Every marketer understands it’s important to know your audience, and there are excellent marketing analytics tools that can offer you deep strategic insights into your content marketing performance across your brand’s digital channels. But along with your reporting technology, it’s equally important for marketers to support their data-driven knowledge with real-life observations of the people who engage with their content by talking to them face-to-face. Finding a place for traditional market research tactics in your content marketing workflow can help keep your audience intelligence strategy as accurate as possible and allows you to uncover even more about the immediate needs your customers are facing.
Here are a few effective methods of market research that will help your brand dive even deeper into the valuable insights that you’re already collecting.
Surveys are a deceptively simple and often overlooked marketing audience research tool. Whether you learned about them in middle school science class or still take one occasionally for an online coupon, you likely feel familiar with the format as a whole.
Despite being one of the oldest research methods out there, surveys can still fill an important place in your content marketing strategy. From a marketing perspective, surveys are often best deployed as a tool for testing your team’s assumptions, getting first impressions, or testing for shifts that your other reporting might indicate. Your content hub may have been producing material in a specific topic vertical for years, but maybe you’ve never actually tested your assumptions about why that vertical appeals to your readers. A survey could help confirm or deny your team’s understanding of what motivates your audience. This might lead to changes in direction or positioning that could make your established presence even more engaging.
The primary struggle with surveys, however, is as old as the form itself: getting people to respond.
Left to their own devices, people often aren’t wild about the idea of taking what can feel like a pop quiz. Incentivizing responses usually improves turnout, but it can generate biased or skewed results—so much so that weeding out bad survey results is a dedicated school of thought in market research and statistical circles. Compulsory surveys that lock users out of continuing their experience can get you 100 percent response, but clearly at the cost of breaking site experiences.
Content can often help with this obstacle. Large email publication lists give an ample pool for random polling. Creative quiz or interactive content formats can disguise surveys as content experiences. And a number of available web plugins offer creative, minimally intrusive ways to request survey input from site visitors like leading with games and images.
Whatever approach you take, consider a few best practices to make sure your survey yields useful information for your team:
Show your questions to whoever is going to be analyzing the results. Gather their feedback about how response formats might impact the process of pulling insights from your data.
One of the most common mistakes marketing surveys make is forgetting to introduce some element of randomization. Surveying groups of people at a conference, for example, introduces segmentation that can skew the results. Wherever possible, try to randomize your survey population.
Just because you’re hoping for a certain response doesn’t mean you should write your questions to lead someone there. Try to stick to unbiased question principles when designing your queries.
You’ve sent some surveys, you understand your broader audience a bit more, and you now feel more comfortable with your visitors. The problem now is specificity. You may have learned a lot of great stuff, but not about users as individuals.
This is where interviews come in. While the word might bring to mind a savvy journalist with a microphone, a tape recorder, and a two-hundred-page notepad, everyone has a bit of an interviewer in them. Anytime you ask a friend questions during a story, meet someone new at a party, or just run into a long-lost acquaintance at the grocery store, you’re engaging in a little bit of Q and A. The only piece that is often missing from these interactions is recording and relaying the information later.
There are two primary differences between everyday gabbing and interviewing: interviews often have a single purpose, and a clear structure. Beyond that, being personable, attentive, and willing to follow the conversation where it leads will return the same great results in an interview as it does in a conversation.
The information you glean from interviews can serve a number of purposes for your marketing team. At the most direct level, interviews make for a great addition to numerous forms of content, and can add an authoritative and personal flair. From a research perspective, interviews let you dive deeper into topics, trends, and questions you have about your audience, while giving your respondents space to elaborate and guide conversations themselves in a way that structured surveys don’t allow.
When conducting an interview for research, keep these tips in mind:
Choose representative speakers
It’s important that your speakers represent your audience viewpoint and demographic. The more work you put into picking the right interviewee, the less work you’ll have to do to find relevant takeaways from their responses.
While having a list of questions prepared ahead of time is always a good move, don’t let your plan dictate your whole conversation. Rather, use your notes as a guide to get your interviewee speaking about what’s really on their mind, and follow their lead. A personable chat guided by your interviewee will often lead to the most authentic responses.
The primary risk with interviews is that they’re a non-repeatable medium—once you’re done speaking, there’s no way to recreate the conversation if you forget to hit the record button or take notes. A good combination is to make an audio recording of your conversation and take note the time stamp whenever your interviewee says something interesting. This keeps you present in the conversation, but gives you ample notes to work from when you’re reviewing after the fact. For legal and respectful reasons, remember to ask your interviewee’s permission before making a recording.
Image attribution: Johanna Buguet
Our last market research tactic combines two similar but distinct practices: focus groups and usability testing. Focus groups in a traditional market research project typically involve a single facilitator presenting a group of people with a new product, ad campaign, or other development to get their first impressions. Usability testing, on the other hand, typically involves a group of individual users trying out a product or site experience while interacting with a facilitator who guides their journey. In either cases, your brand takes a vulnerable step to present a work in progress and open a dialogue with your audience.
In digital content marketing you have two key areas to understand: how are your visitors interacting with your site, and what are their reactions or desires when they actually hit a piece of content? Usability testing is the perfect tool for understanding site experience since it allows you to watch a viewer click, explore, and react to your creations. Focus groups can then fill in some gaps about your content strategy and editorial approach to make sure you’re meeting your audience’s expectations.
Creating a user test, picking and wrangling a group, and gleaning meaningful insights from the mass of data and recordings you gather is obviously more work than an interview or survey. For a less labor-intensive approach, let an annual review or postmortem inspire the subject of your next project. The trends or problem areas your team digs up are a fertile basis for designing a focus group or user test, and your results can inform how you adapt your coming year to the observations from your review.
Unlike interviews, focus groups and user testing both benefit from controlled, experimental environments. This means following rabbit trails will quickly derail your testing and make distinct user insights difficult to compare. Define your testing questions and actions upfront, and do everything you can to stick to them.
Whatever market research tactics you decide to employ, the goal for every brand is the same: understand your audience. Forging a relationship is the goal at the heart of all of the data gathering, tracking, and analyzing tools we have available.
When you’re choosing which content marketing research tool will work best for you, ask yourself which method you can support in full that brings you closest to your audience. As you get in the habit of conducting research a few times through the year, you’ll find that marketing audience research becomes less of a chore and more of an exciting chance to expand your brand’s experience beyond your curated site or crafted material. As marketers, we should take advantage of every opportunity to foster a conversation with the individuals we serve.
To learn more about Skyword360, the leading content marketing platform, can help you create quality content experiences and gain strategic insights, request a demo.
Featured image attribution: Brooke Cagle