In my conversations with content managers, one of the things that comes up consistently is their struggle to find good writers who also know their industry. Instead, what we end up doing is coming to a compromise.
Either we find writers who can write but lack industry experience, or we rely on experts who aren't trained to engage an audience. What I want to talk about is overcoming the former as a content marketing team.
According to SiriusDecisions, 60% of B2B content goes unused. Irrelevant content is undeniably a factor in all this. And one way to be more relevant is to not just identify our target audiences but identify with them.
Every avid movie-watcher has probably heard of “method acting”, the systematic process by which an actor aspires to completely identify with a character by immersing himself in his role. Take Christian Bale or Daniel Day Lewis — excellent actors who live, breathe and learn as their character to put on a quality performance. Their success is essentially the result of their willingness to go the distance to empathize.
In its own way, publishing is also a performance. And with content marketing, where you're building a brand's voice and expertise in a specific niche, content marketers need to be hired for their prior knowledge or really step up their desire to learn in order to deliver.
"Method blogging", as I want to call it for this post, is the process of understanding your audience to contribute to a brand's long-term content strategy by:
- Converting pain points into content ideas
- Writing in a tone that appeals to the reader
- Going beyond data to strive for inimitable empathy
A similar approach can be applied to content marketing in which you can enhance your effectiveness as a content marketer by becoming a member of your own audience.
Read what they read, surf what they surf
Content marketers should always be learning by reading all the great content out there, not just on how to do their job as marketers, but also to get a line on their audience.
Consuming the same content as your audience is one way to develop a genuine interest in your niche and get a sense of some of the hot topics.
Here are some great tools and places for that:
- Feedly (aggregate feeds from a variety of blogs to keep you reading the right stuff)
- Pocket (read content later, offline or by using the app's useful "listening mode")
- LinkedIn Groups (find active, niche communities where you can not just promote content but listen in on conversations too)
- Subreddits (ask questions and explore threads on very specific topics)
But reading alone won't make you an expert or give you insight into your customers. You need to know what it's like to actually do what they do.
Become a user — eat your own dog food
Emulating the end-user experience with the product you’re selling is inevitably valuable on its own. But from a content marketing perspective, it can help you unearth new angles for content across the entire funnel.
Many companies encourage their employees to use their product to familiarize themselves with it.
Here at Uberflip, ever member of the team gets their own Hub. On top of executing our own content marketing using Uberflip, several of us actively use our own personal Hubs to learn the nuances of the product.
For me, as a member of the marketing team, I've seen value in identifying not only content ideas but competitive advantages.
Eating your own dog food forces you to ask the right questions:
- Is there a learning curve? Create content to accelerate it.
- Is there a new use case for a feature? Write up the implications in a post.
- Is there any non-product knowledge that would make me a better user? Learn it, apply it, share it.
Using your own product might also force you to use peripheral products that your customers also use that work in tandem with what you're selling, which makes good fodder for top of the funnel content ideas.
Interview your sales team (or better yet, your customers)
Sales and Customer Success teams know your customers. Set aside some time to pick their brains, asking questions like:
- What gaps in their knowledge are keeping them from succeeding?
- What obstacles do they present in the buying process?
- What do they think about our product and brand?
- How would you describe our best customers?
Make time to sit in on sales calls or demos to get the opportunity to observe and hear your customers firsthand as a marketer.
If you can, go even further and talk directly to your actual customers and potential end-users. You'll be able to tease invaluable information from them. I promise that you'll discover new angles for content, even ways to position your product in general.
Above all, this helps you understand "the way things are" and how to discuss "the way things could be" with your product.
Attend webinars, meetups and conferences
There's something about live webinars, events and conferences, about being in the actual presence of enthusiastic professionals with a contagious passion for what they do.
Whether offline or online, these events are one of the best ways to not just learn, but also ask questions and observe the audience in the Q&A part that almost always follows any speaking session.
These are real people asking real questions, questions they might've already tried to find online to no avail. That makes them a great source of original ideas, questions for your next piece of content to answer.
Meetup is a great network for finding local gatherings around specific interests, and many of these events are free to attend. For example, HubSpot users are part of our audience so I find great value in going to the HubSpot User Group's Toronto meetups.
You don't even need to participate at these events. There's value in listening to the things that matter to people, the questions that keep them awake at night, and sometimes even their complaints. And in the networking portion that usually follows you have a sizable crowd of brains to pick.
Once you've done your research, you can apply it to your buyer personas knowing that you've now done the qualitative research to make these semi-fictional characters a little more real.
Define your buyer personas
Among writers, there’s this useful tool called “the ideal reader”, a mental image of the one person you’re writing for. Having that person in mind ensures you're focused in your writing and your research.
The equivalent in marketing is your buyer personas, which you can create by identifying your ideal customer's:
- Role at their company
- Company information (size, industry, etc.)
- Favorite places to spend time (online and offline)
- Media consumption patterns
- Demographic information
- Purchasing behavior
Aggregate your qualitative experiences with customers, prospects and potential users into explicit descriptions of your buyers. Because they evolve over time, you need to update these as they change to keep your marketing focused.
Your buyers are the people you're trying to reach, and if you've identified the wrong buyer personas, you're producing content for the wrong audiences.
Always Be Curious
The ABCs of Sales are "Always Be Closing", but for content marketers it's "Always Be Curious". It's perhaps the most essential quality for success in content, especially when you're coming in without years of experience in an industry.
When it comes to creating content, the ability to research, listen and observe is as integral as the ability to write.
Chances are that if you're a content marketer faced with an unfamiliar niche or audience, it can be intimidating because you don't know a lot about it. So learn a lot about it — get your hands dirty and put yourself out there.
Because as valuable as quantitative insights and market research can be, we can't forget the value of listening with our own two ears and doing our utmost to become members of the audience we're trying to reach — not just putting ourselves in their shoes but walking in them too.