If you could make anything in your marketing possible with a swing of a magic wand, would deep understanding of your audience be among your choices?
And if so, would that knowledge fuel your content?
As it turns out, audience research is rarely a marketer’s priority. In fact, one study revealed that 65% of marketers reported doing seldom to none at all.
On the flipside, those marketers that conduct audience research at least quarterly report more success in reaching lead and revenue goals.
Knowing what your audience wants and needs is an ongoing, ever-changing process. Many marketing teams often lack direction, time, and a way to yield actionable takeaways from their audience research.
In my job as a content marketer, in-depth understanding of the audience I’m writing for is crucial. In this guide, I’m listing some of my favorite, not quite obvious strategies to extract audience insights that drive successful content marketing!
First things first: the challenge of incomplete audience research
There are two patterns I come across in the way companies approach their audience research.
First is the focus on the demographics. For example, the persona they’ve defined might be similar to this in a B2C scenario:
- Skews female
- 25-34 years old
- Engaged or married
- Graduate degree or higher
For B2B businesses, this could look something like this:
- Job title: marketing manager or executive
- Vertical: financial services, real estate, IT
- Revenue: $5 million
- Main goal: optimizing sales and marketing funnel
The second pattern is forgetting to place your company, product, and content inside of the true challenge that your reader and/or customer has.
As Jason Fried, Basecamp’s founder and CEO, famously tweeted back in 2013:
Replace ‘product’ with ‘content’, and you might catch yourself creating content for the sole purpose to rank in search results or to drive paid clicks rather than helping your audience achieve a specific goal thanks to your content.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the above two patterns, but they have a common downside: a lack of ‘why’ that gives this audience definition a meaning.
If your audience is at the managerial or executive level, what challenges does that bring to their job?
Based on their goals in life or workplace, which obstacles are they facing daily? What takes up most of their time and/or energy?
High-quality audience insights will paint this picture and enable you to create content your audience craves.
Use Jobs-to-be-Done to fuel your content strategy
The Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework defines markets as the ever-growing and evolving environments in which customers have needs—in other words, jobs they want to complete—and purchase products to do so.
In other words, JTBD is the process a consumer goes through whenever they aim to change their existing life-situation into a preferred one, but cannot because there are constraints that stop them.
A simple example of this is a browser extension that identifies grammar and spelling mistakes as you type your emails or documents. Your job-to-be-done here isn’t achieving perfect grammar; it’s the act of writing and editing fast without embarrassing yourself in front of your peers.
A florist who offers online ordering and delivery can fulfil a job of surprising your spouse on a random Tuesday while you’re out of town for work. Even though you’ll never see or use the product yourself, it helped you accomplish a job that adds up to actions you do as a good spouse.
Looking at audience research—and subsequently at content marketing—through JTBD helps you identify areas of self-betterment that your target audience is looking for.
Gregory Ciotti, the first marketing hire at Help Scout, said that he had made the mistake in the past of operating around the “customer service” or “customer loyalty” categories in Help Scout’s content. But customers hired Help Scout to do something else, such as:
- Getting to inbox zero without losing the personal touch
- Making informed decisions about how support is doing, and what they could be doing better
- Scaling their support with helpful content so that it’s available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
In other words, your content strategy will be the most successful when it’s driven by behavior that’s already happening. “You don’t decide what the job is, you have to figure out what your customers are already struggling with and then “build” (i.e., write) the solution,” Ciotti added in his post.
Take action: To fuel your content strategy with JTBD, go back to your product(s) and identify the struggles and goals customers have when they decide to use it. Assign a job-to-be-done to each of them and map out content that answers the questions your uncover.
Eavesdrop on your audience and dissect their thoughts
Another challenge that comes up in fundamental audience research is relying only on what customers decide to tell you.
Conducting interviews and surveys with your customers is crucial. The problem is that it’s hard to identify whether they’ve shared the full story with you. If they keep something to themselves, it’s usually a result of their focus on your question rather than the big picture of their job-to-be-done and their goals.
There’s a solution to this: eavesdropping on their public online conversations and activity. Let’s illustrate this with an example.
Let’s say you have a video editing software or an educational product on video editing. Your audience is made up of people who want to gain or improve video editing skills to negotiate a better salary or enter a new industry.
During your research, you’ve found out that their topics and features of interest include:
- Editing for various social media platforms
- Accessing their work across multiple devices
- Efficient video production for daily publishing
You’ve also learned that they like to try the editing tool out before committing to a recurring payment schedule or a large one-off payment.
