Ever pick up a magazine, start flipping through to find something of interest, only to find yourself on the last page without having read anything?
That usually happens to me in waiting room at my doctor's office, where I strive to find anything of interest in piles of old issue of Psychology Today, Better Homes and Gardens, and Allergic Living. It once struck me that those are magazines that the doctor and his staff read, but not magazines that his patients are interested in reading.
If you don't want your company blog to be the equivalent of a waiting-room magazine, you need to understand your buyers and what they care about.
So who is your blog for? Customers? Partners? Investors? Ask that question at your company, and I'll bet you get a range of answers.
In my experience, companies that cannot nail the answer are missing out. Even if you decide the blog is aimed at customers and prospects, if you don't know who they are—title, responsibilities, concerns—your content will miss the mark.
The first step in understanding your buyers is creating what's called a buyer persona. Once you have the persona complete, you can apply it to your blog and create what I call a 'blog persona'—a detailed profile of your buyers and the topics they care about.
A buyer persona is a composite profile, or archetype, of a prospective buyer. The buyer persona clarifies who your buyers really are, what motivates them, how they think and talk, and what issues they face in their jobs (especially B2B buyers) and everyday lives (especially B2C buyers).
Good buyer personas come from conversations with recent buyers, not anecdotes or research using secondary sources. You need to interview buyers, or your insights will be superficial at best.
Adele Revella, doyenne of buyer persona research, puts it succinctly:
If content marketing is going to benefit from buyer persona development, you will need to uncover specific insights that are unknown to your competitors or anyone inside your company. This information will be so valuable that you would never post it on your website. However, it will tell you, with scary accuracy, exactly what you need to do to deliver content that persuades buyers to choose you.
I've done buyer-persona research a few times, and it's actually fun. You are not trying to sell your customers anything, just asking questions. The hardest thing, in my experience, is scheduling (and rescheduling) the phone interviews.
Once you have your buyers on the phone, you want to find out about their job, the challenges they face, where they go to research new products and learn new skills. You may need to dig a little deeper to get a really valuable insight. To make your life easier, there are interview checklists that will tell you what questions to ask.
To make your company blog content consistently relevant, you need to take what you learn from persona research and apply it to the posts you write.
Here are my five steps, from start to finish, for creating and using your blog persona:
1. Identity target buyers
If your company has already done buyer persona work, then you are ahead of the game. If not, sit down with your team and figure out who your current buyers are. Talk to salespeople, mine your CRM system, talk to your exec team.
You should be specific: Don't just say "people in information technology at Fortune 500 companies." That's too broad. Network operations staff, for example, or paralegals, is a more specific and better answer.
And make sure not to overlook any new types of buyers you would like to attract—people you would like to sell to who are not currently buying from you. You may need to create content just for them.
2. Conduct persona interviews
Use the checklist linked-to above to conduct interviews with current and desired buyers. For the purposes of creating a blog persona, focus more on their job and career challenges than on why they bought your product. Why? You want to write content that catches them early in the buying cycle, and product-specific content comes later on.
A good example of a career-advancement insight came while I was at Symantec. Our persona research revealed that heads of Information Security struggled to hold conversations in the boardroom about risk, so we produced content that focused on how to discuss security risks with executive— rather than the security-trend research we had been producing.
3. Survey for content ideas
Based on your research, create a list of topics you might write about. Send a follow-up email or use Survey Monkey to ask the customers and prospects you identified what would be of interest to them. Make sure to leave some open, free-form fields to gather ideas you might not have considered. I also like to ask what periodicals and blogs they read; knowing whether your buyers read the Wall Street Journal or BuzzFeed will help you with topic areas, style, and tone.
4. Map to content target
The content target is a concept I developed to depict the types of content that appeals to buyers and connects to a sales cycle. The most important rings on the target are content about job skills and career advancement.
Write about those things, and you will have your buyer's attention. Connect them to what your product can do, and you will have leads.
5. Create a buyer-focused blog calendar
The following table probably looks like your current blog calendar, with the simple addition of buyer and content type. It's a simple way of keeping your team on target. Every post needs to have a target reader, keeping their interests and needs in mind. For extra credit, you can even add an "outcome" column that lists the desired action you want your buyer/reader to take, such as subscribe to blog or download survey.
You may find that you lack the expertise or authority in an area of interest to your reader/buyer. Guest bloggers or bloggers for hire can fill the gap for free, or for a modest fee.
To gauge success, track both subscriptions and engagement with comments, and desired outcomes if you have taken that step. Creating custom links using UTM codes can be handy in understanding how people are getting to your blog and downloading assets you have set as outcomes.
* * *
Being consistently relevant takes effort. You can be the magazine in the doctor's office... or the one that gets devoured when it arrives in the mail. Knowing who your buyers are and what they want is the first step; you then have to stick to an editorial calendar that is built around your buyers, not just what you feel like writing about.
Have you ever created a blog persona? How did it work?