How getting to know your clients and prospective clients on an intimate level takes your content strategy to the next level.
Remember how marketing used to work? You delivered one succinct message to your audience. Based on that message, your audience decided whether they wanted your product or service—assuming that message reached them.
Not anymore. Now more than ever, marketing revolves around a conversation. You’re either taking part or you’re left out. Staying in touch with your audience is easier than ever—you just have to keep your ear to the receiver.
Is audience knowledge a major problem among marketers?
According to Joseph Carrabis, a neuromarketer at Critical Mass, it’s the number one problem.
Carrabis says the biggest issue his clients experience (and the biggest problem he identifies on the web) is that marketers “don’t know their audience.” If you plan to launch your own content marketing campaign, you won’t meet success unless you clearly understand whom you’re producing content for.
So how do you get to be best friends with your target audience? We’ve leveraged some of the experts and our experience here at Duo Consulting to put together your guide to understanding your audience. You’ll learn:
- Why understanding your audience is important
- What a user persona is and how to create one
- How to define your message
- How to develop content topics based on your audience
- What tone you should use
- How to find your audience
- How feedback sharpens your knowledge
- What the stages of content marketing are
- How to repurpose your content internally
Let’s figure out why this is important.
Research firm Focus B2B recently published a studythat puts some key differences between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers in perspective. When asked what their highest strategic priority was, the need to “better understand customers/audience” brought a much higher return in the B2C crowd (49 percent) versus B2B marketing professionals (39 percent).
Why the difference? Steve Olenski, creative director of digital services for The Star Group, postulates that B2B professionals tend to think in more formal terms. When you market from one business to another, there’s a tendency to forget you’re speaking to a live person on the other end of the conversation. His storyof how a floundering B2B client amended his copy of a sales letter, calling it “too personal,” is a prime example of just how out of touch some businesses really are with their audience. Olenski partially blames the client’s inability to recognize the human aspect of the conversation for the failure of the letter and, eventually, the failure of the company.
The proof is in the pudding. (I’ve always wanted to say that.)
So what do we learn from this?
If you’re out of touch with your audience, you can’t create compelling campaigns, write compelling copy or develop compelling offers. If you don’t know who your audience is or what they want, then how do you expect to get their attention?
Imagine you’ve just moved to a new city and you don’t know anyone. It’s intimidating. As you move your things into your apartment, a male neighbor about your age passes by. Whether consciously or subconsciously, your neighbor notes the large framed picture of the Tuscan countryside you’re carrying proudly.
You want to make a new friend, but you know nothing about this person. What are his interests? What motivates him? What does he do for a living? What kind of music does he listen to? How long has he lived in the city? You might find answers to these questions on the other side of his wall. But you haven’t been invited in.
How do you start a conversation with someone you don’t know anything about?
That picture of the Tuscan countryside represents your ability to offer valuable conversation on a subject that may or may not be of interest to your neighbor— the same strategy used by businesses focused on what they do rather than what they do for people. You’ve laid your cards on the table in the hopes that the other party will take an interest and strike up a conversation. But the other party has plenty of friends; why should he be yours?
Had you focused on your neighbor, you would have noticed he was carrying a battered copy of Moby Dick, a novel you’ve read eight times. That novel represents your opportunity to engage your friend (the prospect) in absolute confidence that you’ll keep his interest—but you missed it because you made an uninformed judgment that your picture of Tuscany was enough to spark your prospect’s interest.
In terms of content marketing, we see understanding your audience as having four main purposes.
- Start a conversation:As noted above, the more you know about the party you’re appealing to, the better the chance of starting a conversation that could eventually lead to a relationship.
- Pitch the pitch:Throw it away. Seriously. Your pitch will come naturally over the course of the conversation. Would you approach your neighbor prior to any form of conversation and ask, “Will you be my friend?”
- Inspire loyalty: Once you’ve built a relationship, you continue to share great conversations and great content with your new friend. You build a stronger relationship as a result.
- Build credibility: When you have something insightful to say about something that interests your friends (and, as a result, friends of friends), you gain steam as an authority and a credible resource on the topic.
Now let’s give you something you can work with.
The web is a treasure trove of information, isn’t it? Because of social networking, your audience now willinglypublishes personal information. More companies are sharing insights based on their own research—for free. And information exchange between companies and competitors has become more open—so fire the espionage squad, hoss.
According to statistics collected by Facebookin 2010, the average user clicks the “Like” button 9 times each month. So, every month, more than half a billion Facebook users are telling their social circle about 9 more interests of theirs. That’s a lot of interest sharing!
But free information isn’t the only tactic you should rely on to figure out what peaks your audience’s interest. Three traditional marketing tactics will help you shape your audience.
