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For Better Content Marketing, Listen First, Create Last

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For Better Content Marketing, Listen First, Create Last

I write and talk a lot about creating content. But learning how to listen is just as (if not more) important.

Think about that last Zoom meeting you had. Your coworker was talking about the state of the business, the results from last quarter, or the proposed new project, and you had this internal dialogue going on as you nodded at the camera.

“Wow, that’s a lot of data she just laid out. Do I agree with it? Which statements should I respond to? Should I ask a question now? How about now? I’m ready with an answer. What should I say to sound smart? I wonder what time the dry cleaner closes.”

We hear, but we’re not listening.

Hearing is a simple physiological act. But listening involves taking in the meaning of the words and the implied communication in the silences in between.

As Henri Nouwen put it, “Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond.”

Most marketing involves waiting to speak

In the latest CMI research, 68% of all respondents said they prioritize their audience’s informational needs over the organization’s sales message in content marketing.

But when asked about looking forward, content marketers mentioned understanding what content appeals most to different roles within the target audience as their top challenge.

In other words, they want to say something meaningful, but they don’t know what that might be.

Research shows #Content marketers want to say something meaningful – they’re just not sure what that might be, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent @semrush. Click To Tweet

Many of my clients feel confident that the company they work for knows what kind of content it wants to produce for audiences. But they feel less convinced that the company understands what these audiences want.

Too often, content marketers are waiting to speak (or offer content) rather than listening to what’s happening with the audiences we’re trying to serve.

Here’s an example. The marketing team at a B2B IT services firm I worked with a few months ago sends leads to the sales team based on the number of articles or thought leadership papers a visitor downloaded. In one case, an audience member had downloaded two papers in one visit to the site. Conversion triggered!

The algorithm automatically tagged this person as a lead, and sales got the notification to call. The salesperson felt frustrated when the “lead” indicated she had no intention of buying and wasn’t even convinced she needed to change.

In this case, the prospect was saying, “I’m trying to understand this concept, and I have unanswered questions about why I would change.”  But marketing was waiting for the chance to say, “Great, thanks for all that information. How much change would you like to purchase today?”


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Active listening isn’t a technology problem

You may know that the answer to the “waiting to speak” challenge is active listening. This skill involves concentrating on what someone says, responding to it, and remembering it. Research shows that active listening can improve relationships, promote deeper trust, and motivate those we communicate with.

Many modern marketing technologies promise to help deliver more relevant, personalized content experiences. Some even say they use artificial intelligence to examine a customer’s content consumption and present the “best next” experience.

Don’t be fooled. Personalization isn’t active listening. While it removes some friction for some areas of the customer’s journey, personalization is just a faster way of waiting to speak.

Personalization isn’t active listening. It’s just a faster way of waiting to speak, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent @semrush. Click To Tweet

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Real active listening in content marketing

One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned in nearly three decades of marriage is to listen with no intention of fixing something. A critical component of active listening is to be present but resist the urge to improve, repair, or have a prepared response to the information given.

This may be one of the hardest things for marketers and sales practitioners. Most of us are trained to provide the next piece of compelling advice to fix a customer’s challenge or serve a need or want.

Active listening means resisting the urge to offer a prepared response – and that’s hard for sales and #ContentMarketing teams to do, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent @semrush. Click To Tweet

But listening to customers without the intention to prepare a response offers real value.

Here are some ways you might employ an active listening approach in your content marketing.

Polls and surveys

It’s easy to get so wrapped up in trying to find data to support your decisions that you succumb to the temptation to make every survey question multiple choice. Even “Rate this article” widgets at the end of thought leadership pieces offer a scale from 1 to 5 to feed an algorithm or analytics tools. Consider running polls or surveys where the questions are open-ended and designed to foster understanding rather than being able to serve up a chatbot response or other piece of pre-programmed content.

Customer persona interviews

Persona interviews often get lumped in with buyer research. The questions become about listening for opinions on products, services, or the brand. But customer or audience persona interviews should include fewer questions about what they think about us and more about what they think. Full stop.

