DOING CONTENT PROPERLY
DOING YOUR RESEARCH
Who are your target audience?
Can you picture them?
Do you know what they like?
Do you know what key problems they face?
If you don’t know, it’s time to start learning about conducting proper audience research, before you even start thinking about putting together a content strategy.
Think about it this way: You need to ask a favour from someone over the telephone. You have no idea who they are, what their interests are, what their pet peeves might be, or what makes them tick. Without any of this information, convincing them to help you out is going to be pretty difficult.
Conversely, when you know exactly who you’re talking to, it’s much easier to get them on board. You can encourage feelings of connection and friendship by sharing their interests. You could reach out and use their own life experiences to help put them in your shoes. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but it does go some way towards explaining why good audience research is so crucial to content marketing
The better you know your target audience, the more relevant you can make your content. And the more relevant your content is, the more marketing power it will have. So how do you get to know them better?
"The better you know your
target audience, the more relevant
you can make your content."
There’s nothing like one-to-one interaction for learning about another person. That’s why conducting a series of customer interviews can be so revealing. Talking to real life customers will generate a wealth of information about the kinds of people you’re serving as a business, and it can even give you a few pointers to help change your company for the better.
“There’s nothing like
one-to-one interaction for learning
about another person.”
So how do you find customers to take part? And how can you persuade them to join in? As a society we’re all pretty busy, which makes collaring suitable customer candidates a bit of a challenge. There are, however, a few tactics you can try...
• SEND COLD EMAILS OR MAKE COLD CALLS
This isn’t always the most effective method but it is relatively cost-effective and can pay off. If you are considering sending out unsolicited emails or making cold calls to customers and inviting them to take part in an interview, take care, you could put them off for life. Craft a good script for calls and write a heartfelt email template with personal recipient-focussed touches to give yourself the best shot. If you do have a decent budget available, offering incentives and discounts will boost your chances.
Craft a good script for calls and write a heartfelt email template with personal recipient-focussed touches to give yourself the best shot. If you do have a decent budget available, offering incentives and discounts will boost your chances.
• USE CUSTOMER SATISFACTION SURVEYS
It’s very easy to compile customer satisfaction surveys these days. In fact, tools like Google Forms can be put together for free. Attach customer surveys to emails, particularly follow-up emails after a purchase, and if possible, include a discount to incentivise participation. When a customer successfully completes a survey, ask if they would be willing to attend an interview or talk to your team over the phone. Again, you may need to use freebies or discounts to encourage participation.
• HOST A WEBINAR
If possible, make this a fun, exclusive event which will teach attendees something new. If you’re a B2B, perhaps offer an hour of access to your expertise in the form of a no-holds-barred Q&A. If you’re a B2C, consider providing a tutorial relevant to your service or product which dovetails with your customer's interests. This webinar will give you an opportunity to ask participants questions, get a feel for who they are and invite them to talk further.
Once you’ve got hold of willing participants or survey data you’ll want to get to grips with your demographics to make sure you’re talking to a broad range of customers. This will ensure the data you collect isn’t skewed or geared towards just one area of your market.
Surveys will already give you plenty of data on who you’re talking to, but if you’re conducting telephone or in person interviews, you’ll want to make sure you’re talking to the right people.
In order to use the most diverse interview group possible, break your interviewees up according to key demographic data. Ensure that you have an even spread. Of course, if your business is exclusively geared to over 60s, you will need to adjust your spectrum accordingly. Whatever your target market may be, look for an even spread within that spectrum of:
• EDUCATIONAL LEVELS
• MARITAL STATUSES
• INDUSTRIES OF EMPLOYMENT
• DATES OF LAST PURCHASE
With your interviewees (or data) ready to go, and your demographics nicely even, you’re ready to get asking those important questions. Here are a few tips to help you with the actual interview process.
• RECORD INTERVIEWS OR CONDUCT THEM AS DUO
If it doesn’t make your customer feel too uncomfortable, make sure you record their interview. This is especially important over the phone as it will ensure no crucial data gets missed or lost. If you are unable to record your interviewees, bring a colleague into the interview. That way, one of you can ask the questions while the other takes notes.
• CHOOSE THE PHONE OVER EMAIL OR IN-PERSON INTERVIEWS
Email is a very tricky medium for getting a feel for what people really think and where you can push for more information. In person interviews can be a pain to attend and intimidating to sit through. A phone interview (if you’re working as a duo, simply pop the interviewee on speaker phone) has the perfect balance. It’s personal enough to get a good feel for your customer and it’s distant enough to make your interviewee feel comfortable enough to really open up.
• TALK ABOUT PROBLEMS FIRST
Everyone likes to gripe and moan – it’s just human nature! It’s not always easy for customers to offer solutions to potential issues cold, so start your interview by discussing any problems they may have had with your service or about their typical buying behaviour before you ask them about how you can make it all better.
• AVOID LEADING QUESTIONS
Asking questions which lead interviewees towards a certain answer will skew your results so question carefully. For example, instead of asking: “Did you find our website difficult to navigate?” opt for: “How was your experience of using our website?”
