There is a rare joy that content marketers feel when their content engine hits full capacity. Traffic is growing healthily; content production is a well-oiled machine; your audience reach feels strong and wide.
As good as that feeling is, it’s often followed by the unpleasant realization that there isn’t really a stage for “completed” when it comes to content marketing. The work was well done, and it will need to be well done again, very soon.
Marketers don’t interact with static audiences. People change, culture moves, and the market is constantly in flux with new products, drivers, and ideas. Even the most robust content engine has to keep up with shifting audiences if it wants to survive. But the process of staying in touch with growing audiences can be more difficult than we might expect.
With the eternally busy schedule of most content teams, adding vigilant audience monitoring to their workload may feel daunting. Thankfully, there are many audience monitoring techniques that overlap with work most content marketers are already doing. No matter how long your current task list is, you should always be keeping an eye out for the signs that your existing audience isn’t as healthy as you may assume.
There are three primary reasons why you might see slowing in your audience reach, and you can spot these drivers in your regular analytics reporting.
Audiences aren’t static, and that means that a target group that’s been working for your brand for a long time will change. This might mean you need to serve them in a new way, or that you may need to bring a new audience into your fold. This can be signaled through incremental changes in your demographic reporting. If you’re noticing increases in demographics you haven’t targeted specifically before, or declines in niches that have previously been your mainstay, it might be time to reevaluate the needs of your target audience.
This is an issue that is more likely to hit brands working in smaller geographical areas or targeting smaller populations. If you notice that you’re dedicating ever-increasing amounts of time, budget, and manpower to improving your content efforts, but are only seeing nominal growth despite fantastic engagement metrics, you may need to explore expanding your target market.
Everything in content marketing is fine and good, until a new competitor enters your space and mucks up your equilibrium. Sudden declines in SERPs served or jumps in paid search and programmatic spend might indicate that you have a new competitive force eating away at your target audience.
Any of these drivers will make it difficult to continue to grow an audience. You can choose to put more effort and spend into your engine as returns continue to diminish—but a much more efficient and less costly approach is to proactively look for new audience opportunities through your regular content marketing processes.
Image attribution: Yolanda Sun
Regardless of whether you’ve spotted any audience warning signs or are just looking to be proactive about growing an audience, there are a number of passive and active tactics that your team can work into your regular content scheduling.
A simple model to follow consists of three phases: exploration, investigation, and piloting. Each step moves your team towards engaging with a new audience in a new way.
Exploration is the most basic step in an audience research process. Simply put, exploration is the process by which you enable your team member to interrogate their hunches.
Maybe one of your specialists suspects that the age range of your target audience is moving up a bit. Perhaps a content creator has suggested that a particular interest group could be likely candidates for your brand. By teaching your team members simple exploration techniques, you can start testing these assumptions to see if any might stick. A few ways to explore your audience include:
The investigation stage is how your team follows up on hunches that appear to be true. You’ve prodded an assumption and found some surprisingly high metrics or an unexpected community online. The next step is to start researching this potential audience without over-committing your content creation resources to the effort. You might “investigate” your new audiences with:
Image attribution: Blake Guidry
You’ve explored your assumptions, investigated those that seem worthwhile, and found one or two actionable audiences that you’re ready to commit some content effort toward. Pilot campaigns are the last incremental step where you do exactly that. At this stage, your content marketing should be carrying on as usual, but you’ll now add a small deployment of content for your target audience to see how it performs and to determine whether it would scale in a worthwhile way. As you start piloting your next audience, remember to:
People change, both in predictable and in completely unpredictable ways, making growing an audience a constant challenge. The only way your brand will be able to reliably react is to make sure you are always looking for your next audience. While big research pushes during quarterly or yearly reviews can certainly help, continuous, incremental testing from your content executors can provide nimble insights into opportunities for your brand community to grow.
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Featured image attribution: Ben White