We try so hard to guess what customers want — spending vast sums on CRM, analytics and market research — that we often forget to just ask them. Query your best customers regularly to see what they’d like to learn more about. It may be a product feature, or it may be a business concept, or it may be a set of best practices — something other customers would like to learn about, too.
The era of inbound marketing is upon us, but a great many businesses are fearful of it. Having worked as a magazine editor and a content marketer, I find the conversations very familiar: People who haven’t written or who hate to write find many reasons not to, including some that make very little sense at first. Chief among them is, “I don’t know what to write.”
“Write” has been replaced in the vernacular by the sadly bland term “create content,” but the issue is still the same: People say they don’t know what their content should be about. That’s a bit comical — if you know your business, and you know your customers, you probably know what your customers have questions about. Bingo — you have ideas for your content.
Still, at a certain point, you can face a content crunch. The problem can take two forms: One, you’ve explored every apparent area and you’re beginning to rehash old topics; or two, there are so many areas to explore, you’re not sure whether you’re exploring the areas that are right for you and your customers.
Get Out of Your Head
This can have customer relationship repercussions. If you’re sharing information with customers that they’ve already heard or that’s not important to them, they’ll tune you out — or they’ll assume that your uninspired content is not created to help them but to fulfill some internal demand. Instead of helping establish your company as a trusted source of information, it will relegate you to the category of just more noise.
How can you avoid that? One lesson I learned after writing about CRM for a long time was that the best source of ideas and inspiration was not necessarily my own brain. There are a lot of sources for ideas at your disposal, but it rarely occurs to us in the course of our busy days to investigate them.
Here are a trio of sources of great ideas for content that you have virtually at your fingertips:
1. Ask Your Customers
It’s a classic problem: We try so hard to guess what customers want — spending vast sums on CRM, analytics and market research — that we often forget to just ask them. It’s a good practice to query your best customers regularly to see what they’d like to learn more about. It may be a product feature, or it may be a business concept, or it may be a set of best practices — but if a customer suggests it, and it’s not laser-focused on that customer’s particular issues, it’s probably something other customers would like to learn about, too.
This not only serves a purpose in educating customers, but also builds loyalty. If a company is willing to invest resources in developing content at the suggestion of a customer, that indicates the company is responsive and committed to its customers’ success — which is exactly what you should be demonstrating through your content marketing efforts.
2. Examine What Your Customers Read
Some marketing automation software can correlate content downloads with sales and flag that content as a trigger. More sophisticated operations build a view of the buyer’s journey through content — it’s usually not one piece of content that helps push a business past its competitors but a sequence of content pieces over time.
If you can understand what works, you’re on to something. Can you replicate this journey in other areas? Do you have other concepts that could be triggers to help drive buying decisions?
Of course, you’re unlikely to be able to track the customer’s journey if you haven’t built in logical journeys through your content. If you go at content marketing tactically, throwing up items as you think of them, you may leave holes in the logical progression through that content that your potential customers are unlikely to leap over on their own. Map out the story you’re trying to tell, break it into compelling chapters, and create content to address each part.
3. Ask Your Sales Team
I know — marketing talking to sales? What’s next? Cats and dogs living in harmony?
Now that the shock has worn off, think about it: Who else is closer to the sales process and what customers are thinking about during the decision process? Sales is your secret intelligence source in two major ways.
First, regularly ask them this question: Is there a piece of content you could refer prospects to during the sales process that would make your life easier? Stress that this is not marketing content or brochure-ware — it’s legitimate content aimed at educating potential customers.
The second requires a bit more cooperation with sales, but it’s equally useful. As new customers are on-boarded, have your rep ask them if there was one piece of content they didn’t receive that could have made their buying process easier. Sales has a unique opportunity here — essentially, they can say, “Now that I’ve sold something to you, how could I have improved that experience for you?” It’s a disarming question, and it gets answers that result in great content ideas.
All three of these things are anchored by one common ethic: The content you create must be valuable, helpful and pertinent to your customers. You have a duty to them — you want them to be as educated and as successful as possible. Going straight to the source for ideas is a great way to live that ethic and at the same time create a content marketing program that strengthens customer relationships and provides a significant return on investment over the long haul.
By Christopher J. Bucholtz