By Barbra Gago published March 22, 2011

7 Ways to Research Your Buyer for Content Marketing

With just a couple Google searches, you quickly realize that while everyone is telling you to research your buyers, no one is telling you exactly how to do it. Some of your initial questions may include:

  • What should I look for?
  • What resources should I use?

Like most research projects, there should be a balance between qualitative and quantitative research, a mix between interpretive observations and objective testing and non-refutable data. Your goal when researching buyers is not just to understand the statistical representation of a group, but also to appreciate the subtle nuances of an individual buyer and his or her thought process.

To help you get started, I’ve compiled a list of seven easy ways to learn more about your buyers. I include both on and off-line methods, some of which require monetary resources and others that don’t. If you have had success with a technique, or something is left out, please share your feedback in the comments section below.

Interview current customers

This may seem obvious, but how many of you take the time to talk to your customers? They are a perfect resource because they’ve purchased your product or service and are relatively accessible to you. Interviewing customers will not only give you insight into their decision-making process, it will also be a great opportunity to gather content for a case study. An easy way is to leverage new relationships: try asking a couple of probing questions about their purchasing process at the end of your initial kick-off meeting.

RELATED IDEA: In addition to talking to customers one-on-one, also consider surveying prospects or conducting focus groups.

A/B testing

Testing our content is easier than ever, and it’s critical that we do so. This will obviously help with your conversion numbers, but that’s because it gives you quantitative insights into what works for your prospects and what doesn’t. Not only should you test messaging, frequency and headlines, but you should also be testing different types of media. What content formats are most effective?  If you can take it a step further, test content with groups at different stages of the buying process.

Try progressive profiling

Are you leveraging repeat traffic to your site to gather more information about prospective buyers? If not, you should. A lot of companies are using marketing automation technology to deliver consistent, relevant content for leads. But, some are taking it a step further and are using a technique known as ‘progressive profiling’ to gather more information about prospects over time. This is ideal for prospects because it makes their lives easier.  Every time they download something, they only have to give one or two pieces of information (which are automatically stored in the CRM or marketing automation system). For the marketer, it’s a perfect opportunity to analyze key trends gleaned from the data that these prospects provided to you over time.

Study your web analytics

There’s a ton of data accessible to you through your web analytics, but how are you using it to learn more about your buyers? Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What are the patterns of visitor behavior?
  • Where do they come from?
  • Where do they go while on the site?
  • How long do they stay?
  • What content formats are most popular?
  • Do these patterns tell you anything about where your customers are in their buying process, or what content is most effective at the different stages of their buying process?

RELATED IDEA: Use Google’s keyword suggest tool to better understand how prospects describe their challenges

Leverage your competitors

Not only do your customers have access to more information than ever before, but so do you! One way to get great insights into your buyers is to study the research or case studies that your competitors have published. Reviewing their case studies might help you better understand your buyer, as well as why they chose your competitor over you.

RELATED IDEA: In addition to following the competition, follow industry analyst blogs and reports.

Use professional social networks

Aside from the major professional networks (like LinkedIn), try to find other, industry-specific networks where your buyers might be. These networks are a great opportunity for listening and engaging. They will help you to better understand the daily challenges or successes your prospects have and in many cases, give you the opportunity to ask questions of that community and get real, thoughtful responses. These networks are also a great way to enhance the data you already have about people, and see how they are connected to other people within their own organizations or whom you know.

Go to events

This might seem like the most obvious suggestion of all, but I don’t think people do this enough. There are a lot of ways to get information about your prospects at events:

  • Have discussions with prospective buyers
  • Get great insights through presentations and panels, including  listening to the answers the audience gives when speakers ask questions
  • Learn how your prospects are doing things (what technologies or methodologies they are using)
  • See what your competitors are doing with their customers.

What other ideas would you add to this list?

Author: Barbra Gago

Barbra Gago is the Director of Demand Gen Strategy at LeftBrain DGA. She's expert at developing buyer 2.0 personas, mapping content that engages buyers throughout their buying process, developing social media strategies that drive revenue, and using marketing automation for compelling lead nurturing and effective lead scoring. You can follow her on Twitter @BarbraGago.

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