Professional athletes log thousands of hours in the gym preparing for competitions on the field, court, bike or ski run.
Athletes can’t be great at what they do without putting in that critical preparation time in the gym.
It’s the work that most people never see — all those hours of workout time — that makes the difference between a good athlete and a truly great one.
In the world of content marketing, you need to think of yourself as an athlete. Your market research is your training — it’s what you have to do, day by day and week by week, in order to be great at what you do.
Most of the time when we talk about “work” in our world, we’re talking about writing content, creating products, managing social media or email campaigns, answering emails, and taking care of our customers.
But before we can do any of that, we need to get prepared. And we get prepared by doing our research.
So what should your research process look like? What steps can you take to gather the best possible data on your target audience?
1. Get (truly) motivated
Doing market research helps you better understand what your community needs, and that information allows you to help your audience in totally unique ways.
Getting the inside track on how your audience thinks (and what it needs) not only allows you to create perfectly targeted content, but it allows you to create products and services that solve very specific problems.
And yes, that puts cash in your pocket.
But I’ll bet money isn’t the only reason you started your business. I’ll bet you started your company because you genuinely want to help people.
So remember why you need to do market research. We do our research so we can help people them solve their problems and enable them to live better, fuller, richer lives.
If you let truly important motivations light a fire under you — rather than just visions of big payouts — your research process will be a lot easier (and considerably more fun.)
2. Be a part of the community you’re researching
The best (and easiest) way to do audience research is to be an integral member of your own market.
So if you’ve got your own blog, and you have readers who regularly chime in with opinions, questions, complaints and insights, you can gather fantastic market data from that community.
If you don’t have your own audience yet, you can participate on other websites and blogs that attract the audience you’re trying to connect with.
Join the community you’re trying to serve. Take part in discussions and conversations via social networking sites, blogs, forums and other online groups.
Give freely and generously. Answer questions. Participate. Ask nothing in return when you’re a new member of the community — just provide helpful insight to other members of that tribe.
And as you’re participating and helping other community members, you can learn a lot by watching and learning.
3. Research your audience’s mindset
The first thing you need to study is your audience’s mindset — the way they look at the world.
What’s important to them? What types of people do they admire? What are their values?
Tools like LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook let you gather information about audience mindset by letting you eavesdrop on their digital worlds (NOT in a creepy way). These online tools give you a daily peek into what people do and say every day — and that stuff is market research gold.
You can also do keyword research to discover more about the way your market looks at the world. Use keyword research tools like WordTracker and Google Keyword searches to find out everything you can about the topics your audience is interested in and the things they want to know more about.
Yes, keyword research is important for search engine optimization, but it’s also some of the best market research around.
4. Discover your audience’s problems
When conducting market research, you’re also trying to find out what your prospects’ problems are — all those annoyances and complaints, all the whining and whinging.
You can discover not only the problems that are keeping them up at night, but the inconsistencies and troubles with your competitor’s problems and services, too.
You can discover what’s not being done well in your industry — and how you can handle it better.
Discovering unsolved problems or dissatisfaction gives you the opportunity to satisfy needs no one else can, because you have information they don’t have (or haven’t noticed yet.)
So use social media eavesdropping and keyword research (as well as traditional market research tools like surveys, interviews and focus groups) to discover people’s problems.
Then use the insight you gain to create content that speaks directly to your audience in a way no one else can.
Your readers and customers want content that addresses their needs and desires, and talks to them in a way that resonates with who they are and how they look at the world.
When you do market research consistently and well, you will know exactly what kind of content your audience needs and wants. And that knowledge gives you a totally unfair (and completely awesome) advantage in your market.
5. Train consistently
Remember that market research (just like training workouts for athletes) is never a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process that you will need to finesse and tweak, revamp and redo — just like everything else about your content marketing strategy.
So plan to do market research regularly. Make it part of your weekly and monthly content marketing routines.
When you’re planning how to spend your workweek, structure your schedule to build in time for watching and learning. Make it a top priority. It’s one of the most important things you can do to set your business up for success.
Without market research, you’ll just be one of thousands of business owners trying to take their best guess about what their customer needs. If you consistently do the research, you’ll know exactly what they need — and be perfectly positioned to deliver it to them.
6. Embrace the work
As content marketers, many of us think of market research as an afterthought — something that we have to laboriously slog through in order to get to our actual work of creating products, online content, educational programs and sales pages.
But if we don’t do our market research, all our other work will be fall flat. It’s critical that we discover everything we can about the people we’re trying to reach, and listen to what they’re trying to tell us.
Market research is hard because it is messy. You have to wade through ungodly amounts of noise in order to get to the useful nuggets of information that help you understand your audience.
Sifting through all that noise is annoying and tiresome. It’s hard.
But we have to embrace this work — even if it’s hard. In fact, it’s specifically because it’s hard that it’s one of the best things for us to do.
Because it’s difficult, it’s likely that our competitors aren’t doing it — or aren’t doing it well.
And that gives us a spectacular advantage on the competition field. So make sure to pull on those sneakers and get your butt to the gym.
It’s probably the most important thing you’ll do all day.
This is part two of my content research series …
This post is part two of our series on how to do effective research as a content marketer.
To get the full series, watch for future posts here on Copyblogger. If you’re not already subscribed, sign up to get new posts delivered straight to your inbox.
About the Author: Beth Hayden is an author, speaker, and content marketing expert who specializes in working with small businesses. To find out how to get more traffic to your site by writing wildly popular blog posts, grab your free copy of Beth's report, How to Write Blog Posts That Go Viral.
Beth will also be attending the 2015 Authority Rainmaker event this May -- so make sure to come over and say hi when you arrive!