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Content marketing is in an awkward teenager phase. There is a lot of budding potential, and a lot of leaping before looking.
There is evidence for this.
A recent MarketingProfs study found that 35 percent of respondents considered their content marketing to be in the adolescent phase. The majority of respondents (71 percent), said their content marketing efforts were either adolescent, young, or simply taking their first steps. Just over 1 in 5 respondents (22 percent) thought their content marketing was “mature.” Only 6 percent considered their efforts to be sophisticated.
Though what exactly is mature, sophisticated content marketing?
Many companies confuse it with social shares, page views, and appreciative comments. Classic teen move: concentrate on popularity rather than the report card. Popularity is not the same thing as profitability, though. Just measuring social shares and page views overlooks some key indications of success. Marketing is supposed to sell something. Behind all those retweets, did it?
Sometimes, the trade-off for content with a broad appeal is that the content gets more attention than what its selling. If you really want to measure your effectiveness, you can’t just count your shares. Instead, you need to interview and engage with your customers, the customers you want, and your competitors’ customers. Luckily, market research can help with this.
Here are eight questions to investigate to gauge the effectiveness of your content marketing.
1. What terms are buyers searching for on Google?
Customers use your product or service to make something they need to get done easier. So, your solution solves a problem for customers. When customers encounter that problem, they’re likely to turn to Google to search for potential solutions.
Find out what terms they’re searching on Google when looking for solutions like yours. Does your solution show up on the first page? If not, your customers might not be seeing it.
Knowing what conversation your customer is having with Google can help you shape blog posts, videos, podcasts, how you title them, and even how you promote your content.
2. What leads a customer to subscribe?
What’s the difference between binge-watching and viewing a single episode of a show here and there? One show you love, the other you could do without. Obviously, it would be better if your content fell into the “love” category.
You need to ask your clients or potential clients what they binge on. Keep in mind, there is a big difference between specifically subscribing to certain content and just reading what turns up in a Google search.
Binge-worthy content creates an ongoing relationship with a willing audience. And the audience is out there. A Deloitte study found that 73 percent of the US has binge-watched content.
3. What do customers forward?
It’s important to understand what would motivate a customer to spend a bit of their social capital to forward content to a business colleague. More social capital is at stake here than simply retweeting something. Forwarding says, “Hey, I think this is worth spending some work time to look at.”
Understanding the criteria for that forward gives invaluable insight into how to make stellar content.
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4. Who do customers want to hear from?
This question is important because each buyer persona you target might be interested in hearing from a different voice from your company. If that’s the case, each of these voices needs to be amplified in your content.
For example, you might need someone who can speak to a customer’s business problems and a different person who can parse their technical concerns. Further, if you have several different types of customers, you may need a diverse team of writers who can speak to the needs of each buyer persona.
It’s especially important to ask several different types of customers which authors they want to hear from. Ask your customers, ask your competitors’ customers, ask the customers you wish you had.
5. What tone resonates best with your customers?
This part can be tricky to figure out, but it can lead to a big uplift in your content efforts if you get it right.
Some audiences like to be given the bad news first. Others need a bit of sunshine before you lay it all on. Some prefer an emotional connection. Others won’t be convinced unless they’re immediately presented with compelling numbers.
Is there a theme in the articles your customers are willing to forward and share? Do they have a funny headline, warn of a hidden danger, applaud an innovation? Your content will be more effective if you figure it out.
6. Do customers like your competitors’ content?
If so, perhaps you should consider emulating some of what they’re doing.
To find out whether competitors’ content is resonating, ask customers for examples of relevant content marketing that they can remember off the top of their heads.
You can also use tools to investigate. For example, BuzzSumo is a great tool that can compare shares between two different domains. You can see the competitor content that got the most shares and whether it is outperforming yours.
Also, it’s important to examine competitor content the way a customer would. Visit their site. Sign up for their newsletter. Follow their social accounts. Then see what trends appear. Is their content targeting a certain type of buyer persona to the exclusion of others? Is there a certain type of brand message that predominates? What level of variety do you see in their content overall? How often do they publish content?
7. What communities do customers frequent?
Every industry has niche sites where the thought leaders hang out and the rest of the industry sits in the stands to listen.
For example, Inbound.org is a great site to pick up insights on content marketing. Sites like Quora, StackExchange, various LinkedIn groups, or Reddit, are also helpful for understanding what’s driving interest or traffic in certain fields.
It’s also smart to figure out the popular conferences and in-person events in your area of focus. If you’re not sure what associations to target, you can look at websites like the Directory of Associations or the American Society of Association Executives for a handy list. Learning which communities are popular with customers clues you into where you should be making your content visible.
8. What are the best and worst pieces of content that customers remember?
Ask them to forward them to you. Then you can examine what business and educational value that content provided. Pay attention to how it was packaged and how that influenced customer opinions.
Market research can answer these questions for you.
Winston Churchill once said, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”
This is especially true of content marketing.
If you have a content marketing strategy but you don’t know if it’s delivering new customers and sales, it’s time to start asking the hard questions that only a well-targeted market research study can provide.
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