Why customer insight should be central to your content strategy

Sep 14, 2023

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by | Sep 14, 2023 | Campaigns, Data and Insights

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At B2B Marketing’s 2023 Ignite conference, I saw a great presentation highlighting the success of Arden University’s award-winning campaign. The key to its success? Deep customer insight. They took the time to interview five prospective customers, delving into their challenges, discovering what excites them and what they want to learn about. Then they performed DISC personality analysis on the decision maker job titles they were targeting to understand how they like to be communicated with. For example, ‘Dominant’ personalities valued short, sharp, punchy copy, while the ‘Influencers’ preferred a chattier style. All the content, from ebooks to quizzes and emails, was created with this in mind.

It was a solid campaign and it achieved brilliant results. DISC certainly isn’t new and many businesses (including ourselves) have been using it for a while. But shouldn’t this level of detailed customer insight just be the norm before planning any campaign? Especially when hefty budgets are being spent producing and promoting it. How much money has been thrown away on LinkedIn ads promoting content that’s quickly discarded by the reader as irrelevant? Too technical (or too simple), on topics they don’t care about, giving advice they don’t need.

Even with the best intentions, misjudged content does happen. With all the will in the world, it can take a lot of work to find those nuggets of gold that show your customer you really understand them.

Why thorough customer insight gets overlooked 

There are hurdles. It’s not always easy to access the very specific B2B buyer that your company is targeting. Say your company targets CIOs at large banks. Their time isn’t easy to get hold of for meaty interviews or focus groups. Your company might have invested in a persona development project a few years ago and so that box is considered ticked. But the economic climate, your customers’ priorities and the competitor landscape moves rapidly, so it can quickly become outdated.

So often, we rely on third hand experience and anecdotes from sales reps or customer success managers to tell marketing teams what our audience cares about. They’re the people talking to customers day in, day out, so surely they should know, right? Sort of. This insight is valuable – we run workshops with these people every time we start a new campaign at Modern. Often we unearth great anecdotes or examples of the pressures our audience is facing now. 

But they do come with a health warning. Assumptions. It’s easy to assume you know exactly what your audience cares about, because it’s the problem your company/product helps to solve. But that’s not always the case, so it’s important to stress test these beliefs and look more widely. 

So what does good look like?

1. Up front in-depth customer insight

Take the time to interview your customers and prospects. What do they really care about? What are their challenges? What do they want to learn about that you can help them with? This could be through a formal programme in collaboration with your customer success team, tagged onto a customer feedback survey, for example. Or it could be more informal – a friendly set of customers who’ll do you a favour, or even someone in your network (friend, relative etc.) who fits the profile. 

If accessing them directly for a call is tricky, consider tools like social listening or simply snooping on relevant industry LinkedIn groups – it could be the next best thing.

2. Back it up with data

There are some wonderful tools that can help us ratify assumptions, or even add a hefty amount of quantitative data to the nuggets of qualitative gold. At Modern, we use GWI to provide us with real survey data on B2B professionals’ current challenges (spoiler alert: economic climate is trending a lot right now), preferred communication channels, and more. 

And other helpful services are continually emerging, which scrape real social media data to highlight specifically what audiences read and where they hang out. SparkToro, for example, tells us that Marketing Directors are most likely to listen to the Marketing Profs podcast, subscribe to the HubSpot Marketing YouTube channel and read the Subreddit ‘Stocks – Investing and trading for all’. Clearly, some side hustling is going on…

This data can really help with targeting ads, planning organic social activity or identifying potential influencers to partner with. Some data from Audiense recently told us that Thursdays and 12.17pm are the most common times that CIOs are active on social networks and 73% of their social media time is spent on mobile. GigaOm is among the top blogs they read, which recently helped justify promoting Broadcom’s GigaOm radar report as part of our digital advertising programme with them.

3. Develop content with a real person in mind

It’s really easy to fall into the trap of writing broad brush content written with no single persona in mind. But honing it down to an individual and telling the story through their eyes can be transformative.

It’s not about what you want to say, it’s about what they want to hear – and as content marketing guru Ann Handley argues in her book Everybody Writes, “Replace ‘I’ or ‘we’ with ‘you’ to shift the focus to the customer’s point of view.”

Creating persona-focused content is something we’ve been having fun with lately. This infographic ‘Why managing payroll is like a family trip to the theme park‘, was created for an audience of payroll managers, to fuel an ABM programme that we’re running with CloudPay. Drawing on the emotions they can often feel in their jobs, the piece takes a light-hearted look at the frustrations this audience can experience every day, with the goal being that it resonates and inspires them to take action.

4. Draw on your experts

SEO has moved on from keyword stuffing and Google now rewards true thought leadership and content that audiences spend time reading and sharing. People want to hear real stories about how others have tackled the problems they’re facing. 

Using your company’s own subject matter experts can help give the audience the expertise they’re craving. This can include partners too. A guide we produced for our client, Square, recently used their integration partner Deputy to great effect, adding extra quotes and supporting data. Including third parties as guest contributors opens up opportunities for them to promote the content organically to their own networks, be it through LinkedIn or their company newsletters –  so it’s a double win.

5. Tailor your promotion strategy to the audience

As B2B marketers we often rely on tried and tested channels to promote our content. LinkedIn, for example, is great because of its enhanced targeting capabilities and reputation as a hub for professionals to find helpful, work-related resources. 

But what if your audience research threw up a new channel where your customers and competitors are hanging out and you’re not? In the IT community, Reddit is increasingly being adopted for B2B advertising and it’s something we’re starting to test with our clients. This has been driven by asking customers where they consume information and tailoring our approach to them. To use a dating analogy, there’s no point dancing in one nightclub, if the person you want to seduce has moved on to a new bar that you don’t know about yet. 

We’re lucky as B2B marketers today, powered by the digital tools that we have in our armoury, to be more personalised than ever when reaching the audiences we want to influence. The tech is out there to help us – the amount of data and insight we can gather on audiences’ preferences, habits and behaviours is both marvellous and slightly terrifying. But ultimately, we’re all humans and sometimes it does come down to a good old fashioned conversation to unearth those gems, understand people’s fears, pains and passions and ultimately, inspire action.

Ready to deep-dive into your customer insights?
We believe in making connections that matter. Let us help you transform your data into actionable strategies that resonate with your target audience. Talk to us today to find out more.

Further reading

The Modern curve of return: develop your demand strategy

The Digital: keep ahead of the B2B digital marketing trends

The impact of the strategic skills gap in marketing technology