My friend Wendy Jacobson is a content creation savant, and she often reminds me that content marketing is much more than simply creating content. Creating content is a big part of content marketing, but of equal importance is its format and style, how it will be distributed, how you will measure results, and what outcomes you want from it. And, before any of that, it is imperative to understand what your target audience cares about.
“What should my content be about?” That is the most common question I hear from B2B marketers. Well, it should be about something your target audience cares about. For complex B2B purchasing decisions, target audiences are comprised of a buying team of a half dozen members or more working in collaboration to solve a problem, not necessarily buy something. To attract them, the content we create should be about the problems they’re trying to solve.
Discovering our prospects’ biggest cares isn’t often easy, here are four ways to do it.
Research That Supports Content Market
The kind of research needed to illuminate the biggest challenges that potential buyers face is not your grandfather’s market research. There is still much value in more traditional market research when defining a size of market, identifying competition, and assessing risk of entering a market with a new product or service. But it doesn’t provide the WHY that may drive buying decisions.
Kate Hammeke, Vice President of Market Research at Industry Standard Research (ISR) believes that a blend of both qualitative and quantitative research is best at delivering a deeper understanding of one’s customers and their challenges. According to Hammeke, “in-depth interviews with a small number of people are used when qualitative results are needed. Quantitative research, often collected in a web-based survey, enables the same questions across a wide variety of potential customers to gather statistical data.” She adds that both methods, qualitative and quantitative research, are extremely helpful at informing B2B marketers about the content topics prospects seek based on where they are in the buyer’s journey.
Adam Lofquist is the CEO of The Lofquist Group that helps start-up and small-to-mid size companies scale their business by developing better value propositions based on a deeper understanding of their target audiences. Lofquist organizes his research from primary and secondary sources. He uses secondary information from sources like McKinsey and Accenture to gain a 1,000-foot view and this enables better targeting of primary sources. Primary information is gathered directly from the target market, says Lofquist, and delivers a more granular view of both problems and opportunities that target markets face.
Both Hammeke and Lofquist emphasize the outcome for your content marketing research is to better understand the things that one’s target audience cares about so you can develop more engaging content to attract them.
Perhaps you aren’t ready to invest in research or maybe you want to do some independent secondary research, the kind referenced by Lofquist. Industry reports are a great way to do this, but beware, not all industry reports are created equal, and many don’t provide a better understanding of target audiences. Here is one that I think is exceptional and is on my must-read list each year.
Global communications and marketing consultancy, Edelman, has published a B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study each year for the past five. It surveys 3,500 management-level professionals about their buying behaviors, and it delivers insights to B2B marketers, communicators, and salespeople to better understand the value that thought leadership content can provide.
Here are a couple of ways that B2B solution providers can use it. At a high level, it shares the biggest concerns that B2B buyers have. For example, the latest report found that most B2B companies were entering 2023 expecting an economic downturn and tightening their spending. When the economy is down, decisions go up. This information can be used as a starting point for more qualitative research, described by Hammeke, to understand the concerns of more senior level managers in target audience companies. Secondly, it can be used as a topic for thought leadership content. It conveys empathy for the buyer and can be followed with business advice on what to do during an economic downturn. This helps place solution providers top of mind when spending increases again.
Customer Facing Employees
Another great set of resources for understanding what your target audience cares about are customer facing employees in your company. Salespeople, customer service representatives, and project managers all have direct contact with customers and potential customers.
Assemble a small group with representatives from each of the above teams and have them share their insights. The data will be raw and may need some refining, but having the perspective from each functional specialty can be eye-opening.
An often-over-looked resource to better understand what buyers care about is your media partnerships. If you are investing in paid media-ad placement, microsites, audience access, newsletter sponsorships, content syndication—you should receive more than a report on clicks and opens.
Media companies and publishing houses who are on their game invest much time, effort, and resources into understanding what their readership cares about. At a minimum, your paid media should offer insights into what your target audience, their readership or viewership, is most interested in. While their observations may be anecdotal, it is a real sampling of the kind of understanding you need for content development. However, you should expect and holdout for much more.
Media companies are now developing significant technology capabilities that report on the specific engagement their circulation has with their content. This is a great opportunity for content marketers to get in on the activity. Over time, engagement databases can be created, organized, and interpreted to glean what your target audiences are most interested in and the issues they care about. This in turn becomes the content topics at the center of your content marketing strategy.
Content marketing is more than simply creating content and includes format and style, how it will be distributed, how you will measure results, and what outcomes you want from it. And most importantly, you must understand what your target audience cares about and make that the center of each piece of content you create.
Special thanks to the following who contributed to this article:
Wendy Jacobson, Owner, Incredible Content
Kate Hammeke, Vice President of Market Research at Industry Standard Research (ISR)
Adam Lofquist, CEO The Lofquist Group
And the great business marketing team at Edelman that I’ve had the privilege to interview:
Joe Kingsbury, U.S. Managing Director of Edelman Business Marketing
Ben Laws, Executive Vice President and Deputy U.S. Lead, Edelman Business Marketing
Kate Cooper, Executive Vice President and Midwest Market Lead in Edelman’s Business Marketing Practice