Killer Content Starts Here: Mastering Audience Research Fusion Digital January 22, 2024

Killer Content Starts Here: Mastering Audience Research

audience research featured image title card

This is a complete guide to conducting killer audience research.

Learn how to collect the right information and extract the insights needed to inform a laser targeted content strategy that will have your prospects hanging on your every word.

In this in-depth guide you’ll learn:

If you’re struggling with audience research, knowing what data to collect, how to collect it and how to apply it to content marketing, this guide is for you.

Let’s dive in.

Contents

Table of Contents

Doing audience research is essential to creating content that resonates with your target market.

You have to know who your audience is and what they need.

You need to get to know them better than they know themselves!

Before diving into the audience research, you need to create a plan if you want a more effective outcome.

Start with objectives

Why are you creating a content marketing strategy?

What’s the goal of the content strategy?

Attract and engage?

Build expert authority?

Develop product propensity?

A combination of objectives?

Whatever it is, be clear about why you are creating content for the audience, linked to business and marketing goals as this will inform your research (see below).

What do you need to know in order to create content that will hit the mark?
  • Who your audience is
  • How they consume content
  • Where they consume content
  • Where they network and with who, whether online or offline (groups, events, communities, forums etc)
  • What they share
  • Who and what influences them
  • Pain points, frustrations, limiting beliefs, challenges, worries
  • Desires, goals, aspirational identity, dream outcome
  • Triggering events – things that happen in their life that cause them to realise they have a problem or need and seek a solution
  • Things they want to know, learn and do
  • What they like and dislike
  • Sentiment and beliefs (regardless whether true or not) – about your category, brand, competitors, industry, themselves etc
  • How they behave online and offline and in different situations
Before you begin: Audience research planning checklist

Defining Your Target Audience

The first step of any successful audience research and content marketing strategy is identifying exactly who you want that content to reach.

Defining your target audience ensures the content you create will actually appeal to the right people.

Your target audience includes your ideal customers and the key buyer personas that make up your customer base.

It probably also includes a large number of people who are not your target customers, but who might spread the word and refer your target customers to you (don’t ignore these people).

Take the time to get crystal clear on who your audience is through creating detailed personas.

When it comes to personas and content strategy, let’s address a realistic approach.

There’s a couple ways to go about this and typically the size of your organisation and the resources available to you will dictate the best approach.

First, even if you do have different buyer personas, do you need to create a content strategy for each of them?

No.

If the personas have different desired end results / dream outcomes and jobs to be done, then it warrants a unique content strategy tailored to them, their interests, pains, jobs to be done and desires.

Oftentimes, when we workshop audiences with clients, after digging into them you learn that some of them want the same dream outcome, regardless of differences in demographics.

When it comes to content strategy, you can attract and engage multiple personas who share the same dream outcome.

What if there’s still several personas with different dream outcomes or jobs to be done?

In an ideal world, you’d have a content strategy for each of them, tailored to their unique buyer’s journey.

This isn’t the reality for most though and resources rarely allow for this.

So what should you do in this situation?

  • Work with a customer value profile or ideal customer profile (ICP)
  • Or just choose the most important / valuable persona to start

Creating Detailed Buyer Personas

audience persona

Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers. They should be based on real data about your existing customers rather than the gut feel and assumptions of you and your team.

Why? Because you’re going to base a lot of decisions on them. Your content topics and strategy to attract and engage them being one of those decisions.

Miss the mark on communications and your target audience will feel like your brand isn’t for them and you don’t understand them. Your marketing won’t work and performance will tank, to put it lightly.

There’s tons of templates online, but we’re creating personas specifically to inform our content strategy.

So what information should we focus on collecting about them?

Here’s some key information to collect about your audience and how to use it to inform a content strategy.

Demographics

You’ll usually see basic demographic data in persona templates, such as:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Location
  • Family status
  • Level of education
  • Income level

This is low value info usually, but good for allowing you to slice up your data and identify differences between segments.

