How powerful is it when someone “gets you”?

In marketing, to “get” our people, we need to listen. 

Listen to your customers AND anyone in your company who talks to customers.

When you understand your customers then you can create great content marketing
Photo by Jenny Marvin on Unsplash

I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned over the years about who to listen to (and a little bit of how) to get to the heart of what your customers care about (it’s not you). 

I’ve mentioned before that there are marketers who understand the form of marketing, but not its soul. 

They spend time creating emails, promotions, discounts, share on social channels, blog, and do all of the “things” that make marketing work. But they’re allergic to talking to people. Consequently, they lost sight of why they’re doing all of those things.

There’s no heart to it. 

In my opinion, they’re usually bad listeners. They are too focused on doing what they think is right or following the latest trend (Tik Tok, anyone?) instead of actively seeking out and hearing from their customers. 

To do a good job at marketing (especially content marketing), you have to actually care (or at least do a great job of faking caring, but, egads, what a hollow way to live). 

Of course, you also need to be helpful (I’ve banged that drum often, especially here)

Here’s what I’ve learned about listening to people — magazine readers, community members, and clients (and their customers) — over the years. You can’t create great content without doing it. 

Who Are Your People? Creating Personas

Before diving in, you need to be sure you’re listening to the right people. Understanding who your audience is goes a long way to ensuring your success. 

Take the time to nail down your ideal customer. Rather than bogging down the flow of this post, I’ve included a few links at the end of this post about personas and persona development. 

Here are 8 tips to listen for great content marketing. 

Talk to your customers to discover what your content needs to be for your marketing.
Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

Customer surveys. A good way to get a large volume of responses. You can create long, intensive surveys using something like Surveymonkey. You can also create simple polls on Twitter to ask a simple question. For example, Is Drew Brees the greatest QB of all time? Of course, the answer is yes. 

I used these to guide my editorial calendar each year for both print and for webinars. I also used them for ego stroking by asking how well we were doing. Other than the one person who wrote, and I quote, “that Duhon guy is an ass,” feedback was 99% positive. If I had known about it at the time, I would’ve used feedback to create a kickass net promoter score to use in marketing. 

Conferences and events. If your company hosts or attends events (online events count!), talk to customers while you’re there. It’s a great spot to have random conversations that lead to marketing insights. 

Events are great opportunities to grab a ton of customer testimonials. 

Before the AIIM Conference in 2014, I set up dozens of appointments with folks who had taken the Certified Information Professional test to record video testimonials. I asked each of them, “Why are you an information professional?”

My favorite response remains Baron’s, “Because amateurs don’t get paid.”

Note: schedule interviews in advance, I was told “no” by every one of the 50 people I asked onsite for a video testimonial, or even just a quote, about how they enjoyed the event. People get freaked out, or might have to go through legal hoops, or might just be too spent to respond spontaneously. Anyway, have a plan.

Bonus note: Scope out one or two relatively quiet meeting spots in advance. Even if you have to wait until you get onsite, and then share that meeting spot with your meeting invites. Have water handy for throats with a tickle and leave enough time between meetings so folks aren’t waiting for you, you have time for the occasional bio break, and so you have enough time to physically get from place to place (events can get hectic, plan well).

Social media. Instead of simply blasting out your stuff on [insert your favorite social channel here], don’t miss the opportunity to have conversations with people. I used to host semi-regular tweetchats as community manager at AIIM. They were fun, rapid-fire ways for me to get ideas for blog posts (and summations of the tweetchats also became blog posts, and tweets, and could have made cool list-type infographics from them had I thought of that then and not just now). 

More importantly, they helped to create a sense of community among the AIIM tribe. There are folks I met online that have become friends. 

I’m less familiar with the use of social tools for sentiment analysis (we never had the budget so I’ve never played with any). Here’s a link to a useful HubSpot post on this topic:

Of course, you should monitor your company/product name and follow hashtags or keywords with tools like HootSuite, Buzzsumo, Buffer, and dozens (at least) more. Here’s a handy post from Brandwatch with a good shortlist of tools.

Site statistics. This isn’t listening exactly, but paying attention to your Web and marketing statistics will confirm what you hear. Statistics will tell the story of what folks are interested in. What blog topics are hitting? Where is the most action on your website? In figures, your customers are telling you what they’re interested in with every click (or no clicks). You just have to know how to listen. 

