When I was in high school, I was fascinated by the prospect of becoming a forensic psychologist. I was (and still am, for full disclosure) that nerd who sat entranced by episode after episode of Forensic Files and Criminal Minds. Plus, at the risk of sounding (even more) odd, I chose themes like “The Life of Jeffrey Dahmer” or “The Mind of a Serial Killer” for class reports and speeches. And on more than one occasion, I used the sentimental guise of the latest Nicholas Sparks novel to hide my true airplane reading material about infamous cannibal killers or criminal sociopaths so as not to attract the concerned glances of nearby passengers. (I promise, I really am pretty normal.)
Unfortunately, my crime fighting, psycho stopping aspirations came to an abrupt halt after my first couple of biology courses in college (pre-reqs for any psychology major). I knew that no job, no matter how thrilling or interesting, was worth subjecting myself to that many science labs and exams for the remainder of my college experience.
And so… I became a writer. Yes, quite the departure from the riveting and sometimes perilous role of a forensic psychologist. But, as a copywriter here at Bonfire Effect, I’m happy to report that I truly enjoy what I do. Not only do I avoid dealing with homicidal wackos on a regular basis (a definite career perk), I also get to put on my investigative, clue-finding cap for nearly every new project, digging deep with clients and their subject matter experts (SMEs) to find the key details and differentiators that make their brands really stand out.
Yet there’s one problem with relying on SMEs to provide the primary sources of brand evidence and information: They’re busy. They have important, demanding jobs that require a lot of hard work, and their time is valuable. That’s why our team at Bonfire Effect makes it a priority to truly optimize the limited time we get with these experts—collecting nuggets of wisdom and know-how that are guaranteed to go a long, long way.
Finding Content That Goes the Distance
On the journey toward content discovery, we’ve found that it’s important to extract as much information and knowledge as possible—most often with just a single interview—to create multiple pieces of high-quality, high-velocity content across a smattering of platforms and stages within the buying cycle (, e.g., webinars, white papers, case studies, emails, and blogs).
This notion of turning one major content piece into many related pieces isn’t unique to our process at Bonfire Effect per se. It’s a strategy that has, after all, earned a few well-known nicknames over the years (ever heard of atomized, brick and feather, or big bang content?). However, we have forged a distinctive approach to quickly uncover the best possible information from conversations with our client SMEs.
Subject Matter Exploration
Our internal process of preparing and performing SME interviews that inform a whole lot of content going forward is called Subject Matter Exploration, and it’s a journey best characterized by a single, fitting acronym: F.I.N.D. This model really provides the plan, precision, and power needed to unearth the knowledge that makes for content with substance.
F - Formulate a foundation
Start with a firm foundation by identifying the content topic and building a knowledge base around it. Familiarize yourself with the client’s industry and content strategy to create smart questions that encourage the most useful responses. Do not, we repeat, do not count on the SME to explain something you can easily learn by visiting the company’s website.
I - Interact beforehand
Connect with the SME before the interview to make introductions, show appreciation for his/her time, and ensure his/her familiarity and comfort with the topic at hand. This ensures you get the right interviewee for the project and allows time for the SME to provide alternative contacts if they’re not the right fit.
N - Nail down a plan
Prepare questions that will guide the discussion and share them with the SME in advance. Be sure to reiterate the overall project mission, strategy, and content topic. Then ask for feedback. Do the questions and goals make sense? Is anything missing? Are there additional topics or questions that should be covered? Finalize a set of interview questions and use them to keep the conversation focused and productive. While there’s nothing better than a talkative interviewee eager to share a wealth of information, it’s incredibly easy to get off course on long, irrelevant tangents. So request a set number of examples or bullet points for each of your questions.
D - Digest the information
After the conversation, reflect and review. Then follow up immediately with the SME over email to say thank you and ask about anything that still requires confirmation, explanation, or elaboration. These could include data points, use cases and testimonials, reports, or graphics. And don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on industry-specific terms or jargon.
True, the search for compelling marketing content might not be equal to the treacherous task of investigating a crime or analyzing the motives of a psycho killer. But any marketer or copywriter will tell you that without a well-defined process and plenty of preparation, content interviews can go horribly wrong. (Yes, I’ve learned the hard way.) By effectively engaging with client SMEs, you can investigate and access the full depth and breadth of their expertise—giving your content the fuel it needs to cover a lot more ground and generate real results.
About the Author
Bailey Foster is a copywriter for Bonfire Effect. She has worked with companies large and small across a wide spectrum of industries to craft engaging content and compelling stories around brands, people, products, and solutions.