Beat Content Information Overload; Ask What They Want

In case you hadn’t noticed, lots of marketing and PR folks are buying into the mantra that content is king. You know…the one proclaiming that if your business isn’t producing, distributing and promoting an always-fresh assortment of videos, e-books, white papers, webinars, blogs, tweets, Facebook postings and other sorts of things across a plethora of digital communications channels, you can kiss good-bye any potential and current customers, members of the media, industry influencers and others whose attention you need.

Scary threat, especially if you haven’t been paying much attention to this part of your business.

If you’re new to the strategic content game, you can find lots of online info, ranging from the pros and cons of different content formats to how to use keywords to help content move to the top of web searches. And a quick Google search will turn up plenty of advice pieces from industry experts who hammer home the importance of content creation. See “Content Now Vital to B2B Marketing,” “Mommy, Where Does Content Come From? 11 Easy Ways to Create Great Stuff” and “10 Ways To Use Recycled Content” as a few examples.

Information Overload

One huge consequence of this emphasis on content generation and the frenzy to keep up with our content-generating Joneses next door is that many people today, including members of your target audience, are suffering from severe cases of information overload. They have only so many hours in the day to dedicate to reading and searching for content, and have grown extremely selective about what deserves their attention.

For me, the decision about where I spend my valuable time comes down to one thing, and it doesn’t involve the casting of magic spells or sprinkling of pixie dust. The folks to whom I choose to give my attention all do one thing extremely well: They understand me as a member of their target audience and as a potential customer, and give me the information I need to grow my business and personal expertise without wasting my time on fill-the-space blah, blah, blah.

The Takeaway

If you’re in a position to make decisions about the content your business is putting out there for those who are going to bring you business, figure out in advance the needs and wants of that specific audience.

Why? You save company money by not paying for the generation of content that is going to be ignored, and you acquire credibility because you’re not wasting the time of your readers.

So here’s what you need to do:

  • If you have resources, conduct a full-out systematic audience analysis — the kind that uses focus groups, surveys and sales data analysis to pinpoint demographics (age, gender, educational background, geographic location), organizational level (decision maker vs. decision influencer, engineer vs. executive), information delivery preferences (online, email, mobile, snail mail), cultural influences, attitudes and more.
  • If you don’t have resources, at least do some informal research. Talk to trusted customers with whom you have a relationship about what they need and want from you in terms of content. Ask members of the sales team what questions they hear most from their clients. Conduct your own quick, inexpensive survey using a tool such as Survey Monkey.

Now some of you may be saying, “I know who my customers are and I know what they want. Give me a break, Diane. Do you think I’m an idiot?”

Fine. Go ahead and keyword optimize until you’re blue in the face. Churn out white paper after white paper. Schedule tweets and Facebook postings weeks or months in advance.

A word of warning, though: Remember that those we think we know best are often those whose desires we are most likely to overlook. Have you ever given your wife a kitchen gadget for her birthday, patting yourself on the back for adding a romantic big red bow? Have you ever presented the guy in your life with a necktie instead of the gadget he wanted? Did you ASK what they wanted or needed, or did you just assume you knew? Get my point?

So get off your duff and start asking before doing. I promise that everyone will be happier in the long run.

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