Focus groups have been a favorite pastime for marketers—but when it comes to B2B audience research, no method is quite as effective as the one-on-one interview. If you want an insider’s point of view, there’s no better place to go than right to the horse’s mouth.
If you can put together around 10 interviews to get started, you’ll be able to define natural audience segments, putting you well on your way to constructing a better overall vision of your audience. Take a look at four tips below for a successful interview (based in part on business coach Kristin Zhivago’s suggestions).
- Conduct interviews face-to-face, rather than over the phone. Face-to-face interviews offer a more personal experience and facilitate a more direct conversation.
- Secure current clients for your interviews.You’ll need someone who has experience working with your brand to conduct an effective interview. That doesn’t imply you should go with clients that have had only positive or only negative experiences; an even split (or close) will help you gather the information you’re looking for.
- Ask insightful questions about your content marketing and retention strategies.To hit a little closer to the mark, it’s important to narrow your questions in a way that will provoke a thoughtful response. The more specific the question, the easier it is to answer. Recognize the difference between questions that can lead the client to a specific answer and questions that will bring something more insightful to the table—for instance, questions that make assumptions about the previous behavior of the interviewee.
- Listen, don’t talk. The important part of the interview isn’t what you have to say, so let the client do the talking—even when they’re off topic. They may lead you to insights that you hadn’t considered when you developed questions for the interview.
Once you’ve collected your interview data, how do you apply it?
Buyer personas aren’t real people—but they can be a marketer’s best (imaginary) friend. In fact, the creation of a buyer persona builds off of the data you collect from real people, so they’re about as close to the real thing as you get.
What you’re trying to create in a buyer persona is the perfect client—their background, interests, challenges, habits, goals and responsibilities. Putting a name and a face on your buyer persona helps bring that perfect client to life. (We know, we know—there’s really no such thing as a “perfect” client. For the purposes of the buyer persona, let’s assume there is.)
Thanks in part to Fearless Competitor and Ten Ton Marketing, here are the questions you should answerto help create your buyer persona:
- What’s this person’s role in the buying process? Decision maker, champion, or influencer?
- What work issues keep this person up at night?
- What motivates this person to take action?
- How familiar is s/he with the solution you offer?
- What sources does this person turn to for information and daily news?
- How does the prospect go about making business decisions?
- What types of organizations does this person belong to and what events does he or she attend?
- Does this person seek advice from colleagues, industry peers, and/or unbiased third parties? If so, where?
- How is he or she dealing with the problem today?
- What phrases does the prospect use to describe the issues he or she is facing?
- Does this person prefer high-level details or a deep dive into a topic?
- What prevents this type of buyer from choosing us?
We’ve put together a few more tips for building your buyer personas and keeping them fresh.
- Put a Face on Your New Friend – You’ve already got a name—now how about a face? Find a stock photo that accurately represents your buyer persona to make the client more realistic.
- Keep It Brief – Make sure to include all of the relevant information in your buyer persona—but that doesn’t mean you have to write an autobiography.
- Revise Often – As you gain new insights on your target audience and its segments, keep your buyer persona fresh.
Bonus Resource: Marketing guru David Meerman Scott offers a case study on user personas.
Empathy maps offer another quick strategy to get to the bottom of what drives your potential clients. An empathy map describes influencers and relationships for your clients in a visual way. For more on empathy maps, visit this post in Glenn’s Blog.
Want a more advanced and longer-term way to define your customers? Let’s take a look at the Mental Model strategy.
What is a Mental Model, you ask? Let’s check with Wikipedia.
“A mental modelis an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about their own acts and their consequences. Our mental models help shape our behavior and define our approach to solving problems (akin to a personal algorithm) and carrying out tasks.”
The truth of the matter is, in business, we sometimes lose perspective on how we bring value to the client, who exactly the client is and how the client sees his or her world. In essence, mental models are meant to show you your business from the perspectives of everyone involved. If you’re only seeing things from your point of view, you may be ignoring the needs of your clients. If you’re only looking through the eyes of the client, you may be setting unrealistic expectations for your team.
In practice, mental models for marketers are meant to identify gaps in your offerings and potential new revenue opportunities, provide long-term clarity of direction and give you confidence and continuity in your vision. Mental Models give you the richest level of understanding on how your target audience processes content.
In simple terms, forming a mental model requires the consultant or project manager to interview a set of clients, group the data from those interviews, clearly segment the data, identify hypothetical classifications for each segment and define the steps audience members in each segment would take as your client. The data stays relevant for 5-10 years and will help you clearly map what kind of content is most engaging for your audience.
Because the process is extremely involved, we won’t go through all of the steps right now. However, we will suggest further reading, including a shameless plug for Duo’s very own Chelsea Winkel who is nearly finished completing our mental model and chronicles the journey through aseries of blog posts.
