3 Steps To Better Understand Your Customers’ Content Needs In 2015

Contributor Jonathan Blank discusses the steps he will take to better understand his brand's customer base this year and invites you to do the same.

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As we flip the calendar from 2014 to 2015, you probably have an increased budget for content marketing. Well, at least 58% of us have a higher budget according to the Content Marketing Institute.

Job well done in making the business case. Now we have to get to know our customers better to get an adequate return on that budget.

Why must we get to know our customers better than we did in 2014? The most basic difference between content marketing and traditional advertising is an acute focus on our customers’ needs. Obviously, we have to find an overlap between our customers’ needs and our business goals. But content marketing doesn’t work if we don’t deeply empathize with our customers.

I’m going to take a number of steps to better understand my brand’s customers and their proverbial New Year’s resolutions. Here’s what I’m doing — feel free to beg, borrow and steal from these activities.

Actually Talk To Customers

Big data, for better or for worse, is not a substitute for actually asking your customers questions about their research process and informational needs. As we head into 2015, I’m going to interview 16 customers to update our understanding of our personas.

At my brand, we have four personas. I recommend interviewing between four and six customers per persona. That’s how we came to the goal of completing 16 interviews shortly. The questions I use to frame the conversation include:

  • What caused you to look for a solution?
  • What did you want to change?
  • Where did you go to look for information?
  • How do you prefer to consume information?
  • Who else helped to evaluate the choice?
  • What pushback did you get?
  • What did you need to build the business case?
  • Why did you choose us?
  • When it comes to the opportunities to improve your business function, what are you most excited about?
  • What aspects of your passions and interests overlap with your occupation?

The final two questions are quite important to understanding your customers at a truly human level, but often get left out 0f persona interviews. If I don’t know enough after these interviews to offer advice to each and every interviewer, I haven’t done my job in understanding my audience.

Validate & Tweak With Web Analytics

Once my interviews are complete, I am going to review my Advanced Segment Reports in Google Analytics. We’ve set up segments based on hypotheses about each of our personas. Advanced Segments in Google Analytics allow you to define groups of website visitors based on the following criteria:

  • Demographics. Segmentation by age, gender, language and location.
  • Technology. Segmentation by operating system, browser, and device.
  • Behavior. Segmentation by how often a user visits a site and how they interact with the site.
  • Traffic Sources. Segmentation by referral sites and campaigns.

For each of my persona groups, I’m going to use the Advanced Segment Reports to answer the following questions:

  • Do they actually behave differently than they suggested in the interviews?
  • What else do they want that was not revealed in the interviews?
  • What do they suggest is an important informational need in an interview, but clearly does not lead to a purchase based on web activity?

The combination of persona interviews and web analytics reports should arm you with a better understanding of that overlap between your customers’ needs and your business goals. You may think we are done and ready to spend the increased budget we garnered, but alas we’re not done.

Craft A Customer Empathy Map

I hear you. You are ready to ring in the New Year. You don’t want to read about some academic exercise called a “customer empathy map.”

Still, I strongly believe this exercise can become an integral and actionable input into your 2015 content strategy. Based on the previous two exercises, we have identified the what customers want and how they generally behave. What we have not yet identified is how they feel.

David Gray, founder of XPLANE, developed a template for an empathy map to fill in the blanks to this sentence: Our users need a better way to ___ because ___.

In early 2015, I am going to bring together sales representatives, product managers, and customer support representatives to mark up this blank empathy map.

Empathy Map

Source: Copyblogger

Demian Farnworth at Copyblogger did a wonderful job of outlining the additional questions you answer through filling out this grid. According to Demian, the questions you are looking to answer include:

  • How do customers think about their fears and hopes?
  • What do they hear when other people use your product?
  • What do they see when they use your product? What is the environment?
  • What do they say or feel when using your product, whether in private or public?
  • What are their pain points when using your product?
  • Is this a positive or a painful experience for them?
  • What does a typical day look like in their world?
  • Do they hear positive feedback about your company from external sources?
  • What do they hope to gain from using your product?
  • Has your customer repeated quotes or defining words?

These are the questions you pose to your internal stakeholders and lead to the conclusions you post in the grid.

We should recognize that our customers are more than web visitors. They are more than their social media posts. They are people with aspirations, fears, challenges and opportunities. We need a combination of qualitative research, quantitative research and group brainstorms to empathize with our customers at a deep level.

Here’s a toast to our customers, their needs and being a friend to them in 2015.

Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Jonathan Blank
Jonathan Blank is the Director of Professional Services for NewsCred, a content marketing platform that pairs cutting-edge software and world class content. Previously, he launched and led an award winning content hub for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. When he's not helping brands tell stories, he's producing a storytelling theatre show in New York.

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