Marcus Sheridan was in trouble. He had been riding a wave of exciting growth for years, selling fiberglass pools, but that came to a screeching halt when the great recession hit in 2008. He was staring at a dwindling trickle of sales, and a scary balance sheet, with the one-word question in the back of his mind: "Bankruptcy?"
He had to act fast. He read everything he could about online marketing, sales, and the latest and greatest advertising techniques, until he was utterly and completely overwhelmed. So he went back to the basics. He got his team in a room, with a whiteboard, and asked "What questions do customers ask us before they purchase a pool?"
They made a list. They made a long list of every usual (or unusual) question that customers had asked them before, including questions that were easy to answer but also questions they might usually avoid. Then they got to work. They answered every single question that came in, publicly, in a near-daily blog post, without any fancy marketing strategies or analytics software or optimization techniques.
It paid off. The company grew from a small, struggling pool sales company to the most trusted authority in the pool industry, online. They grew dramatically, and turned the company around. Marcus published his own book "They Ask, You Answer" to share the simple strategy behind their success. No gimmicks required.
They’re Asking. Will You Answer?
When you are creating content, that is your job, after all: to answer questions. That means you must know the questions that people are already asking, before you create your next blog post, podcast, or video.
To find out what people are actually asking, start with empathy by imagining yourself in your target customer's place. The more clearly defined your target customer, the better, because you have a more clear vision of what their daily needs are. When your target customer wakes up at 2 AM with a jolt, and grabs their phone, what are they typing into a search engine? What words are they using?
There are phenomenal tools, such as Answer The Public, that make this simple by providing actual examples of how people phrase their search on various topics, but you're also sitting on a gold mine of content. In your email inbox, what questions have your customers asked you privately, which you could answer publicly in an article, video or podcast episode?
How can you take all the guesswork out of the buying process, and give your customers the information they are already looking for online? If you become the most well-trusted authority in your industry by becoming a helpful teacher, sharing clear and concise answers that are normally kept behind closed walls, you will earn people's trust.
Whatever resource you use, the point is this: Your job, as a creator, is to provide answers. But answers without a clear question are just information, digital noise. What question are you answering with each piece of content? Once you know the question, only then is it time to create.