How to Take an Audience-First Approach to Your Content
How do you identify an effective space in the content arena for your brand? Take a journey with your audience.
We developed the audience journey as a tool for content marketers. Its sole purpose is to align your brand’s content with the needs of your audience. It is based on the hero’s journey – a model commonly used in storytelling to attract and retain the attention of the audience throughout a narrative. And that’s why we use the same 12 steps of the hero’s journey but in a modified form.
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This journey is a tool to get insight into your audience’s needs, not a chronological process. Remember, your audience decides what content it will consume, when it wants to consume it, and where. Your brand should be ready for them with the right content at the right time and in the right place. And that’s exactly what you will learn from this audience journey model.
Let’s go step by step and follow an example of how a brand like Maggi might do it. A Nestle brand, Maggi produces seasonings, sauces, and instant noodles. It lives in a very competitive food content space – everything from TV channels devoted to the topic to websites as well as countless bloggers and vloggers.
Note: We selected Maggi because it already has taken some of these steps in the audience journey and is making more progress to carve a niche within a competitive food-related content industry. It focuses on “help” content. For example, it created a digital meal planner to fill out with kids that comes with a task list, summary of pantry items, and a shopping bingo card. It also has made a clear choice for its content niche – help-related information, which includes planning, cooking, and eating.
Step 1: Describe their ordinary world
Translate your brand’s description of your audience into the ordinary world of your audience. Delve into the mindset of your audience as it is relevant to your brand and vice versa. It helps to write from the perspective of your audience using “I” statements. With that understanding, you then can identify what kind of content will help your audience in their journey and fit your brand story.Delve into the mindset of your audience as it is relevant to your brand and vice versa, says @CarlijnPostma. Click To Tweet
Note: This is the hardest and usually most expensive step to get your audience moving. At this point, they don’t need you yet (or aren’t aware they need you) so you have to work hard to convince them.
Audience thinking – I have a busy family life. I want to create tasty and nutritious meals easily and quickly.
Brand response – Create content that focuses on how to prepare healthy meals in a short time.
Step 2: Know the trigger
Gain insights into what causes your audience to look for information (i.e., content). A trigger could be an intrinsic motivation such as, “There’s a sports practice after the meal so we have to get the food on the table fast.” It also could be externally driven, often stimulated through advertising or media such as a news item highlighting research that says children aren’t eating healthy enough. By identifying the triggers, often through qualitative and keyword research, you can form a picture of the content topics relevant and useful to your audience.
Audience thinking – I saw the news report about how children’s success in school is tied to their eating habits. I must find the time to make sure my kids are eating better.
Brand response – Create an interactive meal planner for the audience to use to plan meals a week ahead.
TIP: You don’t have to recreate the content wheel for every trigger. Establish a content template, a format where the structure is always the same (and most promising given your audience’s triggers), and continually change the content.
Step 3: Know the resistance
Another way to gain insights into your audience is to identify resistance shown by your audience. What’s stopping people from taking the action you want them to take? Why don’t people continue fulfilling their information needs with your content?
To discover the resistance factors, explore your analytics (when do they stop reading, what topics or headlines don’t engage them sufficiently so they don’t click through, etc.) You also can ask your audience in person or through an online survey.
Once you’ve identified the points of resistance, focus your content and its formats that prevent or mitigate the obstacles your audience encounters.Identify audience’s points of resistance & create #content that prevents or mitigates them. @CarlijnPostma Click To Tweet
Audience thinking – I don’t think packaged meal helpers can be healthy.
Brand response – Work with an influential expert in the space, perhaps a chef seen on TV, to cook with the packaged meal helpers and explain the benefits of our low-salt and low-sugar products.
Step 4: Bring in a mentor
Building on the knowledge gained, you now have a better understanding and response to what your audience wants – and doesn’t want. At this point in the journey, your audience is willing to take advice and accept tips from experts or people with relevant experience – a mentor such as an internal expert who offers the audience practical, helpful, or important tips and advice. Or, if the audience’s priority is more about likeability and awareness, an empathetic mentor might be helpful.
Audience thinking – I’m open to more ideas about eating healthy with kids.
Brand response – Work with the in-house food technologist to share tips on how to get children to eat foods that are good for them.
Step 5: Cross the threshold
In the previous four steps, your audience likely was searching for information on other channels before finding your content. Beginning with this step, your audience is ready to engage on your channels. They are more eager to respond because they are finding more information, helpful content, or useful advice about the subject (trigger). And you have become one of the go-to persons, brands, platforms that can help them.
