Many small businesses have a clear idea about what they're selling but no idea who they are selling to and why. Of all the well-trodden pathways to failure in business, this is certainly one of the most persistent.
A big part of the problem is that it's very easy for a business to think it knows what their prospective customers are after. Take a financial advice business, for example, who may base their marketing on an assumption that their clients are after “world-class investment solutions”. However good their services are, they would be better off presenting it in terms of how they can reduce stress for clients, or help them to plan for the future.
The key rule for marketing is to understand the customer, not just as someone to be “wowed”, but as a real person with their own wants, needs, and concerns.
So, how can you create content based around what your audience wants?
One of the best ways of learning more about your audience on a personal level is to use social media. Look at the kinds of conversations your audience are having. In this article for Hootsuite, Tony Tran talks about why businesses should actively pursue “social listening”:
“Monitor social media channels for mentions of your brand, competitors, products, and key words related to your business... [and] analyse the information for ways to put what you learn into action.”
There's certainly a lot that you can learn from doing this. A particularly popular series of videos that we produced was our 'Discovering the Real Peaky Blinders' series, and part of the motivation for producing this series was that we work extensively with businesses local to us in Birmingham and the West Midlands.
The phenomenon of Peaky Blinders is one that, understandably, has particularly taken off in this area (our local part of Birmingham, Digbeth, even hosted a Peaky Blinders festival last year). The videos were an ideal way of showcasing what we can offer, while contributing to this relevant cultural conversation and involving other local businesses such as the Old Crown and the Black Country Living Museum.
Just as important as listening to your audience is engaging with them a bit more directly. Asking questions and starting discussions on social media is a good place to start; and many businesses have even found that encouraging their audience's own creativity can be a really effective way of making marketing that speaks authentically to that audience.
Writing for The Content Marketing Institute, Jodi Harris provides a number of great examples of this – from National Geographic sharing its readers' travel photos and stories, to kitchen appliance manufacturer Instant Pot sharing their users' favourite cooking tips and recipes. The benefit, Harris writes, of investing in this kind of engagement is that:
“User-generated content campaigns put all [of your audience's] passion, knowledge, and artistic talent on display for others to see, learn from, and enjoy.”
Ultimately, by putting the audience first – researching who they are and what they're inspired by, and getting involved in the conversations they're having - you can build a marketing strategy, one built around a real need not a vague idea of what you think people want.