Give the People What They Want: How Top Marketers Get Audience Intel to Launch Irresistible Shows
November is Make the Case Month at MSR. Every week, we’ll load you up with the big-picture ideas and tactical tips you need to sell your branded show concept to the “powers that be” within your organization. We know that shows are the best vehicle to help grow brand affinity among your customers; this month, we’re helping ensure everyone else at your company understands that, too. If you’re as pumped as we are, catch up on the content we’ve already published (our introductory trailer and content calendar, the world’s biggest list of branded podcasts and video shows, and tips for selling your ideas internally) and subscribe for exclusive bonus content and conversations here.
Making the case for a show is only one (albeit important) step in your showrunning journey. To best ensure buy-in across your organization, you need to make the case for the right show. Not to be all Debbie Downer on this, the first full week of Make the Case Month, but succeeding in making the case for a show that no one wants to watch can be worse than not making the case at all.
Your show needs to sit at a narrow intersection: that all-important ellipse in the Venn Diagram of interesting and informative content. If you lean too far in one direction, you’ll upset the balance. If you pursue entertainment at the expense of information, you may dilute the value of your brand, or gain a wide audience that’s unlikely to convert. But if you forget that you’re striving to engage a human audience and fail to produce content real humans would find interesting, then your show will never gain traction in the first place. The ideal mix of interesting and informational will differ for each brand, each product, each show concept.
You want to find the perfect fit: a show that resonates perfectly with the perfect prospect. How can you give that person what they want?
Marketing’s Mount Olympus
If you’re certain you already know what your audience wants from your show, hang tight a minute: you may have scaled marketing’s Mount Olympus. That is, you might have cast yourself as an omniscient deity (surely inadvertently; you’re not a megalomaniac) who knows what’s best for your customers—whether or not you’ve actually asked them what they want.
You may be suffering from the all-too common hubris of the modern marketer, and that’s perfectly understandable. You’re a creative person. You have great ideas. You have great taste. So, it’s natural to assume you know what your audience wants; nay, what your audience needs.
The only problem? You, uh, might not be exactly right.
Across industries, marketers could get better at listening to what their customers actually want, rather than moving full steam ahead to create something they think their customers need.
The good news is that your customers will tell you what they want. The better news: they’re probably already doing it.
Start With What You Know
If you’re committed to making a show, then I’m assuming you’re already putting out some type of content—perhaps some whitepapers or ebooks, probably some email newsletters, almost definitely a blog.
As you work to define the concept of the show your audience will find most appealing, review what your audience has already told you—through views and shares and comments and word of mouth—that they like.
In the constant quest to be data-driven marketers who make data-driven decisions, we sometimes overlook the importance of qualitative feedback, which we often have in spades if we only stop to look for it. Odds are, you can mine the qualitative data you have to turn up the gas on a topic or theme that’s already simmering. Use this to make the case for a show that’s already primed to boil.
If you can tap into a topic that already interests your audience, then you’re setting yourself up to offer both a better experience for those viewers and, ultimately, a steeper slide down the sales funnel. When you focus on a particular audience, ProfitWell CEO Patrick Campbell says, “You have this giant pool of people who have really good, positive interactions with your brand. And your goal then is to kind of score them a little bit, and reach out to them in a very respectful manner. And if they’re ready to talk, they’ll say, ‘Great, let’s talk,’ and if they’re not, they’ll go back to your product, which is your content.”
How to find the existing audience to nurture? Evaluate the data — both quantitative and qualitative — you have on your existing content.
For example: I used to work at a recruitment firm that hosted a series of excellent hiring conferences every year. Some of our most popular content related to these events. We filmed glossy teaser trailers featuring testimonials from candidates who had successfully found jobs and hiring managers who had successfully filled positions. I cobbled together some recorded screencasts that walked attendees through the logistics of registration. I typed until my fingers were numb (not really; I was fine), publishing blog posts with advice and past perspectives and success stories. Our readers—both job-seeking hopefuls and hiring managers—devoured this content. We knew it because readership and viewership were high, bounce rates were low, and shares were abundant. We also knew it because candidates told us at the conferences themselves. They mentioned the content we’d created. They explicitly stated that it was helpful. They thanked us.
In hindsight, we had all the elements we needed for a show. A show—an audio or video miniseries, perhaps—could have united all these elements in a cohesive way. It could have been helpful (tips from recruiters!), inspiring (success stories!), and aspirational (promoting company values and innovations!) all at once. And best of all? It had a ready-built audience actively seeking more related content.
It’s likely your company has the elements of a successful show—and an audience eager to engage with it—lurking between the lines of your existing content, too. Map out your content: what’s performed well? What hasn’t? What’s the connective tissue among these pieces? Jump in a room with your team (but whatever you do, don’t tell Jay you’re doing that) and parse the data to figure out what kind of content your audience is already telling you they want to consume.
When in Doubt: Ask!
You can (and should) analyze your existing content to determine what resonates best with your audience. But in striving to give your customers what they actually want, you don’t need to be a hero. Consider this wild idea: ask them.
Why don’t we do this more often? Does it seem too overwhelming to figure out the best way to survey our customers? Are we afraid no one will respond to us? Are we afraid of what they’ll say if they do?
“Ask questions of your customers out in the open in communities that they are already a part of,” advises Wistia CEO Chris Savage. “Meet them where they are. Usually, we are blinded by fear but so often our customers will tell us very clearly what they want… we just have to be willing to truly listen.”
