When I looked for baking soda in France, I learned that the French don't use it for baking.

Why content marketing starts with customers’ needs

Content marketing doesn’t start with your products. It starts with your customers. 

That’s a lesson I learned from boxes of baking soda. More about that in a minute.

Do you understand what your customers are trying to do, exactly? Understanding what customers really need can make your content marketing great.

That’s why you need the customer insights you can get from buyer personas. Buyer personas enable you to see through customers’ eyes, as you learn:

• What are customers’ questions?
• Where are customers’ pain points?
• What problem(s) are customers trying to solve, precisely?

An experience during vacation drove home this simple truth, once again. I wanted to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies in France. So I went to the supermarket to look for baking soda.

Forget about it! The French don’t use baking soda in the kitchen.

You can look high and low, but you’ll never find a box of Arm & Hammer in the supermarket. Or any other baking soda.

But, you can find bicarbonate of soda in France. You just need to know that it’s sold at the pharmacy. Why?

The French see bicarbonate of soda as a medicine, and package it accordingly.
The French see bicarbonate of soda as a medicine, and package it accordingly.

To the French, bicarbonate of soda is a medicine. You can use it to settle an upset stomach, or to brush your teeth.

Check out the picture of a French package of bicarbonate of soda. This package screams medicine, not baking. But it’s exactly the same stuff you use in your kitchen.

To Americans, baking soda belongs in the kitchen. So we buy it at the supermarket.

Americans use “baking soda” to bake cookies, freshen the refrigerator or clean baked-on stuff out of the bottom of a pan.

What applications do you use baking soda for?
In the U.S., Arm & Hammer’s package advertises “hundreds of uses.”

On the front of the Arm & Hammer baking soda package, you see a picture of chocolate chip cookies. The copy notes “hundreds of uses.” And the picture of a calendar page on the box top reminds you to replace the baking soda in your frig every 30 days.

French packages sell just one use: medical. But the Arm & Hammer package sells many applications, not just one. Smart!

Similarly, great content marketing sells applications, not products. Applications solve customers’ problems, and those problems are … whatever customers decide they are.

When customers define problems, they assign them to a category and look for solutions within that category. Customers don’t look for medicine to solve their baking problems.

For content marketers, this kind of customer behavior begs some questions:

• Do your customers use your product in applications you don’t know about?
• Do you have content for each application customers want to address?
• Do customers know to look on your website or do they search a different category?

Get in front of your customers. You can never spend too much time getting to know them.

Learn what are all the applications that customers use your product or service in. Make sure customers find your product when they search with their questions − even if they’re not searching for your primary application.

Buyer persona research can give you solid insights into what different types of buyers are looking for. Personas are fundamental to content marketing, since they tell you:

• What problem your customers are trying to solve, exactly.
• What customers are thinking and feeling as their needs arise.
• What questions customers must answer to move forward.
• What customers did, in the end, to address their pain points.

In Kenya, customers had another application in mind for their cell phones.

When marketers at mobile provider Safaricom came to understand how customers were using their mobile phones, they found a whole new line of business: mobile money.

Marketers learned that customers used phones to trade mobile minutes like currency. That idea did not come from the phone company, but from the customers. Safari com formalized the idea and made it into a very successful product.

Seen through the eyes of customers, a mobile phone was not just a mobile phone. It was a bank. Why did Kenyans start to use mobile phones as a substitute for money?

• Because there weren’t enough banks.
• Because more Kenyans have cell phones than have bank accounts.
• Because moving money from family members in the city to family members in the country was a routine transaction that might take hours or days.
• Because transporting paper currency via public bus was the next best alternative, adding a risk of theft.

By learning how customers actually used their mobile phones, Safaricom made Kenya the #1 market for mobile money in the world. Today 1/3 of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) moves through mobile money. For more on that, see “Why Kenya leads the world in mobile money.”

Here’s the takeaway for content marketers: Know your customers. Build buyer personas. Ferret out information about all the uses customers have for your product or service.

Knowing customers’ applications is key. It might even open a whole new line of business!

Because great marketing doesn’t start with your product. It starts with your customers.

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