What content does the audience demand from your brand?
Reframing research for a new era of marketing
It’s funny how as marketers we often conform to certain ways of working because we see others doing that same thing. And while there are definitely best practices in marketing, there’s so much scope for interpretation, expansion and adaptation that goes unexploited. Take, for example, research. I’ve worked in a range of agencies and in-house with a range of marketing types and it’s obvious that many marketers don’t make the most of research, especially when it comes to understanding their audience.
Working with businesses large and small on their content strategy (which is basically marketing strategy because, as Seth Godin said, “content marketing is basically all the marketing that’s left”), I’ve realised that the approach legacy marketers use for research is broken. We’ve either been myopically focused on one form of research or we’ve become obsessed with just getting ‘all the data’ without any idea of what we want to do with it.
These ingrained habits mean that we generally forego perhaps the most important question of all; ‘what content does the audience demand from your brand?’.
Consumers demand quality. We give them crap
The only thing that matters to consumers is getting what they demand and, frankly, we don’t do the research to figure out what that is.
Ironically, the audience is telling us what they demand. They’re demanding content that’s more than just educational, useful, rewarding or helpful and, when they find it, they’re rewarding it in spades.
It’s the reason why from 2015 to 2018, BuzzFeed’s social shares dropped by 60 percent while shares of The New York Times content tripled. It’s the reason why 70 percent of U.S. consumers now binge-watch TV shows, watching an average of five episodes at a time, according to a study by Deloitte. It’s the reason why the top 10 posts on Medium are regularly 5,000 words plus. And it’s the reason why Fortnite players sink an average of six to 10 hours into the game every week and 15 percent of school-age kids have skipped school to parachute out of that battle bus.
And while consumers demand and reward quality, all we do is give them crap. The only way to change that is to change the way we research and understand that demand for our brand.
Refocusing our research on demand
The very robust and eye-opening Havas Meaningful Brands Study (the latest of which dropped in February 2019) holds some clues as to how we might give our audience what they’re demanding.
The first thing to note is that we are not feeding consumers something they don’t want. In fact, 90 percent of them want content from brands. That’s right, they want it. Unfortunately, consumers also rate 58 percent of that content from brands as ‘not meaningful’ or, in other words, almost six out of ten people think the stuff we make for them is crap. The result is that people wouldn’t care if 77 percent of brands disappeared.
The Havas study concludes that great content is the way to establish this meaningfulness that’s missing for consumers. In my opinion, that doesn’t go far enough; marketers have a way of misinterpreting the idea of ‘great content’ into a super fancy, high-production value TVC or an innovative influencer campaign on social media.
We don’t need more of that kind of content, so we must reframe the question around what the audience is demanding.
‘What content does the audience demand for your brand?’ is the question that should be leading research and strategy for any marketing activity.
For a great object lesson about a brand that knows the answer to this question, I don’t think you can’t go past the at-home fitness company Peloton. This read on Medium and this CNBC profile are great backgrounders on their approach to marketing and meeting the audience demand.
I’ve been doing my best to stay focused on this question in my strategy work for clients and it’s led me to approach research differently. I call this approach ‘content demand research’ and while it’s not a totally new way of doing research, it does make it easier to stay focused on audience needs without being distracted by a product or brand message that may not resonate with that audience.
Content demand research is a combination of three streams of insights that pretty much every marketing and communications pro has access to. What’s compelling about this approach is that it dissects familiar research methods in different ways to reveal more about the audience.
Leveraging search, behavioural and editorial insights
Now, it’s going to be hard to explain all the ins and outs of content demand research in this blog post, so if this is stirring something inside you, I encourage you to check out my full #Digitalks presentation about this topic.
But what I will do here is break down the three areas of this approach and why they matter.
Firstly, let’s dissect search insights
Once you’ve done the basics of keyword research, there are some other ways you can reveal the audience’s problems and questions that your brand could help them with:
- Build a DIY search engine; use Google Custom Search Engine to sandbox your site and your competitors to better spot opportunities and white space for your brand
- Question mining; identify a handful of forums in your niche, definitely including Reddit, and mine them for questions that reveal the intent of your audience (you can use a tool like Answer The Public to check how prevalent those questions might be)
- Validation by voice; use questions that have risen to the top during your research to run voice searches and take note of sites and brands that pop up and the content of their answers
Next, think differently in relation to behavioural insights about your audience
Of course, the basics here are super important, so start by using your brand’s own (first party) data to establish baselines or benchmarks for behavioural triggers. From there, think about:
- Scaling your data; use second party data and/or targeting tools like Facebook’s Custom Audience feature to scale your audience pool and discover new audience insights
- Segmenting and testing; you’ll have some hypotheses at this point, so get testing with content aimed at various segments of your target audience (Google Optimize is a great beginners’ tool)
- Mapping the ideal journey; identify the volume of content that drives ideal outcomes at each trigger for your target audience so you can start designing your implementation plan
Finally, editorial insights will help you uncover your audience’s interests and what influences them
This is one major step that traditional research methods ignore. Start with the basics of making a top 20 list of media and influencers that matter to your audience and then:
- Read and rate; get a strong coffee and get to work consuming a lot of content on that top 20 list and score each source against the relevance of that content for the audience, how unique it is and how expert or credible it sounds
- Find true influence; scrub the best performing sources your audience are following for fake or irrelevant audiences using a tool like HypeAuditor to get a true sense of where your audience takes its lead
- Hone in on social; get a handle on how well your competitors’ content is connecting with the audience by benchmarking their social content for major topics of interest (RivalIQ is a useful tool for this)
The importance of a demand statement
Once you’ve unlocked insights using these search, behavioural and editorial approaches, the final (and perhaps most crucial) step is answering the question ‘what content does the audience demand from your brand?’. I call this answer a demand statement; it’s a powerful, focused and actionable understanding of what the audience wants from your brand.
In the case of our mates at Peloton, their demand statement might sound something like this:
Content that highlights the positive impact a supportive and inclusive community can have on your own personal health and wellbeing
It’s more than a strapline or USP; in my opinion, the demand statement is the clearest and most evidence-backed way of informing your marketing approach in this day and age. It’s a statement that is deliberately not about the brand and it’s more audience-centred than anything we’re used to churning out in marketing.
We’re so accustomed to delivering our brand’s message, improving our brand’s reputation, driving more conversions that we’ve overwhelmed our audience with content that no one is looking for or craving. Remember, 90 percent of consumers want content from brands, they just don’t want the crap stuff. There’s an explicit demand for quality, meaningful content and, if we want our content to succeed in this new era of marketing, the only way is to unlock that demand and deliver on it.Back