How you might use this in a content strategy would be:

  • If the persona is – legitimately – located in a specific geo-location, then you might:
    • Target local media with PR campaigns
    • Run collaboration campaigns with other local brands
    • Incorporate some localised content that they will resonate more strongly with. Examples:
      • A shared appreciation for the location
      • Featuring customers, influencers, your team, behind the scenes, in the community, interviews and more from the location
      • Join the conversation of [relevant] local news stories from your brand’s point of view
  • If your persona is families, especially with young children, then you might create content that incorporates a family angle, talk about topics in the context or point of view from someone with a family or stories that feature families to increase the relatability with the audience.
  • If your persona is female then angling your content to women where appropriate could increase relatability and vice versa.

Firmographics

This is more relevant for B2B and could include:

  • Job title and seniority
  • Industry
  • Company size
  • Office based or working from home
  • Responsibilities and jobs to be done

How you might use this in a content strategy would be:

Job title and seniority

  • C-Suite Executives – This audience will likely respond best to strategic thought leadership content that focuses on big picture concepts, industry trends, and executive-level insights. They likely want content that helps them make major decisions.
  • Directors/Managers – While still interested in high-level strategy, this audience might want more tactical content on leadership, team management, and operational excellence. Offer templates, frameworks, and actionable tips focused on their day-to-day responsibilities of managing teams and projects.
  • Individual Contributors/Entry-Level – This audience is likely interested in developing new skills, growing their careers, and staying on top of latest best practices. Provide them with “how-to” articles, video tutorials, online courses, and other tactical training content. Case studies that showcase career paths could also be compelling.
  • Technical Roles – Engineers, developers, designers etc might appreciate very detailed, technical content like coding tutorials, product teardowns, and industry analysis. Go deep into the nitty gritty details of technology and leverage visual assets like diagrams.

When creating content for specific job titles and seniority, consider tone, depth, format, and degree of technical complexity.

Industry

  • Use industry-specific terms and examples or case studies
  • Highlight industry trends, news and innovations
  • Feature guest posts or quotes from industry insiders
  • Talk about the topic in the context of the industry

Company size, responsibilities and remote vs office

  • Small businesses and the job titles within them, have very different roles, responsibilities, needs, jobs to be done, challenges and day to day lives than the people in large organisations, even if they share the same job title
  • Similarly, remote workers live a different day to office workers
    • Learn the differences and make sure your content speaks to their needs, features characters, creative and situations they can relate to so they feel understood and ‘in the right place’

With B2B audiences, thinking about helping them to complete their ‘jobs to be done’ better, faster, easier or cheaper is a good place to start brainstorming ideas and topic pillars.

Jobs To Be Done

Another crucial element to understand about your target audience is the functional, social, and emotional “jobs” they are trying to get done.

Some examples of common jobs to be done that could inform content marketing include:

Functional

  • Improving skills to advance their careers
  • Increasing productivity and efficiency
  • Reducing costs and expenses
  • Solving specific pain points related to their role 

Social

  • Gaining status and respect among peers
  • Feeling like part of a community
  • Contributing value to an organisation

Emotional

  • Reducing stress and frustration
  • Building confidence
  • Finding meaning and fulfillment
  • Overcoming fears and uncertainty

To uncover your audience’s jobs to be done, directly ask your existing customers what motivated them to seek out and use your product or service through surveys, interviews, and customer development programs.

Social listening and community forums can also provide insight into what jobs people in your target audience are trying to get done.

You should also use AI tools such as ChatGPT, Claude 2 and Bard for example. Giving detailed prompts with context and examples can yield great output for audience research. We’ll show you exactly how to use these tools for audience research later…

How you might use this in a content strategy would be:

Understanding both the functional and emotional jobs to be done allows you to create content that speaks directly to your audience’s underlying needs and desires.

For example, an IT manager may be motivated by wanting to both improve network security (functional) and gain confidence that they won’t be blamed for any issues (emotional). Content focused on only the functional need would miss a major emotional driver.

Once you identify the key jobs to be done for your audience, create content around each job to be done.

Top of funnel content would get you noticed, likely position you as an authority who can help them and make them feel understood – “You get what I’m dealing with.”

Middle of funnel content would speak to the specific pain points associated with the job to be done, helping them to overcome these pain points. This builds trust and further positions you as an expert.

