One of the first questions I ask a new content client is, “Do you have any customer research I could get my hands on?”
Whether the answer is yes or no, people almost always act confused at first. I’m sure they wonder why I would need customer research to write a blog post.
Here’s the thing: The purpose of content is to build the relationship between the business and the buyer.
If you don’t understand the buyer, how can you possibly create content that builds a relationship with them?
Let’s put this in perspective. Imagine you’re going to buy a car. You have a family of four, both of your kids are in sports programs that require you to do a lot of shuttling, and you like going camping on the weekends.
Now, imagine that you walk into a car dealership and a car salesman walks up to you and, before asking a single question about you or what you’re looking for, he says “I have the perfect car for you.” He guides you over to a little yellow two-seater sportscar.
Writing content without deeply understanding your customers is like trying to sell a two-seater sports car to an active family of four.
In the world of copywriting and conversion optimization, content is often an afterthought. Those white papers, e-books, blog posts and email sequences that, when done well, take the customer on a journey to becoming a raving fan — they’re sometimes shrugged off as necessary evils.
When you take your content as seriously as you do your copy, however, it becomes a beacon. It attracts the unaware, shines a light on the culture and personality of your company, grows your credibility as an expert in your industry, and persuades people to buy from you.
Just like with copywriting, successful content writing starts with customer insight.
If you’ve gone through the process of conversion rate optimization (CRO) for your website, you’ve likely ended up with a massive collection of customer research data. Much of the time, this data gets filed away and forgotten until the next CRO project comes around. What many people fail to realize is that it can be used to guide content marketing strategy, too. There is so much opportunity to take the customer insight you gathered during the CRO process and apply it to your content.
This post is going to walk you through how to repurpose customer insight to make your content work harder for you. I’m also going to share an unusual tactic that marketers and content creators can use to flesh out that customer insight and make it even more effective for getting better results from your content.
Get a New Look at Those Survey and Interview Insights
Your CRO copywriter likely did a deep dive into customer survey feedback and interview notes before they ever put their fingers to a keyboard. Maybe they even conducted some surveys and interviews themselves to get those coveted customer comments that would reveal your buyers’ true motivations.
Then the copywriter likely went through that feedback with a fine-toothed comb. They mined it for messaging gems, prioritizing the statements in order of frequency and importance and creating what’s called a messaging hierarchy. Then, and only then, did they start writing and (maybe) wireframing.
That spreadsheet full of critical conversation clips guided the rest of their copywriting process and made your optimized copy work so much harder for your business.
Pull that spreadsheet out again. It’s time to start putting it to use with your marketing content, too.
What questions did your buyers have about the product or the purchasing process?
Use these questions to create content that answers them. Standard-length blog posts are great for answering quick questions, but if customers need in-depth answers, a format like an e-book, guide, long-form blog post, or white paper may be a better fit.
Wistia is one of the best examples of a company that does this well. To start with, their library is comprehensive, fun, and easy to navigate. Beyond that, they also employ content to help their customers actually use their product — and they do it with personality and approachability.
Here are a few examples from their vast library …
This blog post includes music you can download to use as background tracks for your videos.
This blog post talks about how to make a “soapbox video,” and gives you slide templates you can use to create your own.
This guide walks you through how to integrate Wistia with Marketo for more effective marketing automation.
What problem were they seeking to solve when they became aware of your company?
Understanding what brought them to you in the first place is a great doorway to building rapport through targeted content. Are there small problems you can help them solve through a great piece of content?
IT service management solutions company RightStar did a bang-up job with this white paper about the convergence of ITSM (IT service management) and DevOps (an agile practice combining software development and IT operations).
A little technical background: These two traditionally siloed technical disciplines have been at odds in the workplace, as ITSM teams were often blindsided by DevOps software releases that impacted customers. New tools like JIRA Service Desk are breaking down those silos, enabling ITSM and DevOps to align and collaborate.
This shift in the workplace was a challenge that many of RightStar’s customers were coming face-to-face with — and they needed help solving.
What benefits did they say they got from your product or service?
Highlight these outcomes with well-written content. Use your customers’ own words in your content to create familiarity and form a connection.
Here’s a great example from Shopify that highlights some unique ways their customers are using their platform. Notice how they literally quote the customers right there in the post. Brilliant!
What other comments did they make about their work or personal lives that might be a good topic for marketing content?
Remember, successful content is ALL about building a relationship with your customer. So create content that they might actually be interested in.
Leadpages does a great job of this with the Resources section of their website. It’s full of super helpful guides, e-books, case studies and infographics on topics that their target customers care about. Notice how some of the topics aren’t directly related to the Leadpages product at all. And that’s totally okay! Every content asset should have a purpose, and sometimes that purpose is to be helpful, provide value, and improve the customer relationship — not necessarily to sell.
Raise Your Awareness With Analytics
As you can see, the customer insight you get through surveys and interviews is incredibly helpful for creating content that connects with buyers, matters to the target audience, and keeps customers coming back for more.
