Why Customers Run Your Business and How it Applies to Content Marketing

We’ve all heard the saying “the customer is always right,” but did you know that it applies to content marketing, as well?

Customers in a content marketing environment have strong opinions, desires and needs and the smart content marketer will dedicate a significant portion of time and energy to listening customers.

The reason for this is, because content marketing is an entirely customer-driven platform, companies that can’t give customers what they want will simply find themselves without any business.

In light of that, it pays for companies to spend time actively seeking suggestions and input from customers.

What the Customer Wants, The Customer Gets

In the world of content marketing, there is truly nothing more important than the customer. The customer defines the topics of the content, the method of distribution, the frequency of posts, the guests, locations or issues discussed and, ultimately, the success of the company.

Because of this, companies that want to create a stellar content marketing strategy will do well to dedicate time to actively seeking suggestions from customers. Because there is so much content available on the Web today, customers who don’t like the content you’re putting out will simply leave and go find what they want somewhere else. While this is great for other companies, it’s not great for you.

According to Business Insider, companies only have seven seconds to make a great first impression. This means that, when a person visits your page, it’s imperative that you’ve taken the time to ensure that the page is tailored to that customer’s needs and interests and if you’ve done your information gathering homework beforehand, there’s a good chance that it will be.

The Limits of Behavior Data

While some companies think that it’s enough to simply analyze analytics, bounce rates and other behavior data, this is untrue. While tools like marketing automation analytics are helpful, they predominately offer data about where viewers are coming from, how long they’re staying at your page, how many pages of your site they’re viewing and whether or not they’re sharing your content. These forms of analytics do not, however, offer the following insights:

  • Who is viewing content (demographic information, interest, goals, etc.)
  • How much people like or dislike the content you have to offer.
  • What people who visit your site intended to do when they got there.
  • Purchasing or research decisions people made after viewing your content.
  • Offline actions people engaged in after viewing your content.

Without the full picture provided by the combination of behavior data and forms of customer outreach, such as surveys, it’s impossible for a company to know why something works or doesn’t work.

Even if 10 percent of your blog posts drive 90 percent of your overall traffic, it’s going to be unclear why exactly that is true and what actions your company can take to replicate those results elsewhere. For this reason, behavior data is limited in its usefulness and, in order to be truly effective, must be paired with customer surveys.

How to Create an Effective Survey: Tricks of the Trade

Now that you know that customers truly run your business, it’s time to start listening to them in earnest. How do you do that, though? The answer is simple: you ask them questions and then seek to create action from their responses. By asking its customers questions, a company creates access to actionable feedback that can help it deliver better content, alter distribution channels to better suit customers or take another road entirely.

The best way to ask customers questions is to survey them. Surveys can provide valuable insight about customer preferences, behavior and decisions and, ultimately, may allow your company to cater more efficiently to its customers, which means retaining more of them and making more money as a result.

Although some people criticize surveys for being a strictly qualitative method, surveys can be very quantitative when executed correctly. Keep in mind that, in order to be effective, a survey shouldn’t seek to measure a customer’s future behavior. For example, a survey shouldn’t ask questions about what the customer expects they will do after they visit your site. Instead, it should ask what they did just before they visited your site and what they’re doing on your site right now. This ensures that surveys are aimed at gathering the data they’re designed for:  characteristics, preferences and current behavior. When a survey is put together correctly, it gleans the following insights for marketers:

  • Impact your content has on a reader’s offline behavior.
  • Whether or not your content factors into purchasing decisions.
  • Whether or not the customer likes your content and whether or not your content met their expectations.
  • Roles and demographics of your readers (i.e. – are they the head of the household? How old are they? Where do they live? How much do they earn annually? etc.)

Although surveys have their limitations, they are very effective at measuring current customer behavior and should thus be one of the primary ways companies ask for customer input.

When to Use Surveys

Keep in mind that surveys aren’t well suited to every form of content and will generally work best when incorporated into blog posts or email campaigns. The reason for this is that surveys are an interactive format that works best on an interactive platform.

Additionally, it’s wise to keep in mind that there are few different types of surveys. For example, a company could write a blog post and include a survey via a survey platform like SurveyMonkey or they could simply tweet to followers and ask a specific question, as marketing guru Tim Ferriss does on his Twitter feed while mining topics for his popular podcasts. The choice is yours and each method has its benefits and drawbacks.

The 7 Basics of a Great Survey

To be effective and achieve what you need it to achieve, a great customer survey should be the following things:

  1. Short: Keep the KISS principal (Keep it Short, Stupid) in mind. Ask a question in the shortest and briefest way possible in order to avoid losing customer interest. Chop superfluous language and construct the survey so customers can get in and out in no time. Nobody is going to stick out a 20-minute survey and, if they do, they’re likely to just start clicking random boxes in an attempt to finish faster. Keep it brief and you’ll get the best results
  2. Specific: Don’t ask questions you don’t need the answers to or combine several goals into one survey. If you’re trying to figure out what brought customers to your site, ask only the questions that fulfill that end goal. Every question should have a purpose. If you don’t need the customer’s name, don’t ask for it. It’s that simple.
  3. Open-Ended: Each question you include in a survey should be intelligent and open-ended. By asking open-ended questions, you leave room for open-ended responses, which can provide you with more insight about customer behavior. Additionally, asking for clarifying information, such as a “why do you feel that way?” question after a simple “yes” or “no” answer can provide important information.
  4. Gradual: Each question should be asked individually. If you’re only posing one question to Twitter followers, great. That makes it easy. If you’re developing a multi-question survey, however, ensure that questions are asked one at a time. It’s not helpful for customers to read ahead or feel bombarded by information, so save them the trouble and keep it gradual.
  5. Consistent: Even if you manage to formulate the best survey the world has ever seen, it’s not likely to be helpful if you don’t develop a consistent rating scale to compare all of your surveys to one another. For example, on a scale of one to five, five should always mean the same thing. This will help save you from inaccuracies, both from customer answers and your own interpretation.
  6. Neutral: One of the seven deadly sins of survey making is to create loaded questions. You don’t want to create questions that lead customers toward a certain answer, as this will only skew your responses and create misleading answers. For example, it wouldn’t ultimately be helpful to say “You recently left service provider X due to poor performance and transitioned to our company in order to enjoy high-class service. How do you like our company?” Instead, a better option would be to ask simply “What are your thoughts on our company?”
  7. Well-Timed: Studies have shown that surveys dispensed via email had the best open and click-through rates on Monday, Friday and Sunday. This may vary for your customers so be sure to consult your behavior data to ascertain prime sending times.

By creating surveys that embody these traits, marketers can gain real insight from customers regarding whether or not content is working or if there’s anything readers would like to see more of. This information can go a long way toward creating a better business and giving customers exactly what they want.

Conclusion

Content marketing is a long-term success process, and 99 percent of the time it’s probably not going to garner quick overnight results or a “fast sale” tomorrow.

Joe Pulizzi said: “Build your content first, then create your product.” This could not be more true.

Work on finding out who your audience is, developing a persona and listening to your audience: then creating products that answer their need, creating content around that and marketing your product to them. The results, long-term, will make the effort worth it.

Customer-driven content marketing will always be the most successful form of content marketing.


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Julia McCoy is a bestselling author of So You Think You Can Write, podcaster and an expert content marketer. She’s also the founder and CEO of Express Writers, a leading online content creation agency, with more than 60 content writers and strategists. Julia leads her team to serve hundreds of worldwide businesses with the highest-quality content for their online presence. Follow Julia’s blog.

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