Content marketing can be a powerful tool in your marketing mix. Many companies are making great strides with their content marketing program.
For many others, significant challenges remain.
Ask any content marketer what his or her greatest challenges are and you’ll usually hear two responses most often.
One is how to consistently produce quality content (a topic for another day).
The second challenge is how to show the return on investment (ROI) for content marketing. I’ll cover an aspect of this challenge in this post.
The ROI Puzzle
There are three main questions when thinking content marketing ROI.
- What do you measure?
- How do you measure it?
- How can you improve it (ROI)?
It’s an aspect of that third question that I’m focusing on. How can the content be improved? If you do improve it, you’ll increase the likelihood of a better ROI.
There are entire books devoted to how to produce quality content. It’s a topic that can be covered from many different angles.
One angle that’s not addressed enough is research into the content your customers want. It’s content that actually meet their needs, not just what you think their needs are.
If you want to improve the ROI of your content marketing, you must be determined to provide content that’s highly valued by your customers, and future customers.
A start at this is by creating buyer personas. But take a look at this graphic.
Customer (buyer) personas are near the bottom of tools used by marketers, checking in at 47 percent. Remember, your current customers hold important insights about future customers.
Personas are great, and needed. If you don’t have them, please develop them. But they are often lacking. They simply need more insights.
Commit to Direct Customer Feedback
In my research, where persona recommendations fall short is in understanding the content needs of the costumer.
In most of the top level recommendations around personas, you’ll see tips for data mining.
Don’t get me wrong, monitoring your website analytics, CRM system, social media and other tools is a great way to gain insights about the content your customers may want. The point I’m making is, the data is just a start. It provides ideas and direction for sure. But it doesn’t provide the depth of insight and validation needed.
Direct feedback from your customers is crucial, whether you have 10 customers, 100 of them or thousands of them.
This can be accomplished with two key tactics:
- Customer surveys
- Direct interviews
Sending surveys has never been easier with tools like SurveyMonkey and many others.
Plan on surveying your customers about their content needs and consumption at least once every year. This could be rolled into a larger customer survey if needed. Just make sure it doesn’t become too long. If it does, your customers could lose interest, or even become annoyed.
There’s a lot that could be written about the design of the survey. But, in general, you want to find out what kind of content your customers want (topics) and how they consume content (channels).
Use these questions to mirror your content strategy and check for validation. For instance, if you’re investing heavily in development of white papers, is that how your customers prefer to consume content? Maybe they prefer to read blog posts. If so, you’d want to adjust your strategy.
Or, are the topics your planning on covering of interest to them? Will they be helped by your content? If not, you’ll need to change strategy.
From your website analytics and other data, use the survey to float some content ideas. Then see if your survey feedback supports your ideas.
Also, make sure you leave some open ended questions to let your customers pick some ideas. Let them do the work for you. Then all you need to do is provide the content.
It’s important to have a well-crafted survey for you to get the most value from it. If you don’t have survey experience, it’s worth it to hire someone to help. Then, you’ll have a tool that can be re-used for years, with likely at least some updating with each send.
To help you get started, here’s an excellent post about content marketing surveys by Colleen Jones: “How Surveys Can Help You Create More Effective Content Marketing.”
Building on your survey data, the gold standard for getting deep customer content insights is by actually talking to them.
Face-to-face meetings are great and something you should consider if possible. How about a focus group, focused on content? You could get a small group of customers together over a meal and discuss the topics.
Personal meetings are another option, either as the main discussion topic or as an add-on agenda item. Perhaps you can meet with customers at an upcoming tradeshow.
I know, face-to-face options are the most time consuming and can be expensive.
Other options, however, include:
- Skype, Google Hangouts or other virtual meeting technology
- Conference calls
- Personal (one-to-one) calls
Whatever it takes, the goal is to make it happen. Direct interviews offer the deepest level of understanding you can hope to achieve about your customers content needs. You can ask follow-up or probing questions to uncover information that just may not be discovered through other means.
Want customers to crave your content? Of course you do! You need to ask them want they want, and then provide it.
Work customer surveys and direct interview into your content marketing strategy. Then, add your findings into you personas. If you do, you should increase the success of your content marketing program. Your current customers will love you for it, as well as your future customers!
Author: Steve Sonn
Steve Sonn is the Principal of S2 Marketing Communications. He has more than 25 years of marketing and PR experience with health care and business-to-business companies.