Bottom of funnel content shows them exactly how your product or service can solve the pain points and help them complete their job to be done easier, faster, cheaper, better, with greater chance of success.

Feature real customer stories – ideally of people just like them to increase relatability – showing how your product or service helped them get the job done.

Jobs to be done represent a “why” behind your audience’s behaviour. Leverage this intelligence to create content that demonstrates true empathy and understanding of your customers, while helping them with their needs.

Psychographics

Psychographics refer to the attitudes, personality traits, values, beliefs, lifestyles, and interests that characterise your target audience.

These psychological attributes provide a more well-rounded profile beyond just demographics.

Some examples of psychographic profiling criteria include:

  • Personality – Are they introverts or extroverts? Analytical or emotional?

  • Lifestyles – What activities do they enjoy in their spare time? How do they like to spend their money?

  • Attitudes – What are their perspectives on social or political issues? How do they feel about topics related to your industry?

  • Values – What ideals are most important to them? What do they care most passionately about?

  • Interests – What hobbies, topics, and activities are they interested in engaging with?

You can gather psychographic data through social listening, surveys, interviews, focus groups and by observing communities your audience gathers in like forums and Facebook groups.

You can also use tools such as SparkToro and LLMs such as ChatGPT, Claude and Bard.

How you might use this in a content strategy would be:

Understanding psychographics allows you to align your content and messaging with the personality, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles that resonate most with your audience.

One reason for understanding and speaking to psychographics is so the audience feel understood (empathy). Without this, there is nothing else – it’s the first critical step to engaging them.

The other reason is WHAT you talk about through content marketing, is the sweet spot at the intersection of:

  • Your customer’s interests, beliefs, aspirational identity, stories they tell themselves – psychographics
  • What your brand wants to say and is ‘qualified and positioned’ to say – it makes sense for your brand to join the conversation and talk about these things

For example, outdoor enthusiasts may appreciate content focused on environmentalism and conservation… or they may prefer content around escapism, mental health and natural living.

Politically progressive customers might engage more with content that has a social justice perspective.

Leverage psychographics to tap into who they are as human beings so you can craft content that makes them feel understood and appeals to both their logical and emotional selves.

Apply these insights to create content that forges powerful connections on a psychological level.

Limiting Beliefs, Worries, Challenges & Pain Points

One of the most valuable insights you can uncover in audience research is identifying your customers’ limiting beliefs, worries, challenges, and pain points.

This can be delicate to address, but content that directly speaks to people’s deep concerns and obstacles can forge an intensely loyal bond and be highly persuasive.

Some techniques to reveal your audience’s limiting beliefs and pain points include:

  • Social listening – Look for common complaints and frustrations voiced on social media. What do they vent about?

  • Surveys – Ask directly what your audience worries about and what challenges they face.

  • Interviews – Have an open conversation to probe their deepest anxieties, objections, and dissatisfactions.

  • Support discussions – Look for clues in customer service and sales interactions and what people reach out to you for help with.

  • Negative reviews – Complaints often contain valuable nuggets about pain points if you read between the lines. Positive reviews can also reveal what was solved.

  • AI LLMs – ChatGPT, Bard, Claude etc

How you might use this in a content strategy:

Once you identify common limiting beliefs (“I could never do that”), worries (“What if I fail?”), challenges (“I don’t have enough time/money”), and pain points (“I hate how complicated this is”), incorporate and address them directly with your content.

Pro Tip: For each negative statement (I can’t, I won’t, I don’t etc), flip it into a ‘how to’ statement.

  • “I don’t have enough time/money” -> How to achieve X even with $0 in the bank, a family and a full time job

For example:

“Still worried this advanced certification is too difficult for you? Here’s how our self-paced learning path breaks down complex topics into simple, bite-sized lessons.”

This shows you understand their concerns and addresses them head-on through your content.

Constructive criticism can also be embraced to disarm negative perceptions. Turn weaknesses into strengths.

Leaning into audiences’ deepest anxieties may feel counterintuitive, but it demonstrates remarkable empathy and builds powerful trust.

Help them solve their physical and internal pains and they will be fully bought into your brand.

