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Marketing Insights for Entrepreneurs
Source: Paul Lowry

Using Educational Content to Win Over Your Ideal Customers

When it comes to finding, acquiring, and keeping a loyal following of happy customers, it’s far more important to be practically useful than to be practically everywhere.

When you place educating customers as a priority, price becomes less of an issue, and prospects stop “dating around” with the competition. A company people love is a company they’ll stay loyal to, and few things win people over like useful information and awesome resources.

That’s why companies need to go beyond generic “help” content and FAQs. An important part of delivering a memorable customer experience is being adept at anticipating your customers wants and needs.

Customers don’t just want to know how to troubleshoot your product. They want to know “How can I become better at _____?”, and no matter what industry you’re in, there is an opportunity for you to be that source of information.

Easier said than done, right?

Most companies know that content can be an integral part of creating connections with customers, but it’s tough to know where to begin. What should your team be writing about? How can you make sure that people even read your content?

Today we’ll be looking at the fundamentals of putting an effective content strategy into place. You’ll learn how to quickly research what potential customers want to read about, as well as what you can do to make sure this information actually gets in front of them.

Sound good? Let’s dig in!

Your Content’s Only Goals

Long story short, great content must do the following: educate and motivate.

Not only does your content need to be useful, it also needs to create the sense of understanding as to why your product or service is worth purchasing.

As I like to put it: Give away the popcorn, sell the iced tea.

Why do you think the Help Scout blog is chock full of customer service advice, stories, and statistics that show how great service can be good for business? It’s because I want readers to think, “Hey, great service really does seem like the way to go, maybe Help Scout can help me provide it!”

Education is not only useful in itself, it creates a thirst (in the case of iced tea!) for a solution. That solution should be your product.

“Cool beans,” you say, “but how do I actually execute?”

First things first, you need to figure out what is troubling your prospects. What questions do they have? What topics inspire them?

These answers can only be found through research.

A Primer on Content Research

What do I write about?

The most common question I receive is “What the heck should we write about on our company blog?”

The answer depends on what existing questions customers have about your industry. Being useful is about knowing where you are needed.

Some of the best places to find this information are forums where public discussions take place. Some of my favorite places to explore include Reddit and Quora. In fact, one of our most recent guides on 10 Unforgettable Customer Service Stories was inspired directly by Quora’s audience.

When typing in “customer service” on Quora, the #1 most popular thread of all time is titled What is your favorite ‘going the extra mile’ customer service story? It’s had over 138,000+ views!

Insanely popular threads like this are essentially “idea validation made easy.” It became obvious that stories of great customer service was a winning topic, and something we could contribute to.

You can also look for trending articles within your industry, not to copy, but to read in order to better understand why people flocked to it. You can use tools like StumbleUpon (browsing the top posts in particular “Interests”), or you can simply take notes on the hot articles you find through serendipity.

While reading the insanely viral Huffington Post piece called Maybe You Get Bad Service Because You’re a Bad Customer, it dawned on me that perhaps many people out there felt that the customer also held some responsibility in the customer service process.

This lead to an article titled Customer Service is a Two-Way Street, which was quite popular with our audience of support managers and mistreated service reps.

Sometimes though, people’s interests don’t always match with what they discuss publicly. Meaning, a topic may be on people’s minds, but doesn’t have the “social currency” to be talked about on social media or in forums. This is where search engine marketing and keyword research can be incredibly useful.

For instance, of all the Help Scout customers I’ve talked to, not a single one has ever mentioned wanting to learn about “skills for customer service.” I’ve never seen a thread on Reddit or Quora either. You would think that an article about which skills are important for providing great service would flop: nobody seems to be mentioning it!

Google’s Keyword Tool (which can be found here), told me a completely different story, however: tens of thousands of people were searching for skills that could be applied to customer service! Is there any wonder why my article on 15 Customer Service Skills that Every Employee Needs is one of the most popular on our blog?

This trend continued for other articles: if a search term had a high volume, it proved to be a very popular topic. With some basic on-page SEO, it doesn’t become overly difficult to address important topics and pick up some great search engine traffic:

The not so sexy secret is to follow the one page, one term policy. In other words, every article that you publish should target a single keyword. This is something you can do after you’ve written the article, so don’t feel pressured into writing for Google, always write for people. The key is to simply think about the language your customers are using, and to spoon feed Google by using those same terms.

One final way that many people overlook is to use active listening and surveys to get a sense of what people would like to hear about next. You’ll be able to spot popular trends that can turn into well received pieces of content. Ruben Gamez of Bidsketch recently used this strategy by adding a few Qualaroo mini-surveys to the end of his articles.

A Qualaroo survey will look something like this:

Since the Bidsketch blog is full of freelancers and consultants, Ruben wanted to know which topics they enjoyed hearing about the most. I would have sworn that freelancers would have responded with “raising my rates,” or “being more productive,” but Ruben found that they actually wanted to hear about marketing tactics to get new clients, so he created an eBook about that very topic.

We all know what happens when you assume… so instead, do your homework and find out what issues, problems, and topics are really on your customers’ minds.

Ways to Ensure People Will Read Your Content

One of the biggest mistakes that many company blogs make is their involvement in the “content creation rat-race,” where they endlessly churn out new articles in hopes that one will finally be a hit.

It’s the wrong mindset to have, and here’s why: great advice is applicable to more than just the handful of people who currently stop by your blog. If you are really putting out helpful, original content in your industry, there are tens of thousands of potential customers who could benefit from your advice.

