I didn’t invent it, but I’m going to name it.
There’s a new trend in content marketing and no one’s talking about it.
It’s the user-guided content strategy.
I’m seeing companies use it more and more often, but somehow it’s escaped analysis by marketing experts. So in this article, I’ll define it, explain how it works, and show you some examples of how you can use it.
A quick origin story
This idea has its origins in three separate events.
The first happened a few years ago, I got hired to do some freelance writing work with a young startup named Savio. I was stoked because it was my first real entry into B2B SaaS writing and the founders were super nice guys. I threw myself head first into their product, a customer feedback tracking tool. The idea was that, if you were making a software product, your customers are going to tell you what features they want to see in your product. You can keep track of that product feedback and use it to inform your product strategy.
I now spend a lot of my time thinking and writing about the value of customer feedback.
My takeaway #1: feedback can be a valuable way to build a better product and be more customer-centric.
Another client of mine is an annuity company called Canvas Annuity. Sometime last year, I was going through their blog looking for internal links and noticed a new feature: a form at the bottom of every article that invites users to submit ideas for the next blog article. I thought it was neat, and imagined it could be a good source of blog ideas.
My takeaway #2: Some websites are requesting article ideas from their readers.
Finally, in January, I properly started as the content marketing manager at Savio (thank you, no, stop, it’s too much). Since then, I’ve been desperately trying to learn how to do content marketing for real, and so I’ve been listening to the How The F*ck SEO podcast (highly recommend). In one episode, Jakub Rudnik tells the story of how he grew traffic for Scribe from 0 to 30,000 monthly visitors in 7 months.
Part of his “secret”? Delving into user interviews and feedback, listening to his users, and producing content they want to see. In the episode, he says,
“We’re not doing that much differently. We’re literally just listening to people and then showing them how our product solves what they need help with.”
My takeaway #3: You can build a content strategy by listening to your users.
So this week, in the shower, those ideas came together for me:
If customer feedback can inform your product strategy, why can’t it also inform your marketing strategy?
You can literally ask your audience what they want to see more of and then use that to decide what content to produce.
A strategy based on what your users tell you they want could be effective (it was for Scribe).
And then, I also realized that there are already a bunch of existing tools to help you collect the feedback and organize it. I know that because I am paid to market one myself and I literally write “customer feedback tool” roundup articles.
The strategy already exists, and companies like Canvas Annuity, Scribe, and Savio already use it. But I don’t think it has a name yet. (If they have and I’m just a dum dum that didn’t realize, let me know in the comments and I’ll give them props.)
I propose calling it the “user-guided content marketing strategy”. Here’s what it is and how it works.
What is a user-guided content marketing strategy?
The user-guided content marketing strategy is an approach to producing marketing content that emphasizes feedback from your users, customers, or audience. You actively collect feedback from them about the content that they would like to see. Then you use that feedback to help you decide what content to produce.
Like Canvas Annuity, you could include a feedback form on your blog to solicit future blog ideas.
In an email newsletter to your subscribers, you might ask your audience what topics they would like to see you cover next.
In your YouTube video, you can solicit comments from viewers about what your next video should be.
In your knowledgebase articles, you can ask if the article was helpful or solved their problem. Then you can use that to prioritize how you update your help docs.
In each case, you would use the responses to influence how you build your editorial calendar.
What problem does user-guided marketing solve?
One of the big challenges for content marketers and content creators is deciding what content to make next. We currently solve that challenge with a number of different approaches. Some of them are:
Make what is already popular. For example, you might use a tool like ahrefs to figure out what keywords are popular among your audience, and then make content aimed at ranking for those keywords.
Make what’s getting popular. For example, you might go to a website like Google Trends to see what is topical and trendy, and then make content about that to try to ride the trending wave.
Make what’s strategic. Here, you’re thinking more about how you want to position your brand, and then make content that helps your audience see you that way or use your product.
Those are all useful strategies.
A user-guided content strategy is just another way to decide what to make. You would write or produce content that your audience is asking you for directly.
While it’s a separate strategy from the others, it can also be a useful add-on to other strategies. For example, even if you want to mostly produce blog content based on finding high-volume keywords, you can still collect feedback and use customer requests as just another factor in your decision. In other words, you can build a user-guided content strategy onto the strategies you already use to decide what content to make.
