Here’s the major problem with today’s content marketing landscape: most of the time, people who write content are totally out of touch with the people who actually read the content.
That is why Sujan Patel is a total breath of fresh air.
He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and find clever ways to make more compelling content.
Here’s what he does that’s different: he insists on connecting with his customers before ever putting pen to page (er, fingertips to keyboard.)
Read on to discover five hacks he shared with us during our Advocate and Customer Marketing Virtual Summit. They’ll help you bridge the disconnect between you and your audience by looking in unexpected places to discover customer-centric insights.
Inspiring Customers To Create Content For You: A Marketer's GuideRead now
1. Search in these unconventional places to find out what your audience really wants
Customers will ruthlessly ignore content that doesn’t speak to them. But finding your unique angle to pique their interest is easier than you might think.
The answer, says Sujan, is right under your nose. “Realistically, your most unique angle is to actually look inwards, talk to your sales folks, talk to your success team, talk to your product team, or engineering department.”
Piggybacking off of other teams who have direct access to your customers will help you uncover gems that can be polished into great pieces of content.
“I like to start auditing or even manning customer support, or joining sales and success calls as a marketer,” says Sujan. “Jump in on a handful, so you hear it from the horse’s mouth…You’ll hear it from the emotional side. This is the qualitative side of content marketing. This is the artsy part.”
Maybe you’ll discover a pain point you never knew existed. Or perhaps it’ll be an emerging trend your customers are curious about that you can research and present. Either way, hearing your customers speak in a raw, unedited way provides an excellent starting point for forming truly customer-centric content.
Another more direct way to get customer insights is to ask for them outright. Sujan encourages content marketers to collaborate with customer success and account reps since they’re likely one of the most frequent customer touchpoints in your organization.
“Start asking your customer support and success team, to ask their customers, ‘Was the problem solved?’ or ending with, ‘What’s your favorite blog? What’s your favorite blog post? What kind of content do you want to read about? What are you interested in learn about?’”
Sujan says this process is where “you’ll find a lot of hidden gems.”
2. Use CS to pull off this distribution hack
At one company Sujan worked with, WhenIWork.com, he used the customer success team to help distribute content.
“We created this spreadsheet for support, saying, ‘Here’s all of our content. Here’s the keyword, and tags that it fits.’” He added the spreadsheet to the end of every support ticket, so his support team could easily send out one piece of content with every query.
Sujan made sure content was organized into buckets for each customer segment and industry so that CS reps could grab tailored content for each customer quickly.
“And [when we started getting CS to distribute content], we actually saw a reflection in the NPS. We did quarterly NPS surveys. In the beginning, we had people ranting and raving about the product, how much time it saves them.”
“But as we started implementing sending our customers top of the funnel content really, we started seeing NPS feedback, saying, “We love your content.” In fact, I think it was about 15-20% of NPS responses were saying something about the content, and that’s loyalty.”
Sujan says that this content distribution hack will help cement customer loyalty and increase retention. “Your product can be awesome, but inevitably, it’s gonna have bugs. Things are gonna go up and down.. But when you start educating, and start leveraging including your content, you can actually start solving churn.”
3. Create customer stories that aren’t about your product
It’s so crazy, it just might work.
Sujan says that the best way to use advocates in your content is through success stories. “This is very, very different than a use case or case study.”
Your traditional B2B case study from the past few decades tends to read like a thinly veiled product pitch. Sujan stresses that success stories done right are “really more about the customer, whatever they are, doing whoever they are, and sharing their story, being agnostic of your solution.”
For example, while Sujan was at Mailshake, a cold email outreach platform, his customer success stories, weren’t even about how the customer used Mailshake.
In fact, many of the stars of these success stories weren’t even his customers! Instead, they were about marketers using cold email to be successful.
By delivering genuinely interesting content that didn’t rely on Mailshake’s technology, readers got value—without a sales pitch.
By building trust and inspiring people, Sujan says Mailshake was able to win more customers in the long run.
4. Use real customers’ voices—they resonate louder than expert voices
While you may be tempted to hop on the influencer bandwagon, the genuine voices of your customers can be far more influential on your prospects.
People are inherently curious about their peers, often more so than idealized figures like influencers. Tapping into this curiosity is a great way to produce low-cost, high-impact content your audience will devour.
Sujan feels that tapping into vocal brand advocates is a competitive advantage because so few companies recognize its true value. “These are all things that our competitors are not touching, because it’s too small for them. For me, it’s gold. It’s the voice of our customer.”
Sujan says you can even use the voice of your customers to produce original research. For instance, you can create a survey asking customers about their experiences and struggles, then package it as a research study. Then you can publish as content, whether it’s a blog, a whitepaper or an infographic.
Featuring brand advocates more in your content also helps you save time and money. Since customers are providing the quotes and stories, you don’t have to spend time doing research or hire an outside writer.
It’s also more powerful for prospects to hear your value proposition in the words of their own peers. Your customers’ voices have an authenticity that’s impossible for your marketing team to copy.
5. Create relationships with advocates who can give feedback and social amplification
One of the best ways to get customers invested in your content is to ask them for feedback during the content creation process.
Sujan suggests using apps like BuzzSumo or Brand24 to gage who is already sharing your content. Then, reach out to these micro-influencers to create a relationship by asking for their opinions before you hit publish.
“I disguise my ask—for when I want my customers to help me promote—as feedback. I’m like, ‘Hey guys. We just created this article. This is based off what we know…What do you think?’ I want to know what they think—but I really want them to promote it,” says Sujan.
When people feel invested in the content creation process, they’re far more likely to be proud to show off the final project, both by sharing on social and mentioning it to colleagues and friends.
“You’re turning your content advocates into engaged people who are then proactive about sharing your content,” says Sujan,
Another way to heighten this excitement is to leverage exclusivity. To thank content advocates for sharing their feedback, you can give them early access to the final product. This powerful psychological reward makes them value the content so much more.
“When you get people’s feedback, you’ve got to let them know and thank them when you actually leverage that,” says Sujan. “This makes their contributions feel worthwhile and it continues to grow the relationship you have with them.”
“At the end of the day, you don’t need relationships with thousands of people. You need relationships with dozens of people that are gonna move the needle.”