Suggested Reading: Young, Indi. Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy with Human Behavior. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media, 2008. Print.
Now that you have a better idea of who your audience is, how do they communicate? While content is a crucial focus of how you appeal to your audience, the smallest inconsistencies in voice will have your readers/viewers tuning out before they even get to the meat of the piece.
How many times have you read something online that is riddled with jargon and lost interest? What about content that is too dry? Yes—fact-based content works in general marketing efforts. But for content you’re pushing into the vast depths of the web, you’re going to need to add a little spice that appeals to your audience. After all, if it isn’t engaging, who’s going to read it?
The first step is identifying the unified messages you want to be the focuses of your content marketing.
When I was a child, a piece of advice my father offered me on a regular basis stuck with me through the years: “Think before you speak, son.” In fact, as marketers are well aware, effective communication is built entirely on this concept.
You’ve probably heard the old cliché “Creativity thrives on disorganization.” Throw that concept out the window. The creativity you bring to your content marketing should stem from a well-developed, coherent and unified brand message—one that may already be defined as part of your overall marketing plan.
Aligning your brand message with your overall content marketing message makes sense. If you’re starting from scratch, ask yourself these questions:
This one’s pretty clear: you want your content marketing message to revolve around topics in which your audience has a vested interest.
Your clients help shape your company’s identity. In content marketing, it’s important to produce content that falls back on your company’s experience.
Do you know people that can contribute to your content marketing? Cross-channeling content relies on taking advantage of blogs and other content feeds from industry partners. Trading content for content requires message consistency.
Company values are an important part of your brand that should be reflected in your message. For example, if you value sustainable business, don’t be afraid to make the “green” side of your industry a part of your content marketing message.
Who are the thought leaders in your business? A lot of times they’re busy execs—but if you have a dedicated copywriter, you can still gather content from them and slap their names on blog posts, whitepapers and more.
You’ve got the package you want to deliver—but how do you wrap it up?
Business isn’t about stale traditions. It is, has been and always will be about real living people. What’s important to your content strategy (and your bottom line) has everything to do with initiating a real conversation that addresses real problems and offers real solutions.
Are you sick of corporate jargon, dry anecdotes, poorly hidden sales pitches, excruciatingly formal addresses, passionless dictations and broad, vague topics of conversation? So are we. Throw all of your old ideas about business communications out the window and start engaging people on a personal level. But first, you’ll want to examine and define your tone. Here are four tips to get started.
- Define your tone in five words.
Over at Copyblogger, a really useful blog on copywriting, Carol Tice offers her adviceon best practices for figuring out the tone that works best for your company and sticking with it.
“If you can boil your essence down to five words, you can use them as a quick guideline when you’re writing blog posts. It has an added bonus too: if you have a team blogging at your company or organization, it can help the blog maintain a consistent tone among multiple authors.”
- Remember that your goal is to start a conversation.
So, consider speaking conversationally. This isn’t a form of condescension or informality, as some stodgy businessmen might consider it, but a strategy for connecting with your readers that engages them on a human level. Content marketing professional Katie McCaskey explains it perfectly in her personal blog:
“ ‘Corporate-ese’ sucks. Your voice should sound like a real person.”
- Take a stand…
Has your love affair with your business lost its spark? Do you lie awake at night thinking, “How do I reignite the romance?” If you answered yes to any of these questions, your content strategy is screwed.
Passion-infused writing is much more compelling than dry, emotionless content. Without the passion, all you’re left with is words on a page. Consider picking sides on a hot-button issue in your industry and take a stand.
- …But don’t offend your readers.
If “angry” isn’t a word you picked for your business’ tone, don’t let it seep into your content. Taking a stand is a great way to start a dialogue, but present the issue clearly, examine both sides, form a conclusion and ask your readers what they think. Avoid controversial content that provokes an emotional response (like religious or political commentaries).
Okay. What topics are you going to discuss with your clients?
The brands that have accomplished success in the content marketing arena seem to generate endless amounts of content—enough that it might seem overwhelming to apply the same strategies to your content strategy. How do you generate so many ideas? You don’t have a content mill at your disposal.
Mint, a personal finance company, launched an aggressive content strategyright out of the gate in 2006. In 2009, Intel purchased Mint for $170 million. The key to success? The company invested in a full-time and freelance editorial staff that adhered to strict editorial standards.
You may not have the budget to employ a full-time editorial staff, but you have the resources to generate new content at your fingertips. We’ve laid out 11 places to find content topic ideas below. Keep your eyes peeled and we have no doubt you’ll find more inspiration out there.
- Twitter: Target your followers by building a list of credible industry contacts and they’ll put new content ideas on your map daily.
- Books: Note passages, chapters and sections that grab your interest or inspire you.
