In previous posts I have talked about the importance of producing content that grabs the attention of your customers and prospects and engages them or inspires action. But how does one do this in practice? How do you speak in the language of the customer, connect with their concerns and choose topics that are of greatest interest?
There’s a concept called Voice of the Customer (VoC) that can be important for content and social media marketing. According to Wikipedia, it “is a market research technique that produces a detailed set of customer wants and needs… prioritized in terms of relative importance and satisfaction with current alternatives.”
Understanding the VoC can be a key to generating content that connects with your target market and produces real returns. While it might not be obvious how to do this, in truth there are many ways to understand customers; often, they are only too happy to tell you; you just need to know where to look – and how to listen (and sometimes, asking nicely can help).
This article will cover top tips for tuning into the Voice of the Customer, and how to use the info for the best results in content and social media marketing. While I am sure that vast sums can be and are spent on market research, my emphasis here is on lean and agile methods that just about any team can understand and implement quickly, without tons of budget.
1. First, Show that You Understand and Care
For too many companies, content marketing is just another exercise in self promotional chest beating. Fellow Windmill Networking contributor Judy Gombita shared a great ClickZ article by Lee Odden, which lists this as one of the 5 Deadly Sins of Social content.
Lee says: “marketers can achieve much better success … by empathizing with customer needs, interests, goals, and pain points. Seeing things from the customer’s point of view will help develop a content and social media approach that serves as a solution or facilitator to creating the kind of social content that resonates, engages, and gets shared. As customer-centric social content gets shared, many of those who engage will refer or become customers.
Your content and social media marketing programs will be more effective if they spring from and are led by the VoC. They should address customer needs and interests and truly be interesting, educational, useful or fun.
2. Find the Right Words, Tune Static Content Using Customer-Friendly Language
Content marketing often involves bringing sales leads back to company hubs like websites and microsites (see my discussion of inbound marketing and this great Content Marketing Institute article). To reflect the VoC, these destinations should feature the words that connect with customers and prospects when they are reading and searching. This means crafting copy that not only boosts SEO but also reads well and is interesting.
They might not always be the most obvious words. But, as Tony Grass of E-Market Intelligence likes to say: “No one lies to a search engine.” His clients often suggest a set of keywords – when a review of the searching landscape, via the Google Adwords Keyword tool, reveals the popularity of completely different search terms that are basically about the same thing. The key (no pun intended) to uncovering the right words, according to Tony, “is to include in your analysis those that relate to product features and benefits, not just brand names and product categories.”
3. Draw from Real World Experience, Avoid Cryptic Language
There simply is no substitute for really understanding customers, and the worlds that they live in, especially in areas like B2B and tech, which often rely on buzzwords and cryptic language.
If you don’t have hands-on experience with the solution or service – and if you are not close to the user and their concerns – how can you get the info you need to help you communicate effectively? My post Finding the Words that Work in Tech, offers tips on how to come up-to-speed.
4. Go Where the Customers are; Ask about their Concerns
Some may think that they can rely solely on technology, and, more specifically, social media monitoring to understand customers; this is simply not true (see the above point). While listening via social media tools can help (more on this below), you need to get out there and talk to real customers.
You can also use online and offline surveys to get a bead on customer concerns related to your product or service, and find and stay close to online groups that cater to product categories, such as those on Facebook, LinkedIn, Web forums, and email lists.
Customer service and contact centers can provide rich sources of info. I asked Adit Moskovitch, who heads marketing of VoC solutions for NICE, a company that provides a full range of VoC, customer experience and social media monitoring solutions (and a client). She offered the following tips for mining support channels to better understand the customer:
“The top 3 principals for successfully infusing feedback into your content, are:
- Ask after an interaction. Hit while the iron is hot! Soliciting feedback immediately following an interaction is perfect. Use text-messaging and smart dialog to engage today’s customers and ask them open-ended questions so that they can provide lots of interesting out-of-the-box ideas. High engagement drives high response rates, which in turn get you a better understanding of what’s on your customers’ minds.
- Automate analysis by using solutions with strong analytics capabilities such as NLP (Natural Language Processing) and root cause analysis. This will provide you with calculated trends, sentiments and even hot topics that customers are talking about.
- Listen everywhere. Contact centers are important, but don’t just look under the lamp-post. Take a look at feedback from stores, branches and even social sites to maximize marketing impact.”
5. Use Technology to Listen
Social media monitoring technology has evolved quite a bit. Solutions like Tracx and Radian6 index the social Web and deliver info about the most relevant, trending and influential audiences and conversations in real-time. The word clouds and charts these solutions display can be a great way to surface hot customer topics.
I asked Tracx VP Asaf Shtekler about how the technology can help users get smart about customers. He said:
“The first step is to tune the system to the words and brands surrounding your space. Then, you can group conversations and users, and filter by engagement levels, network, channel, sentiment, location, age, gender, etc. and compare this with buzz about competitors and the space in general. You can see what’s top of mind for the influencers, the super-connected social media users who are vocal in your space and help shape the VoC.”
6. Turn Customer Insight into Action
Solutions like Tracx can help you turn what you learn about customers into action, and support content and social media marketing programs. If this type of solution is not in your budget, there are lower cost workarounds. This Mashable article explains how to use spreadsheets to track and manage social media analytics.
Sarah Skelik shared 5 tips for using social collaboration to inform content strategy on the PR Newswire blog. She says:
…in agile engagement…the brand listens to what people are talking about in networks, and uses that information to shape and guide content development to serve audience need – and gain their interest. The efforts your brand commits to building social collaboration as part of its strategy will be repaid with an engaged audience that trusts your brand’s content, and is willing to share it with their own social graphs.
Her tips range from staying close to customer forums and curating their content to collaborative publishing.
This CMI article discusses how to make sure your content is aligned with customer needs throughout the buying cycle; and this CMSwire article talks about the importance matching content with buyer personas.
To the latter point above, it can help to segment types of customers that you would like to reach. Krista Neher mentions this as the second of 9 Steps to Building a Content Marketing Strategy, on ClickZ. The third step is to identify triggers; this can help you produce content that is matched to their needs and stage in the sales process.
Those are my tips. I am sure I am leaving many useful ones out. It is a huge topic, and one that is hard to do justice to across B2B, B2C, services and products, and small and large business. My hope is that this will be a dialog, not a lecture as the field is constantly changing. It would be great to hear from you about your experiences in tuning into the VoC.