A 6-Step Content Marketing Research Process

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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.

You can read the first post in the series right here.

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Reader Comments (42)

  1. says

    Very helpful guidelines. Although some have the opposite problem – instead of skipping the research, you can get bogged down in the research and think “I just need a little more data before I execute”.

  2. says

    Beth, I love this list! I couldn’t agree more. I try to spend at least an hour a day in different forums and communities just watching and reading posts. I run a cigar review blog and cigar smokers are a very tight nit community. They all share a ton of information with each other so freely. It’s great to just be a part of that conversation. When I’m browsing the forums I always keep evernote open to jot down notes under my ‘Blog Ideas’ note to keep track of ideas that I want to expand upon. Just another little helpful tip there :)

  3. says

    “And as you’re participating and helping other community members, you can learn a lot by watching and learning.”
    Great advice. I still read industry blogs every day because it helps keep me up to speed. You need to know what is going on in your community if you want to be able to participate.

  4. says

    Hey Beth,

    Have you ever been stuck and didn’t know why and when you tried to get unstuck, if you listened you could hear your wheels spinning? Been there, done that more times than I can count.

    It’s taken a few decades for me to pull out of this rut you’re writing about, i.e. the need for research.

    I have a razor sharp, crock-pot mind. I’m slow but I’m good. :)

    In all seriousness, I hate to admit it but I suffered from the delusion that I know what’s best, that I’m smarter than the rest, so why do research when I already know what the outcome is going to be.

    In my defense it wasn’t that I was lacking in empathy or that I couldn’t see from someone else’s perspective, in fact my Hartman value profile suggests that I have a heightened sense of empathy, the deficiency was in my failure to acknowledge it.

    I’ve gained some traction in this area of my life and business but it took being honest with myself and admitting that I need help acknowledging others thoughts and opinions before I started making any real gains.

    The place I still struggle with research is in interpreting what the research uncovers. In other words seeing and understanding it from others perspective and then writing about it with that in mind.

    Perhaps you could elaborate on interpreting and converting the research in a future post or get others to weigh in with how they’ve overcome this challenge.

    Only the Best,

    • says

      I let my research guide the topics of my posts. For example, if I want to write about post hypnotic suggestions and I see that lots of my colleague’s fans comment on his videos that they want help to do better in sports, I would show them how to use suggestions to enhance their performances. I would either do that as an example within the piece or write the entire post about how to use mental cues to enhance their physical abilities.

  5. says

    Beth, this is a great addition to your content research series. Find out how your audience see’s the world, the problems they’re having and then dig in to deliver exactly what they need. I don’t see how you can go wrong with that. Thanks for these steps!

  6. says

    What a fantastic analogy, and so many good suggestions!

    I constantly have to remind myself that no matter how great I may think my skills are, or how well I think I may understand my audience, the research is key.

  7. says

    One of my favourite ways to do customer research is to read the customer reviews on Amazon. It’s amazing how much you can learn from them. Every review there will either tell you what a person liked or disliked about a product, and in not too much time you can outline an entire product based on what you’ve learned.

  8. says

    The training is integral.

    I often forget this, and when I go into a period where I am not writing regularly, when I try and crank out a few blog posts the magic just isn’t there.

    So I need to go back into my virtual ‘gym,’ and exercise by journaling regularly. For some reason, flexing the creative muscle regularly yields real results in the quality of work; and I think you’ve explained why here. Thanks, Beth!

  9. says

    Beth, thanks for these great steps on content market research. it helps us create content that goes beyond personal opinion and that offers some sound advice. It’s critical to put context around the content and not just repeat what we’ve heard. Context comes from getting the content from several different sources and helping our readers logically and emotionally connect the dots.

  10. says

    I struggle with feeling lazy while I’m researching. (If I’m gathering information, I’m not actually creating anything.) I think it’s important to strike a balance between learning and producing. Good post!

  11. Anne says

    Dear Beth,
    I have read many articles on Content Marketing, Keyword Research etc., but never have I read such an intelligent, insightful article such as yours. This is bottom line stuff and I love it. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

  12. says

    I regularly visit not only other blogs in my niche but forums and Facebook pages. These sites have people posting about what they are trying to fix or problems that they have.

    • Anne says

      Thank you Troy,
      I have been focusing on articles regarding keywords, and what marketers are writing about. But I really do appreciate what Beth says with her 6 step content marketing research, it is so logical.

      Yes blogs, forums, and social sites do make sense. Troy, thank you so much for your input.

  13. Khensa Bangert says

    Great article. A 7th important point I suggest adding: “Discover your audience’s strengths”
    In my experience, one can never really have a strategic and actionable plan without knowing these strengths.

  14. says

    Getting involved with the community you’re researching on is one the top most criteria for content marketing research process. Contain some helpful guidelines. BTW, Nice article.

  15. says

    Today is my first time to visit copyblogger,though have been a regular reader of Darren’s blog(problogger) i must confess this blog is like a university.Thank so much Brian.it is wonderful been here to learn.my blogging career just got better.

  16. says

    Thanks Beth, this was a very interesting post providing some useful strategies for me to consider when conducting market research.


  17. Kevin says

    I hate the athlete analogy. I feel that it gets over used and mis-represented. It’s an easy analogy to use because we see how hard athletes work. They get so good by practicing, so if you want to get good, you need to practice just as hard at your craft. This may partly come from my day job in sales where they compared human interaction to hours spent shooting three pointers. So nothing against you, promise.

    I also see market research as closer to weight training than to the countless hours spent on the court. You can play basketball without it, but weight training is what separates the good from the great.

    Besides the analogy, I did really enjoy the post. I’ve found blogs and forums to be the quickest way to go from clueless to smartest guy in the room. I also believe that figuring out what your audience wants and how they think is one of the most crucial parts of having an online business.

    Making market research a part of your daily routine is very important. I personally use Flipboard on my iPad to stay in touch with what is going on in my niche.

    • says

      I love the athlete analogy. It works because it encourages people to just keep on keeping on. Something people don’t do enough of.

  18. Gene F. Cooper,GySgt/USMC/Ret. says

    My manuscript was written years ago, sitting in the library of congress. Was seeking a publisher to get this non-fiction to the masses, when it was recommended that I should go “ebook”. The cover is burned in my mind, which, in itself will wet the mental appetites. My problem is getting through the areas that I am unfamiliar.
    Gene F. Cooper, Gunnery Sergeant of Marines/Retired

  19. says

    Great article. A 7th important point I suggest adding: “Discover your audience’s strengths”
    In my experience, one can never really have a strategic and actionable plan without knowing these strengths.

  20. says

    Great article. I especially like the part about becoming part of the community you are researching. There is no better way to truly understand what you are researching.

  21. says

    Too often we think writing is the hardest part of writing and forget the work that needs to go into it first. :)
    One way to harness the power of keyword research, especially if you’re writing about solutions to customer problems, is to look for phrases like “how do I” or “where do I find” or “need help with” which clearly communicate intent around an issue.

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