June 24, 2024 #ContentChat Recap: How to Amplify Your Customers’ Voices Through Content Marketing

A Content Chat header image featuring an array of flowers behind a text overlay that says today’s topic is how to amplify your customers’ voices through content marketing, with host Erika Heald and guest Margie Agin.

“Many times, customers think of you in a different way than you think of yourself. You may think you’re putting personality or messages out into the universe and come to find out that, in fact, the way your audience receives them is not at all what you intended. If you don’t go out there and talk to them—and you only talk to people in your organization—then you become convinced that you’re always right.”—Margie Agin

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika Heald is joined by Margie Agin, founder of Centerboard Marketing, to explore how to learn your customers’ voices and amplify them through content marketing. They share expert tips for leading an effective customer interview, writing compelling case studies, and using customer intelligence to help your organization attract new buyers.  

Watch the entire conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below.

Q1: Why should your content marketing reflect your customer’s voice? 

Voice of the Customer (VoC) or customer voice programs seek to learn how an organization’s ideal customers talk about their industry, day-to-day work, and challenges. 

“Voice of customer or your customer voice is the methodology of talking to your customers or capturing feedback directly from customers and then feeding that into how you make business decisions. And those business decisions could be what type of content you create. It could also be feedback on product development, finding product/market fit, usability studies, [or] it could be some new marketing campaign that you want to launch. Anything that you want to incorporate and embed some customer feedback before you go out to the rest of the world to try to de-risk that decision.”—Margie Agin

These insights help organizations better position their products or services and create content that will resonate with the intended reader.

“You’re kind of doing a little bit of a beta test, or you’re running things by your customers, validating your assumptions, and then also changing on the fly if you need to based on what you hear. So being open-minded to listen to what they’re saying to you, and then incorporating what they’re saying to you into your further development.”—Margie Agin

“Especially when you’re in a company or a technology organization where you’ve got a lot of experts around you, you start to get that kind of unconscious bias that you think everybody understands the things that you understand, because you are surrounded by it every day. So you tend to think in much more complex language or much more complex issues, or you skip three steps along the explanation. And not everybody else follows you through all of those stages because they may not be as experienced as you are.”—Margie Agin

Customer voice includes specific terms and phrases regarding how they describe their work and their challenges. 

“If they see the language they commonly use reflected in your content—and I’m literally talking about the vocabulary, the words they use, but also the feelings and the experiences that they have, the way that they would describe the situation that they’re facing, they feel seen, they feel understood. It demonstrates that your company actually truly understands your customers and it gives them a lot more confidence that you’re going to be there as a partner to help them along the way.”—Margie Agin

Customer listening strategies can differ for B2B and B2C organizations. 

“In the consumer marketing world there’s even broader descriptions of how you might incorporate your customers’ voice into different parts of your company. You could look at it like social reviews, referral programs, [or] anything like that.”—Margie Agin 

“In the B2B space, you don’t need to talk to 10,000 or 100,000 customers. You might only need to talk to 10 to start to hear patterns, listen to the types of things they’re saying, and then reflect that in your content or in any other types of marketing or business decisions you make.”—Margie Agin

Teams should blend their customer voice insights with their brand voice.

“Brand voice is definitely important because you need to have some sort of your own perspective on the world and something unique about your organization that you want people to know you by. That’s your own brand personality. But at the same time, it’s really easy to become siloed and only listen to the voices inside of your own organization. All of us—even myself, as a very small company—have that problem. Every single one of us is in our own little head, our own echo chamber. And when you break out of that and you’re willing to listen to what other people say, you’re often very surprised at the things they bring you.”—Margie Agin

By listening to customers, content marketing teams can create content more effectively to attract new leads and improve SEO. 

“If you’re looking to be found—if you’re looking to create content for people that aren’t already your customers—if you adopt the customer voice and are amplifying that, then you’re so much more likely to be writing about things, using the same nomenclature, and answering the really tough questions that you’re not going to do if you’re just coming from your brand voice messaging.”—Erika Heald

“From an SEO perspective, you may be using some kind of internal language that’s not the way that a question, for example, would be phrased or vocabulary would be used by a customer. For example, I have a client in cybersecurity that uses the word dynamic authorization. That’s like inside baseball. It’s just not a term that is yet commonly used. People might otherwise say something like access control. It’s two different terms that mean the same thing, but one is much more technical and one is much more common. It’s definitely helpful from an SEO perspective to be using the words that people might actually be using in their search.”—Margie Agin

“As marketers, we’re always doing things like creating a ‘buyer’s guide’. And we’d like to think of ourselves as consultative partners and all of this. But what people are usually searching for is a ‘vendor assessment checklist’. We don’t want to call it that because we don’t want to think of ourselves as vendors, but it doesn’t matter. Because if that’s what people are looking for, that’s what they’re going to search for, and you’re not going to come up.”—Erika Heald

Q2: How can content marketers discover their customer voice? 