Next to that, analytics might sound … boring.
Hold on to your hat. Analytics is anything but boring when you use it to improve your marketing content.
During the CRO process, the experts typically look at the number of unique page views for the page or pages you want to optimize.
You can do this for your content marketing program, too.
Look at your own analytics dashboard. Look at the unique pageviews of your blog posts, content pages, landing pages and lead-gen pages to get a sense for what the most popular assets are. Figure out what that content has in common, and keep it up.
Now we’re going to look at your numbers from a different angle, too.
To improve your content marketing as a whole, I want you to look at the entire navigation flow. In Google Analytics, this is called Behavior Flow.
For a visual, here’s an image from Sean Thomas Martin’s post on Conversion Paths:
When you look at your numbers from this angle, you get a vastly different perspective. Instead of just looking at how many hits a certain web page is getting per day, you’re looking at how your customers actually use your website so you can better understand how they think.
Take a closer look at each traffic flow. How do your customers typically navigate through your website? Do they start at the homepage, or do they drop in from lower-level pages via organic search? Do they go from a product page to your blog, or your blog to a product page?
Now put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Why would they navigate through your website this way? Come up with hypotheses — and test those hypotheses with content.
Here’s an example:
Say that you know there’s a strong correlation between landing on product pages and making purchases. Those customers who navigate to your product pages are most likely to make a purchase. (This is common sense, but stay with me.)
Say you find that many customers click through to your product pages from blog posts. What you’d want to do is zero in on the blog posts that drive the most traffic to product pages, or that lead to product pages most frequently. Look closer at those blog posts and note any similarities.
Now say you find that all of those blog posts include real customer stories. You might hypothesize that your audience gets inspired by seeing how real people use your product.
Test that hypothesis.
Create more content with real customer stories, and make sure there are links to your product pages from that content.
For a visual, here’s how Athleta handled our hypothetical situation.
Do Some (Ethical) Stalking
Very few conversion optimization experts use this tactic, but it’s a powerful one, and it will add depth to the rest of your customer research …
Follow your target buyers’ activity online.
I like to call this “doing field research.”
First, choose five to 10 of your best customers, and search them out online.
Use the Google
Type each of those customers’ names into Google Search. You might be surprised by what comes up.
- Social media accounts
- Personal blog posts
- Businesses they own
- Comments they’ve made
- Articles they’ve written
- News pieces and press releases about them
- Questions and/or answers on sites like Quora
- Recorded speaking engagements
All of these things give you new information about your ideal buyers, and help you create more realistic and fleshed-out buyer personas.
Before you move on, set up a Google Alert so you’ll be notified of any new activity online going forward.
Search them out on social media
Now, look up those same people on social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). Once again, spend some time on each account getting to know your ideal buyers on a new, possibly deeper (or at least more personal) level.
- What are they posting?
- Who are they following?
- How much time do they spend on the platform? (Look at how frequently they post content, like other people’s content, or comment on others’ posts.)
- What kinds of posts are they engaging with?
- What types of content do they share? (Are they reposting others’ posts, sharing infographics, posting links to blog posts they like, sharing pictures … ?)
Keep field notes
Keep track of the information you gather about your customers as you do this “field research.” A simple Excel or Google spreadsheet usually does the trick.
(Here is a blank version of that spreadsheet for you to use. No opt-in required. Click File, then click Make a Copy to create an editable version of your very own.)
The most important things to pay attention to for content creation purposes are:
- What kinds of content these buyers are engaging with most. That is, what content they’re frequently sharing, liking, commenting on and talking about.
- What conversations they’re having online that you might be able to contribute value to.
- What questions they’re asking and issues they’re having that you might be able to help them solve.
- What topics they’re most interested in — especially those that dovetail with your area of expertise.
With this information in-hand, choosing what topic to cover and what format to use for your content is a snap!
For example, say I’m a marketer for a company that sells a bookkeeping app. I discover that ideal customer Annie shares a lot of long-form blog posts about financial trends to her LinkedIn newsfeed. Creating a long-form post about how certain financial trends are impacting bookkeeping practices might be a good bet to get Annie’s attention — and the attention of her like-minded friends and colleagues when she shares that content to her LinkedIn feed.
Now You’ve Got a 360-degree View
The combination of customer feedback data, analytics insights and “field research” will give you a 360-degree view of your customers — which in turn will help you create content that holds value to them. This new perspective will also help you promote that content in the places your ideal customers are spending the most time online.
Don’t let that customer research from your CRO engagement go to waste. Put it to use in your content marketing program, and turn your content from an afterthought into a sales tool.
Author Bio: Jessica Mehring is the CEO of Horizon Peak Consulting, where she combines sales-focused copywriting with content creation to help her IT, software and tech clients turn content into revenue. She is also the creator of The Content Lab, where she trains content creators how to get better results from their content, and helps freelance tech content writers put their careers on the fast track.