Content marketers and copywriters are often asked to write about topics or industries they don’t know much about.
It can be difficult to position your client or company as an industry leader. Although you may be a strong marketer, what if your niche is not well-known?
It is essential to know what you are talking about in order to succeed. Passionate audiences will sniff out fakes and let you know if you’re off the mark.
You are not the only one who finds yourself in this position. Others have been in this same situation and succeeded. With the right knowledge, you too can succeed.
It is important to be an expert in your subject area.
What is a Subject Matter Expert?
Subject matter experts (or SMEs) are people who know their stuff. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management states that a subject matter expert (or SME) is someone who has a solid knowledge of the requirements for a job.
This is exactly what a content marketer should sound like: someone who can help their audience get things done.
So how do you become a subject matter expert?
It boils down to these three points:
- Knowing how to conduct thorough research is key. This requires you to go beyond Google and Wikipedia, and get into the details. It is essential to get to know the people and industry you are trying to reach.
- Writing in the voice of your brand (and not yours) is a key skill. Sometimes creatives have difficulty letting go of their egos when creating client work. However, it is essential to effectively capture your brand’s voice for conversions . Companies that sound knowledgeable are more likely to be bought from and engaged with by customers.
- Learn how to break down complex material so that it is understandable by your audience. Clients and company leaders may ask for content that includes technical details or obscure data. This is more important for engineers and executives than it is for customers. Benefits for the audience are often more important than benefits for them. Writers face the challenge of finding a way to balance these two ends. It is important to present compelling content and back up claims with objective facts.
These skills can be combined to achieve the following:
- Be able to identify the topic you are talking about. Content marketers need to have a deep understanding of the subject matter.
- Be aware of who you are talking to It’s easy to think that you know your audience. You’re making assumptions about your audience if you don’t do research.
- Learn how to communicate with them. It is crucial to communicate with any audience and drive conversions by using the right tone and voice.
Let’s look at how to apply these principles.
Learn How to Do Deep Research
You will need to improve your research skills if you want to be an SME.
This means that you will need more than Google or Wikipedia to get the information you need. In fact, for now, forget Wikipedia even exists.
We are going to do real research.
Interview Internal Experts in Your Company
Do you not have the knowledge to help others? Use the knowledge of someone else.
Talk to the company’s internal experts if you are just starting at a new job or are onboarding a client. These people could be engineers, programmers or product designers. They can also be salespeople.
- Find out who your top experts are. Ask around if you aren’t sure who they might be. You can ask your supervisor or senior leader to direct you in the right direction.
- Make a list. You will probably have many questions. You can use the five W’s to help you create a great list.
- Who: To whom does this topic relate? Who is responsible for this task? Who are you trying to reach with this customer?
- What: What is your customer doing? What are they looking for marketing help with?
- Why? What is it that makes them do certain tasks in a certain way?
- How does your audience function? What is the operation of your product?
- When are customers most likely to buy this product? What is the most common use of this product?
These are just a few ideas to get your mind going.
- Talk to your co-workers. Everybody in your company probably has a solution. You don’t have to be prepared for every question. Ask if you see someone at the water fountain and they have a question. It’s amazing how much knowledge you can acquire over time, even if you don’t realize it.
Connect with your Audience Online
Find out as much information as possible about the audience that you are marketing to. This can be done in many ways. They are all easy and inexpensive.
- You can find forums online in your industry. This is a great way for you to find out what your audience cares about, identify trends and gain a better understanding of their vocabulary.
- Monitor conversations on social media. Advanced social monitoring tools such as Mention can be used to monitor social media. You can also search Twitter for accounts that are related to your industry keywords. You can see what others are saying.
- Join relevant social media groups. LinkedIn and Facebook offer professional groups that allow you to connect with your audience and find out what they are talking about.
Do some competitive research
Your competition can teach you a lot. Here are some ways you can do this.
- Take a look at their website copy. Pay attention to the terminology they use. Determine the target customers.
- Check out their Twitter followers. Take a look at their Twitter followers. This will give you an idea of their potential customers. Look at their bios to find out how they describe themselves.
- Subscribe to the email newsletters of your competitors. You can bet they will send useful information to your list. There’s nothing wrong with sharing that information yourself.
- Check out their printed collateral. The same applies to any brochures or magazines they might have.
- You can search social media to find competitors that you don’t know about. Search for businesses that are related to your client/business on Facebook or Twitter. You may find competitors you didn’t know existed. Learn everything you can about the audience and them.
Read Industry Publications
Subscribe to all industry publications that you can (if they aren’t already in your office). All trade publications and magazines that you can find are available. Get their email newsletters. While you’re there, follow them on social media.