Goals and Dream Outcomes

The final piece of the audience research puzzle is discovering your target customers’ goals and dream outcomes.

What is the ultimate end result they aspire to achieve?

Some examples:

  • Losing weight and getting fit
  • Starting a successful business
  • Retiring early and traveling the world
  • Learning a new skill like playing guitar
  • Building meaningful relationships
  • Having a bestselling book

Uncovering goals and aspirational visions reveals what truly motivates your audience at the deepest level.

Some techniques to reveal your audience’s goals and dream outcomes include:

  • Asking directly – Surveys and interviews can reveal desired end results.

  • Future-casting – Have your audience imagine their ideal future state in 5 or 10 years.

  • Look for clues – Social media bios and posts hint at dreams.

  • Communities – Forums and groups are places people often open up about their goals and dreams

  • AI LLMs – ChatGPT, Bard, Claude etc

How you might use this in a content strategy:

Once you know your audience’s biggest goals and dreams, incorporate them into your content strategy and messaging. Show how your brand can help them achieve those aspirations.

Connect your audience’s dreams to what you offer using your brand, products and services as the stepping stones or bridge.

People are not buying your products and services. They are buying transformation from their current state, to the goal or dream state… so speak to the transformation and help them build the bridge (which ungated free content, gated lead magnet content and paid for products and services, can all support the transformation).

Quick example:

  • Business: Online nutrition and fitness coaching
  • Audience: Busy professionals aged 30-45 seeking to lose weight and get in shape
  • Dream Outcome: Having an active, healthy lifestyle and feeling confident and energetic
  • Current State: Overweight, low energy, lack of time for extensive workouts, feeling frustrated and discouraged with slow progress in their fitness journey

You would then shape your content marketing around this dream outcome to support their transformation, while working in your products and services at an appropriate time:

Top of Funnel: Awareness, Engagement

  • How To Design an Exercise Routine You Can Stick To
  • 101 Easy Recipes to Meal Prep Healthy Lunches for Work 

Middle of Funnel: Help them with specific pain points while introducing your service

  • The Ultimate Guide To Exercising While Recovering From Injury (23 Injuries Included)
  • How to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau Without Going Hungry

Bottom of Funnel: How your service specifically helps

  • How Online Fitness Coaching Helps Busy Professionals Reach Their Goals
  • The Power Of Personalised Nutrition Plans for Sustainable Weight Loss

The top of funnel attracts the audience, gets their attention, shows empathy, and provides value, positioning the brand as an expert guide with practical tips and advice.

The middle continues to provide value, builds empathy and trust by addressing pain points like injuries and plateaus, addresses limiting beliefs and starts to introduce the products and services.

Finally, the bottom makes the case for online coaching and nutrition plans to help achieve the dream outcomes related to an active lifestyle and weight loss in a customised way.

This supports the audience through the journey of transformation from their current struggles to the dream outcome, while introducing your products and services.

Conducting Audience Research

A. Primary research methods
1. Surveys
2. Interviews
3. Focus groups

B. Secondary research methods
1. Industry reports
2. Competitor analysis
3. Online listening
4. AI LLMs (ChatGPT, Claude, Bard etc)

C. Combining primary and secondary research for comprehensive insights

Primary Research Methods

Surveys

Surveys allow you to directly ask members of your target audience questions to gain insights into their needs, pain points, and interests.

Instead of generic questions, really think about crafting targeted questionnaires that probe the psychology and media consumption habits of your ideal customers. 

Beyond segmentation, don’t focus on who they are, focus on what they want to do.

  • What tasks do they want to complete?
  • What questions do they want to answer?
  • What’s their goals?
  • What’s their pain points?
  • Are there any objections stopping them from acting?

Remember our goal here is audience research to inform your content marketing strategy.

Offering an incentive like a discount code, coupon or free ‘something’ can increase response rates.

Keep the survey concise and focused to improve completion rate – start with 7-10 strategic questions and go from there.

Targeted, well-designed surveys generate psychographic, demographic, and firmographic data, as well as personalised content ideas, directly from your ideal customers.