Speak directly with customers one-on-one or in small-group discussions.

“I’m a big fan of talking to people. Listening to people and talking with people, one-on-one or in small groups. And the reason I like that is because you can have follow-up questions. So certainly, you can do surveys, there are many different types of customer surveys that you can do. But my favorite way is to have a small group of what I would call in-depth interviews, or customer interviews.”—Margie Agin 

Prepare a list of questions, but be ready to ask follow-up questions or explore different areas based on where the conversation goes. 

“You could end up with 10 people, if these are rich conversations. And the nice thing about conversations is, again, you can clarify, you can have a follow-up question, you can ask additional questions that might not have been on your original checklist but take you in a slightly different direction.”—Margie Agin 

Record interviews so you can transcribe them and repurpose your content more quickly. 

“Customer interviews, for sure. I record them… and then you can tag different keywords that you’re listening for, or categorize them in a way. There are so many AI types of tools now that can give you a transcript and a summary of those calls so that you don’t have to manually go through or take scurried notes all the way through.”—Margie Agin

Surveys can also uncover valuable customer insights. Consider testing your survey with a small group to refine the questions before sending it to your full set of respondents. 

“Let’s say you wanted to do a survey and try to get 100 customers responding. Having 10 in-depth interviews that you do—or five before and then maybe you run a survey and do five after—is also a nice complement, because you can test out your survey questions with a handful of people before you go execute a survey. And that way you know this question didn’t land at all, they were completely confused by what I was trying to ask, But this other topic came up and I really need to ask a question about that.”—Margie Agin 

Listen in on conversations already happening in your organization.  

“Be a fly on the wall of conversations that are already happening… So if your sales team is using a tool like Gong or something like that, and you can listen into the recordings or do some kind of analysis through the recordings—where you’re looking for particular products, or keywords or use cases—you can get a lot of information from conversations that are already happening. And then maybe cherry pick some additional conversations for you to have one-on-one follow-ups with.”—Margie Agin

Conduct social listening to get attuned to your customer voice. 

“I also like to use a certain amount of social listening when I’m trying to figure out the questions to be asking for customer interviews, because it’s such an easy way to see some of the things that have been really top-of-mind.”—Erika Heald

Prepare an interviewer guide that includes examples of what a “good” answer to a question is. 

“Even using some of the examples that you see in social listening as examples in an interviewer guide. When I’m doing case study or customer success stories, I like to have a really robust guide so that whoever is within the organization that’s doing those interviews they understand what a good answer is. So that way they don’t take a non-answer to a question.”—Erika Heald

Marketers often face challenges accessing customers. Establish trust with your sales team to establish a direct line with customers when you need it.

“I hear that a lot, especially from marketers that are getting some pushback from a sales team. Maybe the sales team feels a little nervous that the marketing team is going to interrupt some kind of potential opportunity, or doesn’t know the product well enough to have a detailed conversation. And so there’s some element of getting internal buy-in from your stakeholders before you go ahead and interview customers.”—Margie Agin

“It is so crucial for the marketing team to have some kind of customer-facing conversations instead of always relying on the filtered conversations coming through other people, like the sales team. The sales team could be a great source of information and credible source of information, especially if you have a strong partnership with them, but they may be trying to get different information. The conversations they may be having are by nature slightly different than what a marketer would want to gain from a conversation.”—Margie Agin

Consider compiling snippets of your conversations to show key themes that emerged.

“If you’re recording these conversations, some of these tools can just take a little clip of what someone said or what five people said. And you’re starting to hear the same thing over and over again, and then you make a little presentation or you make a sizzle reel or something out of these little clips of people saying over and over and over again: ‘I have this problem.’ ‘The login experience sucks.’ ‘Love everything but the login experience.’ For the people that are your internal stakeholders to actually hear that, it’s much more impactful.”—Margie Agin

Q3: How should marketers incorporate customer insights in their brand voice and messaging documents? 

Identify your customer listening goals—which should tie to your overarching business goals—to decide where to start incorporating your customer insights. 

“Some of it depends on what your initial goal is. If your initial goal is to improve the product experience or the product onboarding experience, you’re going to ask some specific questions about that, and then you’re feeding that into the product development process.”—Margie Agin

Content marketing teams specifically can use customer voice insights to fill gaps in their content strategy.

“We’re always struggling to prioritize. Everybody has too many messages… Talking to customers and finding out from them how they prioritize, without prompting. What is the main problem you’re trying to solve? What has to get off your whiteboard in the next 30 days? How are you going to be evaluated? What are you on the hook for? It helps you prioritize both in terms of your messaging and as you think about your content planning moving forward, you may find that some of the things they brought up are holes in your content strategy and you don’t have a great asset for that.”—Margie Agin

Q4: What are your tips for leading an effective customer interview? 