Find out about similar industries and job descriptions
Looking through job descriptions related to your client or customer’s industry can give insight into your target audience. This can be done in a number of ways.
- Large career sites are available. Monster.com and Indeed.com are good places to start. Find out what skills they are looking for and what tasks they expect employees will complete. This will help you to imagine yourself in the shoes of your audience.
- Check out the careers section on competitor websites. You can find a lot of information on these websites that you won’t find through job search engines.
- Talk to people within your company. This is a great way to quickly get information. Ask your employees about the skills they have if you are writing about something related to their job.
Run Audience Surveys
Because they allow you to get feedback directly from your audience, surveys are great. Easy-to-use tools make it easy to set them up. Here are the steps to get you started.
- Choose your platform. Polldaddy and Survey Monkey are both popular choices. Both will work.
- Make a list. You should also make sure they are good questions. Each question should be related to something you are interested in learning more about. You should aim for between 10 and 12 questions.
- Your survey should be completed within a set timeframe. It is possible to work for anywhere from one week to one month.
- Plan a promotion strategy around your survey. It’s as easy as creating a social media campaign to promote your survey to your email list. Make sure to clearly communicate the deadline for participation. This does not necessarily have to be complicated.
- You could reward people for taking part. This could be a discount for a selected number of participants or free swag. Although it is not necessary, it can help increase participation.
Follow relevant social media accounts
Follow social media accounts within your industry when you search for them. Follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Follow industry publications, professional associations, trade groups, competitors, as well as influential individuals in the industry.
Use a simple user persona to get inside the head of your audience
Personas are incredibly useful when writing for an unfamiliar audience.
A persona is basically a description of the character of your customer or reader. You can have a simple stock photo headshot with a short personality description or a more detailed one.
This is a quick and easy two-step process to create a simple persona.
- Identify your target demographic. The following are some examples:
- Common issues and pain points
- Hobbies and interests
- A brief description of the character of your persona is needed. Ask yourself how that person would describe you.
Learn to Understand and Develop Your Brand’s Voice
Knowing the right background information is only half of the battle. It’s only half of the battle to be able to communicate with your audience in a way that makes them want to listen. You must be precise in your choice of words and technical language.
You could look like this.
Do not risk appearing or sounding ignorant. Make sure you do your research, improve your skills, and find the right voice for your brand.
How can you write in a voice other than your own?
Many creative professionals want to add their own style and voice to their work.
Creativity is what brought us to this profession. We don’t want our clocks to tick in any other machine.
To do our jobs well, we must put aside our creative egos and do the best for our audiences and organizations. This means that you must put yourself in the shoes of your audience and create the content they require. You can also craft the copy that will make them buy.
This should be your goal.
It’s not easy to get inside your audience’s heads. Writing in your brand’s voice is not the best way to communicate with your audience. Both are crucial to your success.
How can you communicate effectively with an unfamiliar audience?
Start By Understanding Voice And Tone Right
Let’s begin by understanding what “voice” means in this context. This is where there are some differences between the sources. They are said to be the same by some, but others insist they are different.
Let’s cite MailChimp to put it another way:
What is the difference between tone and voice? It’s like having the same voice but a different tone. When you are out with friends for dinner, you might use one tone and then switch to a different tone when speaking with your boss.
The emotional state of the person to whom you are speaking can also affect your tone. If someone is scared or upset, you wouldn’t use the same tone as if they were laughing.
MailChimp’s interactive voice and tone guide walks you through how voice and tone are applied to different types of content. You can see each one in action by checking it out.
How to define your brand voice
Sometimes knowing who you are not can help you discover who you really are.
It can also help you to develop the voice of your brand. Begin by asking yourself these questions and then fill in the blanks.
“We are [BLANK], but not [BLANK]”
This sentence can be used in three to five different ways depending on your organization.
You’ll probably end up with this in a very short time.
“We take seriousness, but we don’t pretend to be impersonal.”
“We are authoritative but not condescending.”
“We’re funny, but not silly.”
After you have completed this exercise, you can use your answers to complete this sentence.
“[OUR BRAND] creates [ADJECTIVE] content [AUDIENCE DESCRIPTION] that’s [ADJECTIVE 1, [ADJECTIVE 2, and [ADJECTIVE 3.]
Now you have a brief description of your audience and brand voice. This will help guide your content creation.
Choose the right terminology for your audience and use it
Building your vocabulary is the next step to developing your brand’s voice.
Unusual phrasing or a wrong term can raise red flags for your audience.
A person who wants to learn more about a topic should be able to trust the information they are reading. In order to help clients or your company when they are researching products and services to buy, it is important that you don’t use a lot of slang.
