Content marketing is great, blogging is awesome, inbound is the future — but it only works if people actually care about what you’re putting out.

Brainstorming blog topics can be one of the most energizing, creative and time-consuming activities when it comes to inbound marketing. But it’s a bedrock of the system. You need to do it, and you should invest the proper amount of time in getting it right.

The good news: brainstorming blog topics is not a single-use action in and of itself. It’s a multipurpose strategy and incorporates keyword research for search engine marketing, website traffic analysis, social media analysis and customer service reflection. It’s all connected. When it comes to wrapping all that up in inbound marketing, it helps to think of it as a direct address to your audience.

In other words, don’t think of brainstorming content strategy as a cumbersome step to write articles that disappear into the Internet. Think of it as a necessary element to enhance into your entire marketing strategy.

See what your audience expects of you.

Sometimes marketers and creatives aim to be prophetic — give the people something they don’t even realize they want! But when you need to create content on a weekly or even daily schedule, you don’t always have that luxury. If you want a reliable piece of new content, give the people what you already know they want.

That means browsing your analytics dashboard to pinpoint your website’s most popular pages, integrating heat maps through tools like Crazy Egg to show exactly which parts of your site users are clicking on, and analyzing on-site search queries to learn what they’re most interested in after they’ve arrived.

By understanding what attracts people who’ve already found your site, and digging into those second and third clicks, you’re carving out a valuable niche based on what you know you’re already doing right.

Expand on the ways people are already finding your site.

The above notion applies to search engine marketing as well. Let’s say you wrote a blog post about the most cost-effective ways to build a social media following (which your agency can help with!). It alone reliably draws in 100 users a day to your website. That’s a clue to double-down on that topic and expand it with a few other pieces, then link them together.

That piece of content would become what some call a cornerstone post, a popular pillar of your site that you refer back to. Write related pieces that reference how popular that initial piece is and blast them across social media. Lean into your own hype — don’t replicate it, but expand upon it.

Study your social followers.

We don’t just mean looking at your built-in Facebook or Twitter analytics, though those are certainly helpful.

What we suggest you do, rather, is dig into the nitty-gritty of a handful of your individual social followers to get a sense of what they like. Find your most engaged Twitter followers and browse their timelines. Click through to your Facebook commenters’ profiles to see what they share (if their profiles are public).

The point isn’t to spy on them, but to get a sense of their personality. It’s like expanding your buyer persona. What do your fans comment on? What do they like or dislike? What inspires them? Use those ideas to generate your own social, newsletter and website content. Odds are, if they’re engaged fans, they’re a good representation of the kind of person you want to attract.   

Turn to your CRM.

If you keep logs of your customer and prospect interactions, such as chats or emails, scan over them to get a sense of your customer base. What do they think of your company? What do they like or dislike?

This is valuable from a customer-satisfaction vantage point, obviously, and also from a sales perspective, but don’t forget the power it lends to marketers, too. The better you understand your customers, the better you can attract new, like-minded ones.

Ask people what they want to read.

This one’s fairly obvious, but not a lot of marketers do it. If you want to know what people want to read, just ask. Consider a message like this:

“Hey, fans! Do you have any burning questions for us? Want to know about how we operate? Curious about a topic your business needs help with? Let us know what you want us to write about next month, and we’ll happily oblige!”

Some marketers might be wary of opening up a door like that since it creates the possibility that nobody will care or respond to your call-out. But you should never let fear of failure stop you from trying. Even if just one or two fans reply, that’s enough to engage them right back and follow up once you’ve created the content.

There’s not always a secret strategy for finding out what people want to read. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.