Comments. An obvious one. Scan your comments, wherever they are (Yelp, Google , blog posts, social media, etc.), like you’re a miner panning for gold nuggets. Respond to every comment. 

The Sales Team. OK, yes, sales people can be . . . self-absorbed assholes who care more about their bonus than anything else. 

Talk to them anyway (and, seriously, they aren’t all like that). I worked briefly with Larry Levine, who was a copier sales guy who actually cared about his customers. He now does training and has written a book, Selling From the Heart. John Pulley was also a delight to work with. 

The smart salespeople are the ones who understand their customers. They can feed you invaluable tidbits about customer points of pain, objections to buying, what language turns them on or off, etc. 

Check in with them regularly to find out why customers are buying, as well as objections, and let that information guide your marketing.

Listening to customers and customer facing staff will give you ideas for content marketing you'd never have on your own
Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Customer-facing staff (service reps, help desk, etc.). During the four years I helped copier dealers with their marketing, neck in neck in useful ideas with the sales team were the service reps — the guys (I think everyone was a man, now that I think of it) who service the machines.

They were a gold mine. While it was next-to-impossible to get them to write themselves, they could point out common customer questions that I could answer in blog posts. I wrote a variation of “How to remove a black line from a copy” for four or five companies. All were popular. Depending on how the question is phrased, My Copies Have Little Black Lines – How Can I Fix It, still has the top spot in Google. 

These customer-facing employees can help you identify common topics that bug your customers. Then you can write a blog post, shoot a video, create a FAQ, etc. to show them how to fix the problem themselves (if that’s possible, you don’t want anyone but a skilled technician monkeying around inside a copy machine). 

Another example came from the billing team at one copier dealer. They were asked every month to explain invoices by customers. We created a short blog series that they could point people to that cut down the number of times they had to answer this question. 

Consumer Panels. If you have the budget, you can use services like to ask consumers questions to validate (or not) your concepts and ideas. 

Online Communities. I nearly forgot to mention this because it’s so obvious. If you have an online community (wherever it lives — Facebook page, LinkedIn group, actual community site) the marketing team should take time to drop in to hear first-hand from customers. Make friends with the community manager(s) too and regularly check in for thoughts, insights, and/or potential customer issues to use in marketing to delight customers (or defuse potential issues). 

Putting It All Together

You need to be all ears to listen and create great content marketing content.
Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

My experiences have been with smaller organizations, so my approach to collecting this information has been . . . hodgepodge. That said, I DO have a system that works for me. 

Since this isn’t a post on how to create an editorial calendar (another day) or filter ideas (also another day), I’ll share a few quick thoughts on what’s worked for me.

  1. Create a single spot to store the ideas. Truth in advertising, I’ve never managed to 100% do this. I have a paper-to-brain connection and take notes pen to paper. I get around this by:
    1. Having a single notebook per client/topic/product line
    2. Clip online research to bookmarked folders and Evernote (Box, Dropbox, and Google are also good and free alternatives)
  2. When you see the same thought/idea in multiple spots, create content about it.
  3. Contemplate your navel. Take time to think and doodle. Write down headlines. Brain dump topics and random ideas and thoughts inspired by all of the above. Whatever process you use that gives your brain the space to make the random connections that lead to insights — and great content. 
  4. Get going. At some point, from the jumble of conversations, ideas, your own experiences and knowledge, research, and brainstorming concrete ideas will emerge. Based on your goals, prioritize what seems most likely to carry you to those goals and start writing. 

Get out there and start listening so you can create the great content your customers deserve. 

Do you need help listening to your users and experts to create content? Drop me a line at Or give me a call (or text, text is often faster) at 301-275-7496.

About the Cheeky A-Z Guide to Content Marketing.

There are groaning shelves of books and whitepapers you can read about content and inbound marketing. What’s missing from (some) of them is the stuff between the cracks. The dirty, nuts and bolts examples of things that can go wrong and the random things that can go wonderfully well. I decided to run down the alphabet a letter at a time and highlight personal lessons learned from creating content for 25 years and from applying those content creation lessons to content marketing over the past decade-ish. I hope you enjoy.

As promised, a short list of persona research to get you started (if you haven’t already):

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