Broccoli with cheddar cheese sauce

If you want people to read your "broccoli" content, figure out what kind of "cheese sauce" they like!

"The customer is always right." – Marshall Fields

“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” – Steve Jobs

You know that you are supposed to listen to your target audiences and give them what they want to hear from you. But you also have your own agenda full of information you want them to have. How do you bring the two together?

It reminds me of an email conversation I had this week with my daughter's guitar teacher. The child is not thrilled with the process of learning guitar by picking one string at a time and wants to quit lessons. What she really wants to do is strum along to "Pumped Up Kicks" and a bunch of other popular songs. But, of course, she doesn't have the skills to play any song at all right now. So I discussed this with her teacher, and he said he would try to combine more "instant gratification with responsible pedagogy." In other words, he will give her some of what she wants, so she stays engaged, while also continuing to teach her the fundamentals that she needs.

Here's another metaphor for you: Put some cheese sauce on that broccoli.

Let’s say you work for a national nonprofit that provides education and training to local nonprofits in your field. On one hand, you want to be responsive to what the local groups say they need because they are the "boots on the ground." On the other hand, you are the national expert, and you want the local organizations to focus on topics that you deem important -- and many of the locals do look to you to help them figure out what they should be learning.

I worked with one national organization earlier this year whose members are local nonprofits. The national group wanted to start a newsletter for board members of all these local groups. They wanted to talk about lots of "responsible" topics like board governance and financial accountability. I strongly encouraged them to include a healthy amount of "instant gratification" topics -- to put some cheese sauce on that broccoli -- to address the concerns that are front and center with board members. Those might include questions like, "How do I ask other people, including my friends, for money?" and "How do I tell our executive director that he's not doing a very good job in certain areas?" By soothing the pain points, the national group will build trust and open the door to equally important but less exciting conversations about bylaws and bookkeeping.

I'm currently working with another national organization in a similar situation, but they are focusing on the content strategy for their blog and e-newsletter, based on content on their website and in their webinar series. The problem is that there are literally hundreds of relevant topics to cover. So which do they focus on? What the locals ask most about, which tend to be more basic or mundane issues, or the what the national organization believes the locals need to know to be more effective long-term?

Which should drive the content strategy? The realistic answer is a combination of both. You can meet their needs for more basic information or for tips on the hotter topics du jour while also sharing the content that you feel is more essential or "stretching" for your target audiences.

Here’s one approach that I suggested to my client and that might work for you too . . .

On a quarterly basis, in conjunction with your program staff, come up with a list of topics that you want to cover in your educational programming or communications, whether that's new blog posts, website downloads, webinars or training videos. You’d pick the top five topics. This is the broccoli.

Next, you’d look at sources that give you clues about what the locals are interested in right now. You could look at recent keyword searches that brought traffic to your site, as well as searches within your site. You’d also look at comments on your blog and Facebook page. Since you regularly present webinars, you could look at the chat or evaluation surveys from those for comments. You’d compile this information into a separate top five list. Remember, this list is based on popularity with your target audience, not on what you want them to know. This is your cheese sauce.

Now you have two lists of five topics each. Combine them into one list, eliminating the overlap. Let’s say that leaves you with eight different topics.

To develop your content strategy for the coming quarter, ask these questions:

Can we – and do we want to -- provide a significant amount of NEW information on this topic in the coming quarter? If yes, sketch out what that editorial calendar might look like. Topics that were on both lists are prime candidates for this kind of attention.

If we don't want to provide new content, can we review and update our basic evergreen or older/outdated content on this topic? If yes, identify which existing content can be updated and/or repurposed.

If we don't want to work on this topic at all, can we at least create a landing page for that traffic with referrals to other organizations? If yes, spend an hour on it and be done with it.

You’d repeat this process quarterly. Over time, you’d build up a library of evergreen content and resource pages that meet the needs that your target audiences identify for you (because the customer is always right) while also allowing you to create new content on topics you think are most important (because people don't know what they want until you show it to them).

Whether you consider this article broccoli or cheese sauce, I hope you enjoyed it!

Broccoli with Cheese Sauce by BigStock