Creating great content requires more than skilled writing. It requires market research and personal conversation so that your content will anticipate the audience’s needs and be well targeted to address those needs.
Before you start to write, you need to know what information your readers will want to see on your blog, website, or social networking campaign. You need to know what will be relevant and important enough to command their attention.
So, how will you learn what’s on their minds?
You will ask, of course. But also offer a premium to thank them for their time and show that you value their input. Their information is vital to your business, so it’s in your best interest to offer something of value in return.
Luckily, this is relatively easy to do: Think of ways you can make their lives easier, more fun, more informed, or more efficient. Here are five ideas to help you learn more about your content’s audience:
1. Create a contest
Give away a valuable prize in exchange for valuable information. A giveaway, such as a top-of-the-line iPad, will attract attention. And who wouldn’t be interested in taking a few minutes to answer your questions for a chance to win something cool?
Not only can a contest help you gather information that can inform your online content efforts, but it can also be tied to your other marketing efforts. For example, if you run a brick-and-mortar business, place entry forms on the counter for customers to fill out while they are in your store (be sure to include a picture to draw attention to the prize, as well as the contest rules). Then take photos of your winner, which can be used in your online, offline, and advertising efforts. Make winning into a prestigious event with lots of fanfare — when you award the prize, it gives you an opportunity to invite local media, throw a party with lots of buzz, tweet the event, blog about it, or mention it on your website.
2. Organize an online scavenger hunt
This is an excellent technique, as you can require your audience to search your content, website, blog, and even your social networking profiles for clues. It requires them to open a channel of communication with you in order to participate.
A scavenger hunt sends your audience on a search of your website and social media outlets for answers to questions that you provide. Be sure to ask questions that inform your audience about your business, and get them to open up about the additional information they would like to have. While web-wide searches are possible, it’s best to confine the searches to your company’s online presence — where the traffic will do you the most good.
Of course, your audience needs to prove that they’ve actually found the information you want them to hunt for. Ask participants to email you the web addresses (URLs) where they found the answers to your clues. Or, provide clues that can only be solved by searching your site — such as what words pop up when the mouse is placed on a certain graphic. (A simple addition of alt text data to your image takes care of the pop-up text.)
The audience gets a chance to win a prize, and you get page views and a forum to communicate with your audience about what they want to see from your company — invaluable market data.
3. Offer a free report or white paper
This works very well for an information-hungry audience, or for audiences that work in information-rich industries, such as investments, mortgage brokerage firms, real estate agencies, or engineering firms.
At the very least, collect the email addresses of potential leads through your registration questionnaire — addresses you can use to send newsletters, email marketing campaigns, and offers for additional free content.
To capture useful information, start by creating a registration form or survey to be filled out before the report can be accessed. Make sure your form looks presentable, that is, easy to read with lots of white space so that completing it doesn’t look like an overwhelming task.
Next, create a list of 10 to12 questions that speak to the information you want to gather (this is not the place for a six-page compendium). Ask questions such as:
- What social media sites do you like best?
- Do you prefer to get information from a video or from a downloadable report?
- Are you interested in learning how to use our products in ways you might not think of?
- Do you prefer to get messages from us via an email newsletter or on a blog where you see comments on what other customers are saying, doing, and how they are using our products?
See the pattern? Yes, your questions are designed to gather market research, but they also provide clients with the opportunity to make your content better from their points of view. Be smart, and let your audience guide the contents of your content, so to speak. This provides needed information to your readers; the value to you comes from people reading your material, getting to know you, establishing a relationship, and then doing business with you. So, choose your questions with care, and make your survey easy to complete and return.
4. Provide a coupon
There is no better attractor than saving a buck, so consider using a coupon to promote sales of a product or service. If you have an item that is not selling well, this technique may be particularly helpful.
With a coupon, you can offer a discount on goods or services to entice the reader to fill out your survey, or just submit their contact information to let you know they are interested in your company. In addition to giving you the market research you need, this technique offers a couple distinct advantages:
- It helps sell your product. If you need to move merchandise because it is seasonal, going out of style, or you just need to get it off your books, a coupon will help you do that.
- Sales from coupons still represent real income.
5. Offer a discount on your conference or seminar registration fees
If your business runs conferences, seminars, or webinars, lowering the cost your audience will pay to attend in exchange for answering some pre-registration questions can provide several advantages:
- It helps you inform clients that an event is coming up, that there is a fee to attend, and that they can reduce their costs if they register online in advance.
- You promote the seminar, your expertise, your questionnaire, and your business all at the same time, and offer clients a money-saving opportunity to increase their knowledge.
As you read these ideas, we hope you were thinking about marketing, because that is what it all boils down to: hard-as-nails internet marketing. Call it content or whatever else you want, but don’t lose sight of the fact that the purpose is to make you and your business more well-known, more of an asset to your clientele, and more successful, overall.
One last thing: Be sure that you treat your content and social networking campaigns like a ball of string — an integrated effort where finding any part of it leads you to the whole. Ain’t nothing better than that.
If you’ve used any of these techniques, let us know how they worked for you by sharing your story in the comments below.