• ASK OPEN QUESTIONS
A question like: “Are you responsible for purchasing services for your company?” will only generate a one word answer: yes, or no. This is a closed question and it will not help you collect a lot of useful information. “Can you describe the service purchasing process in your company?” is an open question which will give you an awful lot more information you can use.
• HELP YOUR INTERVIEWEE FEEL COMFORTABLE
You may find that the customers you interview aren’t willing to be too negative or too open about their experiences of your business. It can be helpful to affirm any negative feelings they do express to make them feel comfortable elaborating on them. For example, if an interviewee mentions that they have found your website annoying to navigate, you could affirm their negative feeling and encourage elaboration by saying: “That must have been an annoying issue for you, can you tell me which aspects you found particularly unhelpful?”
• BE PATIENT WITH DIGRESSIONS
Sticking to an interview script will make sure that you get all the answers you’re looking for and that there’s no opportunity for awkward pauses. However, if your interviewee digresses from the script, let them talk. You could find out even more detail which could be of use. If the conversation roams well outside of what is relevant, try to delicately steer it back to the script.
So now you’re all set to conduct your interviews, what questions do you need to ask to inform and improve your content marketing? This will largely depend on whether you’re a B2B or B2C...
• Age, gender, marital status, family (kids/no kids) etc.
• Educational background (level attained, place of study, area of study)
• Career path (how did they get to where they are today?)
• Where do they access information?
• What publications do they read?
• Which online sources do they frequent?
• What social networks do they use?
• Who do they most look up to? Why is that?
• What are their most significant problems regarding X?
• When were these challenges last an issue?
• Why was this problem difficult for them?
• Have they taken steps to solve the issue? What were those steps?
• Why were these solutions not ideal?
• What are their preferred mediums for interacting with sellers?
• What information is important to them before a purchase is made?
• What was their last purchase? Why was it made? What informed the buying decision?
• How do they like to use their leisure time?
• What are their leisure time “treats”?
• What are their least favourite “boring” tasks and activities?
• What subjects do they most like to read about?
• What is their job title and role?
• Do they have a direct supervisor?
• Do they supervise others?
• How does their normal work day pan out?
• Which skills are needed in their role?
• What goals are key parts of their job?
• Which industry are they working in?
• What revenue does their company generate?
• How many employees work for the company?
You’ve found your participants, you’ve grilled them thoroughly, you’ve used interview best practices – now you should have a whole lot of juicy information on your hands. That means it’s time to start building your buyer personas.
Before you get started, remember that the personas you generate from all your data need to be fictional. They shouldn’t be based on a particular customer you’ve spoken to. Leave all of your experience with customers at the door and instead use the cold, hard facts to develop a good collection of personas.
Using your data, distil all of your information into new fictional characters which sum up clear sub-sections of your target market called customer groups.
With so much information to go on, this can feel like finding a needle in a haystack, but there are a few ways to make this process a little easier. Try dividing your interviewees into groups based on one of the following criteria, one “criteria” should be a clear fit for your data which will allow you to apply the criteria to all interviewees, creating obvious groups. These groups can then be turned into your personas:
Segmented based on how they approach purchasing using factors including price sensitivity, how often they buy, how loyal they are to specific brands and their ultimate purchasing goals.
Segmented according to overall values, views, attitudes and lifestyles.
Segmented according to age, sex, gender, education, income, marital status etc.
Segmented by factors including urban vs. rural environment, climate and region.
When you create your persona make sure you include:
• Demographics (age, gender, marital status, education etc.)
• Employment information (roles and responsibilities)
• The goal they’ve come to your site to achieve
• Their home environment
• Their social life
• How they use technology (particularly social media)
• Their key frustrations and concerns
• The key pressures they experience in life
• Their biggest overall needs
• What their role is in buying processes (personally and/or professionally)
To help bring your shiny new persona to life and make it easier to identify with them when creating your content strategy, it can also be helpful to add a little colour in the form of:
• A name for your character (Persona A and Persona B just won’t do!)
• A picture of your character
• A telling quote which sums up your persona
Branch out. If you can only access a small customer base or struggle to find interview participants, consider partnering with a company or publication in a similar sector with a similar demographic to your own. Pooling your information will give your research greater statistical significance.
Look at internal sources. Searching externally for data (as outlined above) is essential, but sometimes you already have lots of resources right under your nose. Analyse data from your CRM and marketing automation platforms. It may well help you discover trends and insights you’d never have encountered otherwise.
Talk to support and sales. Team members in customer facing roles are often goldmines of information about your customers. They’ll know their common niggles, the standard objections and broad customer types too. Use this to your advantage by asking them lots of questions and running your personas past them.
Follow your customers. Social media isn’t just about sharing your communications, it’s also a great way to interact with your customers. Use it to explore what they share and favourite online to get a real feel for who you’re talking to.
Think small. If you’ve retrieved a lot of information, forget about the big picture and think about small goals. For example, take time to drill down to discover the key challenges your customers face. Later on, use your data to work out which brands and public figures hold the most sway with your client base. Think small and, as you go, the big picture will emerge..