If you take a peek at my business card, it’ll say I’m a “Thinker & Writer” here at Gorilla. But my job isn’t to think about writing or write about thinking …
… and it certainly isn’t just writing.
If it were, they’d chain my hands to the keyboard and have me type, type, type until I finished a 500-word blog post. And then I’d (click! clack!) keep cranking out one after another until the clock struck five and I could grab the key, unchain my hands and go home.
In reality, I spend surprisingly little time hacking away on my keyboard.
“Then what is your job?” I can hear you ask through the screen.
My answer may seem simple: Answering your prospects’ real-world questions and solving their real-world problems.
But it’s not simple at all.
To meet that objective, I spend an exorbitant amount of time combing through industry publications, diving deep into research rabbit holes and asking subject matter experts the hard questions (“Okay, but why?”).
Sure, it’d be easier to spend 90 minutes barfing up 500 words of fluffy marketing-speak.
But has an article titled “5 unique ways [insert product/service] saves you time and money” ever resolved the work-related problems that keep you up at night? Or led to you purchasing that product/service?
I’d bet good money it’s a “no” on both counts. Engineers, facility managers and procurement folks can smell wet-dog content from a mile away.
Your prospects don’t want to take a Buzzfeed quiz. They want help answering technical questions:
- A specifier at an MEP engineering firm might ask: Is it worth specifying against Miami-Dade/Florida Building Codes (FBC) for this power systems project based on its tornado risk?
- A co-packer might ask: How do I eliminate package distortion and product spoilage on my horizontal form/fill/seal packaging line?
- An injection molder might ask: When I process biocomposites, voids keep forming in the finished parts … why is this happening and how do I stop it?
- A packaging buyer might ask: How do I minimize risk in my label supply?
My job is to do whatever it takes to track down the complete answer to these questions. Then — and only then — do I sit down at my desk and put it in writing.
Join me on my quest for answers
I hunt down answers to complex questions — it’s what I do. To give you an idea of what my job actually looks like, let’s narrow in on an example of my ideation, research and interview process for one article, from start to finish.
Setting the scene
One of my clients, CK Power, provides off-highway power solutions: Think generators, engines, design-build power products, fully installed standby power systems and everything in between.
We’ve worked with them for years, and a big focus of their content strategy has centered around educating their prospects about Tier 4 Final (T4F) emissions regulations — what they are, how prime power diesel technology has evolved to meet them, case studies on how they custom-built compliant solutions, etc.
There’s just one problem: We’ve largely answered all the questions their prospects have about this regulation, and they already dominate the search engine results for nearly all T4F-related keywords.
That’s not a bad position to be in, but we needed to pivot our content strategy and find new questions to answer.
Finding new questions
The client suggested we focus on their power systems division, which designs, builds and delivers permanently installed standby power systems.
Because we haven’t covered that service offering much before, we wanted to make sure we first had a comprehensive understanding of the target audience. That meant speaking with the people that interact with prospects most: The sales team.
Salespeople are founts of wisdom when it comes to prospect questions, pain points and triggers. And, because of that, sales team discussions are a great source of content marketing ideas.
So I hopped on a call with a sales guy that everyone at CK Power affectionately calls Mr. Generator.
Mr. Generator is the type of seasoned power systems engineer that:
- Offers practical design advice: “A 24-hour fuel tank can in reality become a 36- or 48-hour tank because you’re only running the generator at 40-60% capacity.”
- Can reference specific sections of regulatory standards off the cuff: “You’ll see in section 184.108.40.206 of NFPA 110 …”
- Shoots it straight: “I proved to [other engineers] about 10 or 12 years ago that their means catalog is wrong. I just said, ‘Quit using that means catalog [for estimates] and call me and I’ll give you a budget number.’”
- Is chock-full of fun stories: “So anyway, my colleague shot a coconut gun into the side of this generator enclosure to test its wind impact rating … ”
If Superman were an engineer, he’d be Mr. Generator.
After just 55 minutes and 40 seconds with him, I was armed with a dozen incredible content ideas that would serve as the foundation for our ongoing content strategy.
The most interesting find?
The MEP engineering firms he works with often have questions about how to refine their master power systems specs to meet the needs of a particular project. Say, a VA hospital emergency power system or the standby system for City Hall.
Mr. Generator not only answers the specifier’s questions — he also makes all the necessary revisions to the master spec. And he does it for free in 24 hours or less.
When he said that, I knew we had to write an article about it. I pitched the idea to our client contact, and he gave us the green light to get started.
Cue the interview
A few weeks later, I called up Mr. Generator (whose real name is Frank) to discuss his spec review process in more detail.
I had prepared this nice, glossy, comprehensive list of interview questions I wanted to ask him. And then the first thing Frank says when we get on the call? “Yeah, so I have four specs I’m going to email you right now. I figured we’d go through them one by one.”
So I threw out my list of questions and buckled in for the ride. Sure enough, he shoots me the specs — 40 pages total of documentation! — and says, “Let’s start with the hospital project. You have it open?” and launches in.
The entire document is marked up with red recommended changes like the ones below. Frank walked me through about 10 changes one by one, explaining why he recommended it and what the consequences would be if he didn’t.
By the end of our call, I realized that Frank’s 24-hour spec review answers a whole host of questions MEP specifiers have regarding power systems. Questions like:
- What starting KVA should be specified, and what voltage dip is acceptable for this application?
- Is a remote fill tank required on this project?
- Is a day tank required if you have a sub-base fuel tank and the generator system will be located in an outdoor enclosure?
- Is it worth specifying against Miami-Dade/FBC building codes for this project based on its tornado risk (as in the Midwest) or proximity to the ocean (as on the coasts)?
- What’s missing in this spec that will affect the long-term performance and serviceability of this power system?
Not only that, but his suggestions also prevent a lot of costly problems MEP firms know all too well: Building code non-compliance, poor performance outcomes or spending precious man-hours fielding questions about unclear specs.
When I finally caught my breath after the interview and reviewed my notes, I realized I had struck content marketing gold.
Actually writing the dang thing
There’s not much to say here. With all the information and advice Frank gave me, the piece practically wrote itself.
Of course, I looked up terms and concepts I was unfamiliar with, and lingering questions I had (like why a 35% voltage dip makes owners uncomfortable). And I obviously spent time editing for accuracy, tone and to generally make it sOuNd GoOd.
But this isn’t the exciting chapter of the story. I more or less sat down at my desk and (type, type, type!) cranked out the article. Here’s the finished product if you want to take a look.
I’m not alone in my quest
Toby and Mary, the other two writers here, are some of the most inquisitive, curious people I’ve ever met. As a department, we take our mission seriously. When we’re given a question to answer, we don’t stop until we feel like we have a satisfactory response. And, you know what, we’re pretty good at writing, too.
Tired of 500-word marketing-speak content?
Us too. Let’s start with a consultation. Then, if we both think there’s a fit, we’ll schedule a workshop to help you develop compelling content ideas that actually answer prospect questions.