There's something magical about a new year. It's not just fresh starts and resolutions.
The real magic happens when you receive that series of emails from Spotify sharing data about your specific listening habits over the past year. Nurture emails and that harrowing realization you’ve spent over 1,000 hours listening to Classical Music for Dogs—that’s really what the holidays are all about. (But does Spotify think I’m a dog now?)
From the dynamic content in their year-end emails, to uniquely curated Discover Weekly playlists that morph based on your changing tastes, there’s a sense Spotify inherently gets us. It’s what’s propelled Spotify to the top spot among audio subscription platforms.
Content marketers can benefit from thinking about audiences with the same kind of precision Spotify uses. The key to creating good content—the kind that moves audiences and impacts business goals—is first knowing how to actually write to your audience. But instead of how, let’s ask another set of questions.
Who are you writing to?
Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature analyzes the genres and styles of music you’ve organically spent time listening to over the span of a week. The platform’s AI then curates a list of music you might enjoy. The rationale? You seem to like this kind of stuff already.
This level of personalization is an important aspect of Spotify’s dominance in the market. It trickles down from a larger content strategy that all brands should be thinking about:
- Anchor to a strategy. Writing to your audience won’t work if you don’t have a strategy in place for it. A good content strategy supports larger marketing and business objectives, giving content marketers goals and baselines to get work done.
- Develop customer personas. Speaking of baselines, here’s where you’ll set them. Know what your audience is typically consuming online and what they’re ultimately looking for. Creating good buyer personas can serve as powerful baselines for making your content look, feel, and sound human.
- Think about your segments. Breaking up your users and personas into further segments allows you to see the nuances that make the needs of your audience unique. Audience demographics tell you certain stories, and audience job titles tell you another set of stories. Breaking them down further (by location, age, gender, etc.) gives marketers a road map to more targeted messaging.
- Fine-tune that message. Take the best parts of your brand’s offering and turn it into the kinds of stories and conversations your audience segments will care about. If Spotify sent us a year-end email just to tell us people all over the world listened to millions of hours of music, it wouldn’t matter as much. Instead, they tell us how much we’ve individually listened to, the content we engaged with the most, and the artists or podcasts we especially love. That level of personalization matters.
Understanding who you’re writing to allows for laser-focused content marketing, keeping your team on brand and on target to hit the goals you’ve set. Knowing the nitty-gritty about your audience also tells you something else important.
Where do they live?
You can give somebody a bag of flour, a sack of tomatoes, a block of cheese, and a sausage … or you can bake them a pizza. (Don’t ever be the weirdo walking around with a sack of tomatoes.)
Knowing who your audience is naturally reveals the digital spaces they inhabit. This is important for your content distribution strategy—where you’re publishing and promoting your content. But it’s also important for operationalizing all the messaging stuff we mentioned in the previous section. Talking to your target audience on LinkedIn should ultimately look, feel, and sound different than talking to them on Instagram. (It’s the sack of tomatoes versus pizza all over again.)
A great example of this messaging versatility is—totally being serious—The Washington Post. Known more for their hard-hitting journalism than viral trends, they’ve become a shining example of a brand that understands the complexities of digital content distribution. Believe it or not, WaPo is one of the most successful brands on TikTok—despite not having launched any viral dance trends. They’re not just sharing minute-by-minute political coverage, either.
WaPo realized their younger (and perhaps their future) audience wasn’t consuming their news content through push notifications and in-app updates. They were getting their news while organically living life on social channels. In between videos and shows and creative content for the other stuff they care about.
The content WaPo publishes to their target audience on TikTok doesn’t make sense for their target audience on Facebook. It doesn’t make sense on their mobile news app. And that’s okay. It’s their ability to be chameleons online (while remaining true to their brand) that drives impressive results in an industry that’s often slow to adapt.
WaPo’s success isn’t in a vacuum. Other influential people and brands have tapped into new digital media to expand their audience or reach deeper into where their audience already lives. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 2020 foray into live Twitch gaming, for example, became a viral moment—for her own visibility and also for broadcasting the importance of voting.
Content marketers generally know about content distribution, but the opportunity for improvement is massive. Look at the numbers. A whopping 87% of content marketers currently use social media as a distribution channel for their content, but only 33% (in the B2C space) regularly leverage data in their distribution strategies. Once you know where your audience (or future audience) lives online, use data to surface information about the kinds of content they’re engaging with.
And then keep getting smarter without forgetting why you’re doing all this in the first place.
The most important question(s) …
Douglas Adams already answered the most important question. (In case you haven’t heard, “42” is the meaning of life.)
For content marketers, the most important questions in your arsenal begin with why.
Content marketers think about goals a lot. And content calendars. And even persona building and distribution channels. But think beyond that. Why are you reaching them? Why do you want them to interact with your content?
Sometimes the answer isn’t obvious. While we’d like to think every piece of content we create and distribute online drives major purchases, the reality is that not every digital interaction leads to a sale. In B2B content marketing, it takes between six to eight touches for a sale. And in B2C circles, brands must consistently create meaningful content to ensure returns and loyalty.
This is where thinking about your call-to-action (CTA) strategy comes into play. If everything isn’t meant to drive sales, consider other stops on user journeys. Do you want them to sign up for the newsletter? Do you want them to sign up for a partner’s virtual event? Do you want them to follow you on a channel?
Asking why leads to those deeper content marketing questions. And answering these questions is important, because giving your audience a natural journey turns them into something beyond anonymous site visitors and casual social followers: real customers.
Make the world revolve around them, and the world is your oyster.
Build a customer persona to create content that hits different
It takes work to write good content. It takes more work to make sure that content makes your audience perk up and keep tuning in. But remember what Spotify does: They make each listener feel important. Their listening data is important. Their tastes are important. The stuff they listen to is important.
Brands can use this level of personalization and precision in the way they create and disseminate their content online. In discovering how to write to your audience, content marketers should become masters at asking the other questions that make their audience less like zeros and ones and more like human beings.
At T3, we think about content marketing by starting with the humans behind the digital screens—through all the handshake moments that ultimately matter. Learn more about how we help brands like yours think strategically about how to write to their audiences and ask the questions that turn good content into game-changing content.