One of the biggest shifts the content marketing revolution has brought about is the change in focus of communications. B2B marketing used to be all about promoting your brand, making sure people understood your value proposition, emphasizing your selling points. Today, the focus has pivoted 180 degrees to zoom in on the needs of the audience — solving their problems, addressing their interests, giving them something of value.
But if the audience is so important, why do so many brands do such a lousy job of listening to them?
Brands spend untold amounts of resources creating content marketing that they think their current and prospective customers will understand, enjoy, and appreciate — without ever taking the time to listen to them. Then they wonder why their engagement numbers are so low.
Audience listening is the key to developing content that resonates with your targets — content that will make them want to engage with you and eventually, if they have a need for your product, to buy from you. And the tools you need to listen effectively are a lot closer than you think. Here are nine ways to incorporate audience listening into your B2B marketing strategy to build the solid foundation for effective content marketing.
1. Audience Surveys
Obviously, one of the best ways to find out what your audience wants is to ask them. You can easily create a survey using free tools like Survey Monkey and Google Forms. Or, for more targeted market research, Google Surveys will ask audiences to complete your survey questions in exchange for accessing premium content or other incentives. As you plan your audience surveys, remember to keep the following best practices in mind:
– Make a plan: Set a time frame for your survey, decide on your goals, and choose your methods.
– Keep the number of questions manageable.
– Always offer an incentive — either a small gift to every user (like a $5 gift card) or an entry into a drawing for a larger prize (such as an iPad).
– Promote your survey via email, social media, and other channels.
Analytics such as email open and clickthrough rates, website traffic numbers, and social media engagement rates can be treasure troves of information about what your audience wants from you. Remember that not all indicators are created equal (for example, social likes are good, but social shares are better), and analytics don’t tell the whole story. Look at your analytics as part of the bigger picture of audience listening, and use what you learn to inform your other tactics. If you notice high engagement rates around a particular topic, for example, you can spin that insight into a survey that digs deeper into your audience’s concerns around that topic.
3. Blog Comments
Blog comments aren’t quite as popular as they were in the days before social media, but people still do post them, so it’s important to listen for them. Some brands choose to disable comments because of spammers and trolls, but doing so cuts off an important line of communication between your organization and your audience. (FYI, you can set up your CMS to require your approval before comments are published, and WordPress plugins such as Akismet will filter out spammers automatically.)
Check your site regularly — at least once a day — for blog comments and respond to them promptly. If a visitor leaves a compliment, a thank-you response is always appreciated. If someone disagrees with the views you shared, engage them with respect. If someone uses the commenting section to report on a problem with your product or service, invite them to engage with you on the appropriate channels.
4. Intent Data
We all know intent data is the most effective way to fill your funnel with high-quality leads, and it’s also a rich resource for audience listening. By monitoring the intent signals of those who are actively researching your product, you can gain a wealth of insights around their pain points, their interests, and their ambitions for the future.
Even if you used intent data to create your audience personas, remember that your audience is always changing, and so is their business environment. Revisit your intent monitoring platform on a regular basis to see which topics are trending among your audience and which ones have fallen off. This knowledge will enable you to create content around their interests today, helping them solve today’s problems and plan for tomorrow’s goals.
Another innovative way to listen to your audience is to invite them into the content creation process via crowdsourcing. Put out a question around a particular topic (such as “How do you think X regulation will affect your industry?”) or a more general question at certain times of the year (such as “Which trends will dominate your industry in the coming year?”). When you give people an open forum and they know you’re listening, you might be surprised at how candid they can be.
Once you receive your answers, compile the best ones into a blog post or use them as the basis for a white paper, and keep them handy to serve as ideas for future content.
Crowdsourcing is not only an ideal audience listening technique — it’s also great for driving engagement. When you publish your crowdsourced content, be sure to email it to your contributors personally (you might even offer them an exclusive sneak peek). People will want to click through to content they had a hand in creating, and many will also want to share it with their social media communities.
6. Social Listening
The people in your target audience take to social media for all kinds of reasons — to praise, to complain, to ask for recommendations or advice. When you engage in active social listening on all those social channels and respond appropriately, you open up a new line of communication with your audience that can form the basis of a solid relationship.
Make sure your social networks are set up to send you a notification any time someone:
– Contacts you via your profile page
– Mentions or tags you in a post (remember, not all mentions are tags)
– Mentions or tags one of your competitors in a post
– Comments on one of your posts
– Shares or retweets one of your posts
You can expand your social listening by doing a daily search for topics or hashtags related to your product area, particularly in posts searching for recommendations or advice. Not only will you gain additional insights into what the people in your audience are thinking, but you may uncover opportunities to engage new leads.
7. Your Sales Team
Some of your best sources of audience insights may be sitting in an office just down the hall — your sales team. Remember, they’re out there every day talking to prospective customers. Think there might be some valuable insights hidden in those conversations?
Talk to your sales reps regularly; you may even want to set up weekly or monthly sessions to chat about their most recent sales conversations. What are those prospects concerned about? What do they like — or not like — about their relationship with their current suppliers? What’s on their wish list? Spending just a few minutes a week talking with your sales team can yield a wave of insights to help you understand your audience on a whole new level.
8. Your Support Team and Account Reps
Just as your sales team is your link to prospective clients, your support team and account reps can clue you in to what your current clients are thinking and doing — what keeps them up at night, what they’re excited about, what frustrates them, what they like the most (or the least) about your product. Spending time with your support and account service team on a regular basis can turn you into an expert on the people who have already chosen to do business with you. By consulting those teams on a regular basis, you can gain the insights you need to continue serving your clients well.
9. One-to-One Research
Last but definitely not least, remember that good old-fashioned phone calls or face-to-face visits can be incredibly powerful research tools. Partner with your account service team to reach out to clients on a one-to-one basis and ask them the same questions you would in a survey. Be sure to get a good sampling of old and new clients, “good” and “challenging” clients, and big and small clients. It’s always a good idea to have some questions scripted out, but if they start to open up about a particular subject, let them. They’ll appreciate having a friendly ear to hear them out … and you’ll appreciate the insights that will help you create powerful, laser-targeted content.
Malcolm Forbes once said, “The art of conversation lies in listening.” In the pivot towards content marketing, brands are recognizing that in today’s customer-centric environment, having a conversation is more important than pitching a product. And while most B2B marketing teams understand the “talking” part of that conversation — publishing blog posts and white papers, sending emails, posting on social media, etc. — few have truly mastered the art of listening to their audiences. By adding these nine audience listening techniques to your strategy, you can begin to understand your targets on a deep, personal level. The insights you gain from listening will help you form solid relationships that will not only fuel your content marketing program, but also build your brand and benefit your bottom line.