Psychographics allow you to get into the mind of the audience, whereas the value of demographics and firmographics is more in giving you the ability to slice and dice the data. Example:

  • Males age 40-60 have a much higher desire for X than females. 
  • Supply Chain Managers in companies of <50 employees prioritise pain point 1, but this pain point is not a priority for the same job role in companies of 100+ employees

Use these insights for a super relatable content strategy that resonates with your audience.

Here’s some survey questions to help you get going.

Pro Tip: Ask the same questions to AI LLMs like ChatGPT, Claude and Bard (but only after you’ve trained the AI on your brand and audience).

Empathy Map & Psychographics

Think and feel:

  • What worries or stresses keep you up at night related to [niche]? What do you wish was different?

Hear:

  • What feedback or advice have you gotten from colleagues, friends, or family that has impacted your approach to [niche]?

See:

  • What brands or competitors in [industry] stand out to you right now and why? What are you noticing them do differently?

Say and do:

  • How would you describe your feelings about [industry] to others? How has this changed over the past year?

Pain:

  • What frustrations or obstacles related to [niche] make you think “I wish there was an easier way to do this”?

Gain:

  • If you could wave a magic wand, what would be the ideal solution or end result for [main problem]?

Tasks:

  • What specific work tasks or processes do you find most time consuming or challenging related to [niche]?

Feelings:

  • What emotions come up for you when you think about [problem]? How do you want to feel instead?

Influences:

  • Beyond colleagues, what online communities, thought leaders, or other resources influence your approach to [niche]?

Pain points:

  • Where do you feel [industry] or current solutions fail people like you? What needs to improve?

Goals:

  • Imagine you had successfully solved [main problem]. What would the ideal outcome be for you?

Triggers:

  • What recent frustration or “last straw” moment led you to start researching [niche solutions]?

Alternatives:

  • Before finding us, what other options or brands did you consider to solve [main problem]? How did you evaluate them?

Pains & Goals:

  • Now that you’re using
    , what’s the #1 benefit you’re getting that you couldn’t before?

Uniqueness:

  • What made you ultimately choose our
    over other options you considered?

Influence:

  • Who do you see as the top leaders or experts in [our industry/niche]? What value do they provide?

Channels:

  • Where do you spend most of your digital media time? (Top websites, social platforms, publications, etc).

Clichés:

  • What’s something our competitors all say or do that you think misses the mark? How could it be improved?

Causes of Pain:

  • What are the biggest daily frustrations or struggles you face related to [niche problem]? What gets in the way?

Triggers – When/Where/Why:

  • What specific situation(s) typically trigger a need for [our product/service] in your daily life? Why and when does the need occur?

Questions that help to obtain answers for the different stages of StoryBrand’s Brand Script

Backstory:

  • What challenges were you facing before finding our solution?

Need:

  • How has your industry/life changed in recent years? What drove the need for a new solution?

Villain:

  • What specific pain points or inefficiencies were you struggling with previously?

Plan:

  • Why was it critical to address these issues now rather than later?

Stakes:

  • What frustrating or unhelpful solution can you now avoid thanks to our product?

Success:

  • What’s the #1 most valuable outcome you’ve experienced with our product/service?

Vision:

  • How would you describe your ideal world after using our solution?

Superpower:

  • What’s the most critical or impactful capability our product provides?

Process:

  • Can you share the top 5 most important elements or features you appreciate in our solution?

Call to Action:

  • How would you describe or pitch the key benefits of our product to a colleague?

Social Proof:

  • What specific results, metrics, or achievements have you seen since adopting our solution?

Crowdsource Ideas

Consider including open-ended questions asking for specific content suggestions:

  • What topics would you find most valuable for us to cover in our blog?
  • What type of [email series, ebook, video] would provide the most value to you right now?

Customer Journey Focused Questions

Awareness Stage:

  • How do you typically discover new brands and products related to [niche]?
  • What social media platforms and online communities do you use to research [niche] solutions?
  • What initially attracts you to a brand’s content in our industry?
  • How did you first hear about our company/product?
  • What initially attracted you to our brand?
  • What need were you looking to address when you discovered us?

Consideration Stage:

  • What type of content helps you evaluate and compare options? (e.g. reviews, comparisons, product demos, etc).
  • What questions come up for you when deciding between options in our niche?
  • What content gives you confidence in considering a purchase?
  • What other options did you consider before choosing us?
  • What specific features were you looking for in a solution?