However, you’d like to hear their thoughts on video editing tools when you’re not in the room, so you head to Twitter’s advanced search.
You can type in ‘video editing’ into the exact phrase field and a question mark into the all words field. The question mark is there so that you only see questions rather than any tweet that mentions video editing.
First, you can see some tweets that confirm your earlier learning on trying out free video editing tools as well as generic ‘best video editing apps’ questions.
However, some more specific questions appear, such as:
- Video editing software that isn’t After Effects or Premier
- Video editing courses for someone working in media
The next two tweets reveal even more, including:
- A question about upgrading to an advanced option from Windows Movie Maker
- A question on which laptop to use for a video editing software to run efficiently
With insights like these in mind, you can move from the ‘15 best free video editing apps’ listicles to ‘How to choose a laptop for efficient video editing’ in-depth topics.
Take action: Your audience won’t tell you everything—they simply won’t remember to. But if you listen to them on a regular basis, your knowledge of their obstacles will constantly evolve and help you brainstorm topics that connect their newfound knowledge with your products.
The best thing? You can do this on any channel that your audience is likely to use. Comb through YouTube comments, Quora questions, forums, or any other place they hang out, and look for patterns like these.
Expand your insights with search intent and related searches
Finally, one of the most powerful forces behind a strong content approach is mapping it to search intent.
Search intent is simply the motive a person has when typing a search query into a search engine.
It’s a concept frequently mentioned in an e-commerce context. For example, someone who searches for ‘light grey women’s winter coat wool’ are more likely to be ready to purchase compared to someone who simply searched for ‘coat’ or ‘winter coat’—a significantly broader term.
This approach can be leveraged across many industries, even when they’re B2B focused and don’t drive direct e-commerce sales. Then, you can explore related searches to these intent-driven searches to expand and deepen the topics you will cover in your content.
Let’s go back to our video editing tool/course example to illustrate.
If someone is just starting their journey as a video editor, they might search for something like ‘video editing introduction’. Dissecting this search term, we can assume this person wants to get some free knowledge before they invest in a paid course and/or pay for video editing software.
Scroll to the bottom of the search results for this term, and you’ll see these related searches:
If you have enabled the Keywords Everywhere browser extension, even better, as it will show you the popularity of each related search term by monthly search volume.
Content that targets this early stage of a customer journey will help you get on the map of your potential customers.
Using the related searches will help you not only expand individual pieces of content (for example, an introductory guide to video editing with an audio editing section and a downloadable PDF version), but also to create many individual pieces (for example, types of video editing and a list of video editing skills).
When your potential customers are deeper into their research and education, they will have more specific search queries, which leads to a more purchase-driven intent behind it, too.
For example, if they search for ‘video editing tools review’, ‘video editing professional tips’, or ‘best laptop for video editing’, you can notice they’ve moved past the initial obstacles and are now looking to solve well-defined challenges.
Creating content that answers these specific challenges is where you come in!
Again, remember to look at related searches at the bottom of the results page:
From these examples, you can see varieties of these queries that involve different technologies, budgets, purposes, and angles.
There’s no one way to answer these questions, but repeating this process on an ongoing basis (monthly or quarterly at a minimum) will help you remain up to date on your audience’s profile and current challenges.
Take action: Analyze the steps your customers go through before they purchase from you and map out their search intent in each of the steps. What are the questions they need answered to move forward? What are some specific words they will type in when looking for answers (such as best, near me, how to, for beginners)?
Once you map out their search intent to different stages of their journey, remember to look at related searches to better understand each of their questions.
It’s easy to get started right now
This guide is definitely not an exhaustive list of ways to deepen your audience insights. However, it’s a great place to start using these insights to create content that strikes a chord with your target audience.
Go back to your product and the places where your audience hangs out and start by:
- Using the jobs-to-be-done framework to identify the jobs your customers hire your products to achieve (remember, it’s not always obvious!) and work backwards to identify the best content for these jobs
- Regularly conduct advanced searches and manually look for specific comments and questions that your audience asks—this works because they do so in their organic environment, without being prompted to do so
- Dig into the steps your customers go through before buying from you and look for search intent behind the queries they might be typing into search engines in order to move to the next stage
Any other less obvious audience insights techniques you like that I haven’t mentioned? Let me know below.