Tell the customer ahead of the interview what areas you will discuss. 

“I don’t send them all the questions ahead of time, because you don’t want to scare them and you want to leave some flexibility. But you might say I’m going to cover these three things, and one of them is metrics. So you give them a little bit of prep time.”—Margie Agin

At the start of the interview, set expectations that you want to hear the good and the bad. Reassure the customer that they will have approval over anything that gets published. 

“I think it’s okay to say at the beginning, just lay it out, ‘I want to hear the good, the bad, the ugly.’ Reassure people this isn’t being published. We’re not going live with this. And even if you are doing a case study, you’re still going to tell them some of this can be off the record, you’re going to get a review of it before we publish anything. You want them to feel safe sharing any kind of information.”—Margie Agin

Don’t start a customer interview by asking what they love about your product or service. 

“I’ve seen my share of terrible customer interviews. Most of them start with ‘Tell us what you love about the product.’ In my perspective, it’s the absolutely worst way to start any customer interview because you’re putting them on the spot immediately before you’ve built that rapport and asking them to write you a long sonnet.”—Erika Heald

Ask open-ended questions that allow the customer to discuss areas you may not expect, and be ready to follow-up.  

“I like to always start with open-ended questions and have open-ended questions as much as possible. You have a discussion list of a handful of things you want to make sure you get to, but if you find something a customer brings up that’s really intriguing, the riches are in the follow-up.”—Margie Agin’

“There’s little nuggets that you have to listen for and ask that follow-up question to really understand what they mean. If you’re not fully listening and you’re not fully engaged, you’re going to miss it. Because you’re so obsessed with getting to the next question on the list.”—Margie Agin

“Don’t have a preconception of exactly what they’re going to say. You’re not trying to force them to say anything. You’re really trying to understand them. If you go in with that mindset, then everything follows from there. Because you’re naturally going to be curious and you’re naturally going to be interested in what they have to say and you’re not going to be forcing it.”—Margie Agin

“Where would you fall on this spectrum? Tell me about a time when you XYZ. Something that is more broad and gives them the mic, where they can’t have a quick yes/no answer. That’s key.”—Margie Agin

Ask questions that place the customer directly in their day-to-day reality.

“Specificity. Make something feel very tangible and specific. I joked about the whiteboard a few minutes ago, what’s the thing you have to get off your whiteboard. There’s something very immediate about that and also very visual and almost visceral. They could literally look to the side and look at their whiteboard.”—Margie Agin

It can help to have support during the interview. Consider bringing in a subject matter expert such as a product manager or customer experience person. 

“Sometimes it’s nice to have a buddy or a co-pilot listening, as well, and say ‘Go back to that question, don’t forget this.’ Because it’s really hard to balance all of those things all by yourself in a conversation.”—Margie Agin

“When I’m creating customer case studies, I usually have someone else be the primary question asker, and I’m that fly-on-the-wall person who is doing the circling back.”—Erika Heald

Send follow-up questions after the interview if needed.

“And if you have a great conversation, then you can send a follow-up email that says ‘Hey, I didn’t get around to asking you this one last question.’ And they’ll give you a great answer back, because you’re asking for a favor after making them feel heard.”—Erika Heald

Q5: How can marketers create customer surveys to learn more about their voice and content needs? 

Use surveys to get feedback on different messages or ideas.

“One key of a quantitative survey is to give people something to compare. For example, in the messaging survey, let’s say you have a new boilerplate or tagline you want to test. You want to ask people if they like it or not. You want to make sure that you’re on the right track, at least. You could ask people to rate it on a scale of one to 10, but if they just give you a number, you don’t know what to do next…. You could ask them to rate which one is more clear. Which one seems more unique? Which one do you understand more?”—Margie Agin

Ask the same question over time. 

“There’s asking the same question over time, if you have that ability… Let’s say you’ve had a big brand push or did a giant thought leadership campaign you want to go back in and check three months later. You can ask the same questions and tell if you moved the needle. It’s giving you some basis of comparison, not just one data point in the silo.”—Margie Agin

Craft surveys to give you internal intelligence and external content fodder. 