Registration forms

Instead of asking visitors for an email address, name, and phone number in exchange for a digital asset, why not ask the recipient something that doesn’t require identifying information? For example, instead of requiring an email address for your latest white paper, just ask people: “Tell us why you’re downloading this paper.”

Each of these approaches can return valuable information to fuel your marketing and personalization efforts.

By actively (and consistently) listening to our audience personas, you can make better decisions about the what, where, and when of the content you create.

You can also better inform others in your business who may be still just waiting to speak. Active listening with your audiences can empower you to know when, where, and how to cue the many business voices to speak with greater intention.

That’s when your marketing can evolve from simply saying something to having something valuable to say.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just three minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries
 

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute




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MARKETING

Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

2. Understand topical authority: Keywords vs. entities

Google has been talking about topical authority for a long time, and in Discover, it is completely relevant. Traditional SEO includes the use of keywords to position your web pages for a specific search, but the content strategy in Discover should be based on entities, i.e., concepts, characters, places, topics… everything that a Knowledge Panel can have. It is necessary to know in which topics Google considers we have more authority and relevance in order to talk about them.

3. Avoid clickbait in titles

“Use page titles that capture the essence of the content, but in a non-clickbait fashion.” This is the opening sentence that describes how headlines should be in Google’s documentation. I always say that it is not about using clickbait but a bit of creativity from the journalist. Generating a good H1 is also part of the job of content creation.

Google also adds:

“Avoid tactics to artificially inflate engagement by using misleading or exaggerated details in preview content (title, snippets, or images) to increase appeal, or by withholding crucial information required to understand what the content is about.”

“Avoid tactics that manipulate appeal by catering to morbid curiosity, titillation, or outrage.

Provide content that’s timely for current interests, tells a story well, or provides unique insights.”

Do you think this information fits with what you see every day on Google Discover? I would reckon there were many sites that did not comply with this and received a lot of traffic from Discover.

With the last core updates in 2023, Google was extremely hard on news sites and some niches with content focused on Discover, directly affecting E-E-A-T. The impact was so severe that many publishers shared drastic drops in Search Console with expert Lily Ray, who wrote an article with data from more than 150 publishers.

4. Images are important

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you look at your Discover feed, you’ll see most of the images catch your attention. They are detailed shots of delicious food, close-ups of a person’s face showing emotions, or even images where the character in question does not appear, such as “the new manicure that will be a trend in 2024,” persuading you to click.

Google’s documentation recommends adding “high-quality images in your content, especially large images that are more likely to generate visits from Discover” and notes important technical requirements such as images needing to be “at least 1200 px wide and enabled by the max-image-preview:large setting.” You may also have found that media outlets create their own collages in order to have images that stand out from competitors.

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

One of the most important parts of having a website is making sure your audience can find your site (and find what they’re looking for).

The good news is that Google Search Essentials, formerly called Google Webmaster Guidelines, simplifies the process of optimizing your site for search performance.

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MARKETING

Salesforce rolls out new edition of Marketing Cloud for small businesses

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Salesforce summer 2023 release: The business executive's guide

Today Salesforce announced Marketing Cloud Growth, an edition of Marketing Cloud designed specifically for small businesses.

With help from AI, this edition makes it easy for marketers to segment audiences, create and execute email campaigns from text to image, optimize campaign performance and create unified customer profiles. It also has a prompt builder that can store and manage known reliable prompts for organizations.

Dig deeper: 70% of SMB marketers willing to pay more for tools with AI or automation

Salesforce developed the new edition by looking at the most common use cases for which small businesses frequenty don’t have the people or resources. This includes things like personalizing campaigns and advanced testing.

The company is also letting small businesses (those with fewer than 200 employees) that have Sales or Service Enterprise Edition “get started with Data Cloud at no cost.” Marketing Cloud Growth will initially be available in the U.S. and Canada and is expected to roll out to Europe, the Middle East and Asia by the end of the year.

Why we care. First of all, small businesses need all the help they can get. This creates an opportunity to start using AI within a centralized marketing workflow rather than importing content from independent generative AI tools. Perhaps it’s also a sign of Salesforce moving to compete with platforms (can we say HubSpot?) that more overtly court SMB clients.

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