Decision Stage:

  • What resources, content or other things finally gave you enough confidence to make a purchase decision?
  • What objections stand in the way of purchasing, and how can content help overcome those?
  • What convinces you that a product/service will truly solve your pains?
  • What ultimately led you to choose our company/product over other options?
  • What factor was most influential in your final decision?
  • How did you overcome any hesitations or objections before deciding?

Onboarding:

  • When getting set up with a new product, what content is most helpful to you? (e.g. tutorials, webinars, guides)
  • What gaps did you experience in understanding how to use our product effectively?
  • What types of support content do you find valuable as a new user?
  • How was your experience getting set up with our product/service?
  • What could we have explained better during the onboarding process?
  • What training or support resources were most helpful to you?

Ongoing Use:

  • What ongoing content would add value to enhancing your use of our product?
  • What challenges do you face that our content could help address?
  • How can our content make you more proficient and get increased value from our product?
  • Since becoming a customer, what have you found most valuable about our product?
  • What challenges, if any, have you faced while using our solution?
  • How could we improve the user experience of our product?

Loyalty:

  • What type of content makes you want to engage further with a brand?
  • What additional content offerings would deepen your relationship with our brand?
  • How can we make our content more shareable for you?
  • How likely are you to recommend us to colleagues and friends? Why?
  • What makes you want to continue being a customer?
  • What additional products or services would you like to see from our company?

Interviews and Focus Groups

 

Interviews

Interviews allow for an in-depth, one-on-one exploration of your audience’s thoughts and feelings.

Conduct 30-60 minute interviews with ideally 10-20 carefully selected members of your target audience. Depending on resources, either choose a mix of ideal customer profiles or focus on 1 persona per round of interviews.

Listen for themes across interviews to identify needs, desires, objections, and motivations.

Learn the language and mental models your audience uses so you can mirror it back through tailored content.

Focus Groups

Focus groups bring 6-10 people together for a moderated, collaborative exploration of a topic.

Recruit participants representing your target personas. Guide the 1-2 hour discussion with strategic questions.

Observe the interactive dialogue for insights you may miss in 1:1 interviews. Draw out consensus views, areas of divergence, and new perspectives.

Both methods reveal deep insights directly through your ideal customers’ voices. Synthesise findings into buyer personas, content themes, pain points and emotion-based messaging.

You can use the same sort of questions as the survey for interviews and focus groups.

Pros and Cons of Primary Research Methods

MethodProsCons
SurveysReach a large sample size for statistically significant data. Cost-effective way to gather broad information. Can segment data by demographics and buyer personas. Participants can remain anonymous.Self-reported data not as in-depth. Can’t ask follow-up questions. Lower participation and completion rates.
InterviewsAllow deep dive into user thoughts, feelings, behaviours. Build empathy through storytelling and open-ended dialogue. Uncover subtle insights through back-and-forth conversation.Small sample size limits data significance. Resource intensive to conduct and analyse. Interviewee bias in responses.
Focus GroupsGain insights into group attitudes, consensus views. Observe meaningful dialogue between participants. Efficient way to gather diverse perspectives in 1-2 hours.Artificial environment may influence responses. Groupthink and dominant voices can introduce bias. Difficult to quantify and analyse free-flowing discussion.

Secondary Research Methods

Industry Reports

Industry reports provide pre-compiled data and insights into market trends, competitor analysis, and customer preferences.

Benefits:

  • Save time and resources vs. conducting primary research
  • Access comprehensive data and future projections
  • Gain outside expert perspectives on your market

Types of Reports:

  • Market segment analysis – Size, growth, trends
  • Customer research – Buying habits, switching behaviour
  • Competitor benchmarking – Market share, positioning
  • Industry forecasts – Predictions based on historical data

Useful for Content Marketing:

  • Identifying your total addressable market and audience segments to target
  • Understanding audience challenges, needs and desires
  • Monitoring competitor content strategies and messaging
  • Planning future content around projected industry trends and topics

Apply a Critical Lens

While industry reports provide a wealth of data, view them critically:

  • Look for potential biases or skewed data sources
  • Seek out conflicting viewpoints in different reports
  • Validate key findings through primary customer research

Use reports as a starting point, not an ending point. Combine with your own audience insights for a complete picture. Convert findings into concrete personas, messaging frameworks and content ideas.

