Let me explain.
As we’ve outlined, if we are ever to succeed with a content marketing strategy, we must provide for the capability to drive multiple lines of value for the business. Audiences enable this capability. Thus, the content platforms we create have one clear goal: They must build an ever-growing, addressable, trusted audience.
Yes, some members of our audience will become customers – traversing the traditional funnel, acquiring the attribute of “lead,” then “opportunity,” then “buyer.” Others will never buy from us but may provide more long-term value than a customer. They may acquire the attribute of “engaged,” helping us organically connect with four new customers that we may have never otherwise reached with paid media. Other audiences may be “influencers” helping us amplify our reach, thus creating a more effective paid media effort. And, finally, some audiences may be “trusted,” and enable us to drive direct revenue from content – thus providing a marketing platform that pays for itself.
At the heart of this valuable audience is, of course, content. And if we are to build successful, trusted platforms, we must change the way we go about developing the personas that will subscribe to them. There is an approach that we have begun to utilise in our workshops and consulting engagements. It breaks down into five steps:
- Define your target – Detail the total addressable audience.
- Discover the “so I can” – Uncover the audience’s biggest need/want.
- Decide on your niche – Find your sweet spot.
- Differentiate your content approach – Where the sweet spot meets your desire to fill it.
- Design the map of success – Document the audience journey.
While each one of these steps could be its own post, let’s briefly take a look at each:
Step 1: Define your target audience and its size
When we define a target audience, it’s critical to go beyond the traditional segmentation of demographics such as age, geography, income levels, and job titles. We must make sure to open the question to a wide variety of interests and/or challenges because we’re not using interest in our product or service as the common foundation.
Of course, we’re not starting with a blank slate here either. It would be overwhelming to simply say, “Let’s look at anything that our target audience might be interested in or challenged with.”
We at least will likely focus on the general topic area of our business.
As we’ll see in Step 3, the more niche we can be with a targeted audience the better chance we are going to find a differentiated approach. But we also want to balance this by quantifying the target audience to ensure that it is ultimately a viable enough number to justify pursuing.
Just as every single marketer should know the size of their TAM (total addressable market), every content marketer should know how big their audience (total addressable audience) is in (or outside of) that TAM.
For example, a software company we worked with wanted to target small entrepreneurial law firms with its software and services. Its research revealed there are 50,000 U.S. law firms with more than two people. Further, 90% of those firms have more than one and less than ten people. That TAM for its products and services was 45,000 (each business would buy the software once). But, remember, audiences aren’t just buyers. Audience size is different. The average number of partners in the firms was three. So, from an audience perspective, the total addressable audience was 135,000.
Take the time to research, define, and quantify the target audience.
Step 2: Discover the “so I can” – uncovering the true needs and wants
Truly helping an audience doesn’t just focus on fulfilling a simple “need.” For example, the statement “I need directions” doesn’t compel me to use a particular map or resource. However, the statement “I need directions to that place so I can bring my family along and we all hate reading maps” is both social and contextual. It helps to define a very specific functional and emotional need and want. Finding the “so I can” goes beyond and starts to offer not just the answer to a question, but the broader solution to getting what the customer really wants.
As we research our target audiences, listen for those social and contextual aspects. One pattern is to listen for is when customers speak like this:
When I am ________ I need ________ so I can ________.
For example, in a discussion, a potential audience member might say: When I’m working, I don’t need more marketing software, I need tools that give me freedom, so I can have peace of mind and spend more time on my business.
The “so I can” in that sentence is the big clue to the actual need and want. The strategy then is not to provide more information on tools. Rather, the focus should be on how to deliver interesting things that help entrepreneurs achieve “peace of mind and spend more time on their business.”
Of course, not everyone will express everything the same way. But we can look for the patterns and group them.
Step 3: Decide on your niche – finding the sweet spot
Once we’ve assembled both the size of your audiences and started to catalog all the “so I can’s” that we could fulfill, we can begin to explore and make decisions. Pull the levers of the size of the job vs. size of the audience. Look at how underserved these jobs are in context with how many others in our marketplace of ideas are trying to solve them.
Think of it like this: As we work on your audience personas, we may decide it’s better to solve a small, niche job for a huge audience. Or, we may choose to solve a huge job for a niche audience.
For example, let’s say our business is in retail banking. Would we instead try and solve some specific niche part of financial education for young people? Or, would we instead identify a new niche audience (maybe young parents who are branching into home-based businesses) and solve the entirety of financial education? Neither is the wrong answer – but give yourself that flexibility.
The decision is an excellent example of what Joe Pulizzi calls “the sweet spot.” As he says, it’s “where your particular field of knowledge and your skill sets intersect with a passion point of your audience.”
Step 4: Differentiate – the sweet spot meets your expertise and desire to solve it
In the purest sense, the sweet spot is the relevance we seek to provide an audience. You have, no doubt, seen the Venn diagram that marks “what they want to hear” and “what you want to say” as the sweet spot of relevance.
Once we’ve identified the underserved audiences, cataloged all the jobs we could do, and chosen our sweet spot, we must prioritise the jobs to be done by those that we should solve with our unique and distinct point of view.
In other words, if our brand doesn’t have differentiated expertise, has no particular point of view or (by some corporate mandate) cannot develop a new, differentiated point of view on solving that “so I can” job – then perhaps it is not ours to solve.
Step 5: Design the map of success – documenting the audience journey
Once we have identified the ideal needs and wants, and the perfect audience, now we can map the high-level success statements (or whatever level deemed necessary) for each step the audience takes to solve that job. Is this journey mapping? Yes, but again, it’s not a customer journey or a buyer’s journey – it’s the audience journey for the steps they take to get that job done (or not done as the case may be).
The goal is to identify as many of the kinds of value we can provide across steps of this job to be done. One structure you might consider for each success statement is:
value action | metric | job action | contextual/social clarification
For example, going back to our small business law partner audience, a success statement might be:
Once we’ve categorised these success statements, we might then roll them up into one larger success statement that exemplifies exactly the overall success of that persona.
Ultimately, after all the research, the interviews, the brainstorming, and clarifying, we can take these steps and assemble our audience persona profile.
A great content marketing strategy places the focus on the continual growth of the audience as an asset with many, many attributes. These are people who trust us, engage with us, want to hear from us, and will – over time – exchange value with our business in many ways.
There is much more depth to explore here, and if we can help, let us know. But, hopefully, this framework can help you open up your storytelling options much broader than just solving the buying process with your content.