Think about where you get the most important news in your industry. Is it from long, obscure white papers? YouTube videos? Press releases on a random public relations website? In most cases, probably not. Instead, as business people and general readers, we employ much more sophisticated filters that help us decide who and what to pay attention to.
This approach helps us determine the credibility of the source and its relevance to us and our interests. Developing and deploying content in a way that’s consistent with how your audience finds their information is an important step in increasing your content marketing ROI. Here’s a closer look at a very specific framework that can help you determine what your audience reads, who they trust to give them expertise and advice, and how best to reach them with your marketing and SEO efforts.
How we filter information.
As marketers, it’s useful to stop and think about how we filter the information that we take in on a daily basis whether it’s casual browsing for the latest news or more targeted research to answer a specific question. In general, you rely on two things to vet your information and filter your sources:
Trusted sources: these are sites, individuals or groups that you consider trustworthy for information on a particular topic. Examples of this might be email lists or authority websites that you visit in a specific niche. Each of these sources has proven that they are a supplier of quality information over time. Google uses inbound links to determine which websites are the most trustworthy, and then displays those websites higher in search results. So you can bet that websites displayed higher in Google’s search results are more likely to be trusted by Google, which means you can trust them, too. On the flip side, you can use this bit of knowledge to boost your own website search engine rankings by acquiring inbound links using a link building service.
Relevancy filters: these filters are the components that you use to determine whether or not an individual article or piece of content is directly relevant to your situation or interests. In addition to our own mental filters, we often rely on search engines and sites that curate content to help apply filters. Other signals include the article’s general topic, the headline or title, the introductory paragraphs, and any visuals that accompany the article.
What does this mean in practical terms? Maybe you belong to a membership organization in your field, and always read their monthly newsletter or magazine because you know it contains high quality information. You subscribe to niche list servs or follow specific knowledgeable blogs. Or you have coffee with your colleagues, and you talk shop. Eventually you end up exploring recommendations they make for new books, websites or other sources of information.
In the last great conversation that you had with a mentor or colleague in your field, what did you talk about? There’s a good chance that you discussed business issues you’re facing, great systems you discovered, a game changing book you read or a TED talk you watched. Maybe you kicked the tires on a new product idea or tested a client framework you’ve been developing.
After contemplating your own content consumption, stop and consider: Does your marketing plan take the realities of how your audience gathers its information into account?
Stiff Avatars versus Organic Audience Research.
As content marketers or strategists, many of us follow a general best practices approach that’s emerged. Once we hone in on who our audience is, it’s time to collect information about them. We look at a wide variety of data points, from basic demographics such as age, marital status, and income to our preconceived notions about where they find and consume information. Ultimately, we combine and house this information into audience avatars that provide an overview or image of who our customers really are.
You can get caught up in moving systematically through the stages of gathering information, without stopping to really evaluate the human angle on this process. How does this factor impact the information that they’re seeking and the content that you could be providing? What role does the placement of content, the signals used to identify its relevancy, and the link between their real-time needs and the immediacy of the content really work? Without this information, even the most detailed audience profile is missing critical components.
Asking The Right Questions to Build Deeper Audience Profiles.
Here are some questions that can help you move beyond the limitations of a stiff, created customer avatar and into the realm of organic customer research that yields actionable insights:
- How much time does your average customer spend thinking about this topic on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis? By understanding how much mindshare a topic gets, you’ll be able to better position your content.
- Is the topic something that they think about and follow all the time – such as celebrity gossip – or something that they look at seasonally such as tax preparation or summer landscaping? This impacts how you package your information, and what timeline you use to release it.
- Is this topic more active online or in offline communities, and in either case, which ones? Identifying these hotspots of interaction will help narrow down your placement strategy.
- Are the communities easily observable from the outside, or do they require a degree of penetration to get access to the most meaningful information? Understanding this lets you more effectively map how you’ll get access to the community.
- What kinds of informational transactions does the community participate in? Are they consumers, reading but rarely launching into discussions? Is it common to ask questions, and share information? Do they engage in heated and frequent debate? These have implications both for information gathering and for how you position your future content.
- What brand names and sources are considered safe and gold standard? These could be trusted authors, professional associations, or publications that have long been established. Understanding this angle helps you develop partnerships, reference points, and content deployment plans.
- Who is pushing the edges on thinking, innovation, and discussion in this space? Where do the rebels go? What percentage of the market could be considered forward-thinking or early adopters? Knowing how to identify and connect to the vocal minority can be a huge asset for gaining traction with targeted campaigns.
- What general topics are evergreen? Can you tie those topics to their place in discovering your brand or climbing the buying funnel? For example, is there a set of questions beginners always ask? Are there topics that more experienced individuals tend to migrate to? The more you understand the relationship between the buying cycle and the content cycle, the better results you’ll get from your efforts.
- Are there cyclical conversions, seasonal touch points, or news events that tend to set off discussions? For example, camping communities tend to get more active in warmer weather while bad news on the stock market can cause other groups to sit up and pay attention at any point. Understanding what sends ripples through your market can help you discern hooks and patterns that will get attention.
- What are the most frequent complaints about existing resources? Sift through comments on popular books on Amazon. Take note of what people loved and what they hated. But pay special attention to what areas they felt were missing or strategies for improvements. These can be direct avenues into solving urgent problems for your customers.
A Note on Finding Populated Ponds.
During the audience research phase, it’s important to make a distinction between two types of industry sources. The first is one that’s trying to be relevant and the second is the ones that are truly go-to resources for your target customers. The Go To sources are going to have active communities with lots of sharing and comments. Sometimes content marketers complain that it’s difficult to find their prospective customer and “get into their heads.” Maybe there aren’t large communities online. Then it’s important to look at questions like what do they read, where do they spend time offline, and where do they go when they need critical information.
If you can’t answer this question during the research phase, it’s going to be extremely difficult to market to and sell products to this audience. While it make take significantly more research and outreach to determine where your ideal customers spend time, investing in this now has three clear benefits. The first is that you’ll be able to determine if there is a viable market for your products. The second is that you’ll be able to develop a much richer and subsequently usable profile. And finally, you’ll be well-prepared when it’s time to take your offerings to market to reach prospective sellers.
It’s an easy trap to fall into in terms of not going deep enough with your audience research. However, making mistakes at this critical stage can hamstring a startup or a growth initiative. It’s important to understand what the problem is that your audience is facing, and how to position your solution as something truly unique. Failing to do so can mean a product that flops or content that never reaches its intended audience. Budget enough time in your content initiatives to really take a deep dive into your audience is, and build your company on a strong foundation of audience understanding.