By Tom Whatley published September 21, 2016

3 Customer Research Tactics to Help Content Creation


As a marketer, you likely have a comprehensive marketing stack at your disposal — tools to help create compelling content, promote it, etc.

But which tools help you understand the challenges of your audience? Companies that focus on their customers are 60% more profitable than “non-customer-centric” companies according to Deloitte.

Companies that focus on their customers are 60% more profitable than ones that don’t says @deloitte. Click To Tweet

Similar results can apply to customer-centric content.

These three tactics will help yield information from your customers. You’ll understand their needs, challenges, and what they want to learn about.

Then you can take that insight and turn it into conversion-driven content. Let’s dig in.

1. Look at your website visitors

Users visiting your website, app, or online store are a gold mine of insight. What better place to look for content ideas than your own users?

Users visiting your website, app, or online store are a gold mine of insight says @TheTomWhatley. Click To Tweet

To gather this insight, Google Analytics is usually the first and obvious place to look — find out what content on your site your audience is already engaging with.

To do this, open Google Analytics and head to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages and make sure the results are ordered by page views:


Click to enlarge

In this example, three pieces of content rank in the top 10 page views. They have a decent time on site — except for the e-book, which is a landing page.

But Google Analytics only shows us the surface data and it’s difficult to curate this data into one place.

One tool that solves this problem is Woopra, a customer-intelligence platform that builds a profile for every website visitor, app user, and customer. It pulls data in from several sources (live chat, email, etc.) to fill in the gaps.


Where Google Analytics gives us quantitative insight, Woopra attributes it to individual users. Woopra allows you to create dynamic customer segments based on behavior. You have more power to not only find the right content but attribute it to the right audience. Use these segments to laser focus your content. By doing so, your content will resonate with the right audience.

Hotjar is another tool to consider. Typically used as a conversion optimization tool, it’s also useful for generating insight that can be used in your content marketing strategy.

Its survey tools enable you to ask readers what they’d like to see more of. Does your current content tick all the boxes? Is there something missing that they’d like to know?


Asking questions while they’re consuming your content generates more accurate information from them. Their needs are top of mind, and if you ask the right questions they’ll share them with you.

We’ve covered what to do when users and customers come to you, but that will only get you so far.

2. Understand challenges through customer development

Nothing quite beats talking to your customers to understand their needs. The biggest benefit of doing this? It allows you to question assumptions.

This is where customer development, a concept formalized by Steve Blank, comes into play. Customer development is the process of understanding your customer’s needs. It’s about knowing what they want from your product or service.

As Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits, authors of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development, put it:

Customer development will help you – force you – to make better decisions based on tested hypotheses, rather than untested assumptions. The results of the customer development process may indicate that the assumptions about your product, your customers, and your market are all wrong. In fact, they probably will. And then it is your responsibility, as the idea-generator (read: entrepreneur), to interpret the data you have elicited and modify your next set of assumptions to iterate upon.

In product design, customer development challenges assumptions. It tests new ideas with those who will have your product in their hands.

Customer development can be a tool to create not only the best content possible but also the right content.

Customer development can be a tool to create the best #content & the right content says @TheTomWhatley. Click To Tweet

Alex Turnbull, founder of Groove, used customer development to understand how his users felt about his product. But a side product of these conversations was a better understanding of his personas:

“We’ve always had (tested) assumptions about the personas of our customers. And many of them held true in these conversations. But as we’ve grown, things sure have changed.

“For some of the newly discovered personas, there were enough examples that we’ve decided to build case studies to try and attract more users that fit those personas, or at least test the market to see if there’s a strong fit.”

On top of this, Groove improved its marketing copy based on what its customers were saying. The benefits go beyond content marketing, but how do you execute customer development?

Start with a simple email. Reach out to your customers personally, not from a company-wide email address. Be sincere, telling them you understand the challenges they’re facing.

Start customer development with a simple #email to your customers says @TheTomWhatley. Click To Tweet

Here’s how Alex reached out to his Groove customers:


It worked because he put the users at the heart of what he’s asking for. He shares that he values what his customers think over his own assumptions. There’s also a call to action that sets the expectation up front.

The responses to his email quickly filled his inbox. Over the course of four weeks he talked to 500 customers.

Now that you’ve got them on the phone, what should you ask?

