How to turn your inbox into a content marketing engine

This clever hack comes courtesy of Andy Crestodina, who elaborated on it in a Content Marketing World talk titled “Non Obvious Content Marketing” (available on the awesome Content Marketing University).  

This idea is so brilliant in its simplicity and ‘Duh!’-ness, that I can’t believe no one else thought of it before, myself included. It also turns the often-dreaded “Can I pick your brain for a minute?” question into a triple win situation.

So this is how it works:

Andy Crestodina is the co-founder and Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a digital agency in Chicago, and as such, he gets a lot of questions in his inbox. From peers and friends, asking for advice. From thought leaders, asking for his expert insight. From bloggers, asking for a quote or an interview. From customers and prospects, asking for clarification on this or that point.

Every time he gets a question, he answers it. At length. At great length. He sends all of these people a carefully considered answer, often including stats, screenshots, research data and so on. He basically sends them a blog written specifically for them. Then he files the email in a special folder titled Content Marketing.

Every time Andy Crestodina gets a question, he answers it. At length. At great length. He sends all of these people a carefully considered answer, often including stats, screenshots, research data and so on.

After 3 years of doing this, he decided to see what he got in the folder. It turned out he had answered 171 questions which – when he exported them to a Google Doc – gave him 92 pages of content. And not just any content, but content on the most burning questions out there. Guided by the motto “Never waste a good conversation by having it in private,” he then decided to repurpose them as blogs, and eventually a book on Content Marketing.

Duh!

So what’s the triple win?

1. By answering a (burning) question, he made a difference for someone. He built trust with a prospect. He helped out a peer with expert advice. He contributed to a piece of blogger content. He moved the needle for all those people, thus moving the needle for himself.

2. He basically built a whole backlog of great content, which he then repurposed on his own blog, and turned into a book. He didn’t have to sit down and write a book on the side – it was already partly written before he’d even started!

3. In publishing these answers on his blog, he was actually able to test and keep testing the ongoing value and impact of content that was valuable to start with. What content could go? What needed a push? What was insanely popular?

In other words, I don’t think Andy ever wonders: what shall I write about next?

What can we, simple mortals who are not Andy Crestodina with an overflowing inbox, learn from this?

This: When you’re a content marketer, and you’re looking for the right topics to work on, isn’t there an obvious place to start? As in: the inbox of sales people? Pre-sales people? The questions telemarketers get? The issues the service desk people get to solve?

When you’re looking for the right topics to work on, isn’t there an obvious place to start? As in: the inbox of sales people? Pre-sales people? The questions telemarketers get?

I’m not suggesting that you actually ask these people for access to their inbox (duh!), or write their emails for them, but regular 1-on-1’s where you get them to share the questions they get (and what the answer could look like) should not be so hard to organize. Especially if you offer to turn these questions into possibly high-ranking content.

There’s a win all around. You, as a content marketer, get to know what your audience is worried about or looks for information on. They, as sales people, get expertly written content that addresses those needs or worries and which they can link to. Which generates traffic to your site. And so on.

We all know there’s a constant disconnect between marketing and sales. Low-effort high-impact actions like these can help break down that wall, and create value for everyone involved: content marketers, sales and especially the people you are helping out.

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