Market Research

All marketing starts with understanding your customers.  The best known avenue for this is market research.  However, it fits into a broader category of Marketing Information Systems (MIS).

Example MIS Calendar

Marketing Information Systems

1. Internal Data (periodic): review and analyze the results from your sales and marketing activities – including which customers buy what, when, where and how much,  as well as your database and analytic results.

2. Market Intelligence (continuous): set up automatic notifications for your business, competitors, industry trends and events.  This could include blogs, news alerts and articles, and social media conversations.  We recommend having the info either sent to you (e.g. email) or having a central place to check it (e.g. Google Reader) with calendar reminders to check it.

3. Market Research (point in time): collect and interpret both primary (e.g. interviews and surveys with your customers) and secondary (e.g. stats from the government or an industry association) information on your business, competitors and industry.

If you’re looking for more reading right now, here is one of my favorite white papers on market research specifically: How to Design an Effective Voice of the Customer (VoC) Insights Program.

Content Marketing: an analogy

There are many articles, blogs and more about content marketing. However, I find thinking of it in terms of an analogy helps in remembering all the moving parts.  If you have your own analogy, please share it in the comments below.

Your content marketing plan should work like a carousel.


There are 6 parts to the analogy: who, what , when, where, why and how. First, imagine the carousel in all its shiny, summer day glory and go through the experience mentally.  You’ve seen the carousel from afar and are drawn to it like a zombie for all the fun that its lights and colours promise (its branding).  You blindly outstretch your palm holding a crumpled ticket and pay the carny (you are the audience, or customer).  You walk up some stairs to reach the platform that the magical ride sits on (media is how you got there).  There is the plastic horse or unicorn or donkey to choose from (what you came for: the content).   Then it starts spinning and bouncing and jostling you about for hopefully longer than you waited in line (timing is everything).”

Now let’s transfer this carousel into a content marketing analogy: who, what , when, where, why and how.  In an order that suits the above story, here they are.

1. Who= audience (you paying the moola to take that 3.5 minute ride)

2. Where = media (the stairs that you climb to get to the ride)

3. What = content / copy / words (the unicorn you are riding)

4. When = editorial calendar (the ride is there on a Saturday afternoon in the summer because that’s what the audience wants)

5. Why = your marketing objectives and business strategies (the dome and foundation keeping the structure together)

6. How = execution of the content (tone and branding of the carousel)

Who and Where

The last step here is to put your new analogy to work for you. Imagine your content marketing plan for next year (or quarter, or month, or week). You’ll want to look at who you are targeting, i.e. what types of customers.  Where do they go, i.e. what media does your target market see and hear. For example, an international industry specific magazine article, an e-newsletter, a Facebook event, or a local radio station ad focused to their age group and gender.

What (Content)

Next, figure out what they care about. Notice that I did not say guess what they care about. Take your time here; it’s important. Do some research and digging into their values, likes, hobbies, needs, etc.  Remember that not all your content needs to be 100% focused on you and your product and your industry.  Think about the content you consume like the food you consume.  Yes, you need the bran and leafy greens but every once in a while a whipped cream-dipped strawberry and hot chocolate get the job done nicely.


Now that you know who you are targeting, where, and what you’ll be saying, take the 5 minutes to sketch out an editorial calendar so that you can commit to when you’ll be executing this content.

Note about editorial calenders

I personally put mine into my Google Calendar and set an automatic emailed reminder.  This also can be automated to repeat in daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly increments. For example, set a calendar event for “every second Tuesday of the month update Twitter with the best recipes for single moms (then follow up with metrics and conversations)” or “every 28th of the month reach out to a customer via the e-newsletter to get case study feedback (then add their contact info and results into the yearly folder)”.  

You can see that these content marketing editorial calendar events follow the “SMART goal” acronym: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.  A not-so-SMART goal would be “get lots of Facebook followers”. 

Why and How

I’m assuming in this blog post that you already have brand guidelines and your content marketing comes after deciding on the business and sales / marketing goals. If not, stop what you’re doing and write down the raison d’etre for your business. Please do this.  It will keep your strategies focused, and your team motivated.  Don’t use the permanent marker and write it on your kitchen table because it, like many aspects of your business, is a living breathing moving adjusting shifting and adapting plan.  Marketing is affected by sales, operations, customer perception, outside influences like politics, trends and social norms and much more. Be flexible. And make yourself a calendar reminder to, next month, come back and review your goals as well as your content carousel.

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