User-guided content vs. user-generated content
User-guided content is not the same as user-generated content. With user-generated content, your users actually produce the content. For example, maybe they make a video about your product that you then share on your social media.
In user-guided content, you keep track of the content your users ask you for, and then you use that feedback to inform your content calendar. But you or your content team still produce the content yourself.
Why use user-guided content marketing? What are the benefits?
Done well, a user-guided content strategy hooks you up with a steady drumbeat of audience-sourced content ideas. It can help you feel confident that your audience will like the content you choose to make.
It’s consistent with data-driven marketing. You’re using customer feedback data to inform your marketing strategy.
It’s consistent with personalized marketing. You’re literally producing content directly aimed at your audience’s interests.
It’s customer-centric. Showing your customers you’re listening to them helps build loyalty. And imagine their delight when you follow up with the content they asked for.
You know someone wants it. Often we guess what content our audience will like. A user-guided approach helps you know at least a segment of your audience wants this content.
You can collect email addresses. You don’t just get feedback, but also a steady stream of email addresses from engaged audience members. It can help power any email marketing you do, like your newsletter.
Who can use a user-guided approach to content?
Anyone that makes content.
I work in B2B SaaS, so the big use case I see is for content marketing leaders at startups and established companies.
But others who could get some value out of it include:
People that sell online courses
Writers on Medium
Basically, if you make content, you can use it.
Examples of user-guided content
What does it actually look like? Here are a few examples I’ve seen around the internet.
Asking for feedback on a piece of content’s helpfulness
This is probably the most common way of asking for audience feedback that I’ve seen. A company asks a reader whether its content was helpful. The reader can answer yes or no.
For example, Google asks whether their help docs were useful.
Then, it asks you for more details on why it was or wasn’t helpful so that they can improve the content.
The feedback collected helps Google identify issues in existing content and potentially also content gaps to fill.
Asking for feedback about whether readers liked content
You can also ask your audience whether they liked a piece of content or not.
For example, in an email that Shopify sends to customers about their sales statistics, they include a feedback box that says, “If you have a minute, let us know what you think about this email.” They offer a thumbs up and a thumbs down.
Shopify likely gets useful information from this box about the types of emails that customers like receiving and the ones they don’t. They can also follow up for more information if they find that particular emails are getting a ton of thumbs down.
Asking for feedback on types of content and content ideas
Another method is to ask your audience what kinds of content they would like to see. The example from Canvas Annuity that I provided above falls into this category—it allows blog readers to easily submit new article ideas.
Stackshare had another example of this. Stackshare helps you choose software tools by offering comparisons between tools. At one point, if they didn’t have an article comparing two pieces of software, they offered visitors a button that said, “Get help choosing one of these.” When you clicked it, a pop-up appeared that:
Told you they don’t have the content that you’re looking for
Asked you if you wanted to be notified when they had the article
Collected your email address
Provided a list of checkboxes for specific content you can say you’re interested in
This likely helped them gauge how popular a particular piece of content would be so they could prioritize their content better. It also helped them understand what content formats their audience preferred.
Note that both Canvas Annuity and Stackshare ask for email addresses. This lets them follow up with a reader when they produce the requested content (that’s called closing the feedback loop). It also, of course, lets them engage those listeners for other things, like joining a newsletter.
Here’s another example I saw on Instagram. The user, fitdadceo, is a content creator that focuses on dad jokes (they’re great, give him a watch). Recently, he asked his audience for ideas about topics for dad jokes. Then he used those ideas to produce his content.
I think this is the big use case for user-guided content: collect ideas from your audience, validate them, see what’s the most popular… and then make content based on those topics.
Takeaway: You can use customer feedback in your marketing
The user-guided approach to content isn’t new and I certainly didn’t invent it. I’m sure you’ve see examples of it yourself. Although I don’t have any data on it, it seems like it’s becoming increasingly popular.
It would make sense if it is. Companies are increasingly customer-centric and driven by feedback. In one survey, Gartner found that 95% of companies collect customer feedback.
In my field, they mostly use it to build better software.
But why not use it to create better marketing content, too?
A user-guided approach to creating content offers a potentially powerful way to get closer to your audience and publish stuff they actually care about.
Consider using it yourself: start collecting feedback from your audience and then use it to help you decide what content to make next.
(And say tuned for a detailed guide on how to implement a user-guided content strategy—it’s coming soon.)
Need help with your content marketing? Let me know—maybe I can help.