“When you do these surveys, you’re usually doing them with your internal thinking cap on. You want to know something to inform your internal processes, workflows, product, or whatever. But when I was at Achievers, we actually did a readership survey that had gotten, I think, almost 1,000 respondents. And we took a subset of the data and we created a beautiful SlideShare that was super fun and visual, and it served back up some of that data to our audience. It won a SlideShare of the day. It was one of the things that propelled us to become the third case study for SlideShare.”—Erika Heald

“When you’re having these conversations with your customers, giving them back that summary of what you heard from them can be really helpful, because then they can react to it, they can share it, and they can say ‘It’s not just me, everyone is having these struggles.’”—Erika Heald

“If you’re trying to get some budget or stakeholder buy-in for doing this type of customer research, that could be part of the business case that you build. There’s a lot of different types of ROI that we’re getting from doing this, we’re going to learn all kinds of things, and we’re also going to use it as a content piece, we’re also going to use it to drive pipeline, and we’re also going to use it for PR.”—Margie Agin

Use customer surveys to bolster your executive thought leadership platform.

“You can turn that into a content piece that then can be used in some way externally for PR, or thought leadership, or even demand generation if you’re getting people to download it. There’s a lot of benefits in terms of creating original research that’s relevant to your audience. Not just internally, but with the purpose of sending it back out to your audience and even positioning your own brand as somebody that is a thought leader who’s putting out original ideas and not just saying the same thing—actually looking at ways to add to the conversation.”—Margie Agin

“If you talked to a couple hundred people or surveyed a couple hundred people that were representative of the type of buyers that you wanted to attract and you asked questions that are controversial or that they also want to know the answers to—What are people spending money on in the next quarter? Where do they see the biggest barriers toward their success?—that’s interesting to all of your buyers, and the people who cover your buyers, like any media that’s interested in your industry.”—Margie Agin

We share more tips for using surveys to fuel your content marketing strategy in this conversation with research expert Michele Linn. 

Q6: How can content marketers write compelling customer case studies? 

Customer case studies should not be all about why your brand is amazing.

“I’ve gone into organizations and asked to see their case studies, and what they hand over is usually at best a use case. It’s all about the brand. It’s all about the brand’s products. There’s one really generic, boring quote from the customer at the top and one at the bottom. This is not a customer story or even a case study.”—Erika Heald

Customers who have had a positive experience with your product or solution and are able to discuss a key use case in depth are potential candidates for a case study. 

“Choose them carefully. Not all case studies are created equal. You ideally are looking for a case study that the company, as far as you know, has had a positive experience and has had some return on their investment and has tackled a use case that you believe is important to your company or a place where you shine.”—Margie Agin

“They [need] to have somebody within the company that can really speak to their experience. That is where [many teams] fall short, because somebody can talk about at the company level, very generically high level. But what really makes that connection with the prospective buyer is seeing somebody like themselves. An individual person who is maybe in the same position they are before they go and find a vendor to solve their problem.”—Margie Agin

“Make sure you don’t just get handed off to whoever that stakeholder was or the person who signed the contract. While they can frequently articulate what it was that made them decide we’ll put budget against this, but they’re not going to be the one who probably was part of the day-to-day implementation or change management.”—Erika Heald

Make the customer the hero of the story. 

“Put another way: Focus on the person within the company. Not just X brand implemented Y technology in order to achieve Z, but actually, Bob and Susan were worried about this, these are the steps they went through, here’s how they made the decision, and here’s their new reality in their day-to-day life. It could be business goals. Maybe that person now gets to leave early on Thursdays. Maybe that person got promoted. Seeing one person’s journey can sometimes be more impactful than just seeing the brand implemented this technology and benefited in a very high level.”—Margie Agin

Include the challenges they faced.

“It’s okay if they went through struggles. It’s okay if they say, ‘We went down this road, and then we decided we needed to implement it in this other way because we had to integrate with this tool.’ That’s really valuable for a prospective customer to know. Not everything is roses all the time. We want to know what their real experience was like.”—Margie Agin

Focus on the change they accomplished and how your product or solution made a measurable difference. 

“You may not hear the entire story. You might not need to hear their entire story of their entire journey. The nugget you’re really listening for is the change. What is different now? How is your reality now different than your reality before you started working with us?”—Margie Agin

Repurpose the content (including any leftovers) for other formats to extend the value of each conversation. 

“You don’t have to use everything, but you may use one thing in different ways. You may end up with one case study on your website, and another that’s a video snippet that’s on social media, and a testimonial in a third place.”—Margie Agin

Q7: What tools are effective for uncovering customer needs and interests? 

Margie’s book Brand Breakthrough and her complementary action guide provide a step-by-step framework for learning and applying your customer voice to help your brand shine through content. 

“Especially if you’re the first one in the organization that’s building out a content practice or marketing practice, you’re starting from a blank sheet of paper. So because of that, to help the people with a blank sheet of paper, that was one reason I wrote Brand Breakthrough. It has a bunch of templates inside and there’s also an action guide that goes along with that, that you can download for free on my website that has the templates that you can fill in yourself. There’s things like the top 20 questions to ask in a customer interview and a template for what to look at when you’re evaluating competitors.”—Margie Agin

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