The marketing writer who can nail the interview is far more likely to create great content. But even companies looking for ways to improve their content marketing often overlook interviewing as a tactic that can help avoid writing the same old clickbait.
Why is interviewing so important for a marketing writer?
Interviewing elicits narratives and insights that help you connect with your customers. Find an interesting or knowledgeable person to interview and you’ll find the insights your customers are actually looking for. Interviews bring out a real voice, transforming content into stories people can relate to.
As we discussed in our definition of content marketing, successful content marketing is about usefulness to the target audience. This means developing and sharing valuable information and analysis — not what we call the clickbait-and-switch and not thinly veiled advertisements. Doing this requires “delivering the unGoogleable.”
Anyone can find out information through a Google search. But with good interviewing skills, you can bring forth ideas and insights your prospects – and existing customers – are unable to get anywhere else.
Finding interview subjects
How do you find those interview subjects who will help you get that “un-Googleable” content?
The key is to use Google as a starting point, not a final source of information. By following websites, publications, newsfeeds and social media relevant to a client’s topic or industry, you will stay well informed enough to recognize and identify key people and important angles.
Perhaps more important, you’ll be well informed about what everyone else already knows so that you don’t end up repeating the obvious. Your default expectation should be that if someone else already said it on the first few pages of Google, then you need to find something else to say on the subject.
Familiarizing yourself with what has already been published also gives the marketing writer a range of ideas about where to find knowledgeable sources to tap when developing content, including experts working with the latest technology, innovators who are developing that technology and thought leaders who see where the road is leading.
Once you have a list of potential sources for interviews, your next step is to make contact with them. It’s important to remember that experts who can provide real value to your content are busy, so make it clear from the get-go that you want to include them in a meaningful piece — but without hiding that it’s part of your marketing strategy — and that you come from a respectable organization in your field.
Remember: they are agreeing to be a part of your content marketing efforts. But if you do this well it should add value to their own brand, too. But that’s a trust you have to earn over time by doing high quality work. That will allow you to position the interview as a win-win situation.
Preparing for the interview
Okay, you’ve found some good potential interview sources, and you’ve set up interviews. How do you make the most it? An interview has a huge opportunity cost, so you don’t want to waste anyone’s time at this point.
Before you even pick up the phone, make sure you’re prepared. This means:
- Researching your interview subject
- Reading up on the latest developments in the industry
- Making sure everything is ready for the interview
It is crucial that you know as much as you can about your subject before you begin the interview. Don’t waste your interviewee’s time – and yours – by asking them basic questions about their background and work. You can usually find that on their LinkedIn page or company website.
In fact, another basic expectation should be that you don’t ask your interview subjects anything that can be found on Google. Instead, use that as a foundation for exploring new territory.
For example, there’s no reason you should ask (and print the answer to) this question: “What did you do before you started this company?” That’s already on the web somewhere, isn’t it?
Instead you should ask something like this: “I see you worked in telecom before starting this B2B software company. What are some of the factors those industries have in common?”
Remember: the savvy marketing writer wants to get that elusive “un-Googleable” information that will create truly insightful content. And that means, insightful to your target reader — not to you. Part of the challenge is to see the subject not from the perspective of a novice but from the perspective who is already pretty well informed and to get information that they will value. Industry experts don’t want to read a piece that is about you learning the fundamentals in this field.
So do your homework! Know what role your interviewee has played in the industry – and what they are currently exploring in it. Know the history and most recent developments of the industry – and where it might be heading in the future.
By being well-versed on background information, you can prepare questions that move quickly into discussing the latest trends.
Just as important is being completely on your game for the interview. Have a quiet, distraction-free space ready. Check that your phone or recording device is ready to record. Have a notepad and pen ready to jot down any important points your interviewee makes that you might want to revisit later in the interview (or as a reference point when you’re listening back later.
Preparation shows. Your interview subjects will think more highly of you, the conversation will be more fruitful and you’ll leave the interview with excellent information to use in your content marketing.
Conducting the interview
In preparation for the interview, you read up on your interviewee and familiarized yourself with all the latest trends in the industry and came up with insightful, probing questions.
But now they’re rambling on endlessly about a topic that has nothing to do with the content you want to create. What to do?
One of the secrets of good interviewing is knowing when to cut in – and doing so more than you may be accustomed to doing in polite conversation.
Some interviewees can be difficult to get to focus on the topics you want to discuss. As a marketing writer, you should remember to ask “helpfully obnoxious questions.” These are questions that at first may feel provocative or challenging. But when asked the right way, those obnoxious questions can lead to some truly insightful answers, and an engaged interview subject will appreciate being pushed on their ideas.
Just as important is knowing when to be quiet and listen. Be comfortable with quiet pauses while the interviewee is contemplating a question. You never know when your interviewee is going to blurt out something truly unique and interesting!
The right blend of confident questioning and patient listening can be the foundation for a discussion laden with real wisdom and insight.
Michael Ream is a writer and editor who has contributed to numerous publications,including Forbes, Saveur and Midwest Traveler. A former newspaper reporter, he earned a degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.