Empathy for Audience: Talking Resonance With John Bonini

June 7, 2016 | Dan Trefethen | Link

Remember the days when you were a toddler? It might be tough to actually recall firsthand, but most of us are filled in on some of the more interesting stories from our early childhood.

No two babies are the same – depending on environment, family structure, or whatever, each child’s upbringing could be completely different.

But there is one common thing that all babies crave: attention.

Babies will kick, cry, scream, pout, flail, and whine for hours on end in order to receive unending attention. Mothers, fathers, and grandparents often find themselves inundated with requests from the child to be held, to be put down, to be fed, to be burped. It can get extremely exhausting extremely fast.

Well, it turns out that content marketers (and all people, really) crave that same attention.

Psychologically speaking, human beings get a rush when other people pay attention to them and recognize their achievements. It can be addictive, and it’s tough to get out of the “attention trap” once you’re in it. Clearly, attention is important because that’s sort of the whole point of content marketing, but there’s more to it than that.

John Bonini, growth director at Litmus, doesn’t always measure the resonance of a piece of content marketing by the views it gets, or the retweets it garners. Sometimes, content marketers get more resonance with a less slick, less shared post that really relates to a small group of people. These are the posts that can change people’s lives.

For those unacquainted with Litmus, it is a email testing and marketing analytics company trying to “make email better” for email professionals. John is a former journalist turned marketer who has been at the company for the past year. He also hosts the podcast Louder Than Words, which profiles the lives and creative processes of remarkable people in a variety of industries.

Read on to learn what John thinks about the word “resonance,” some important tools he uses to do his job, and what he thinks about using content metrics to measure success.     

What comes to mind for you when you hear the word resonance?

As a marketer, the words that come to mind would be “table stakes.” It shouldn’t be an aspiration; it should be a starting point for every piece of content. And I think it tends to be an afterthought for a lot of people. If you’re already creating a piece of content and thinking about how I can make this resonate, I think you’re already too far along in the process, and you’ve thought about it way too late.

I think the process of resonating with an audience really starts with the beginning when you’re pouring the cement of an article, so to speak. Everything should be written, or pitched, or created with some persona in mind.

What are you thinking about on a day-to-day basis in terms of your relationship with your audience?

It’s just trying to understand their perspective and also understanding that that perspective can change depending on who they’re working with. We’re all influenced by the groups that we belong to, whether it’s in our personal life or professional life.

It seems like you need extreme empathy for the situation of your audience and their thoughts and feelings. How do you gather up all of the research that you do, and where do you keep it so that everyone then can reference it for additional context?

Well, being a remote company, it’s pretty easy because everything is cloud based. So everybody has access to all this information. Before we even start any new project, this stuff is referenced. Our personas are referenced. Information that will be relevant to whatever the project is that we’re doing is referenced.

It’s never an afterthought to achieve that empathy. It requires us pinpointing a handful of the challenges that people are having, and creating content around solving it or fully understanding it, putting us in the same arena as our audience. So not only are they having these challenges, we’re having them too.

We go to great lengths to level with our audience too. We really try to make them the hero of the story. So the way that we do that is everybody has access to these documents, and any time we start a new project, this stuff is always referenced, and it’s used to strengthen our arguments internally.

Could you run through the tools you use that you’ve found to be indispensable to doing this type of work?

It’s tricky because a lot of it’s manual work. A lot of it is just human connections, like interviewing and looking at support tickets. We use Help Scout for that. But I would also say, from a more obvious standpoint, to get an idea of the things that people are thinking, or the perspective of people, Moz is always a good tool. Another really good one is BuzzSumo. You can search for terms like “email marketing” and see what the most shared articles are, just to get an idea of what people are interested in.

None of these tools should be taken at face value. You just see the data and you’re like, “Good, I have direction.” You should always be cross-referencing against real people, against your real customers.

Do you look at your content metrics when you think about future content you’re going to produce?

For sure. You have to draw it all back to what’s leading people to sign up for our tool. There’s a ton of ways to measure the effectiveness of content. Some content we create is simply talking about content just to give people who have never heard of Litmus to our ecosystem. So we’re measuring content in that regard by how many views it gets.

But then there’s other content that we’re creating, and it’s more for funnel engagement. So getting people in, getting them to sign up for our tool, getting in there to get a free trial, whatever it is, and we’re measuring it in that way. So I think that’s an issue that a lot of content marketers face is, “How do I measure?” and “How do I record on it?”

Your funnel is not just one track. You’re going to have content that’s just trying to drive people and get attention for your company. That’s it. Not every piece of content is going to contribute to a sale. But that doesn’t mean that every piece of content is a failure, or it’s not valuable. So I think you have to have content that really nurtures each part of the funnel in different ways. So there’s a ton of different things that we’re measuring.

Do you think these metrics can be misleading sometimes?

It’s really addicting to create a piece of content that gets shared a bunch of times, that gets 1,000 views, and other content marketers are talking about it. And all of a sudden, you have this false result in your head that you think you did well on that post. You could have, but it also could have resonated with the completely wrong audience. Attention is a dopamine boost, and I think a lot of marketers end up creating content for the applause.

But it’s a really widespread issue that prevents people from doing the truly great work that’s going to resonate with their audience and not with other content marketers, or influencers, or the Twitter sphere.

Really doing truly great, resonant work sometimes isn’t going to show up in the Tweet count. It’s not going to show up all over Facebook, or it’s not going to go “viral” which is the word I hate most in marketing.

So sometimes resonating is not really something that looks sexy from an industry standpoint. It’s not going to be something that blows up, but it’s going to be something that’s insanely helpful for your audience, and it’s going to go viral among the right people. Maybe you won’t get 1,000 views, but you’re going to get 150 that are super, super appreciative of the content, and could mean more for your business profit-wise than 1,000 bullshit views mean.


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