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Back to basics: Why your content strategy needs to answer questions

Your audience asks countless questions each day. And your content strategy has the answers.

Your audience is asking countless questions each day. Your content strategy could be a key to helping them.

We recently had a client who said that if our content means people don’t need to call his call centre, that would be a success. He wasn’t saying this because he didn’t like talking to customers. He recognised that content was linked to customer experience.

Research shows that increasingly competitive markets will mean customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020.

Customer experience expands across all the different ways customers interact with a brand or association. And these interactions often lie with content. According to the Demand Gen Report, 47% of buyers viewed 3 to 5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales representative.

By creating content that answers customers’ questions content marketers can directly improve overall customer experience.

The power of gratitude

Gratitude is an underrated virtue. If someone is grateful for your content then it is hugely valuable for a brand or association.

But to get that emotional reaction you need to create content that is useful. This comes back to a marketing fundamental – know your audience. Understand what drives your customers and what causes them problems. Does your content help your audience solve a problem or achieve excellence?

By answering your customers’ questions your organisation demonstrates that content is in itself a customer experience. By doing it well you are creating a positive experience. You are also able to illustrate how you are part of the solution – without needing to outright say it. You are demonstrating your usefulness. By answering your customer’s questions you are putting them at the centre of your content strategy.

Ask Google

Back in the day you might have had to visit a library or call an expert to get answers to your questions. Now we Google everything.

On average Google 40,000 search queries per second. While people may use search engines in a variety of ways, a lot of our search queries are questions. It’s right there in the name – search queries.

In 2013, Google introduced the so-called Hummingbird update to its algorithm. Natural language processing meant that the search engine was able to gauge the search’s intent. It focused on context and meaning rather than simple keywords.

The update meant you would get relevant answers even if you used long question-based searches.

Other Google features put an emphasis on answering questions. This include the “instant answers” box and the “people also ask” feature.

And with the rise of voice search we can expect the importance of answering questions to increase. Comscore estimates that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. This will mean information that addresses customer’s questions will be key to being found in a voice search.

How do you know what your audience wants to know?

If you want to answer your audience’s questions, you need to know what they are asking.

There are a few ways to do that. Two big ones are market research and keyword analysis. Look for what customers want to know and what information they are or aren’t finding useful.

Some resources to help you know what people are searching for are:

  • Answer the public
  • Google (including related questions and google trends)
  • SEO tools (eg: Moz)
  • Search data from your own website
  • Social media listening
  • Asking directly through customer feedback

When SurveyMonkey wanted to improve their help-centre content, they turned to these methods, delving into their search data. Senior content strategist Deanna Horton told Forbes that “at the end of the day, you can’t answer someone’s question if you don’t know what their question is”.

Another good way to understand your customer’s questions is your own sales staff and customer service teams. They are with clients all the time. Ask them what the questions that they always get and what people are unsure of or don’t understand. That is a good indicator of topics you should be addressing.

The hero-hub-help mix

Answering customers questions forms part of what we at Mahlab call the hero-hub-help mix. To drive customers through your sales funnel you need a mix of content on your site.

The hero content is the big picture thinking. It might be a video series, an in-depth whitepaper or some other meaty bit of content. This content can also be broken down and spread across multiple channels. This type of content is great to get on the radar of people who have not heard of your organisation.

Hub content is where you give a sense of what it is that you actually do and how you do it. It is where you show your expertise.

Help content, on the other hand, is the really useful and practical stuff. This action is far from giving away too much information or revealing your secrets. It’s about showing that you can help them even before doing business with them.

I think many people think that it’s important to be a thought leader when they get into content marketing. Everyone wants to be a thought leader. But often what is more important to an audience is the practical advice.

There are many examples of organisations creating in-depth advice to their would-be customers which their customers return with gratitude. The Explainer Studio, owned by Vox media, runs its business model of this promise. It creates video explanations for brands. For example, their work for Ben & Jerry’s was The Reason You Love Ice Cream So Much Is Simple — Science. The average time spent on these branded videos is more than three minutes – a clear sign of customer engagement.

Answer the right questions and you are on your way to making a tangible impact on your customer’s lives.

Hannah Dixon contributed to the writing of this piece.

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Pharmaceutical Society of Australia