I have experienced and participated in the following scenario way too often:
The Oracles gather
It's content strategy time. A bunch of marketers huddle together in a conference room and brainstorm content topics. Each throws in their prophecies with the iron conviction that they indeed foresee what their customers want to read, view or listen to. The prophet with the loudest, most convincing version of the promised land (it's podcasts, I tell you!) wins the day and leads her people to where the leads are plenty.
Now, I've been one of those all-knowing oracles, defending my prophecies with vigour and determination (and letting groupthink do the rest). So sure that the industry report with proprietary data released as an ebook once every quarter will save us all.
This "intuition" is often based on what kind of articles, podcasts and ebooks the person has seen being consumed "out there". It is often based on the common denominator of what the competitors are putting out (whether the culprit realises or not). The issue is, do we really know if what is "out there" is actually consumed, enjoyed and moving the needle in terms of sales? Or are we all blindly copying from each other? I have a hunch...
What if we just ask for the way?
Here's a revolutionary idea: What if we go on a quest to find out what people actually care about. What if we talk to them? What if we listen first? And what if we meet them where they already hang out?
Here is a set of steps that helped me to gain clarity and confidence over what content to produce and how to distribute and promote that content.
For content to attract potential customers
- Interview 5-10 (potential) customers - First segment them according to target group where you see the most potential in the future. Ask them about their daily challenges, what keeps them up at night? Ask them about their favourite water coolers, where do they get information (online), where do they educate themselves? Ask them what future initiatives they are planning and what developments in their industry excite them most? Take notes, record the interviews if you can! Pretty quickly you will see patterns.
- Survey a broader base of customers - Once you have clear patterns emerging and put them into topic-buckets, test those patterns with a broader audience. Three questions suffice: Which of the following topics would you like us to focus on (offer the options that came up most often during the interviews)? What formats do you consume your content in (video, blogs etc.)? Which of the following social networks do you frequent most often? And as a bonus open-ended question: If you could choose for us to focus on one topic only, what would it be?
- Do your keyword research - Now people say a lot of things, let's verify that with some hard data. Within the most voted topics, what does the search volume look like? Are people actually as interested as your interviews and survey suggest? What concrete sub-terms are being googled?
- Summon the Oracles, Prioritise - With that well of data you can now have that famous oracle brainstorming session we talked about in the beginning. But this time you are armed with customer insights and data. Your discussion will be based on a solid foundation.
For Content to close the sale
Just as a quick throw in. When it comes to content that is designed to convert the traffic you gathered, there are a few more stops on your quest for truth:
- Talk to your sales team - What objections are most common with your potential clients? What arguments work to counter those objections? What are the most frequently asked questions? Where does the sales team sense confusion when it comes to our offerings?
- Talk to your customer success team - What complaints do customers have? Again, what questions come up often? Where do they sense the most friction? They will know, it's their daily job!
- Do some "review mining" - Get an export of all the written customer feedback you received in the past year. What are the most cited positive aspects of your offering? What do people complain about the most? Pay very close attention the actual words they use (and use them yourself in your content and copy!). Now go do the same online and search for mentions and reviews of your brand. Rinse and repeat for your competitors!
No more Guessing Games
If you go through this process, you will emerge with more ideas and possible topics to write and talk about than you could ever produce. But more importantly: You will have the confidence that what you will pour your time and money into will actually resonate and make a difference. Lastly, you will not only get more high quality traffic (because you asked your most lucrative segment what they are interested in), but also strengthen your brand, you're the ones who seem to "get it"!
This might seem like a lot and even if you don't do all of the above steps, anything is better than to sit in a room full of prophets and oracles with no customer research to ground their ideas. It's still hard work, but at least you know the territory.
Now go lead them to the promised land. Good luck my friend! 🙌