Competitor Analysis

Analysing what your competitors are doing right—and wrong—can reveal untapped opportunities to better attract, engage and convert your audience.

It can also help with ideation to inspire you to create your version of top performing content that worked for them.

Research Areas:

  • Content types – Blog posts, videos, podcasts, etc. What performs best?

    • Look for the content assets that have unusually high metrics compared to the usual level they achieve (views / links / keyword visibility / estimated traffic / shares etc)
  • Content topics and themes

    • What niche topics do they focus on?

    • How aligned to audience interests are they?

    • Are they using bridging/shoulder topics to better engage the audience?

    • How much content is being produced at the top, middle and bottom of funnel?

    • Are they using content hubs and clusters?

    • Are they creating data-driven content for digital PR campaigns?

    • See SEO Content Strategy for more info about bridging topics and content structures
  • Content quality – Expertise, experience, depth, uniqueness of insights, point of view, author, UX

  • Content promotion – Paid ads, email lists, social media engagement

  • Digital PR – are they actively contributing expert opinions to media and/or being feautured in online publications?
  • Search optimisation – How do they use and target keywords and metadata?

  • Lead magnets and funnel – What offers are being presented to move them through different stages of the customer journey? Where are these offers being presented? What CTAs are being used?  

  • Website experience – ease of navigation, speed, responsive and engaging design, easy to consume content

  • Brand messaging – Taglines, positioning, personality, points of view (messaging), consistency

Apply Findings:

  • Identify keyword and content gaps where competitors don’t have suitable content to match this search or interest, then go create it

  • If they underserve certain stages of the customer journey, then make sure to fill that void
  • Improve SEO by going after keywords that perform well for them, that you can compete with. Also look at their topics that perform well in search and expand on these topics

  • Produce better quality content by exceeding their expertise, recency, depth, design or other areas that can be improved

  • Start or ramp up consistent digital PR activity with the same plus more relevant media and/or create data-driven digital PR content campaigns if this is something they do that appears to be working (or that they don’t do which could give you a competitive advantage)
  • Develop lead magnets and calls-to-action that outperform competitors and deliver more value and/or solve a more specific problem, and/or are more closely related to your core offer of products and services or the next customer journey stage

  • Audit website experience and ensure you exceed competitors

Regularly monitoring competitors ensures you know the benchmark, surface strategic opportunities, and continuously improve your content game. But avoid fixating on rivals – keep the primary focus on your audience’s needs as what works for them might not work for your brand and audience.

Social Listening

Social listening provides real-time insights into the topics and conversations resonating most with your audience.

Tools:

  • Social media management platforms (e.g Sprout Social, Hootsuite) allow you to track keywords, hashtags, accounts and more
  • Keyword and sentiment analysis tools (BuzzSumo, Mention)
  • Trend tools (Exploding Topics, Google Trends, Cision)
  • Platform analytics (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube plus lots of 3rd party social media tools)
Tools can be a great companion, but one method we like to use is to set up our listening posts for a particular brand and their audience:
  • Create a new social media account at the main platforms you want to monitor
  • Follow:
    • Industry / niche publications and organisations
    • Industry / niche and relevant influencers and experts
    • Certain target audience members
    • Consultants working with your target audience
    • Competitors
    • Events
    • Complimentary brands who target the same audience
    • Hashtags
    • Join relevant groups
    • Anything else within the platform that is relevant and producing content and/or discussions
  • Now, when you log in to these accounts, you have an entire feed of niche content that this world is talking about and producing… tons of ideas and inspo, plus keep your finger on the pulse of the niche and audience!
    • Look for the content getting the most views, engagement and comments (in comparison to the account and its audience size) as these are the hot topics
    • Also look for the same thing coming up over and over again, perhaps communicated in different ways as this is also a hot topic indicator
  • Also set up an RSS reader such as Feedly.com. This gives you the same benefits as the previous social step but for website hosted content
    • Add all the same sort of websites, blogs and publications that you followed from the social accounts
    • Here you will see what content everyone is publishing from their websites, what everyone is talking about and what the hot topics are
    • Check the comments on blog posts and videos. Lots of comments usually means the topic or perspective hit a nerve or is hot. Also look at the comments themselves, the sentiment and any additional questions or contributions that are valuable or could make for good content topics themselves
  • Monitor online forums and communities like Reddit, Quora and relevant forums. Look for popular discussions and threads that are getting unusually high views and comments… these are the hot topics and burning questions!
  • Pay attention to review sites like G2, Capterra, Google and Amazon reviews.
    • Look at what people love and hate about products and services and the different ways they are using the products and services
  • Podcasts – follow the top shows in the niche and look at the episode titles and what they are all talking about

