Content strategy research can help us connect with audiences because we understand them better and can be more relevant to them!
Here’s how to get there!
How research is important to understand our audiences
I’ve heard people say, “Oh, I know my audience. I know my customers. Christoph, I’ve done this for a while!” That subtle power struggle can feel good to them, but it likely won’t help them understand their audiences better, create better content and ultimately connect with them deeper.
In today’s digital world, having a deep understanding of your target audience is more critical than ever for content marketing success. With limitless options for where to consume content, audiences have high expectations for relevance. Producing content without research leads to wasted time and missed opportunities.
“The reality is, is everyone life is changing really fast. And the demands and the needs and the wants of our ideal customers are changing.”
Highby stresses the need to regularly update your audience knowledge rather than relying on outdated assumptions. Even if you have decades of experience in an industry, your audience’s needs, interests and pain points shift over time.
Understanding Audience Pain Points and Intent
A primary goal of audience research is identifying core pain points and needs. Highby advises “peeling back the onion” with probing questions to get to the root causes behind interests and behavior.
For example, someone may be seeking a new website. But simply knowing that doesn’t provide context on the real problem they’re trying to solve. By asking “Why?” questions, you may find the underlying pain point is struggling to generate new leads and sales.
Highby explains the importance of this:
“I think that’s a big mistake that a lot of companies make is that they focus on the solution and their messaging and put less emphasis on the pain. When you think about how people are searching or doing their own research to help decide what kind of solution they need. They start with that problem.”
Search intent provides powerful insights. Audiences often start broad, searching on the actual problem they need to solve before getting more specific on solutions. Understanding these early stage questions and concerns should inform content across the entire customer journey.
The goal is moving beyond surface level demographic data to reveal true intent. Why does your audience visit certain social media platforms? What content do they seek and share? Highby recommends open-ended qualitative questioning to uncover “the why” behind audience actions.
Listen to Audience Language
A common content marketing mistake is relying too much on internal jargon versus listening to audience language. Highby shares an example where a client discovered customers cared more about customer service than low prices, reshaping brand messaging.
Assumptions were not matching reality. Only through open conversations did they realize the true motivations driving purchasing decisions.
This highlights the importance of qualitative research. Sales metrics, social media analytics and similar data only reveal part of the picture. Speaking directly with audience members uncovers deeper insights that data alone can’t provide.
Mapping the Entire Customer Journey
Highby advocates mapping out the entire customer journey to identify gaps and opportunities. Questions to ask audience members include:
- How did you first discover our brand? What were you searching for?
- What platforms and channels do you use when researching products and services? Why those specifically?
- How do you evaluate between options? What information is most valuable?
- What role do reviews, testimonials and referrals play in decision making?
- What branding is most meaningful to you?
- How can we make it easier for you to recommend us to others?
Documenting each touchpoint and pain point provides guidance for content. You can then assess if you have aligned content for each stage, or find areas needing improvement.
Testing Assumptions with Research
Even if you assume you deeply understand your audience, don’t take it for granted. Use research to regularly test assumptions.
Once you have research insights, Highby recommends developing a messaging map that identifies core themes, language and topics to include and exclude. This messaging blueprint ensures consistency across channels and content types.
Creating Effective Partnerships
In addition to internal research, Highby advises looking at partnerships with influencers or brands already reach your target groups. Getting exposure with engaged audiences through guest content contributions, interviews or co-created campaigns can significantly expand reach.
She explains, “If someone already has an established audience, so for example, you’ve got to show you have loyal followers. But I’m coming on to your show. So now my brand, my message is getting introduced to your audience.”
Sharing audiences this way allows efficient access to relevant groups, rather than starting from scratch. Conduct research to identify good partner fits based on audience alignment.
Implementing a Research-Based Content Strategy
With research learnings gathered, implement an aligned content strategy across teams and channels. Highby recommends mapping out a content calendar that details:
- Target audiences and personas
- Platforms and channels to include
- Content types and formats
- Cadence for publishing
- Alignment to buyer journey stages
- Overall themes and messaging
This provides clarity on content purpose and coordinates cross-channel efforts.
Aim for evergreen content focused on real audience needs versus short-term trends or promotions. Well-researched evergreen content will continue generating value over months and years.
Staying On Course
Audience interests shift, so regular research must be part of your process. Highby suggests annually checking assumptions against reality with fresh qualitative research. Periodic surveys can supplement for quick feedback on specific content or campaigns.
By continually realigning your content to audience needs, you provide relevance that earns trust and engagement. Put in the work on the front end with research to substantially improve results.
The role of foresight in content strategy
In today’s rapidly changing world, content strategies that rely solely on past data and trends are bound to become outdated quickly. Companies need to take a proactive approach and incorporate foresight into their content planning in order to stay ahead of disruptions.
In my podcast interview, futurist Rebecca Costa emphasized the importance of continuously gathering intelligence about emerging technologies, sciences, consumer trends and more to get an accurate picture of what the future may hold. As she explained, in the past companies may have relied on infrequent touchpoints like trade shows to catch a glimpse of the next big thing. But in reality, by the time they encounter a major disruption at a trade show, it is likely already too late to react.
Instead, companies should formalize a process for ongoing reconnaissance about the future. This includes monitoring provisional patents, university research, and where venture capital money is flowing. The goal is to identify game-changing innovations during their early stages, while there is still time to act on the intelligence.
Once promising new technologies or trends are identified, companies can get hands-on experience through test cases. For example, Costa suggested having startup founders present their latest inventions directly to leadership teams. This makes disruptions tangible rather than abstract concepts buried in magazines or presentations.
While exploring the future requires dedicating resources, failing to do so can leave companies blindsided when change inevitably arrives. Institutional resistance and inertia tend to perpetuate the status quo. Bringing in neutral external perspectives like futurists can shake up entrenched mindsets.
Foresight enables content strategies to stay aligned with where the world is heading. Instead of relying on outdated models, companies can reshape roles and messaging to fit emerging realities. With continual reconnaissance, content remains dynamic, empowers business strategy and drives growth into the future.