Isn’t it then your responsibility to get it in front of them?

Below, I’ll outline a few strategies that focus on getting your best content in the hands of potential customers who need it.

1. Tell people!

Promoting your content does not mean tweeting it on your company page. Promotion means getting in front of a NEW audience; keep that in mind and you’ll start doing content promotion right.

The crazy thing is, just as articles like Do Things, Tell People and Write Email, Click Send would suggest, one of the best ways to get your content read is simply to tell the right people. You can do this without being a bother by carefully curating the list of folks you’ll notify (“Does this person have my ideal audience, is this topic really of interest to them, is the article I wrote worthy to be sent over?”).

Tough questions to ask, but the process can be made easier if you stop acting like a blatant promoter and start by being helpful.

Try an email like this:

This is the proper way to email busy people: by getting straight to the point, making it about their interests, and being polite about how you ask. Links in the first email should be avoided where possible, instead asking if the person would like to read the article (you should hear “Yes” often if you selected your recipients correctly!).

2. Feature people with your ideal audience

One of the best ways to get in front of your ideal audience is to feature people who already have the audience you desire. You’ve likely encountered a “round-up post” before where someone collects info from other people and sites, but those types of articles feature someone else’s opinion: you don’t really get to have your say. That’s content curation, not creation.

Instead, address the topic in your own words by writing an original piece, but grab quotes and excerpts from influential people in your space and “drip” their thoughts throughout, using their opinion to strengthen your own points of view.

I like to include these right after a new sub-heading, like I did in my article on using relationship marketing to build your business:

This not only lends credibility to your original argument, but works well because the people featured will almost certainly share the article.

And if you’re smart about selecting the right people, that means that they will be putting you in front of prospects who may be a perfect fit for what you are selling!

3. Add a little controversy

You should never be controversial for controversy’s sake, but addressing a hot-button issue in your industry is a surefire way to get people to take notice.

The key, as revealed in Jonah Berger’s research on When, Why, and How Controversy Causes Conversation, is that you should avoid topics of high controversy (politics, religion, etc.), and instead stick to ‘low-controversy’ topics that people like to argue about, but that won’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

What’s an example of that in the day-to-day world?

…and yes, I’m serious. Toilet paper orientation is apparently a pretty big issue:

Think about some issues in your industry that create division. Once you’ve identified a divide, it’s time take a stance and spark the debate.

How did we use this strategy at Help Scout?

In our post on Why Steve Jobs Never Listened to His Customers, I took the division between “internal innovation vs. customer feedback” and wrapped the entire issue around the opinion of a very famous man.

The fuse was lit, and it turned into one of our most popular articles in the early days of our company blog.

4. Give people a soundbite 

Recently, when I wrote an article titled Why Customer Service is a Two-Way Street, I made sure to include a soundbite that summed up a big part of my argument in a single sentence:

That line was extremely popular, and many people shared the article with that exact line:

I came across this strategy through Derek Halpern, who suggests that it’s always good to try and deliver one big takeaway for each and every article, and to frame that lesson in a shareable quote. Marie Forleo does this quite well, by including a quote below each of her videos that she encourages her audience to share.

With soundbites, you’re giving readers an opportunity to share an interesting thought that’s been compressed to a sentence or two, making it perfect for social media. The brevity allows the ideas to be more easily remembered, which is why “The grass is always greener on the other side” is much easier to remember than a full paragraph on why you should appreciae what you already have.

5. Syndicate your content

“Syndication” in this sense can mean a few different things: letting other people syndicate your content, and syndicating your content yourself through new mediums. Let’s examine the latter first. For our many eBooks, we happily re-upload them to the SlideShare platform for more exposure, turning what was traditionally a PDF into a slideshow.

This has lead to 200,000+ additional views via our SlideShare account, and here’s the kicker: people still come over to our site and sign-up for the newsletter anyway.

Our traffic from sites like SlideShare has been nothing but excellent, and it’s a great reason why you should look into re-hosting your old content on other mediums. Perhaps turn an old blog post into a PDF, or a webinar into a video, or a blog post into a video. Anyway you can get your best ideas on more platforms is usually worth the effort.

Additionally, syndicating your best content on other people’s sites is also a worthwhile endeavor.

It can be tough to identify sites that syndicate content, but usually they will end some articles with “Originally appeared on [site name].” The correct thing to do here is to send over a quick email in the following fashion:

I’ve sent out this exact email many times, and I’ve had my content syndicated all over the web:

For very little effort, you’ll get links, traffic, and leads, in addition to getting your thoughts out in front of a brand new audience.

Your Turn

Were any of the strategies above surprising to you? What are some other tips you can offer for creating useful content that gets seen by potential customers? Let us know in the comments below.

  • http://cnadeau.evolvingsolutions.ca/ Chris Nadeau

    Nothing of real value to add here, but I just wanted to say that this was a stellar post!! Well done Gregory!

    • http://www.emmasiemasko.com/ Emma Siemasko

      Don’t sell yourself short, Chris. I think it’s incredibly valuable for you to stop by and say you liked the post. Helps me figure out how to provide the best possible content for our readers. Thanks! :)

    • http://www.sparringmind.com Gregory Ciotti

      Appreciate that Chris!

  • Blake Soulet

    Hi. I enjoyed reading through the article. It’s an aha moment type of article

    • http://grasshopper.com/blog/ Emma Siemasko

      Yay! Glad you liked it :)