File 5: Think Sideways (Perfect for Product-Based Blogs)

I call the process of thinking about topics related to your product or service Thinking Sideways.
First, download this free worksheet which will walk you through the process of thinking sideways for your product or service. Please note: although this was written especially for product-based businesses, it works equally well for service businesses.


I get questions like this from product-based business owners all the time; they sell handbags or pottery or jewelry or makeup and they haven’t got a CLUE what to blog about beyond talking about their product line.

So let’s break it down, step by step:

1. Know your ideal customer inside and out.

For this exercise, it’s vital to have a solid understanding of who your ideal customer is. Go way beyond demographics here. You need to know what else she’s interested in outside your product.

Indrani Phillips has a coaching biz but also sells clothing in an online boutique. When I asked Indrani about her ideal customer she nailed it right on the head:

“I help ambitious Moms create a life they fully love through banishing negative mindset, create time for the important things in life by creating simple systems and develop annual plans to ensure the work my clients do today supports their future goals.”

Here’s what’s important about her statement: she knows that clients aren’t just women business owners, but often moms. They want it all — and they sometimes burn out because they don’t know the right way to get it all.  All of these details are hugely important in understanding the topics she might write about.

Conversely, when I asked Richelle Shadoan, owner of The Red Scorpio custom jewelry and gifts, she said, “Oh geez I hate this question!”  She sells custom photo jewelry and other custom pieces to help you feel like a rock star — and I think that’s where she needs to focus to find her ideal customer. Her customers will appreciate a certain aesthetic, they like being different, standing out, and living out loud — all of which will be important to know when she picks her topics.

2. Create a mind map to help you think sideways to find topics.

I jumped on Mindmup this morning to create a mind map, and it was so easy I figured it out in about 10 seconds, plus it’s free. But, of course, you could go retro and just use pen and paper.

Take what you know about your product and your ideal customer and start brainstorming. Don’t reject anything; all ideas are valuable at this stage.

Indrani might mind map ideas like time management, balance, presence, negative emotions, healthy meals, how to make things easy and simple for a healthy life and so on.

Richelle, on the other hand, might take things in a more curated lifestyle direction. We talked about her recent post on the trend of coloring books for grown-ups being a big hit, and about how she could post on other design and decor trends like macrame, red appliances, and so on.

3. Ask yourself some important questions.

Once you’ve got your initial thoughts out on paper, use these questions to provoke even more insights:

  • What do your customers want most? (Whether it directly pertains to your product or not.)
  • What truth about your product or business connects you to that want?
  • What are your competitors doing in this area?

Indrani might realize that what her clients want most of all is to have it all — without going bonkers — and her clothing boutique helps them do that by curating beautiful clothes that fit their lifestyle and that they don’t have to expend much energy on choosing.

Richelle might realize that what her customers want most is to stand out and feel unique. So she might actually want to stay away from talking about “trends,” instead focusing on just cool stuff that makes you feel cool. She could also position herself as the alternative to mass-market jewelry like Pandora that pretends to be unique, but is really just the same stuff everyone else has.

4. What resonates with you?

So, this is all well and good, but you have to now narrow down your choices to what resonates with YOU.

Many times your ideal customers’ extra curricular interests will jive with yours; if they like your product and your business, you’ll probably have other things in common too.

But maybe not everything.

Let’s say you sell a line of organic skin care products. Your mind map tells you that your customers are interested in juice fasts and Paleo diets — but you pretty much live on organic potato chips and hummus.  Diet posts and recipes for smoothies are not going to be what you want to write about!

I was working with a naturopathic doctor recently, and one of the pillars of her practice is that food is medicine, but she told me, “You’re never going to see me blogging about coconut water,” meaning she just didn’t have any interest in recipes and product reviews.  FAIR ENOUGH!

Be sure to take into account your own interests; it’s a thousand times easier to blog about something you have an interest in.

That being said, you may also want to look into outsourcing your posts if the topics you come up with aren’t your particular expertise.

5. Remember: it’s not about the product.

RedBull does excellent content marketing — and none of it is about caffeinated beverages.  Their content is all about a type of lifestyle: energy, adrenaline, and pushing yourself to the limit.

Your content is likely not going to be about your product, either.

Let me say that again, because it’s a hugely important point: Most of your content is not going to be about your product.

You actually don’t want content that is tied too closely to your product, but you don’t want the link to be too tenuous, either. (If you have to explain how the two are related, it’s no good.) To be perfectly honest, I think that’s where the Fancy Feast shawarma recipe fails: it’s too big of a leap from cooking shawarma to cat food to be a good link.

Go back through your mind map and highlight the most likely contenders.

Here are a few more examples to get you thinking:

  • Dove doesn’t produce content about soap, it produces content about beauty and our perceptions of it.
  • Warby Parker (hipster eyeglasses) does book reviews on its blog.
  • Panera uses Pinterest to curate healthy living content.
  • CB2 (the sister store of Crate & Barrel) has a blog called “In the Loop” that gives behind-the-scenes info on how their designs are produced, because their customers care about great design.
  • Anthropologie might be one of the ultimate lifestyle blog producers, with drinks recipes, travel tips, etc.

Can you see how each of these brands had to THINK SIDEWAYS about what their customers are interested in in addition to their products?

Richelle’s post about coloring books for grown-ups is spot on. It’s not about her jewelry, but it’s about the kind of lifestyle and aesthetic that her customers aspire to.

If you’ve gone through the steps above, you should now have some pretty great ideas of what topics you can write about on your blog for your product business. (If you need some help getting them organized, head over here to learn more about editorial calendars.)


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