Everyone is talking about content. Stressing its importance, bemoaning not having enough of it, making it the answer to every problem: Website traffic dropping? “We need new blog content.” Leads lagging? “If only we had a podcast series.” Lost the sale? “The competition had an interactive infographic and video.” For every person that says more content is the end-all solution, I say, reconsider the problem.
The problem is not a lack of content. The world does not need more content. People are overwhelmed with content. Bombarded every day by ads, social posts, feeds, emails, search results, endless information – most of which they don’t want or care about.
The harsh reality is most people aren’t interested in your content.
Regardless of business or industry, audiences expect engaging, useful content tailored to their needs. They will quickly dismiss content (and an organization or source that produces it) that is irrelevant, poorly executed, or disingenuous. Prospects and customers do not want company and product hyperbole or sales pitches, regardless of whatever trendy package it’s in. They want help, insight, and applicable information. This requires a customer-focused approach to content creation. Ready to cast aside the reactionary, splatter approach to content? In this article, learn what customer-centric content is and how it leads to better outcomes for brands, businesses, and creative teams.
Customer-focused content: the drivers and differentiators
Customer-focused content is informed by knowledge of the target audience and presented in a way that connects with them. Organizations that are customer-centric can differentiate themselves from the competition by producing content that delivers greater value. Focusing on addressing the needs of audiences first sets the foundation for meeting business goals and achieving greater success. Despite this, content creation is often driven by what internal stakeholders want, subjective requests, or guesses at what people need.
When the intended audience is forgotten, the resulting content is often:
- Touting how great an organization or company is.
- Focused on selling products or services.
- Laden with hyperbole and buzzwords.
- Dense, complex, and written from an internal point of knowledge or view.
- Lacking clear value or benefits.
- Disconnected or disjointed across customer touchpoints.
To avoid making these mistakes, start by putting the customer at the beginning of any content conversation. Instead of “Marketing needs a video on x” or “the sales team wants to promote y” change the focus to the target audience. “Career-changer Jane needs help solving x problem.” Before any ideation about content topics, formats, and channels, start with understanding the who, what, and when drivers behind the content creation.
How to create customer-focused content
Who will use this content? Customer-centered content design starts with truly understanding the audience.
Identifying the target audience for content isn’t usually the problem. But product, sales, and marketing teams often talk in terms of demographics and markets – not people. Customer profiles developed without data to outline attitudinal and behavioral factors can be shallow and one-dimensional. The direction “our targeted website users are married women ages 34-45 with an average of 1.2 children and household incomes over $90K” isn’t going to inspire great content. When identifying audiences, go beyond the basics of outlining demographics, segments, and labels and answer questions like:
- What are their goals?
- What problems or questions do they have?
- What information are they looking for?
- What are the triggers or drivers behind their needs and actions?
- What is their mindset? What are their interests, beliefs, and attitudes?
To create a clearer picture of the audience and keep them top of mind throughout the content development process, use the most appropriate research, content, or UX tools to capture the information. Personas are a great way to keep teams focused on target audiences, and an empathy mapping session can help add more depth or situational understanding to them. For a broader perspective on an entire process from the customer’s point of view, journey maps are a useful tool for visually displaying people’s motivations, steps, and where content plays a role.
What content do customers need? Use data to understand what people are searching for and how to deliver it.
To help someone meet a goal or solve a problem, one must understand their specific situation. Talking to the target audience is the best way to understand their challenges or needs. Existing customers are a great source for discovering drivers behind searches for answers/topics, their mindsets, and influencing factors related to evaluations and decisions.
While it would be ideal to chat with people or conduct interviews to better inform any content project, time, resource, and access are common barriers. Luckily, there are information goldmines that even teams with limited time and budgets can tap to learn about what people want, like, need, or are searching for.
- Surveys and polls
- Social media site behaviors and interactions (shares, likes, viral content)
- Questions and threads on forums (Quora, Reddit, support sites)
- Chat sessions and customer service logs
- Comments, reviews, and testimonials (company, competitor, e-commerce websites)
- Content performance and website analytics
- Keyword research tools
- Secondary research
SIDENOTE: Keywords, questions, and the role of search
Search data not only helps identify what type of content people are looking for but how much demand there may be for it. Understanding what topics and phrases people are searching for helps content creators generate valuable content. Considering the volume of searches is a way to determine whether it’s worthwhile to invest in content creation around the topic. This is particularly important if generating organic traffic and new website visitors is a goal. If the objective is to add content to improve an experience for existing website users, internal website search data can help generate ideas for new additions.
Buzzsumo, Answer the Public, SEMrush, SEOMoz, and Google Keyword Planner are just a few of the many tools available to help create better content.
When and where do they need the content?
With a solid understanding of the audience and what content they desire, the last component is planning for when and where the content will be needed. Knowing how customers engage with content can help determine the best format and delivery method. Understanding the stage in the research or buying journey and context of use can help guide decisions about whether a short blog post, video, infographic, webinar, or long-form white paper is the best approach.
To avoid a disjointed experience, remember that interactions will often occur across channels or simultaneously so consider all content delivery and touchpoints to present a unified experience. With larger organizations, this can be tricky, especially if customer data and interaction channels are divided across departments or siloed without information sharing. Establishing mixed-discipline content teams, a guiding content council, and governance processes can help coordinate efforts.
Tips for Delivering Customer-focused Content
Be consistent. Providing the same type and quality of information can help build trust. When people know what to expect and can depend on consistent execution, they feel more comfortable turning to that trusted source for information. Ultimately, consistent delivery of content, online or offline experiences, can turn prospects into customers and customers into loyal fans.
Use the right language. Shared language leads to better conversations and genuine connections. Incorporate the verbiage, expressions, and linguistic nuances (or perhaps emoticons…) of target audiences. The right words can also play a role in information discovery so incorporate keywords from people’s questions and answers into the content.
Personalize. When possible, tailor communications using data from real-time interactions and behaviors or previous actions and transactions.
Be interesting and helpful. Storytelling is a great way to tap into emotions and shared experience, but don’t forget to deliver value too. Present actionable takeaways, link to resources, and guide people to other related content sources.
Be true to your brand. When striving to create content people are looking it, don’t pretend to be something you aren’t just to get noticed. The content you create, along with its voice and tone, should align with your brand.
Using these tips and a customer-centric approach will lead to content that better meets customers’ needs. Remember, making a content connection is not just about having content, it’s about delivering the right content in a way that is authentic, appropriate, and builds confidence. Content that convinces is content that converts. When the customer is at the center of the content creation process, everyone wins.
Ready to get real about your website's content? In this article, we'll take a look at Content Strategy; that amalgamation of strategic thinking, digital publishing, information architecture and editorial process. Readers will learn where and when to apply strategy, and how to start asking a lot of important questions.