One of the first things you learn when you start doing content marketing for your business is how important it is to learn who your audience is. Marketers use a lot of different techniques and tools for this—reviewing analytics, turning to market research tools, investing in social listening.
But surprisingly, research from the Content Marketing Institute found that 58% of marketers are skipping the most obvious tactic of all for getting to know your audience: talking to them directly.
The Importance of Talking to Your Customers
Analytics can show you trends in what products customers buy, or which content topics they respond to, but they can’t always tell you why. And social listening can alert you to complaints about your products online, but they often leave out key information you need to understand the problem and provide a satisfying solution.
Most of the tools and tactics you can use to learn about your audience are second hand. They can help you see overall trends, but they leave out important context. By asking your customers direct questions—or even better, actually having a two-way conversation with them—you can fill in the gaps in your knowledge and hear directly from the source.
How to Get Customer Input
The why of talking to your customers is pretty self-explanatory: you want to get to know who they are and what they care about. The how is what makes it a challenge to do at all and, more importantly, do well.
For those in the 58% of marketers that could use some help to start communicating with your customers, we talked to Cathy McPhillips, Vice President of Marketing at the Content Marketing Institute for some tips on how to do so.
1. Make sure you ask the right questions.
First things first, if you’re going to make an effort to start listening to your customers more, you have to be strategic about the questions you ask.
“Definitely have questions planned in advance and definitely take those questions and cycle them through the whole organization,” Cathy recommends.
One person shouldn’t be deciding what to talk about in a vacuum. Consulting other departments ensures you’ll get a wider view of what you need to know and that you’re not overlooking important information other people in the company need
And don’t just stick with that same list of questions as you go. Each person you talk to is unique, so tailor the questions you ask where relevant. And use the feedback you get early on to make changes to your questions that make them more useful.
2. Use social media.
“The easiest way to [start getting input from customers] is to start using your social media and use places you’ve already started building an audience,” Cathy suggests.
The whole point of social media is to be social, so treat it like a platform for two-way communication with your followers. Ask questions via LinkedIn groups or Twitter chats, or wherever you’re already connected with people. Listen to what they say and make an organized record of what you learn. Social media may be a good place to hear from your audience, but it’s not the greatest place for organizing that information or finding it again later.
You definitely don’t want to stop with social media, but it can be a good place to start communicating more directly with your audience and may help you spot some of the best customers to reach out to for more detailed conversations.
3. Conduct a survey.
A survey is one of the easiest places to start getting more direct feedback from your customers. If you’re worried about getting people to actually spend a few minutes taking a survey, Cathy has two main suggestions:
- Give them a clear time frame upfront of how long it will take (and make sure it’s a pretty short time commitment —5 minutes or so).
- Offer to enter them in a drawing for a $50 gift card.
That lets people know that the commitment is low, and the possible reward is high.
4. Identify and call your most devoted customers.
Social media and surveys can be good for playing the numbers game—you can reach a lot of customers at once with minimal effort. But to really fill in the gaps in your knowledge and learn the context behind the answers you get there, you want actual conversations over the phone or in person.
To identify the best customers to talk to, look to your data to learn who your best customer advocates are. They’re a good place to start because they’ll often be happy to give you their time.
“I’ve spent 30 minutes on the phone with people before and they want nothing in return other than knowing that we’re caring enough to listen to what they have to say,” says Cathy.
Your happy customers can supply you with valuable information on:
- How they use your products
- The specific problems they solve
- The specific products or features they like or use the most
- Any new products or features they’d like to see
- What type of promotions they’d be most likely to respond to
- What types of content they appreciate the most
- What their day to day looks like
- Other products they use and like
If you come into the call prepared, you can usually cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time, but you might want to leave your schedule open in case they have a lot to say.
5. Identify and call your least enthusiastic customers.
Another important category of customers to talk to is those that aren’t happy with your products. You may think getting them on the phone to talk would be a hard sell, but Cathy suggests you might be surprised.
“If someone cared enough to listen to why I wasn’t taking an action, I feel like to most customers that’s enough of a reward for them,” she says.
Your unhappy customers can provide some of the same type of information your happy customers do, but with some additional valuable insights about what doesn’t work for them and how your products or service would need to be different to satisfy.
The call may give you room to help save the relationship, but even if not, it can help you either better clarify who your target audience is by excluding the people your product isn’t a good fit for, or identify opportunities for ways to improve your product or services to better meet people’s needs.
6. Use what you learn.
Once you’ve done the hard work of gathering all this valuable information, you won’t get anything out of it unless you put it to use. Record all the answers you gain throughout the process and get it all into a database or other format that makes it easy to organize and sort.
Make sure you get the right information to the specific people in the company it will benefit. Any feedback on changes to the product should go to your product development team, and complaints about a customer service experience need to get in front of your customer service department.
For marketers, commit to spending time using what you’ve learned to:
- Update your personas to improve their accuracy.
- Re-work your content strategy to ensure you answer the common questions that came up and address the topics your customers expressed interest in.
- Identify content pieces that should be updated based on the new information you’ve learned.
The better you know your customers, the more successful you’ll be at creating content they care about. But only if you make an effort to actually listen to them, and incorporate what they tell you into your content strategy.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.