Contrarian Take: Don’t Start Your Content Marketing with “What Do My Customers Want?”

If you’re in the business of content marketing, I know you’ve seen advice like this:

  • “Start with your customer personas.”
  • “Create content that will resonate with your customers.”
  • “Great content is content that your customers actually want to consume.”

It sounds compelling. But in my experience, it’s wrong. Or at least, incomplete. Why?

#1) Because, most content marketing goals are around:

  • Amplifying your content so it reaches a broader audience
  • Driving more brand awareness so a greater number of people recall your brand with positive association
  • Earning links and other ranking signals that can help your content/site rank higher in search
  • Converting more potential customers into buyers

And unfortunately, for most companies, your customers are not the best targets for (nor, often, even capable of) these things.

#2) Because content that’s focused on existing customer targets is (at least much of the time) boring, dry, unimaginative drivel. 

If you’re thinking “But I’m the exception!” OK. Great. But the best content marketing efforts I see are consistently those that leverage a customer affinity that a broader group also shares. Or content that’s crafted specifically to appeal to a wider group. Or, best of all, content that is intentionally targeted to those publications and people most likely to help it spread.

#3) Because customer-targeted content preaches to the choir.

And content marketing, while it *can* reach be used to exchange more value with existing customers, is most often about reaching non-customers. By targeting to existing customer “personas” or “people like our current customers” you leave out potential audiences who are not like them.

Don’t start with “create this for our customers.” You’re hamstringing yourself, and the results will usually suck.

Start with “create this for the journalists, podcasters, authors, amplifiers, influencers, and media that reaches our audience.” I promise you’ll be far more likely to achieve your marketing goals.

P.S. Some content marketing can be targeted exclusively at goals like “help our customers better use our products,” or “help our customers do their jobs better,” or “give our customers these tools/datasets/stories so they’ll think more positively about us.” But these current-customer-centric uses of content are probably better for email newsletters and in-product content vs. external content marketing.