Real-World Education for Modern Marketers

Join Over 600,000 Marketing Professionals

Start here!
Text:  A A

The Best Content Ideas Come From Customers' Nightmares

by   |    |  4,393 views

Want to get frighteningly good at content marketing?

Take a trip with me to the dark side. Off we go... venturing into some scary territory: the human psyche. Who knows what we'll find. It could be creepy, but it has to be done.

You see, us content marketers are possessed by the wants and desires of our prospects and customers. It's our job to understand their dreams. You don't need an advanced degree in shrinkology to understand that fears play the villain's role when the lights are out.

What keeps your customers up at night?

If you've heard that one many times it's because the question is at the core of the marketer's quest. When the threat is revealed, the strategy for slaying it begins to form.

Let's look at few sleep deprivers in the consumer space. We'll say Annie's heads on her pillow, but her mind is busy:

  • How can I get those varmints out of my garden?
  • Why do my children keep coming down with the flu?
  • Where did I leave my iPhone?
  • What must I do to improve my backhand?
  • When will Mr. Right arrive in my life?

Clearly, Annie's your ordinary toss-and-turner. What about Danny? He's down for the night, but business woes are whirling around his brain:

  • How can find an assistant to lighten my load?
  • Why are my billable hours down?
  • Where are those forecasts I need?
  • What's gone wrong with the new business proposal?
  • When is the CEO going to get out of my face?

There's nothing abnormal about Danny, either. He longs for answers just like you and I do. By the light of moon, the questions often look like monsters.

Their questions are your answers

That's the top line, bottom line, and every line in the content marketing house of horrors, my friend. We need to find these phobias. We need to deal with them.

How? We must unleash our brains on theirs.

We need to prod, pry, and then produce. And more often than we want to admit, the answers aren't going to be so obvious. The exercises may not be as simple as we'd like.

You need to dispense with the advertising mentality. It might be convenient to conclude a product you offer is the antidote to every problem, but such a strategy won't work in content marketing.

You need to live in your prospect's skin

The best way I can think of to explain the creative process of forging content ideas and themes based on the demons that haunt your prospects it to toss some scenarios at you. You'll get a beeline into my brain and hopefully get some gears turning in yours.

Scenario No. 1: Breath mints

Here we have a simple consumer product. The reason customers buy the breath mints is no mystery. Or is it? The obvious answer: fresher breath. Marketers dig deeper. Why would anyone care? Intimacy. Sweet nothings. More pleasant kisses. And, well, you know.

But remember, content marketers are publishers. Publishers can't settle for a one-time reader. They need subscribers. No one's going to subscribe to a blog or video series about minty breath. But what about dating? Sex? Romance? Love? I believe people will clamor for that kind of content.

Scenario No. 2: Book broker

I had a client whose business was an aggregation service for book buyers—a search engine for the most part. At his site, college students entered book titles or ID codes. The service presented bookstores that had the books in stock, prices, and ratings. Everything the student needs to get the book he needs at a good price.

Does buying books on the cheap keep the kid up at night? Maybe for one night a semester. Let's face it, if that buyer came by way of search, he'll be starting from scratch next semester. How would we hook the students for the lifespan of their college career? The blog must address the real issue: lack of funds.

Isn't this a common cry of college students? They're strapped. I suggested we create a blog and steady stream of content about scraping your way through school successfully: budget-minded ways to cook, entertain, travel, decorate, furnish, and live. Frugal University. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

Scenario No. 3: Wi-Fi networks for hospitals

Here's another real-world example. My client has the most reliable, scalable, and powerful wireless network solution a hospital could possibly deploy. Lives depend on it. Hospital IT pros know this.

Would Wi-Fi challenges keep them up at night? Maybe for a while. Would they read about the subject faithfully? Maybe for a while. But what really causes these professionals nightmares is likely to be a long list of technology issues in the healthcare environment.

Publishing content about having the best equipped hospital strikes me a strategy with legs. Devices... apps... systems... administrative tools... healthcare trends. Now this is fertile territory.

Scenario No. 3: Online copywriting

Welcome to my content marketing strategy. I'm a copywriter. One challenge: who'd want to read about copywriting regularly? Copywriters, I suspect—my competitors. Next challenge: who wants to buy copywriting? No one. Is it realistic to think online marketers really seek copy? Nope. They seek results. Effective online marketing is what will make them rock stars on the job.

