The fine line between what you care about and what your customers want

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Henry Ford said, if you ask customers what they want, they would say a faster horse.

We lived through an interesting time in technology evolution during the 1980s. If you had asked anyone standing in a packed bank line on a Friday afternoon, customers would have told you they wanted more bank tellers. No one standing in line would have asked for an ATM machine.
Yet here we are today with revolutionary modes of transportation and banking which came about because visionaries saw new and different ways to solve problems expressed by customers, not just by fixing the functionality of the action.
These two revolutions, one at the turn of last century and one only 30 years ago, teach us important lessons about content marketing. Our customers may express something they think they need to solve a business problem, but until you dig deeper to understand what is causing the problem and identify the root of the problem, you are only paying lip service to whatever your product or service does through your content development efforts.
Customers see the world through what they think is their problem and they seek people, ideas and content to help them understand ways to solve it. So if you are in a company today selling something new or different, or even something that has been around for 30 years, there is a very delicate balance that needs to be achieved between what you want to tell people and what they want to understand.

Amplifying the problem

What has amplified this problem in recent years is this thing called social media. Suddenly there are more cheaper and faster channels than ever before to amplify your message about what your product or service is as opposed to why it matters. Now instead of taking 1,000 words to list all of your features and functions, you can do it in every day in 140 characters. Look how easy it is to throw that Facebook icon on the home page of your website.
But this is not solving the content marketing challenge. We need to be better at understanding the line between what we want to say and what customers truly need to know and understand about our product and services as well as the steps they go through to get to us.
If you refer back to a previous post, The psychology of home page design, we talk about earning trust with potential customers by understanding the emotional trigger that will interest them enough to take a next step on a website and start having a deeper conversation about the problems a product or service solves. To do that we need to start with a buyer persona.
Adele Revella at The Buyer Persona Institute has done a masterful job of training content marketers and content marketing agencies how to develop buyer personas. It is not about demographics but rather how your best customer buys something and the thought process they go through to create a short list of solutions. The most important information you need to have locked down about your best customer is this:

  1. The buyer priority or initiative – who triggered the search for something new and why?
  2. Buyer success factors – what new outcomes does the buyer expect?
  3. Perceived barriers – why do buyers choose or not choose you? (BE HONEST!)
  4. Decision criteria – what capabilities do buyers evaluate and how will they decide within their company to make the choice?
  5. The buyer journey – what are buyers doing to weigh options and evaluate? What information do they really need?

Point #5 is crucial and a step in this process that most content developers and content marketing agencies overlook.
Content marketers are so excited about developing a new website or a campaign for Twitter that they fail to understand what content is really relevant in the content journey.
Avinash Kaushik writes brilliant blog posts once a month that every content marketing agency or person doing content marketing should read. He has tossed aside the traditional sales funnel and focuses on a framework he calls See-Think-Do-Care. The premise of his work and research is complex and worth a read over a coffee on a Sunday morning. But the basic premise is that any business whether selling to consumers or to other businesses, have four audiences they need to address. Each need to be reached through different channels and each with different types of content.

  • SEE – is the largest addressable audience possible. It is the masses of people on Twitter or using search that might be thinking of doing something.
  • THINK – is a subset of the SEE audience who are thinking that maybe they should consider doing something specific. They have different content needs and likely are considering different channels like YouTube to show them “how to” or a colleague in a LinkedIn group who has solved the same problem.
  • DO – is the audience that is thinking of doing something right now. For them, they may be on specific websites downloading workbooks or whitepapers to understand what a company can do for them now.
  • CARE – is the audience of people who have bought from you and understand the value of your product or service. They are ones who will spread the word and share what they know you if you have done a good job for them and if you provide content that they deem worthy of

The biggest failure today in B2B content marketing…

Is not understanding what content your buyer needs and thinking they are going to buy something in the SEE stage. If you think Twitter or Facebook will help you sell then you are doing what Kaushik calls “pimping”. You are using a large addressable channel and audience to pimp out your product or service by broadcasting it’s merit as opposed to understanding how to be helpful and show people how to solve real problems. Kaushik himself is a great example of this: if all he did all day long was find new channels to broadcast his search marketing services through ads and links, he would not be where he is today. Instead, he spends hours developing content on topics that are deeply complex and misunderstood by most business owners. And he takes time to find examples and bring the problems to life that he sees every day on the internet. (Check out – How to Suck at Social Media: An Indispensable Guide for Businesses).
There are many great examples of people taking the time and investing the money and resources to understand the fine line between what you want to say and what your customer needs to understand.
A painful example, we see too often at our content marketing agency, Marketing CoPilot, is working with CEOs and executives who still insist certain things be on the home page of their website. Sadly, I have sat in countless meetings with people who insist that every product or service line they sell must be represented on the home page or in extensive paragraphs of content in an email campaign. They have failed at three levels:

  1. First, they are not using data to make these pronouncements. Often times when the product lines are represented through buttons on the home page less than 1% of the traffic to the website is clicking on them. Yet they still insist the information should be there.
  2. Second, they do not have a documented buyer persona or buyer journey map outlining what types of content people need and when.
  3. Third, they think the “spray and pray” method of broadcasting product and service information is still acceptable. “If we have have a Facebook icon, it will show we are in the game!”

We live in a complex time as content marketers and content marketing agencies. I’m not sure what Henry Ford would make of it. I think he would not have invented the automobile if he had listened to critics on Twitter pronouncing the value of putting the horse on wheels. What he would have done is understood the root of the problem via his buyer persona: Built content to test and see who was interested in his take on the problem, built an audience around this core problem and then decided who was ready to do something about it by sending them to actionable conversion points on his website.
This is how to achieve the fine line between what you care about and what your audience thinks is important. This is the opportunity for content marketing and this is what every business should be doing regardless of what you sell or who you sell it to.
If you agree, please help us by taking our survey: What elements of a website support the buyer journey. Participants will gain access to the report which we are developing in conjunction with Georgian College and the National Research Council.

Marketing CoPilot