A crucial element in Content Marketing audience research consists of finding out what topics your prospective customers are interested in. Because even if you write about “more or less” the right thing, you might still miss the mark.
Here’s how to take the guesswork out of it and systematically analyse your audience’s content preferences.
This is a topic within Content Marketing Strategy. Remember – Content Marketing consists of these four pillars.
Strategy itself needs to consider four main areas of work: The Customer, the Content, the Process and the Company. With the topic at hand, we find ourselves in the Customer area.
(to read about all the other areas, download our Content Marketing Strategy eBook).
So today, we’ll do a deep dive on researching our desired audience’s current content usage. After all, we need to find out what the people we want to pay attention to us are reading.
Again, let’s remind ourselves that Content Marketing does not mean you will blog about how lovely your product or service is. Because no one outside of your company is interested in that. The role of Content Marketing is to create content that your audience will really enjoy reading / seeing / listening to. This will then allow you to build a stronger relationship with them. (read here more about the very basics of Content Marketing)
In other words, you’re creating a magazine in order to attract and engage your current and prospective customers.
So, let’s pick a specific example. Imagine you’re a software company selling a productivity tool for software engineers, and your target audience are CIOs and IT Directors of medium-sized to large companies.
Here’s how to do research on their existing content habits.
1. Find out which social media platforms your audience uses
In this case, as we’re talking CIOs and IT Directors, it’s pretty safe to assume they are not hanging out on Snapchat adding dog ears to their selfies.
Since our target audience is defined by their job title, the most reasonable starting point is LinkedIn. Join CIO and IT Manager groups on LinkedIn, look at who is running them, and who inside them is the most vocal sharer of content, both their own and others’.
You can also simply google “most influential CIOs”, that will also give you a host of great intel.
Compile 20 influencers, both people and publications. (This will come in very handy later on, when you research your topics and when you want to promote your content.). Rank them by their combined followership on the social media platforms that matter.
2. Note what kind of content the influencers engage with
And do it in a systematic way:
Go through each influencer’s last 10 content posts on LinkedIn and Twitter. Note the topic and how much social engagements these posts received.
Over time, content categories will emerge. Let’s say that for our purposes, these are
- General interest tech news. CIOs are interested in innovation topics, so things like self-driving cars, automation and artificial intelligence are high on the agenda.
- Management topics, such as how to manage a team.
- Broader self-improvement and entrepreneurship topics.
A quick aside: Even if your company’s topic (productivity for engineers) is not among the most discussed, that doesn’t matter – you can write about it anyway (among many other things), but you need to make sure to adapt it to one of the categories that emerged. In our hypothetical case in which we sell a productivity tool for coders, the topic of engineers’ productivity will fit nicely in categories 1 and 2 above: You can write about it from a tech perspective, if there is an interesting tech angle to it, and of course it will offer plenty of angles to speak about engineer productivity from a management angle.
Say you’ve analysed 200 content pieces in this way. You will note in which category they fall and can put together a simple pie chart to see their distribution.
Run a quick sanity check to see if there is disproportionate engagement in one of those areas. Simply note down how many shares, likes and comments each item got. If you want to be extra thorough, give comments 3 points, shares 2 points and likes 1 point.
This way, you’ll get a weighted pie chart that will show you the relative popularity of each category.
In this example, we can see that topics in area 3 (self-improvement) are relatively few and far in between (first pie chart), but when you consider the engagement they receive, the picture changes considerably. (Just make sure this is not due to one or two exceptionally well-received posts, but distributed evenly). If you find something like this, you may have stumbled on a potential content goldmine: there’s not too much self-improvement content for CIOs but when it shows up, people like it. That’s a great niche to occupy!
So now you’ve identified which content areas your audience is interested in publicly. It’s important to complement it with your own original research.
3. Complement your research with surveys and direct conversations
As with any other group, you will have some within your audience who are active on social media, and others less so. You need to make sure you also look inside the heads of…
- …those who are active on social media. You don’t only want to see their public consumption but also their private one. Maybe they love cartoons like Dilbert or XKCD that they don’t share on social media.
- …those who are not active on social media. They very likely to also read work and role-related content, they just do it privately. They are as important as the others.
If you already have a database of prospects and clients, you can contact them with a survey or request a 10 minute phone call just to discuss what they read / watch / listen to. If you don’t, you’ll have play the cold calling and introductions game. Nobody said it was easy.
From these conversations, you may get a completely different angle for your magazine. Maybe a content category will emerge that does not have to do with a CIO’s role at all, and be much more general work related (like Dilbert or the “Rules of Work” books).
4. Put it all together & create a content hypothesis
All this research will give you a content profile of what your audience is interested in.
By no means should you take the content split as gospel and split your magazine along the same lines (e.g. 30% innovation topics, 50% IT team management topics, 20% self-improvement as per the pie charts above).
While looking through all this content, see if something stands out to you from a content USP point of view. What do I mean by content USP? Basically, there’s 3 main ways how you can create a new content angle in your field:
Be better than anyone else
Is there one of the 6 categories where the content is poor and we can stand out simply by doing better and more interesting content?
This also includes
- making dense, difficult-to-get-through content easier to read by including charts, diagrams, doodles, cartoons etc or
- creating similar content but with a very different tone of voice that we believe our audience will appreciate more.
- adding commentary in a content universe that is replete with facts but few opinions (e.g. discussing the merits of a particular technology, or critiquing IT team management fads).
Cover a new niche
Is there an untapped content niche? E.g. a gaping lack of content about IT department leadership and instantly 20 topic ideas come up that you could write about?
Combine popular topics
Is there a promising content combination you could do?
- E.g. there’s a lot about IT team management and a lot about general news about AI, but there are ways to deploy AI on team management and we have good reasons to believe that this would be interesting
- Or you see that successful social commentary content is often connected with good storytelling, and you decide to bring storytelling into the IT arena and start each content article with a relevant story.
You need to make up your mind on what you believe you will be good in covering.
5. Test, test, test
We can be as thorough as we want in our research, a reality check is the best proof of your concept. So make sure your initial content coverage is relatively broad to encompass all areas in question. You will see your audience’s engagement on each of your topics. This will give you further indicators on which content route to double down on.
But this research helps you to corroborate your assumptions and keep you from diving into topics your audience will definitely NOT be interested in.
And don’t forget to pick up your copy of our Content Marketing Strategy eBook to get the full picture of research you will need to do to establish a killer Content Marketing practice.