Why Research Is the Foundation of a Successful Content Marketing Strategy

You know that content is an essential part of an always-on marketing strategy. That’s why you’ve probably already executed on a content plan that covers all aspects of the buyer’s journey and have a robust library of high-quality blogs, infographics, podcasts and the like.

With this in place, you are now poring over the various metrics from your CRM platform and your web analytics. How many opens does that nurturing email campaign achieve? How many clickthroughs? What, if any, actions were taken as a result of viewing the content?

The answers to these questions provide valuable indicators of how content is performing. You may find that some pieces are performing exceptionally well in terms of clicks or time on page, while others barely attracted any attention. The problem is you don’t know why.

Which is why you have to ask.

To be a strategic partner to your customers, you need to know what they are struggling with when they’re trying to make a purchase decision and what content would help them navigate their journey. This means understanding their context and learning what’s important to them and also what’s not important to them.

Asking questions through research helps identify pain points and suggest solutions. It lets you know where customers are getting value and where there are gaps. It even helps in keeping a pulse on the ever-changing competitive landscape. It also helps identify their preferred content format, be it a short blog post, a long white paper or a video.

There are many ways you can ask the right questions. These are a few suggestions to get you started.

1. Surveys

Surveys are a flexible, quick way to get an understanding of what your audience wants from your content. They are useful at whatever stage you are in, but particularly helpful if you’re just starting out and want to get a sense of the landscape. Ask questions like: What type of information do they seek? How do they find it? Do they have go-to sources or channels that they frequent? How long do they spend looking at content?

Be sure to keep surveys short and focused. Always explain why you’re asking what you’re asking. If  appropriate, offer to share results as a thank you for participation. You may also consider asking if survey participants are open to joining in additional research, such as online interviews and mobile diaries.

2. Mobile diaries

As you get to know your audience better, a more in-depth exploration into their daily routines and uses of different channels for different needs is valuable. This can be done through a mobile diary that asks participants to document their content consumption over the course of a few days.

Here you’ll learn a lot of specifics about them like their routines, preferences and, most importantly, context. As this is more time intensive, you’ll only do use this approach with a small group of people, but it provides rich texture to the information gathered in your initial survey exploring the landscape.

3. Webcam interviews and online focus groups

Webcam interviews and online focus groups are another good way to obtain richer information about your audience’s preferences. They are also well suited for content topic ideation. You may think you know what people are interested in, but it’s far better to ask directly.

4. Usability testing

Using research to generate content on topics and in formats that you believe will resonate with your audience is an important first step. But research can take you even further. Once you’ve created those missing data sheets and information checklists, it can be very worthwhile to run some quick usability testing to confirm the information is on the mark and easily understandable. You’ll also get an understanding of whether people are proceeding through your content in the way you expect them to.

It’s also critical that users can find the content they are looking for on your site. Usability testing is an effective way to understand what is working, what isn’t and identify where there’s room for optimization.

Here’s a quick example of how effective this kind of research can be. The U.K. Alzheimer’s Society produces a range of literature to support caregivers, but wanted to be sure it was providing the right solution. It used FocusVision Decipher to gather feedback and this resulted in several new content programs such as the Carer’s Advice Handbook to help people perform this difficult and often inadequately supported role.

Asking about their content needs isn’t necessarily top of mind when it comes to research, but it is a powerful way to learn how to help your customers and this information is critical to help you provide more valuable customer experiences. The result? Your brand become a more trusted advisor. You promote awareness of your products and services. And you enhance lifetime customer value by cultivating loyalty and advocacy.