You need to elicit the right information to guide your content efforts. This means not only understanding their challenges, but also how they apply to their business, work, and personal lives.

As with any interview situation, getting the right insight requires going deep. Take their answers and go down a layer or two. For example, if you’re creating content around an analytics proposition, you might ask “What are your biggest marketing analytics challenges right now?”

The question is broad for a reason. The idea is to let them talk as you note down keywords. Then, you can thread these keywords into more specific questions.

Not only are you generating ideas for content, you’re adding context to it. They want to learn more about a topic for specific reasons. This gives you fuel for compelling introductions and killer headlines.

The key to successful customer development is not only understanding what your customers need but understanding why they need it. This shines a light on the best possible topics to focus on. It also helps build evergreen content that captures your audience’s attention long term.

Successful customer development is knowing what your customers need & why they need it by @TheTomWhatley. Click To Tweet

3. Use social listening tools for mass-market demands

Customer development is invaluable but difficult to scale. Sometimes, we need to react to what the market is saying. This requires tapping in and listening to what is already being talked about.

Fortunately, various tools can help you do this. The first being Mention. Given that conversations are happening all over the web, people are not just talking about your business but also the topics that your content will serve.

Mention monitors these conversations across social platforms, communities, and billions of other channels. Whether they be on Reddit, Quora, Facebook, Twitter, TechCrunch or Forbes, Mention keeps an eye on it all.

To test out this approach, sign up for a free trial and create a new alert and select “Anything Else”:


Enter your target keyword under “Optional Keywords,” then hit next. Select any priority sources followed by channels and language. You then have a feed of tweets, articles, and other forms of content that contain your keyword.

To avoid being overwhelmed, track several long-tail keywords because the narrower you are, the fewer alerts you will receive. This will make crunching any trends easier.

You can use BuzzSumo to research which content is resonating well with your audience. Use broader search terms to find popular content around a topic.

Let’s use our analytics segmentation from earlier as an example. Here you can see there’s a lot of buzz around segmenting data in Google Analytics:


While tools like Mention and BuzzSumo are great for mass-market analysis, you should still talk to your customers. Speaking with individual customers is the fastest way to understand their challenges.


The data, insight, and understanding your customers offer are priceless. By listening to them and analyzing their behavior, you can better serve them with the content you create. The more insight and data you collect, the greater vision you have on the competitive content landscape.

How often do you talk to your customers? Have you had any aha moments from your own customer development efforts?

Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

Want to add more plays to your content marketing mix? Download CMI’s 2016 Content Marketing Playbook.

Cover image by mconnors via MorgueFile

Author: Tom Whatley

Tom Whatley is a content marketing specialist with seven years’ experience in the digital marketing space. He's the creator of 7 Day Content Marketing and shares actionable content marketing strategies and techniques for entrepreneurs on his blog.

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  • Roger C. Parker

    Hi, Tom:
    Great article, nicely structured. I especially appreciated the fact you included links I wasn’t aware of, and the “Alex at Groove” email is a great example. Your info is also helpful for content curation.

    • Tom Whatley

      Hey Roger – glad you like this. The Groove blog is a constant source of inspiration for me.

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  • Dhivya Subramanian

    thanks for sharing this one..its really usefu and understand the challenges through customer development

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  • Melissa Eggleston

    Overall this is a great article! I would contend that this statement would ring false for many UX professionals: “Nothing quite beats talking to your customers to understand their needs.” What may beat talking to customers is watching what they do, because 1) people may not be truthful, 2) people may not think to tell you something important, and 3) people sometimes don’t recognize their own needs. Contextual inquiry, combining interviews with observation periods while interviewees are at home or work (depending on the relevant situation), should be considered. It delivers more insights and value than just talking to customers.

    • Tom Whatley

      Totally see where you’re going with this, Melissa. What someone says and what they do are two different things. I would say the only difference from a content perspective is that the behavior can be fairly linear. They either read your content or bounce. They follow a call-to-action or they ignore it. The challenge is in making sure that you fully understand their needs with the channels you have access to.

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  • Katrina Chua

    Great insight. This helps increase effectiveness in all areas of content marketing, especially when that strategy is backed by quantitative and qualitative research. Thanks for this..

    • Tom Whatley

      Glad you found this valuable, Katrina 🙂