You’ve decided to include content marketing as part of your overall marketing strategy. You write blogs. You release e-books and white papers. You’ve spent a fortune on video production.
And nothing is happening. Your analytics show that you’re getting traffic, but you aren’t seeing conversions. So what’s wrong?
Assuming that you’ve ruled out other issues, the reason that you’re not seeing results probably has less to do with quality and more to do with what you’re actually saying. Consumers are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages every day, and most are highly adept at filtering out those messages that aren’t relevant to them. What that means for you as a marketer is that you must have a firm handle on your audience — who they are and what they want. If you don’t, you risk having your contributions lost in the ever-growing cacophony of marketing noise.
There are different schools of thought on the best way to develop a content strategy, but all rest on the same foundation: knowing your audience. But what does this really mean? The admonition to “know your audience and give them what they want” is bandied about, but not many people understand what it means to know your audience. They create content based on vague ideas of who they would like to reach and what they assume that audience would like to see. Some get lucky. Most don’t.
The solution to the problem of “knowing your audience” is to develop buyer personas. A buyer persona is an archetype, a character sketch of your ideal or typical customer. It’s a written, detailed document complete with a photograph describing the customer’s needs, wants, goals, challenges and values. It’s more than an age and an income range or a list of interests culled from Facebook. It’s a valuable tool that can take your content strategy to the next level.
Profile vs. Persona: What’s the Difference?
Most business owners have an ideal customer in mind. However, far too many of them fail to do more than scratch the surface when describing that person. Their customer profiles contain generic, basic information: age range, geographic location, household income, whether they have children or pets, rent or own their homes, etc. In the B2B environment, the customer profile may focus on business information, such as number of years in business, the market served, annual sales and length of time in operation. Taken together, the customer profile provides a marketing starting point.
Unfortunately, though, most customer profiles are far too generic to be of any real use. They group everyone into a single category — your ideal customer — without providing any in-depth, actionable details. After all, all males between the ages of 45 and 60 who are homeowners aren’t the same. They don’t all face the same challenges or have the same goals. When your content strategy rests on the notion that they are, you aren’t going to see results. Tony Zambito notes that ideal customer profiles are more focused on traditional sales and marketing approaches. They tend to veer toward traditional methods of customer target and account segmentation, and the buying process. In other words, profiles tend to focus on the money: who is capable of buying, not necessarily whether or not they are interested in buying. But, as he points out, such profiles are not based on deep buyer insights and don’t really get to the heart of why customers really make decisions; they don’t say anything about a customer’s values or delve into their experiences.
That’s where the buyer persona comes in. A buyer persona is a detailed, semi-fictional representation of the target customer that looks at the individual behind the demographic categories. It’s a specific individual who represents your “typical” or ideal customer — a person with a name, a photograph and real motivations, values, preferences and dislikes. The more detailed the persona, the better; it should explain what makes your customer tick and how and why they make their decisions. The buyer persona takes you inside your customer’s mind and heart, offering insights not only into who they are, but also why they do what they do — or more importantly, why they buy what they buy.
Why It Matters
It’s quite simple really: If you don’t understand your audience, how can you possibly give them what they need or want? As Hubspot’s Sam Kusinitz notes, “Buyer personas provide tremendous structure and insight for your company. A detailed buyer persona will help you determine where to focus your time, guide product development, and allow for alignment across the organization.”
When you’re developing a content strategy, knowing who you’re writing for helps you develop content that resonates and distribute that content strategically. No matter what type of content you are creating — a guest post, article, video, infographic, social media posting — you can ask, “Will this content meet the needs of my buyer? Will it resonate with them and spur them to action?” and answer “yes” with confidence.
And according to Zambito, content that speaks to your buyer’s story is content that’s valuable — and not just noise. Noise is deleted and ignored. Content that speaks to customer values and decision-making processes creates action.
Developing Buyer Personas
Now that you know why you need to develop buyer personas, how do you go about doing it?