I've been doing this a long time, and no one's ever dialed my digits to place an order for words. The nightmare they had the night before was about something that wasn't working in the mesmerizingly complex and wide world of the Web.

Here's one more evil little secret

As marketers, we must not only strive to tap into those brain waves that strike fear and frustration but also nurture the nightmares. We need to present the problem and amplify it. Otherwise, it may not surface.

It's not as twisted as it may sound. We simply need to foster new needs.

Before the iPod, who knew we needed to pack 10,000 songs into our pocket? A guy by the name of Steve did. But, really, the problem he initially set out to solve was saving the dying recorded music business. Then came the task of creating consumer demand. The strategy became creating a have/have-not dichotomy. It's a spook story for the ages.

Think about these things. What do your customers fear? How can you tap into it? How can you help? How can you produce panaceas in the form of information?

Sleep on it tonight.

Join over 600,000 marketing professionals, and gain access to thousands of marketing resources! Don't worry ... it's FREE!


We will never sell or rent your email address to anyone. We value your privacy. (We hate spam as much as you do.) See our privacy policy.

Sign in with one of your preferred accounts below:


Barry Feldman is the author of SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans. Barry operates Feldman Creative and provides content marketing consulting, copywriting, and creative direction services. He contributes to top marketing sites and was named one of 25 Social Media Marketing Experts You Need to Know by LinkedIn. To get a piece of his mind, visit his blog, The Point.

Twitter: @FeldmanCreative

LinkedIn: Barry Feldman

Rate this  

Overall rating

  • Not rated yet.

Add a Comment


  • by JP Mon Aug 5, 2013 via web

    Thanks, Barry. I like how you hone in on the need to address customers' fears with marketing that speaks to their needs. And I'm really glad you pointed out the matter of cultivating needs our customers might not realize they have. There's something to be said for adding value to our customers' lives in unexpected ways.

    There's one thing I'd suggest you consider as you write: Keep in mind that gender-specific examples can be made without falling back on stereotypes. The fears that keep Annie and Danny up at night line up with common stereotypes for men and women, and it's this kind of thing that can alienate some readers - lessening the impact your content has overall. Keeping in mind the ever-diversifying roles and priorities of men and women is something we're moving toward more and more, and wisely so. Our content should reflect this.

  • by Rachael Drouhard Hammer Mon Aug 5, 2013 via web

    I found great inspiration in this article and already shared it with another teammate. 'Strive to Subscribe' is now written on my whiteboard wall as a reminder of what we're trying to create with our content. Thank you for the reminder on having empathy with our audience's search journey (their questions should be our answers). Your examples were valuable in that they stretched me to think a bit further than I would've normally about how to apply this concept to my job. Thanks for the post!

    To add another datapoint to JP's note below, I don't find myself alienated when gender roles are stereotyped in this way. We as marketers need to also remember that not everyone is meant to be a friend, a fan, a partner or a client. In a great TEDx talk, Erika Napolentano challenges us to Rethink Unpopular:

  • by Gracious Store Tue Aug 6, 2013 via web

    Thanks for this post! I like the idea of "living in your prospects skin " and their questions being the brand's answers. Very well dais

  • by Amber Wed Aug 7, 2013 via web

    Well pointed on Barry. Only by understanding what they need and want can we create the best content. We need to step into our customers shoes and think like them.

  • by Rethinking Gender Roles Thu Aug 8, 2013 via web

    Although your core message has some great insights, I don't appreciate the part of your article about Annie and Danny - it's indirectly sexist and relies on old-fashioned gender roles. Men are not the only ones who worry about work at night. You've painted women as gardeners who bear children, love to chit-chat, have lots of free time for hobbies and think only about who to marry rather than any real business or career goals. Please rethink how you discuss what's important to the different genders before labeling them like this in your writing.

  • by Barry Feldman Thu Aug 8, 2013 via web

    Update, I may have had it backwards. It was Danny losing sleep over the kids and Annie with the business issues. Sheese. Anyone got a gender beef with the tennis example? That was Pat.

  • by Tamar Mon Aug 12, 2013 via web

    Barry, great post on speaking to your customer's needs. You nailed it - no one wants copy, they want results. Something in the digital sphere is giving them problems and you need to solve it. I'd love more examples of how you were able to create the need - especially for industries creating a completely new product.

MarketingProfs uses single
sign-on with Facebook, Twitter, Google and others to make subscribing and signing in easier for you. That's it, and nothing more! Rest assured that MarketingProfs: Your data is secure with MarketingProfs SocialSafe!