- News Outlets: Every morning, check national, international and industry-focused news sources for ideas.
- Networking Events/Conventions: You’re bound to have conversations at in-person events; note them after they’re over and address them in a blog post.
- Blogs: Other blogs (especially ones that offer an opinion) may inspire rebuttal posts or further commentary from your perspective.
- Comments & Feedback: Your own followers may ask questions you hadn’t considered, so do a follow-up post for the ones that catch your interest.
- Infographics: These often contain information worth talking about. The visual nature usually makes them more compelling.
- TV/Movies: Yes, there’s even something to be said about television and movies. Pay close attention so you process what you’re watching/listening to more clearly.
- Company Execs: Sit down with an exec at your company and pick his or her brain on industry trends.
- Research Reports: Research reports become hot blog topics when they offer solid info.
- Your Clients: If you’re looking for unique business problems to write about, look no further than your clients.
Next, we’ll look at some of the best places to flex your new content muscles and engage your audience where they live.
Facebook just announcedthat its member base has grown to 750 million users. Twitter claimssome 175 million registered users, a more than 133% increase over last year, while LinkedIn weighs in at more than 50 million members worldwide. And those are only social media statistics.
It’s clear that your audience lives somewhere out in the social ethos. But how do you choose the right channels to promote your content and reach your audience directly? That depends on who your audience is. Here are a few places where they live.
Facebook isn’t just for the kids anymore. New research suggeststhat the average age of members on social networking sites has shifted from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010, and more than half of adult users are older than 35. What that ultimately means for you is that regardless of age, your audience lives in the social sphere; you’ll just have to find out where they hang out.
Anyone with a computer and an internet connection consumes information in online publications on a daily basis. Influential blogs, news sites, RSS feeds, podcasts, publishers, trade publications and other aggregators are usually narrow enough to appeal directly to your target audience—the trick is building a list of the ones that matter to your potential clients, building relationships with the publications and trading content and links.
Forums represent an early iteration of social networking—but are still a popular form of communicating directly with people who have similar interests. If you’re not trolling industry forums, you might be missing out on conversations already in progress about your brand.
Fact: YouTube logs more than 2 BILLION video views per day—and that’s only one of the more impressive statisticsthe popular video site has shared with the world. In fact, Cisco projectsthat online video will account for more than 50 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2012. It’s a powerful medium and a place where your audience goes to consume content.
Congratulations: you’ve figured out what content you need to produce to appeal to your target audience. So why does it feel like we’re forgetting something?
Oh, that’s right. The sales force. Your staff. The people you’ve been working so hard to train so they’re better equipped to position themselves as experts in your industry.
Consider this: salespeople across industry spend an average of 30 hours every monthsearching for and creating their own collateral. Even more shocking: 90 percent of marketing deliverables aren’t used by your average sales team. You’ve done too much work on your content marketing to hold that information back from internal consumption.
Opening a communication channel between your content marketing and sales teams is a must. Share the information with them so they’re equipped to make more sales and your brand message stays consistent. And don’t hesitate to share with the rest of your internal team; it could go a long way in helping unite your company in a common goal.
And we come to the dirty part: measuring just how successful your campaigns are and tailoring your future content strategy towards the most successful facets. We’ll keep it short and simple for you. Here are the two most important areas to focus on as you figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Math is hard. Don’t kill the messenger, but numbers are absolutely necessary if you want your content marketing strategy to become more and more effective as time goes on.
Math can be fun too. It’s best to find an example of how successful content marketers measure their progress. Take a look at this great story about Danny Brown and his business.
Throw that survey away—your community is offering feedback in return for content. Gone are the days when you had to solicit information from your community with nothing to offer them in return except a free sticker and the joy of knowing they’d done a good deed. You’ve created content, you’ve syndicated it to the public—now give them the mic and let them speak.
Below are three ways to measure qualitative feedback.
Take a look at some of your blog posts and compare the content pieces that get more comments to the ones that get fewer. Can you find any trends in the pieces that sparked more interest? What about the ones that logged less interest?
Positive comments are great and usually build brand loyalty. But negative comments can be good, too, if they’re starting a debate. Still, some negative comments can take the form of an offended or upset client or potential client. Try to avoid those topics, tones and strategies.
Your community extends beyond the walls of your publishing platforms. Are people commenting on Twitter? Have other bloggers published rebuttals? Are people buzzing in the forums? Keep your vision wide to collect good insights on your content.
In order to execute an effective content strategy, a deep, comprehensive understanding of your audience is the first step in driving a consistent image that appeals to potential and current clients alike. If you skip out on the preparation and research that goes into defining your audience, you risk confusing, boring, even alienating potential clients. When you become best friends with your audience, your content becomes easier to create, flowing naturally, sparking more interest in your brand and driving sales higher as a result.
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