These would make for great listening posts. Takes a bit of effort to set up from outset, but saves you heaps of time in the long run, while improving performance by quickly and easily spotting trends and tapping into the hottest topics.

Apply Findings:

  • Develop content and messaging that directly addresses pain points, desires, objections and limiting beliefs
  • Use the language the target audience uses
  • Join the hot conversations and establish your brand (or expert persona) as an expert, thought leader and/or source of the most up to date content. Do this by creating content on the hot topics  you find, but from the point of view of your brand
  • Curate suitable content for quick and timely publication

Listening online provides endless fuel to create content your audience truly wants and needs. Understand their world to stand out.

Pros and Cons of Primary Research Methods

MethodProsCons
Industry ReportsEfficient access to comprehensive dataPotential researcher bias
 Expert perspectives and analysisData can be outdated
 Future projections and forecastingImpersonal, lack qualitative insights
Competitor AnalysisReveal content gaps and opportunitiesTime-intensive to monitor competitors
 Benchmark your effortsBiased viewpoint of strengths/weaknesses
 Identify winning strategies to modelLagging indicator of what works
Social ListeningReal-time audience insightsCan be overwhelming volume of data
 Discover trending topicsInfluenced by algorithms
 Monitor questions and conversationsSample bias in online groups

Integrating Research Methods

Conducting both primary and secondary research provides a complete picture of your audience by merging internal and external data sources.

Ways to combine:

  • Use secondary research to inform primary – Identify questions and topics to probe based on initial findings.

  • Cross-reference primary research data by secondary insights – For example, look for patterns from primary research that are also mentioned frequently on industry blogs and social channels.

  • Validate secondary findings through primary follow-up – Interview experts referenced in reports to confirm key takeaways.

  • Fill gaps in secondary data through primary outreach – Ask about needs not covered in reports.

  • Build primary research samples based on secondary findings – Ensure participants match target demographics and buyer personas outlined.

  • Create comprehensive audience profiles and journey maps incorporating both data sets.

Integrated analysis reveals:

  • Consistencies and discrepancies
  • Missing perspectives and blind spots
  • Nuances and human insights beyond data points

Weave together continuous cycles of primary and secondary research for multidimensional audience understanding. Use each method to validate, build upon, and strengthen the other.

Conclusion

Conducting rigorous audience research is a fundamental pillar of an effective content marketing strategy.

To recap key takeaways:

  • Clearly define your target audience and map detailed personas through both primary and secondary research.
  • Go beyond superficial demographics to uncover psychographics, jobs-to-be-done, pain points, and aspirations.
  • Leverage a mix of primary and secondary research methods to reveal both breadth and depth of insights directly from your customers’ voice.
  • Analyse data to pinpoint content needs and map topics to each stage of the buyer’s journey. Identify gaps between existing content and audience needs.
  • Apply insights across content planning, distribution channel optimisation, and emotionally resonant messaging. Continuously test and refine based on performance data.

Now it’s your turn.

Stop creating content based on assumptions and generic personas.

Take the time to carry out effective audience research for your content strategy. 

Conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Listen intently online. Analyse competitors. Mine all sources for insights.

With a keen understanding of your audience, you can create content with incredible resonance that fuels growth and loyalty.

Research is the foundation upon which content marketing success is built.

Learn Content Marketing