Did you ever receive a gift that you didn't particularly want from someone you cared about? Remember that feeling? You probably thought, "Wow, I thought they knew me better than that." It might have happened as a child or maybe even more recently, but the experience likely left you feeling a little empty inside.

Think about that empty feeling every time you send out a piece of communication and ask yourself this simple question. Do you truly know what your customers want from you? The emergent world of content marketing seeks to answer that question--and your company's marketing effectiveness hangs in the balance.

It used to be that there were producers of content who sold advertising to pay for all that entertaining or interesting programming you liked. Magazines, newspapers, radio and broadcast networks created the stuff we craved to read, listen to and watch. It was so good that they could interrupt your pleasure with... "now, a word from our sponsors." Today, smart organizations have flipped that paradigm on its head. Companies like Coca-Cola, Apple, and Disney are among a very few who have decided they know their customers better than anyone and are producing the content their customers crave. How did they achieve this? These companies have a single-minded drive to know their customers intimately. It's not easy. It takes discipline, and it takes a deep commitment toward research and constant monitoring of their customers shifting tastes.

Now some of you in the B2B world may be saying, "Coke, Disney and Apple are B2C organizations, so that's not relevant to me." Well here's a little tidbit for you, according to a study by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, the most effective B2B marketers spend a higher percentage of their budgets on content marketing than their least effective peers do. Knowing what content your customers seek may actually be more important in the B2B world. So let's take a look at how you can get there.

As part of any content strategy, knowing your audience should be the very first step. This sounds intuitively obvious, but I'll bet most of you work for organizations that use the "throw it up there to see if it sticks method." Then you'll measure open rates, click through rates and form responses to see how it performed. Those are all valuable tools--to help tweak your content strategy. But wouldn't it be more efficient if you began by understanding your customer's current relationship with you, or at least knowing what stage in the buying cycle they were in? Let me give you an example. Have you ever received an introductory offer from a company you've been doing business with for years? Has that offer even been better than the one you currently enjoy? How did that make you feel?

Your customers interact with you on multiple fronts. You should have a well-developed set of Personas that characterizes each segment you're targeting. You can't do this without research analytics. If your in-house agency doesn't have a strong partnership with your in-house research team, or worse, your company doesn't have a research team, you've got a lot of work to do. Research should be at the front end of your strategy as opposed to solely being the metrics used to measure success or failure on the back end. Developing Personas through research analytics helps you define key segments that are more likely to buy. Research helps create profiles of the key decision makers, their content preferences, channel preferences and frequency preferences. (Hint: these are all questions that should be asked in customer surveys.) Developing customer Personas will save you time and money in the long run and get you much closer to knowing what your customers want from you. Remember that most customers want different content at each stage of the buying cycle. If you can get to this state of insights, you can avoid them getting that empty feeling inside. Only then you will you be confident to fill your content calendars with blog posts, testimonials, videos, tip sheets, infographics, white papers, etc.

For many in-house agencies and creative teams, market research and developing personas may be beyond your in-house agencies areas of expertise. What's important is that is you understand these disciplines should exist in your organization and that you should ask for them. Your content development and creative leadership team needs to understand your customers as deeply as possible to create the most effective communications for your organization--from both a visual and verbal perspective.

This is the second of a series of posts on Content we are featuring in 2015. You can view related posts here. Next up is "Building Your Content Organization--Is your team effectively aligned to deliver meaningful content?"

If this is a topic you and your team is struggling with, Cella is available to provide on-site training for you and your team.