Welcome to Lesson 3 in my ongoing series, in which you can follow along with me as I run myself like a Content Marketing job. Previous installments include Lesson 1 – in which I set out the things you need to follow along, and Lesson 2 – setting up your analytics tracking.
In today’s installment, we’re going to learn about… Content research! Because if the first rule of Marketing is: “a marketing plan is worthless without GOALS. And GOALS are meaningless without MEASUREMENTS”, then the second rule is this: “Always START by researching the market and your competitors”.
As always, if you find this content useful, please do throw me a tip on Ko-fi. Marketing degrees aren’t cheap and I’m standing here with my hat out, giving away this information for free.
This one is a bit longer, but I promise it’s all important.
FIRST: Why Do We Need To Do Research?
The ultimate goal of this research is being able to come up with a schedule of content to produce and publish that is relevant to the audience you are looking to capture, because the unfortunate reality of the internet is that you need to publish relevant content consistently over time in order to gain traction with search engines and social media algorithms. (Don’t worry, in future lessons, we’ll talk about ways to giving the Hungry Algorithm Beast a consistent feeding schedule easier and less stressful for you to maintain.)
You need to be able to put out bits of content regularly to keep both audiences and the Hungry Algorithm Beast engaged, and you need to make sure that content is going to land. Which is why… research!
The Things You Need to Research
FIRST: Key Competitors
The first part of any marketing plan is identifying your “key competitors”. In the business world, that would mean the companies that have products or services that are most similar to yours that are in direct competition for the same customers. In the creative world, where the thing you’re marketing yourself, identifying your “key competitors” is more aspirational than competitive. This is because when the thing you’re marketing is yourself, it’s nonsensical to say that one person is “direct competition” for another. (Liking Lizzo doesn’t mean you can’t like Nicki Minaj, even if you feel the world is poorer for her not being in a certain music video.)
Start by identifying who are 3 to 5 people who are established, have large audiences, and do something similar to what you do. Those are your key competitors.
Next, do a deep dive into their public online presence, and take notes.
(Absolutely DO NOT creep their non-public social media, and DO NOT go liking, retweeting, otherwise engaging with all of their content at once. That will probably get you blocked for being creepy, and you would deserve it.)
What do they have on their website? What social media channels are they using? How have they monetized what they are doing? What conversations are they having with their followers on their public online channels?
SECOND: Community Adjacent Influencers
Your key competitors are influencers within your particular community who are directly relevant to the thing you’re doing and the audience that you want to capture, but audiences are made up of people who have multiple interests and are part of many different audiences. So ask yourself, what are some communities that have interests adjacent to the audience that you’re looking to gain traction with? Who are the influencers within those communities who are saying things that are relevant to your audience? And what can you learn from them about reaching out to their communities?
It’s hard to be more specific without concrete examples, so – let’s use me as an example: I’m a queer designer of indie tabletop games, but in building my audience I don’t want to focus on just queer indie tabletop gamers. Adjacent audiences that I would be happy to reach include players of trad games like D&D, video gamers, board gamers, and card gamers. Each of these audiences has ongoing conversations that are distinct to their subcommunity, but most gamers play several different types of games. Reaching out to all those other gamers increases my chances of reaching someone who wants to play what I’m making, or who is willing to promote my game to their friends.
Even then, “gamers” is still too narrow a focus. Widening my scope, I can look at capturing audiences like genre fiction writers and readers, queer activists and advocates, social justice types, and nerd culture afficianados – because the games that I write and make speak directly to the interests of all of those people as well.
So what can I say that will be relevant to all of those people? What content can I create that will be relevant to all of those different audiences?
Coming up with the answer to that on your own would be an overwhelming or maybe impossible task, which is why we do the research. If I was just starting out in publishing, I would take each of those audiences I defined and find out who the influencers are. What content are they making that connects with the audience I want to reach? What can I learn from them?
TAKE LOTS OF NOTES. And again, don’t be creepy.
LAST: Sources of Community-Relevant News
Talking only about yourself is the best way to make sure your online marketing tanks, so it’s important to not do that. The goal is to get other people to find you interesting enough to promote your work, and people who only talk about themselves are boring.
This is why you need to curate a list of sources to follow that will give you things you can share that are relevant to the audience you want to capture that aren’t about you.
This one is super easy! Follow all of those accounts now, then check your feed regularly and share anything that seems interesting or relevant. Done!
Important caveat: Make sure that your sources feed will show you stories about people who aren’t white dudes. Include sources by queer and BIMPOC people, okay? More than one or two. Otherwise you are going to cut off queer and BIMPOC folks as a potential audience by publicly never talking about queer and BIMPOC folks.
Once you have done all this, it’s time to move on to actually making a content schedule – which we’ll talk about next week. See you next Tuesday!