continuously implementing one-shot tactics destined to fail…

Cathy July 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm

*Sigh* Great words. Amazing. Yet, all of that baggage is tying me down until the hubby finds work. I continue to put my fingers to the keyboard day after day for the sake of filling up pages. Someday…..

Lorraine Thompson July 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm

@Cathy: I sympathize. I write WAY more tactical copy for clients than I want to, but I do try to get them to answer–or at least mull over–the above questions.

Stephen Hamilton October 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Wow, what a fantastic set of questions. I can tell these have been honed from plenty of reflection and experience. I particularly appreciate #7 – the need to clearly articulate who the person is that you’re creating the content for. I’ve always seen better results when the content created by myself or others is produced for an individual (real or an imagined profile) then when it is produced for an ‘audience’ (whatever that is!).

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