Entrepreneurs personify confidence.
Shane (name changed) was no exception. He had grown a $3 million business through sheer determination. For ten years he relied on his gut to make pivotal marketing decisions. Many of these decisions turned out well.
But for the last year, Shane’s winning streak had petered out. His content marketing strategy was a prime example. He got the mechanics right. He had a well-designed blog. A full-editorial schedule and a new podcast on the way.
But, under the surface, things weren’t quite right.
Fewer people were reading the blog. His sales pipeline that was supposed to be filled with leads, was bone dry.
After months of playing strategy hopscotch he gave me a call.
The Parable of the Squeaky Board
A homeowner decides to fix a squeaky board in his foyer.
He does everything he can think of to fix the board. He spends an exorbitant amount of money and has done everything short of rebuilding the floor.
Sucking it up, he calls a carpenter and asks him to drop by the house.
The carpenter arrives and listens to the homeowner recount their tale of the squeaky board. He leads the carpenter to the board.
The carpenter taps on the board. He presses his ear to the board while tapping his hammer on the board. With a grunt, he rises to his knees, and hits the board in one corner with his hammer.
He tests the board and the squeak is gone. The incredulous homeowner hurries to his side to test the board. No squeak.
The carpenter then takes out his clipboard and writes an invoice. The invoice is for $200.00. The homeowner takes the invoice expecting to pay a couple of bucks for the 10 minutes the carpenter spend diagnosing and solving the problem.
Seeing the $200 total, he says “you were here for 10 minutes, how in the hell can you charge $200!?”
“Well sir,” the carpenter said, “I charged you $20 for fixing the problem, the other $180 is for knowing where to look.”
In my case – I told my client to do something very simple. I told him where to look for his answer.
The Answer My Client Didn’t Want To Hear
I told Shane to conduct a 9 question reader survey. He rolled his eyes and sighed.
“I hate surveys. I never fill them out. They don’t work.”
“So… do it anyway. We are just guessing until we do. We can burn your marketing budget guessing or spend a few bucks and know what your readers want. You choose”, I added.
“What can a survey tell me that I don’t already know?”, he challenged.
“I don’t know Shane. Let’s find out.”
Shane always loves a witty comeback and did what any smart client does – delegates.
“Ok do the survey, you write it. I might vomit if I have to see the thing.”
“I’ll build and email it to your readers. We’ll have some answers in a week”
How to Build a Survey That Gets The Data You Need
I built Shane’s survey around 5 core questions:
What does our reader look like?
I wanted to know the gender, age, income, and education level of our readers. These are raw demographics and can be misleading. But this data will show us if we are attracting the audience we think we are.
- How young are you? (Have fun with the questions to get better results)
- How much education could you stand? (High School, Some College, Bachelors, Graduate School)
- What is your gender?
- What best describes your role (professional title)
What does our reader want?
Here we ask about the reader’s overall goal. I believe that we are all goal-seeking engines and we pay attention to anything that helps achieve our goal.
- What is your #1 priority for your business / life?
- What are your currently trying to figure out in your business?
What’s preventing our reader from getting there?
Answers to this question will guide how we write headlines, build editorial calendars, create offers, etc.
- What skill do you want to gain or improve in the next 6 months? (Give a specific timeframe to help reader prioritize needs)
- What is the main reason for not achieving your goals?
What does our reader like about the site?
We aren’t fishing for a compliment here. We want to see if what the reader likes solves a problem or helps them move toward their goal. I’ve seen many businesses go bankrupt while having a website that everyone “loves.”
- Which of our topics do you enjoy the most?
- What is the top reason for reading our blog?
What does our reader dislike about the site?
I’m looking for a mismatch between what the site is delivering and what the reader needs to see. I’m also looking for frustrating design or usability issues that cuts the reader’s visit short.
- Which topics are irrelevant to your business / situation?
- What can we do better?
Why Marketers and Entrepreneurs Shouldn’t Trust Their Gut
I helped Shane write an email asking readers to take the survey. We made the email fun and interesting enough to get 10% of his list to take the survey.
After a few days, I compiled the results. I was gob-smacked by what his readers had to say.
Here were 5 things Shane had gotten wrong…
Mid-Age Tech Savvy Women
Shane’s editorial spoke to 50+, C-Suite, Alpha males. He didn’t expect to see that over 60% of his respondents were women in their early to mid 40s.
Nuts and Bolts First, Thought Leadership Second
Shane’s audience appreciated blue-sky strategy but needed day-to-day insights. One reader mentioned that they often read Shane’s blog at 8AM to see what they could apply that day.
Time and Option Overload
Shane’s editorial strategy focused on daily blog posts. His content marketing machine was pumping out content that was slowly drowning his audience.
When we dug deeper we learned that his audience appreciated the new material but needed help applying it quickly. They didn’t have the time to spend months to deploy new tactics. They had days.
Full-Stack Content Was a Hit
Shane regularly repurposed his content into presentation decks, Soundcloud audio, and video slideshows. This was a major time commitment that he was about to discontinue. Bad move. His reader’s loved it. When we followed up, we learned that certain readers exclusively consumed specific types of content. For example, the fitness enthusiasts didn’t read the blog, but religiously listened to the audio narration of the post.
Times Square Design Created Confusion and Tension
Shane’s blog, while well-designed, was littered with call-to-actions for various products and services. Shane was reluctant to remove them because he felt they were important lead generators.
His reader’s disagreed. Many cited his Time-Square sidebar as the #1 feature to improve (read – remove!).
During our conversation, Shane, humbled (slightly) realized that his gut-driven strategy was off track. He didn’t waste time getting his strategy in alignment with his readership.
Within 2 weeks, his lead pipeline started to fill with prospects needing specific services. He saw his bounce rate decrease, the average time spent per blog increase, and conversion rates for his offers increase.
In 6 months, we will field a “Check-up Survey” to make sure he’s still on track.
You Need to Conduct a Reader Survey ASAP
You have two options.
- Guess. Playing content marketing strategy hop-scotch is easier but wastes time and cash.
- Know. Ask your readers want they want and see if you are meeting their need. Takes longer. Is a bit hard on the ego but the smart way to move forward.
This article will get you started.