What comes first: the content or the audience? When it comes to developing a content vision for a brand, content marketing pros say it’s crucial to intimately know who the reader is first, so the message can find them.
Step 1: Accept that the audience must drive your content
Identifying the target audience isn’t just important — it’s essential, says Michelle Lowery, content strategy manager for Outspoken Media, a digital marketing solutions firm.
And it’s not only essential because readers are the consumers, they are also potential advocates.
“The current audience definitely has to like and identify with the content so they feel an affinity for the brand, which can perpetuate their brand loyalty,” she says. ”But brands also rely on their audiences to share that content, thereby extending the brand’s reach and possibly bringing in more customers.”
By really knowing your audience, brands can design products and services and develop content that suits them specifically, says Mary Haugh, vice president of strategy and account management and Joe Cecere, president and chief creative officer of Little & Company, a Minneapolis-based design firm, whose client list includes Target, Microsoft and Wells Fargo.
The overall goal is to create a connection with your audience by engaging in a conversation based on what their interests are, they say.
They said their firm treats content as “a dialogue; it’s personal and on-going.”
Step 2: Identify the audience
Target audiences can be defined by both demographics (age, household income) and psychographics (behaviors, attitudes, motivations, goals, purpose, interests, shared impact, etc.).
But determining which categories of readership fits a brand might not always be clear-cut, says Lowery, which is why some initial conversations and ongoing research is key.
“For a new brand, content is usually produced with the goal of building an initial audience, and for that, the client usually has a specific demographic in mind that they want to target,” she said. ”Whereas, for more established brands, it’s about keeping the existing audience engaged and interested, while also expanding it and bringing new people into the community.”
One of Outspoken Media’s clients offers language-learning courses on CD. While most people think of travel as the top reason for wanting to learn a new language, Lowery’s team worked with the brand to dig deeper to identify a new segment of their core target audience.
“We simply asked the question, ‘Who else would need or want to learn a second language?’” she said. ”We did some research, and found that homeschooling is on the rise, and it can sometimes be difficult for homeschooling parents to include language instruction if they don’t speak another language themselves.”
The goal then was to build an extensive resource section on the brand’s site that caters to homeschooling parents and teachers, with the angle that learning a language can be an activity parents can do along with their kids.
Step 3: Focus and tweak your message
Ultimately, keeping your audience engaged is all about listening.
“Smart marketers always keep tabs on their core consumer base,” say Cecere and Haugh of Little & Company. “Those who take note and evolve with consumers will never have to play catch-up or, worse, shutter the doors.”
They say marketers must ask themselves the following hard question constantly: Is the intended message clearly getting through to the brand’s target audience? And if not, how can your content plan change?
Little & Company was hired by RedBrick Health to help garner partnerships with major employers and their employees to promote healthier, more productive workforces. But research showed that RedBrick was often confused as the actual health insurance provider.
“Our challenge was to better define the target audience and their needs, and articulate RedBrick’s business model and benefit in the marketplace in a way that was relatable,” said Haugh and Cecere.
They identified a group they termed ”Healthy Planners,” those with a health-readiness mindset but showed the greatest opportunity for health improvement — for example, those who engaged in poor health behaviors, were high risk and middle-aged.
“We then created a strong position that defines the company as one who helps employees actively manage their health choices and, when necessary, navigate the complex healthcare system – carving out a niche for the brand,” they said.
Step 4: Build upon what works to grow your audience
One of the most important things brands can do when creating content is not just cater to the audience they already have, but produce content for the audience they want, says Lowery.
Haugh and Cecere also recommend thinking beyond just the end user. As such, they say it’s beneficial to aim content in three directions:
- toward your internal brand ambassadors;
- at your external consumers who directly affect your bottom line;
- and for the community influencers who can help propel your brand.
Over the course of the last three global Microsoft Office product launches, Little & Company had to develop messaging frameworks to three separate target audiences: home users, students, and small business owners.
But, all three content plans had to have the end goal of introducing the new features and benefits while maintaining one Microsoft Office brand voice.
“As a solution, we identified unique ways to present the product content on a global scale to each audience segment by identifying unique user scenarios for each audience, and keeping the story emotional, relevant and competitive,” say Haugh and Cecere.
In short, says Lowery, to produce content without both your current and potential audience in mind is, in a word, “pointless.”