Audience thinking – I now believe I can make changes to provide my children healthier meals even in our time-pressed schedule.
Brand response – Ask visitors to our website to subscribe to the brand’s e-newsletter on healthy eating for families.
Step 6: Pass the test
By now, the audience has consumed some of your content and compares it (often unknowingly) to other resources whether by scanning search results, reading their Facebook news feeds, etc. They ask directly and indirectly, “Who can tell me more about this? Is what they’re saying true?”Identify trusted #content brands & resources in your industry & explore partnerships. @CarlijnPostma Click To Tweet
Audience thinking – How can I make sure I have the best, most helpful information on how to get my kids to eat healthier even though we’re busy?
Brand response – Collaborate on content through a partnership with a go-to third-party information outlet such as Parenting magazine or nutrition.gov. Share and curate third-party content through our channels.
Step 7: Take a fresh approach
Your audience is ready to accept your information. It might need more information or still have doubts about the information provided. You can retarget the audience with an additional relevant or helpful piece of content based on their earlier content consumption. (Analytics and tracking are essential to this step.)
Audience thinking – I believe this brand is a reputable source, but I’m not sure their tips are sufficient to solve my problem of healthy eating for children long-term.
Brand response – Give new content to the audience such as a download for a vegetable bingo game.
Step 8: Continue to address the central ordeal
Your audience remains at a pivotal moment in the content journey. Similar to the previous step, your audience still isn’t convinced and needs another reason to trust or like your brand.
Audience thinking – I have a lot of good information about healthy eating for busy families, but I’m not positive it’s what I really need to help my family.
Brand response – Promote real-life feedback from customers about how our brand is liked by kids and parents. Make sure our audience is aware of relevant awards we have won.
Step 9: Deliver the reward
Finally, it’s time for the reward. Be careful. In the audience’s journey, the reward is not necessarily the sale (that’s the brand’s reward). The audience’s reward often is content-related. It’s what you want your audience to think after consuming your content, such as “I like this brand” or “I am fully confident this brand provides the content I need to help me.” Of course, this mindset also will lead to sales.In the audience journey, the reward is not the sale (that’s the brand’s reward), says @CarlijnPostma. Click To Tweet
Audience thinking – I’m convinced. This brand can be trusted on the subject of kids and healthy food.
Brand response – Invite the audience to engage with our brand through “likes,” shares, comments, etc.
Step 10: Follow the road back
In this and the next two steps, your brand’s influence is on the wane. Your audience’s needs have been fulfilled. The trigger that started the journey is moving to the background. You only have a few more opportunities to motivate the audience to become loyal and committed. Ask them to subscribe to your owned channels.Ask your audience to subscribe to owned channels to motivate them to become loyal. @CarlijnPostma. Click To Tweet
Audience thinking – This brand has really helped me prepare healthier meals for my family even on our busiest nights.
Brand response – Offer a way to continue a mutually beneficial relationship such as an app with daily tips on how to plan, buy, and eat healthy with children.
Step 11: Resurrect the relationship
Your audience is feeling enriched by all the information or inspiration it received from your brand. If they haven’t become a loyal audience yet (i.e., subscribed to your newsletter, downloaded your app), move fast. The trigger and connection to your brand has receded even further. Find a related new trigger for this yet-to-be committed audience.
Audience thinking – I don’t think about this brand much. It gave me the information I wanted and I’m done.
Brand response – Create content that helps parents teach their older children how to help with cooking. (The response is related to initial trigger – time – a problem that isn’t easily solved.)
Step 12: Return with the elixir
Your audience is at peace. Back in their ordinary, problem-free world, without any need for inspiration. It’s a time for consolidation or reflection on your part. Or is there something on the horizon for this audience? What new journey is looming? Look at your customer data, analytics, and monitor related news for new problems to solve or thwart.
Audience thinking – When I think about the brand, I recall how they helped me cook healthy for my kids. Maybe they can help me with my new problem – how to keep creating healthy meals when my family eats dinner at different times because of sports practices and work.
Brand response – Our content plan distilled 10 challenges faced by busy families so we can have content available to address our audience’s questions whenever one of those pain points arises.
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Too often marketers think of content from the brand (narrator) perspective and too little from the audience’s point of view, resulting in an overkill of more of the same content. By considering the audience journey, you are better primed to create the most powerful audience of all – one that trusts and likes your brand, and sees you are a go-to resource. Want some help in getting started? Please use this template outlining the 12 steps based on the hero journey.
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Cover image by Ryan McGuire-Bells Design via Gratisography