The best marketers have a product mindset.
Marketing requires finding the right audience, experimenting often, testing assumptions, and iterating quickly—the same tasks you’ll find in great product teams.
But marketers often forget one of the principles of product development—meeting user needs.
Products that ignore user needs fall flat. And if you’re not seeing results from content marketing, you might need to check user needs.
Why user needs matter for eCommerce content
In your store, user needs (or perceived needs) define everything: the brands you stock, the photos you use, the pricing, ad copy, website design, and more.
It’s the same with content. What visitors want from your content—when they interact, how they interact, and why they interact—will clarify your topics, strategy, promotion, and more. Targeted content will engage users more and convert more sales.
When you understand user needs, your content will feel like mind reading. When you don’t, you’ll always be struggling to see results.
How to learn user needs
Here are three good ways to learn user needs, ranked in order of effectiveness:
- Interview them. In the words of Lean Startup author Eric Ries, “get out of the building.” It doesn’t have to be literal—a phone call works, too—but one-on-one interaction is priceless. I always learn something when I conduct interviews with my client’s users.
- Survey them. A survey provides more aggregate data that supplements interviews nicely. Be sure to include free text entry (and not just multiple-choice) to understand your customer better.
- Study behavior analytics. Finally, you can look at engagement data. Typically you’ll want to go further than a basic program like Google Analytics and instead study user interaction, like heatmaps and screen recordings. You want an “over-the-shoulder” look at how your user interacts with content.
Five key user needs and how to meet them
I’ve found five main user needs.
If none of the following matches what you’ve found in interviews, feel free to come up with your own. For example, you may find that “Inspiration” or “Decision-making help” is a user need your content fulfills.
That said, most fall into one of these categories.
A resource serves the need of learning how to do something actionable. The classic example of this type of content is the how-to article, and it’s the most popular type of content you’ll find today.
Resources are great opportunities to share how to use your product. The best kind of resource focuses on out-of-the-box instructions that you won’t find anywhere else.
Trigger: Typically, users look for resource content when they’re struggling to accomplish something.
Risk: The biggest risk with resource content is solving a problem completely—and leaving no need for your product.
Metric: To counteract this, focus on buying conversion after reading resource content.
A requirement is content that doesn’t serve a direct user need but instead is mandatory. Mandatory content happens most often in the B2B space. For example, employees might be required to read your monthly reports or industry analysis newsletter.
The good news is that you have a captive audience. The bad news is that intrinsic motivation is missing. Try to be as unique and interesting as possible.
Trigger: This one is easy—whenever someone is required to check.
Risk: A complete lack of reader interest.
Metric: Measure engagement time. Are readers visiting for a few seconds because they’re required to, or staying longer because they’re interested?
Routine content is content a user interacts with out of habit. The routine could be a daily newsletter, weekly blog post, or even a post that shows up every time someone checks Instagram.
Like any habit, the user will only keep a routine when there’s a benefit. You need to deliver value every time. To boost engagement, consider teasers (“tomorrow you’ll learn …”), recurring themes (“roundup Fridays”), or even limited access (“the video will be online for 24 hours”).
Trigger: Typically automatic—you just need to learn what the cue is!
Risk: The user stops finding content valuable and drops the routine.
Metric: Measure engagement on a routine basis (daily, weekly).
Recreation is just as it sounds—something fun! Sometimes, users need a break, and your funny videos, stunning infographics, or workplace memes might fit the bill.
Recreation is a fun category, but not without its challenges. People tend to stick with familiar sources as long as they’re still funny or interesting. A big opportunity is publishing more frequently—if a core group of users enjoys your content every week, they’ll probably enjoy it twice a week or more.
Trigger: When a user wants a break from more serious subjects, during a break, or on evenings and weekends.
Risk: Low-quality interaction that starts and stops at the joke or image.
Metric: Measure engagement beyond the light fare. Do users eventually click through to product pages, or do they only come for the memes?
Reference content might be interesting, but it’s not actionable. Reference is another common type of content, probably second-most-common after how-to resource content.
The user looks up reference content to answer questions, prepare reports, or find new data. The biggest strength here is providing comprehensive information—a “one-stop shop” that provides all the answers on a subject.
Trigger: A user will want your content when they’re eager to learn or when they need to back up a claim with a credible source.
Risk: Wanting to learn and wanting to buy are two different things. It’s easy to build an audience of window shoppers.
Metric: Measure engagement with products, not just content. Time to purchase could take a while, but if users never get around to buying, you’re not building a valuable audience.
Which user need is most valuable?
It’s the obvious question, right? Which user need will bring the best results?
But there is no right answer. Start by learning what user needs your content is meeting right now, and determine if that’s working for you.
If so, keep going. If not, experiment with something else. Repeat.
If you’re just starting, talk to existing customers to learn what they’d be most interested in.
And if you’re looking for some help finding the user need that works best for your brand, let me know. Getting user needs right can transform your content marketing overnight.