I’m here today with a reminder about an all-important truth when it comes to content strategy: research is everything.
When I evaluate copy and content strategies, I often see what amounts to copycat content.
Not that these people are stealing. No.
Typically, it’s clear to see they are working off of limited information (perhaps their client is stiff-lipped) or simply looking around to see what everyone else is doing — and then creating something similar and safe.
Both those approaches will lead you to a content strategy that is DOA: Dead on Arrival.
Here are six areas you should research to avoid that, so your content marketing gets — and holds — your audience’s attention.
Your research should begin and end here.
This step is not about your company or your client’s company. Nor is it about what you or your client thinks about the consumer.
Lay all opinions aside.
Instead, interview about a dozen prospects and a dozen actual customers.
Read what people say about the company or product on social media and in forums. Look at reviews on Amazon. Send out surveys.
And then continue to understand your customer. Ad nauseam.
Consumers should inform the content you produce.
Examine both direct and indirect competitors.
Direct competitors are companies who compete with similar products for the same customers.
Indirect competitors are a little harder to find.
For example, let’s say you are an online wine commission.
Direct competitors would be other online wine commissions, wine stores, wineries, and so on. Indirect competitors would be sellers of other breeds of alcohol (moonshine distillers and mail-order microbrews).
But other indirect competitors could also include drugs that induce relaxation and euphoria (a marijuana bar, for example).
Your job, content marketer, is to understand all the options out there.
And then create a value proposition for your content strategy that makes you the only obvious choice.
And by the way, if this sounds like a lot of hard work — it is.
3. Company and product
Your next step is to know everything about the company and product. This is pretty straightforward.
Talk to executives, salespeople, developers, engineers, the customer service team, and help desk folks.
Read through the testimonials and customer service email exchanges. Look for a thread that runs throughout the company about the product.
- Is everyone on the same page?
- Does there seem to be a conflict of opinions about the product?
- How can you create a unified message from these different perspectives?
Next, use the product.
Give it to your family and friends to use. Watch people using the product. Listen to what they say about the product, and ask yourself these questions:
- Is the company’s opinion of the way the product should be used the same as the user’s?
- Are people using the product in unexpected ways?
- What are people saying when they use the product?
Channels help you understand how the product gets from the company to the customer.
- How does a prospect find the product?
- How many distribution channels (the method of getting the actual product in the customer’s hands) are there? Are they reliable?
- Are the channels tested? Regularly?
Then you need to understand what happens after the sale.
- How satisfied are customers with the product?
- Is customer satisfaction guaranteed? Is there a return policy?
- Is there a reliable method to encourage satisfied customers to refer the company and product?
A customer journey map comes in handy here.
5. Industry trends
Follow up those four activities with a hard look at what is going on in the company’s industry. What are the fads (short-term popularity)? What are the trends (long-term, stable popularity)?
Pay attention to what thought leaders are saying. Scour news sources, social media accounts, and the conversations occurring at the bar stools and hallways of the big conferences.
Subscribe to relevant trade journals, consumer magazines, and blogs. Keep an eye out for local, state, and federal laws that could impact the company and product.
Usually big news will bubble up to the top, but if you are proactive, you can stay one step ahead of competitors and catch wind of a shift in the market before everyone else.
6. Major world events
Finally, what’s going on around the world?
Are there events in Southeast Asia that could impact your business? Perhaps you have a sizable market in that area you want to tap into but a deep recession has just hit.
Or perhaps there is political turmoil in northern Montana that may upset the balance of Internet freedom.
Who knows? Anything can happen.
Thus, it’s best to have your ear to the ground, so you don’t get caught off guard. You might also recognize an easy opportunity to capitalize on a current event.
Fortunately, staying abreast of current events is a pretty simple process if you follow major newspapers online and/or listen to podcasts or other audio content about world news.
Discover and reveal something new
Research helps you find the startling hook that allows you to create content that stands out.
Your goal is to position a company or product so that when people think about “Topic X” they think about the company or product.
Not only will you be able to place your content in the best possible position to win, but you’ll also dig up mountains of content ideas.
And keep in mind that research is not a one-and-done process; it’s a routine custom. You’ll lower your learning curve in the initial phase of research, and after that, it’s all about refinement.
Read all of the posts in our content strategy series
- 16 Stats That Explain Why Adaptive Content Matters Right Now
- 13 Simple Questions to Help You Draft a Winning Content Strategy [Free Worksheet]
- A Brief Guide to Fixing Your Old, Neglected, and Broken Content
- 4 Ways to Identify Site Visitors (and Why It Matters)
- 8 Conversion-Boosting Ways to Personalize Your Content
- 5 Powerful Ways to Keep Building Authority Once Your Content Has Matured