The first step is to develop the ideal customer profile. Again, the profile is different from the persona; the profile is generic, overarching information. You can cull this information from your customer data, as well as based on the market research you’ve done to determine who your product appeals to. As you develop the profile, it should include:
- Marital status (if applicable)
- Geographic data (country, region, ZIP code)
- Household income
- Household size
- Homeowner status
- Special characteristics (children, pets, hobbies, interests, political affiliations, etc.)
- Geographic data (country, region, ZIP code)
- Number of employees
- Number of locations
- Length of time in business
- Annual revenue
Once you have a customer profile, you can move on to creating a persona. The first rule of creating buyer personas is that you cannot make them up, based on assumptions, your existing customer data, and anecdotes from your sales and marketing staff. You can’t base personas on what you glean from the social media profiles of the people who engage with your company online. That information may be useful in creating a customer profile in that it provides some general demographic insights, but it doesn’t give you what Zambito calls the “customer archetype.”
Persona development requires personal interviews with a few dozen people within your target demographic, based on the ideal customer profile. These are qualitative discussions, in which you learn more about your customers and potential customers through in-depth conversation. However, as Zambito cautions, avoid collecting reams of data that fog the qualitative value of the exercise. Buyer persona research is about drawing conclusions and making connections based on qualitative insights drawn from the context of a buyer’s goals and desires.
As you talk with your subjects, follow this checklist to gain actionable insights:
- Demographic information. In a B2B environment, this includes information about their job title, length of time at job and information about their company. In the B2C realm, this includes household income, age, geographic information, household makeup and gender.
- Information about their job. Who do they work with? How long have they been doing their job? What is their job description? Who do they report to?
- What is their typical day like? Start at the beginning — you want to know how your persona spends his or her day, how much time is spent at home or work, what tasks must be completed and what tasks are perpetually left undone.
- What do they like/dislike? What are the best parts of each day? The worst? Find out what makes your persona happy and what causes frustration.
- What are their pain points or challenges? Dig deep to determine their major sources of frustration and daily struggles. How do these problems make them feel?
- What do they want and need? Look at this from the perspective of their life, their job, and the companies they buy from.
- What do they value? What gets them excited about a product or service — and what turns them off?
- What are their goals? Where do they want to be in one, five, 10 years from now?
- How do they get information? What kind of information is valuable to them in the buying process?
- How do they use social media? What makes them engage with social media?
- What are their barriers to finding a solution? What keeps them from meeting their goals and easing their pain points? What keeps them from choosing your product or service?
Pitfalls of Buyer Personas
Buyer personas are powerful tools. They form the foundation of your content strategy. But when they are poorly developed, they are little more than creative writing exercises.
Some of the most common mistakes that marketers make when developing buyer personas include:
Letting the photo drive the description. Buyer personas include a photo to provide visual reference. Don’t let clues from a stock photo drive insights, though. Choose the photo after you’ve developed the text.
Not talking to enough or the right people. Thoughtful, accurate buyer personas depend upon observations drawn from a significant sampling of customers and potential customers. Talk with people other than your current customers. You’re already meeting their needs — and their motivations for choosing your product or service may not be the same motivations that will attract new customers. Talk to people who are at all stages of the buying process, including those who chose a competitor.
Not digging deep enough. Creating buyer personas can be fun. However, knowing that your customer loves the color green and hates carrots probably isn’t going be helpful, unless you’re marketing vegetables. Adele Revellas, author of “The Buyer Persona Manifesto,” reminds us that the purpose of the persona is to determine buyer priorities, definitions of success, perceived barriers and buying and decision-making processes, not to determine whether the buyer prefers paper or plastic.
Creating too many buyer personas. You’re probably targeting more than one type of customer; however, you don’t need to create a specific buyer persona for every single potential customer. Focus on developing a persona for each category of customer.
Buyer personas aren’t collections of statistical data culled from customer lists or vague surveys. They are manifestations of the real people at the other end of the sales funnel. When you understand who they are and what they really want, you’ll create more effective and engaging content that speaks to their needs and spurs them to action.
Need help defining your customer?
If you’re still unsure how to develop a buyer persona and building a customer profile, Digital Current can help! With over a decade of experience developing integrated online marketing campaigns, we know a thing or two about reaching the right audiences with the right message.