By Tom Sandford on March 22, 2019

How customer research helps with content marketing

Critical acclaim or commercial success? Working with customers to drive maximum value from your content marketing


“A novel so bad it gives bad a new name”

“372 pages of dumb”


Despite being fiercely panned by critics, The Da Vinci Code and 50 Shades of Grey have sold a combined 200 million copies, making them the two best-selling books of all time. Following a by-the-numbers story arch, both books compel the reader to their last page, in spite of obvious holes in copy and character.

Old news, maybe. But there’s a lesson here.

Since the explosion and establishment of content marketing as the default marketing strategy for businesses, we’ve all entered the world of publishing. And the tension between critical and commercial success is now playing out across marketing teams in every sector.

Some businesses don’t give enough thought to their ‘critic’ – the real or imagined person who judges their corporate blog. They push out crap content as part of an ‘anything-will-do’ strategy that wastes marketing budget and readers’ time.

The alternative is the ‘anything-will-do-as-long-as-it-gets-seen’ strategy – where businesses create content solely for clicks. This rarely creates long-term growth and can actively damage the brand in question.

You may also enjoy: How the UK's leading agencies set marketing KPI's for growth

Serious stuff. But creating for the critic is a bigger, more insidious issue for specialist businesses still. Left unchecked, it can destroy any chance of commercial success for your content marketing.



Types of content critic


Your business’ content critic might be hiding in plain sight. Some of the most obvious culprits are below:



  • The HiPPO (Highest paid person’s opinion)

If the CEO takes a personal interest in your content and becomes final editor of all blogs, your team will, naturally, approve ideas and write for their approval.


  • The committee

If every unfinished article is shared across the whole company – or even 3 or more senior heads -– content creation becomes an exercise in trying to please everyone. This leads to bland, generic content whose only attribute is that it doesn’t annoy anyone.


  • The academic

Subject matter experts will have often spent a good deal of time in universities and internalised the essay or thesis as the default mode for respectable content. This format has its place, but not in a corporate blog.


  • The competitor

In some industries, competitors are close. Leaders who keep a constant eye on their rivals naturally compare their blog to the competition. While a healthy understanding of the market is fine, this focus can slip into an unhealthy obsession, forcing all content created in the sector to be identical.


Opportunity lost


The consequence of any one of these issues is watered-down, generic content created for the wrong audience.

You might get a few hits and feel relieved that you managed to publish something, but the opportunity lost is the chance to create something of value for your customers and your business.

You’ll be left wondering why your blog has never taken off, feeling that you’re the only one who’s reading your stuff. The growth opportunity that content marketing offers will be wasted.


So, what are the alternatives?


Having clear commercial goals for every piece of content you create is a good place to start.

If your next blog is intended to increase brand awareness, then it must be compelling, shareable and target the right keyword. If it’s intended for the bottom of the funnel - to drive leads - instead focus on the problem to be solved and creating cut-through calls-to-action.

A clear objective will focus your content team and offer an objective standard to judge your content against.

Valuing your time is another way to bypass your company critic. Teams who time-track their work will know just how time-consuming content creation can be. Putting a billable rate alongside all activity and making it visible to all forces teams to focus on generating a return and will magically reduce the number of edits.

Finally, rotate your editorial team. Fresh eyes are more often focused on the results desired and new people will bring different biases to content creation, preventing your blog from becoming lopsided.

You may also enjoy: Content marketing mission, purpose and values

While the above three steps will have a positive impact, one solution obliterates the creating-for-critic problem entirely. Wait for it.


Putting the customer at the heart of your content marketing


You’d be amazed at how few businesses actually do this. It takes more effort, sure, and can be a little scary. But customer-first thinking will have a massive positive impact on every aspect of your blog.

The best way to do this is through qualitative persona research. This means interviewing your best clients to understand more about them, including their roles, hopes and fears. While it’s tempting to try and do this for your own business (as I have), the results are far, far better if you engage a skilled, impartial third party.

The DIY approach often results in leading questions and confirmation bias. Employing a third-party interviewer won’t only offer better results: it also shows clients that you value and are willing to invest in their input.  

If budget or time won’t allow for a full customer research project, or you simply don’t have enough clients, consider working with your clients – or people who represent your desired clients – on an article.

Pitching your brief and gauging their interest is a fine first step. Sending them the finished article before publishing, seeking their feedback and making amends will ensure you’re creating something of value for the people that matter most to your business  It will also show clients that you value their input. Win-win.

Whatever your approach, going the extra to mile to get your clients’ perspective is the best way to create content that they will value and make space for constructive criticism – in turn building value for your business.


Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle on Unsplash

Published by Tom Sandford March 22, 2019