If you earn your living doing something related to marketing in 2014—unless you’ve been hiding under a rock or living in a cave—you’ve heard plenty about the emerging importance of content as a critical tool of inbound marketing. Content has become so essential in the eyes of many that some marketing observers have declared 2014 "the year of content marketing." But then, there are plenty of other pundits who feel the available glut of content can’t help but overwhelm satiated content consumers ready to cry “Enough!”
If there’s anything that rational, seasoned marketers should take away from the rapid evolution in content marketing it's that the bar continues to go higher in terms of what constitutes relevant, valuable content, when valuable is defined as whatever your target says matters to them, solves a problem, teaches them something useful, or helps them avoid harm or disaster.
When we’re working with a client to create a specialized content strategy and editorial plan, we start by coming to agreement on precise, focused definitions of their target personas, knowing that the more honed and discriminating the description, the better equipped we’ll be to learn about them and as a result, write directly to who they are and what they care about.
Once we feel like we really know who the personas are we turn our attention to three separate but related approaches to learn about them.
1. Secondary research
Many personas that represent broad cohort groups, such as HR directors, CFOs, CMOs, plant engineers, etc., are the subjects of focused research studies conducted by the largest management consulting groups or large trade associations. These studies are often disseminated free to the public as advanced content for those organizations' content marketing efforts. So use them, they're good quality, helpful, and best of all, free!
2. Internal Interviews
We like to start our primary research by having guided discussions with key customer-facing personnel. Sales reps and managers, customer service reps, and service tech support are all people who can speak personally about prospect and customer issues, challenges, views about solution values, what keeps customers awake at night, and what keeps them coming back for more of what you're selling. Here are some of the general sample questions that trigger the best conversations:
What are your favorite prospect questions, the kind that usually lead to a door opened and an opportunity offered?
What trends within your industry are causing the most confusion and anxiety among your target companies?
What are the nuances about your industry that newcomers wish they knew but don’t know enough to ask?
What would your most loyal customers tell you are the most valuable things they know about your value proposition, and would insist prospects have to know to make smart decisions?
When you think about the perfect customer/prospect, what are the critical defining dimensions, values, and business philosophies that are essential predictors of great fit?
3. Customer Interviews
Armed with the knowledge gained from internal customer experts, we create a customer-directed discussion guide that aims to get at the heart of their experiences, observations and appreciations for the benefits they receive as a customer. Here are some of the typical question we ask our clients best customers:
When you were choosing vendors, what criteria were most important, and led you to our client?
After you became a customer, what were the most surprising and appreciated benefits you've realized?
If you were offering advice to a friend who's also a prospect of our client, what would you tell them they should be paying attention to most?
In your role, what are the aspects of your work that my client could affect, that continue to cause you to lose sleep?
What are the most essential aspects of the solutions or benefits my client provides you that keep you loyal to them?
As you look to the future, what technologies, trends or developments within your industry would you urge my client to never lose sight of?
You can see in both the internal and customer interviews, we don't waste time on softball questions. We're trying to uncover epiphanies that open up categories of editorial direction that will allow our client to speak authentically and with laser-like relevance directly to their prospects and customers. We tell our clients up front, the goal isn't to attract the most traffic, the goal is to attract the right, best traffic, the kind that have a good possibility of becoming customers that move to the top of their favorites list. Do that, and you'll never have to listen to any whining about Content Shock, because the only shock you'll be party to is the shock your competitors feel when they realize how far behind you they've suddenly become.
Posted by Greg Linnemanstons With 18+ years in senior management roles at Fortune 500® and medium-sized companies, Greg has deep marketing and sales experience with CPGs and manufacturing. He leads strategic initiatives with clients and is involved in developing client inbound marketing plans. Greg holds an M.B.A. from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and a B.A. in Economics from Lawrence University.