So where and how, exactly, can you listen to the customers who will clarify what they want from you and your show?
Tag-team with Sales
According to Andy Crestodina, co-founder of Orbit Media, “Talking to customers is good. Listening to customers is better.” He advises marketers join up with their sales teams to gain the direct customer access salespeople enjoy every day. “When you’re in the room, you’ll quickly realize what your audience needs. What you’re not giving them. How you compare. This is only possible if you jump on sales calls and ride shotgun to sales meetings. Why don’t marketers do this? It’s a mystery.”
Heike Young, Director of Content Strategy at Salesforce, offers similar advice. “I spent two years in a role where I supported our sales teams by presenting our original research content directly to customers,” she says. “This was invaluable! It changed my approach to content forever. It helped me realize I needed to trim the fat from introductory, stage-setting content and really cut to the chase, not wasting anyone’s time.”
Heike acknowledges that it’s not always plausible for marketers to access customers directly as often as they might like. But before you conclude that you can’t, she says, why not ask?
“Are you sure you can’t? Have you asked your sales team, if you’re in B2B, to participate in a ride-along to account meetings in your city to share your team’s content? Have you gone to an industry conference with the express purpose of shaking hands with customers and asking them questions about the types of content they enjoy? Try it.”
Which brings us to the next stop in your quest to better understand what your customers want: stalk them.
Stalk Your Customers
I don’t mean literally stalk them. I just mean hang out where they are, read what they’re saying online, attend their events, show up at their houses. Strike that last part.
If you can understand where your customers spend their time and what types of content—from other companies, other industries, other influencers—they enjoy, you’ll be better able to determine how to give them the type of show they’d be most inclined to watch.
Says Camille Ricketts, Head of Marketing at high-growth tech startup Notion, “If you have communities of users forming on other platforms that are not officially affiliated with your company—like a subreddit or Facebook groups—schedule regular time on your calendar to delve into these conversations and see how your users are behaving, or what they’re asking, or where they’re stumped when they don’t think anyone from the company is around.” Tap into the conversations customers are having—whether or not those conversations are about your brand—to ascertain how you can join the dialogue in a way that makes a positive impact for your people.
And don’t wait for your customers to come to you. Meet them where they are. Understand the content they’re creating and the message they’re providing to their customers.
“Watch them. Learn from them,” says Robert Rose, author and Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory. “One of my favorite things to do is to go watch customers. Attend their conferences, watch their keynotes, read their books, their magazines, their blogs. And we don’t do it, mostly because when we do, we discover that the ‘important’ things we think we have to say are not actually that important to our customers. The magic of great content is matching what our customers really care about, with what we have the ability to say.”
As a showrunner, it’s your job to find the customers who are willing to share what they really care about with you.
Email Your Subscribers
If you have a newsletter, congratulations: you have a ready-made pool of customers who have already expressed interest in interacting more frequently with your company. As you prep your show concept, consider asking these special few what they want to see or hear from you.
That doesn’t mean you’re ceding your legwork to your customers. Embody your favorite TV lawyer and lead the witness to the answer you need. Ask your customers about their biggest pain points. Ask them what excites them about their industry. Ask what types of shows they watch or listen to for work and for fun. Leverage your penchant for creative, strategic thinking to turn the subtext of their answers into a show they’d love to consume.
In your next newsletter, treat your subscribers like the VIPs they are. Let them in on your plans to create a show. Include a short survey asking these kinds of leading questions. You’ll learn whether or not what they want aligns with what you think they need. What’s more, you may gain even better ideas for other pieces of content in the process.
Make the Case for the Right Show
Making the case for a show—just “any” show—at your company is not enough. You need to make the case for the right show—the kind of podcast or video series that will grow your audience and greatly improve the affinity they feel toward you (and the subsequent referrals they contribute to you) because your show’s content aligns so strongly with what they already want to see or hear.
As you prepare to make the case internally, arm yourself with the needs and wants of your customers. As brands increasingly strive to provide a better, more personalized experience for customers, determine how you can fill the gaps that grow unwieldy for your customers to straddle.
Customers across industries increasingly want to work with brands that tailor messages and services to them. Treat your customers like true partners. Consult them before you move full-steam ahead with a show that you might find — too late! — is not best-suited to them.
As Marketing Showrunners Founder Jay Acunzo says, “Salad is food, and a lion might be hungry. That doesn’t mean that particular solution you love is the right solution for that particular audience. Actually talk to your customers. Use the language they use. Never feed salad to a lion.”
The best way to give them the meatiest dish is, of course, the simplest: talk to them. Analyze how they’re interacting with your existing content, understand how they interact with their own customers, and evaluate how they react to other brands. Then, based on this understanding, make the case for a unique show made specifically for your unique customers.
Subscribing to our newsletter is a good idea any time, but particularly exciting during November 2019. During MSR’s Make the Case Month, subscribers will receive weekly newsletters with exclusive invitations to chat live with the MSR team. What are you waiting for? Subscribe now!
A somewhat accidental marketer, I’m first and foremost a writer. I’ve spent a decade working with global brands to craft on-target content and streamline complex ideas into clear (and even…exciting?!) language. Now, I get to spend every day immersed in content and strategy here, as Managing Editor of Marketing Showrunners, at my company, Molly Donovan Content & Communications. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community of eager next-generation marketers and marketing showrunners.
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