This is where you can do your audience and industry research.
How to inject authority and creativity into your copy and content
Creativity is key to great writing.
Your copy or content must sound authoritative in order to be effective in selling. It is essential to use the right words and themes in order to reach your audience. A message that is fundamentally off target will not be addressed with creativity.
Although this is a simple post it accomplishes a lot (3.6k responses can’t be wrong). This is how this post works:
- This post is a controversial one for bass players. Although a layperson might not be able to tell the difference between using fingers and a pick, it is an issue that many players discuss. Bassists are familiar with the terms “pick” and “finger style”.
- It’s not clear whether the author of this blog post is a bass player. It doesn’t matter what, it is evident that they have the knowledge to answer this question.
- The chosen image is a photo of someone picking a bass. It’s possible that a poorly chosen photo or a generic image may not have been as effective.
You’ll notice a lot of geek culture references if you’ve been following the fast-food company’s Facebook Page. This audience is sensitive to being treated poorly. This crowd values details as much as your audience does. Arby’s is a great brand to speak to their needs.
Here is a list of all the happenings:
- Owlboy was an obscure indie game that took over a decade. Its launch generated press hype from outlets Arby’s audience probably reads.
- This required a lot of research. Arby’s is not only a master of their business but also has a keen understanding of their customers’ interests. They know how to tap into the minds of their customers and link their passions back into their product.
- You can see that they have hit their target by looking at the comments at the right of the screenshot. They are geek-culture experts and have clearly identified their target audience.
To make it work for you, the following steps are required:
- Do your research. How did Arby’s marketing team know about Owlboy and how it would resonate with their target audience. They likely read the same publications as their target audience. Their audience was impressed by the piece of content they created. It showed that they are experts in their field. This doesn’t happen accidentally.
- Find the intersection of your audience’s interests with your business. Arby’s chose to target people who are interested in geek culture. They created content that demonstrated their knowledge of the subject matter and made it relevant to their brand. This is how you can apply the same approach to your own product.
Ian Lurie, the CEO of digital marketing agency Portent created a slide deck on the topic.
Breaking down complex information for your audience
Most likely, a boss or client has made it clear that you must mention a particular feature or data point within a piece.
There’s a chance you have thought differently at times.
Sometimes there is a disconnect between the priorities of engineers and executives and what your potential customers and audience care about. It can be hard to find the right balance between these two perspectives.
Hooking people with compelling content is the key. Next, backup all of your claims with data and hard facts.
Clear Complex Data and Facts
Effective communication skills are essential for SME success.
This would have been easy if it was.
Complex information should be easy to understand. This can be done by focusing on the benefits complex features offer.
The terms “adaptive steering” or “segment before” might not be familiar to the general public. Pickup truck owners will understand that these features make the Super Duty the smartest model they have built. This is an example of technical terminology being used to support subjective claims about the truck.
The post does effectively do two things:
- It makes it easy to understand technical terms and offers clear benefits.
- It makes readers click to find out more.
It does this while sounding authoritative, partly through the sharing of a CNET post, which is a trusted news source.
How can I apply my subject matter knowledge to other types of content?
We’ve seen a few Facebook posts so far to show what subject matter expertise looks in the wild. Social media allows you to easily gauge whether your messaging is on-target by looking at user comments, likes, shares and comments.
Let’s now look at other types of website content.
Many companies’ content strategy is based on how-to information. Home Depot does a great job creating instructional materials and buyer’s guides for customers.
This guide will show you how to install hardwood floors. This is not an easy task. It is possible for customers to damage their homes by following the incorrect advice.
You will need to do extensive research if you are asked to write complex content.
This page demonstrates a high level of expert knowledge.
The page walks you through 15 steps with clear illustrations and detailed instructions for installing flooring. It also makes it easy to understand the terminology used for tools and tasks that a novice may not know.
Although the writer may not have been a DIY home-remodeling expert, it is clear that they did a great job sounding like one. It speaks to the readers as if they aren’t home-repair experts. Again, this shows a deep understanding of the audience and how they use their products.
When a person completes a project successfully, they will remember how Home Depot helped them. This positions them as an authority on the topic and makes it more likely that they will return for their next project.
It’s possible because marketers and writers take the time to be true subject matter experts.
You can use the same principles to condense complex information into clear benefits that your audience will appreciate, regardless of whether you are creating video, email or social media posts.
Now you’re ready to be a subject matter expert
You should hopefully have some knowledge of:
- Do deep industry research.
- Try to imagine yourself as your reader.
- Make sure they get the content they want.
You’ll be able to identify the right steps next time you face a client from a different industry or start a new job in a foreign market. Get out there and get dirty.
All the best.