The following post was written by Ross Simmonds, founder of Foundation, a consultancy that helps brands ranging from Fortune 500 companies to some of the fastest growing startups in tech with content creation and distribution. He is also co-founder of Crate, a SaaS product that helps companies find and share relevant content. Simmonds is a frequent speaker at conferences like MozCon, SearchLove and InternetWorld’s Webbdagarna to name a few. He has also been published in Forbes, Inc, VentureBeat, EliteDaily and was listed by Mashable at No. 5 for Top Snapchat Marketers in the World.
When we think about creating a content marketing strategy, we want to see results quickly.
But many of us are actually met with…crickets.
We pour our heart and soul into uncovering research, crafting new ideas and then bringing those strategies to life. If you’ve ever built a content plan but your blog posts or ebooks were only met with crickets, this post will arm you with great insights to ensure your content is shared and drives meaningful, measurable results for your business.
Over the last few years, the team at Foundation has created, revised and enhanced content marketing plans for many brands and organizations. We’ve seen a handful of consistent marketing mistakes that cause strategies to go off the rails and brands to pour money into efforts that aren’t working. We’ve also helped companies reach millions of people through content created based on research and distributed through relevant channels.
In this post, I’m going to dive into some of the mistakes I see far too often, how to fix those mistakes and stop your content from falling flat. The starting point for achieving success in content marketing is understanding how to create good content.
What is Content Creation
Content creation is the act of developing a content asset with the intent of driving business results with that content. The content you develop can be a blog post, infographic, video, research piece, ebook, quiz or any other digital asset that would capture your audience’s attention.
When I first started working in the world of advertising, I was surprised how many agencies relied on their experiences to determine their “target audience.” Very rarely did the marketers I interacted with want to rely on actual research or data to determine their target audience.
It felt wrong.
Creating quality content that resonates with your target audience starts with knowing your target audience. It’s not good enough to assume research conducted 8 years ago is still relevant today. Instead, you need to take the time to gather both qualitative and quantitative data to understand your target audience. Here are a few things brands can do to truly understand their audience and arm them with the insights they need to create great content.
Use Google and Facebook Analytics to Find Insights
If your company or brand has been around for awhile, you’re likely sitting on a handful of quality data to help you understand your audience. A combination of Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics can be a marketer’s best friend when it comes to identifying your target audience.
One of the best parts of Google Analytics is the ability to know which content you’re developing resonates with people. Take a look at the content you’ve published over the last few years and analyze which content has done well and which content has fallen flat.
When using Facebook Analytics, the first thing I like to check out is the People Insights to see the age range we’re attracting on Facebook:
This is a great starting point but it’s really just that, a start. You can also use Facebook Analytics to learn where your audience lives geographically. From there, you can take a closer look at what life is like in these areas using a tool called PRIZM.
Use PRIZM to Better Understand People Based on Location
This is one of my favorite tools for identifying a target audience. PRIZM is a tool from Environics Analytics that uses location data to create stories surrounding the people who live in that specific location. In Canada, it offers you the ability to type in a Postal Code and within seconds retrieve insight into the people who live in that area.
Here’s an example of what you’ll get from a few Canadian postal codes:
Of course, it’s not always 100% accurate and doesn’t represent every single individual from an area – but from what I’ve seen, it’s pretty good at representing the average resident.
Don’t worry neighbor. I’ve got you covered.
The folks at Nielsen/Claritas have created a tool that offers a similar service. In the example below, I simply typed in the only ZIP code I know from memory (90210) and it spits back results showing income, household composition, population age and qualitative groups. This area, in particular, was deemed to be the upper crusts:
Conduct Surveys With Existing Customers
The best way to learn about your customers is to talk to your customers.
After looking at the quantitative research through things like Keyword Planner or Google Analytics, I like to get insight directly from customers. A short survey asking about media habits, current challenges, individual interests and psychographics is a great way to learn what type of content will resonate with your target audience.
Mass surveys is one of the most effective ways to learn from your customers. I recommend tools like Typeform or SurveyMonkey to develop a survey and distribute it directly through a mailing list. If you can incentivize your customers to complete the survey with a prize, even better. I’ve seen simple swag offers increase opt-in rates for surveys by up to 80%.
Google Keyword Planner
I like to use Google’s free Keyword Planner to begin understanding what people search for based on a specific topic. It’s a great resource for initial research as it helps you understand what keywords people are using to find your solution and offers inspiration around relevant stories for this target audience.
Use FollowerWonk to See Who They Follow Online
If a brand has already established a presence on Twitter, Followerwonk is a cost-efficient tool for gaining quality insights. Type in a Twitter handle like @SoulCycle and within minutes you’ll receive a report filled with insight.
FollowerWonk scans the followers of the targeted Twitter account to reveal trends like location:
And more unique insights like frequently used words in their Twitter bio:
Now, this is where you strike gold.
Of course, it’s likely you knew that the folks following SoulCycle would be interested in fitness but it’s insightful to see the “College Football” and “College Basketball” trend. The best content marketers would dig into this a bit deeper and see two things. First, if there’s an opportunity related to these sports. Second, how you can use this insight to tell a story that will likely resonate with this audience.
Use Curation Tools Like Crate to Uncover Topic Ideas
Once I identify a trend like “College Football” I use a tool like Crate to see what this audience is reading and sharing on social media. If you haven’t used Crate, it’s meant to be a content curation tool like Buffer Suggestions but can be used for insight gathering as well.
The app uses keywords to uncover content that is trending surrounding that topic. For example, if I plug in “College Football” I get results like:
From this, I can quickly see people are intrigued by “The Longest Active Winning Streaks in College Football” and the site 247sports.com as a resource that covers college football frequently. From here, I can spend a bit more time reverse engineering the 247sports.com audience’s interest using a tool like Followerwonk. If you upload their Twitter handle into Followerwonk it shows you insights about their audience, while uploading their Twitter handle to Crate shows their most popular content.
Don’t build a content strategy based on assumptions. Use research.
Creating and executing a strategy without research is like trying to sail from Greenland to Madagascar without a map—you may get there, but the road will be a rocky one and you might lose a few people along the way. Research offers you the ability to know exactly what type of content will resonate with an audience and increases your chances of distributing that content in channels that make sense.
On a macro-level, spend some time understanding shifts in your industry and amongst your target audience. Look at industry reports, peer-reviewed studies, government data, journals, and trend reports to uncover insights that can guide your plans and efforts without assumptions.
Once you’ve uncovered macro-level insights, dive deep into the micro-research to dig up insights about existing users and channels. It’s very likely that you’re already sitting on a handful of data a great content marketing team can leverage to reveal more opportunities. Whether you use Google Analytics, Mixpanel, SEMrush, Moz or even Facebook’s Audience Insights tool, leverage the technologies at your fingertips.
If you like what Ross had to say, head over to LinkedIn and connect with him. If you’re interested in more advice on content distribution, Ross created an awesome checklist with 80+ distribution ideas. We would highly recommend checking it out: https://goo.gl/oP1B2w