Lost in all the buzz on social media and lead generation is the importance of market research as the seeds to a content marketing strategy. Too often, this key approach is not thought of when developing a lead generation or a social media strategy. Below is an interview I recently conducted with our Research Strategist, Carolyn Frith.
Paul: Why is it important to conduct market research before developing a content marketing strategy?
Carolyn: Content marketing is all about attracting and retaining customers.
There are several insights you need about your target audience before you can attract anyone.
- First, and this seems really simple but is a crucial step that’s often missed, you need to define who you want to attract and engage online. It may be one or several market segments.
- How and why does your buyer buy? This includes what they research during the buying process and how they act on available content.
- Where do your buyers hang out online?
- Are different content types used at different stages in the buying cycle?
- What are the buyers’ goals? This includes pain they’re trying to avoid and dreams they want to achieve.
- Who are your top competitors? What is their online strategy? And, what are their strengths and weaknesses? Whether you want to beat them at their own game or emulate their successes, it’s best to know what your business is up against.
Once you know the answers to these questions, you can create buyer personas which help you to keep the buyer in mind as you develop your content strategy and create the content.
Paul: Why do some companies skip the market research phase before developing content?
Carolyn: Far too many organizations move forward with an ill-planned content marketing strategy because they think market research is expensive. Companies often think they know their target audience well, but there is a danger of what I call “internal think.” These are beliefs that have been around a company for a long time, based on nothing but assumptions that have a danger of becoming so ingrained that they are regarded as the truth. The only way to challenge these entrenched assumptions and redefine reality is with data. That means doing research.
Yes if you have an agency conduct the research for you, you will receive an invoice and be expected to pay for the insights you receive on your target market. The mistake is that business people believe they save this money if they don’t do research. The reality is that without market research they will move forward with a content strategy that does not hit the mark, they will continue to second guess their strategy as they move forward and in the end they will waste more money and time then they ever would have spent on the research. But they don’t see an invoice for the money and time wasted. They’ll just realize lost sales and time consumed as they cycle in many unproductive directions.
Paul: What do you mean by developing a persona from the research results?
Carolyn: This simply means bringing your target to life. Make them crystal clear by writing personas as if they were characters in a play or book. Give them names, ages, families, histories, jobs, homes and more. Find pictures that represent how they look. Describe how they would likely do research for your product or service. What information do they want? How do they want to receive it? Once you have a persona representing each of your market segments, make sure you develop your content strategy to meet their needs. Create content that uses their language and taps their emotions. Develop photography, videos and graphics and more that your target audience can identify with.
Paul: How do you recommend going about market research for content development?
Carolyn: There are many ways to collect data but what I always recommend is starting with qualitative research. By qualitative I mean asking open-ended questions–unstructured questions in which possible answers are not suggested. The research can be conducted through in-depth telephone interviews or focus groups. Qualitative research enables you to hear the language that your customers and prospects use to express their needs, hopes and fears. You absolutely need to know the language they use in order to use their own words to attract them when they search online. In addition, qualitative research has a way of revealing the unexpected. This cannot happen as much with quantitative research where respondents answer multiple choice questions. They are already boxed in by the structure of the research device.
Paul: What would you say to the business person who says “I want you to develop a content strategy but can’t afford the market research?”
Carolyn: Find a way to do the research internally. Compile a list of likely research respondents, draft a questionnaire and ask each of the internal stakeholders to call 3-4 of them and ask the questions. Don’t use lack of funds as an excuse not to understand your market.