You’ve decided to include content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) as part of your overall marketing strategy. You write blogs. You release e-books and whitepapers. 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?
The Importance of Knowing Your Audience
If you say, “you must understand your customer,” no one in marketing will argue with you. Yet 63 percent of respondents in a survey by Ascend2 said data-driven personalization is a difficult tactic to execute.
Consumers are bombarded with thousands of marketing messages every day, and most are highly adept at filtering out those messages not 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.
When you ask business owners to describe their typical customer, they usually have a prepared answer. They describe a hypothetical person based on a number of characteristics, including their gender, where they live, their income, their interests and more.
Yet many business owners assume they know their customers without actually verifying their description against data. Based on those assumptions, they make a wide range of decisions related to merchandising, marketing, advertising and even store location. Decisions based on faulty assumptions, if not downright wrong, won’t be the best drivers for business growth.
How can you hope to successfully market to your customers if you don’t know exactly who they are? Before continuing your marketing efforts this year, take a step back and develop a clear picture of your audience with customer profiles, marketing personas and buyer’s journeys.
In content marketing, it’s essential to start with accurate, verifiable buyer personas. You need to know not only who writes the check for your products or services, but also who persuades that person to take out their credit card. Let’s take a look at how to build an accurate customer profile, buyer persona and customer journey map to create a better content marketing — and overall marketing — strategy. It won’t just boost your content marketing; it will change the way you market your business.
Robust buyer personas and customer journey maps empower you to maintain a continuous conversation with your customers by:
- Actively delivering content. Through your social networks, email marketing outreach and more, you take the initiative to deliver content to current and potential customers.
- Maintaining a library of passive content. You maintain content online, making it easy for customers to discover and research what you offer, and giving current customers everything they need to get the most from your product or service.
- Creating better content. As you learn more about what works and develop a deeper understanding of your customers’ challenges, you create new and better resources for current customers. You also uncover proven ways to make new buyers aware of your brand.
- Delivering better leads to your sales team. Customers who read, view and experience your content — and keep sticking around — are poised to make decisions when your sales reps make the call.
But, Really, Why Should I Put in the Effort?
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’re creating — a guest post, article, video, infographic, social media post — 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.
Still Not Convinced? Check This:
When Jan Carlzon took over SAS Group in 1981, the Scandinavian airline company was losing $17 million per year and had a reputation for being the least punctual airline in Europe. By 1982, SAS Group was making a profit of $52 million and had become the most punctual airline in Europe thanks to Carlzon’s “Putting People First” campaign. “If you’re not serving the customer,” Carlzon famously said, “your job is to be serving someone who is.”
If you’re primarily a B2B company, you may not serve consumers directly, but you do serve a company that is serving consumers. Even though your client’s customers are a step removed from you, they’re the force behind every decision your client makes. Therefore, to truly know what your client needs, you need to know what your client’s customers need and want. By conducting comprehensive customer reviews for both current and prospective clients, you’ll get to know your clients even better than they know themselves.
Know What Your Customers Really Want: A Preliminary Approach to Understanding Your Audience
In some cases, a business perceives an industry in a certain way even when customer behavior clearly tells another story. In the 1990s, Polaroid still envisioned itself as an instant photography company when customers were ditching instant film (a market they had dominated for decades) in favor of digital photography. Instead of accepting what customers’ behavior said about its core product, Polaroid kept selling instant film and failed to capitalize on digital. In 2001, Polaroid filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a sad ending for a company that had become an American institution.
As you probably know, Polaroid bounced back somewhat by finding a niche market for instant film, developing trendy and kitschy new products as well as meeting their customers in new markets: digital cameras, printers, high-def televisions and more.
Your job as a marketer is to understand what customers buy from your company and competitors. Ask yourself some questions about your company, your competition and the industry overall. Most importantly, evaluate what customer behavior says about the market and its players:
- Company history. How did your company and its competitors get started? What customer need did the company fulfill when it offered its initial product or service portfolio? How has it adapted to customer needs over time?
- Industry and company trends. What does current customer purchasing behavior say about industry trends? Are you hanging onto instant film when customers want digital cameras, or do you have a forward-looking business plan?
- Core products. What products do customers purchase the most? Does the company place priority on a certain product or on certain promotions? Have sales ratios been changing because customers’ purchasing behaviors have changed?
- Cycles. Does the company and the industry share a predictable seasonal sales cycle? Are sales of certain products or services driven by events or recurring situations?
- Revenue. How does the company make its money? Are competitors innovating in a way that is eroding the customer base?
- Read articles about your company and its competitors (or the industry as a whole, if you’re not in the press yourself). Draw from both traditional sources, like business magazines, and newer sources, like top influencer blogs.
- Set up Google Alerts to monitor the company’s present actions and its dynamic reputation.
- Review annual reports. Companies say a lot about where they’re headed and where they’ve been in these reports.
- Consume your analytics. Ask for any relevant data that your company can offer.
Know How Your Customers Prefer to Buy
Blockbuster Video did just fine when customers switched from VHS to DVD because it adapted to changes in what customers were buying. However, when customers changed how they purchased movies, the company failed to adapt its outdated sales process.
Customers stopped getting movies by going to retail stores because they wanted to get movies without leaving their homes. They enjoyed the convenience of Netflix, which sent DVDs through the mail, or they ordered video on demand from their cable companies (obviously, Netflix quickly evolved to capture both mail-order and streaming content). That’s not to mention other competitors, such as Redbox, which offered convenient movie rentals at places customers already frequented, like convenience and grocery stores.
Blockbuster actually had a chance to buy Netflix in the early 2000s, but executives considered Netflix’s movie delivery model to be a non-competitive niche. In 2010, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy after reporting a $1.1 billion loss, and Blockbuster shuttered its last stores in late 2013. (OK, so there is one remaining. Head to Bend, OR, for a final dose of nostalgia.)
Your job is to keep your company from becoming a Blockbuster by making sure it understands how its customers like to buy its products. Remember, movies as a product didn’t inherently change — the way they’re purchased is what shook the industry. Research the following information about your company:
- Sales process. How does your company sell its products or services? What does its sales funnel look like?
- Buyer behavior. How do your customers like to get their products? Is your company making it easy for customers to get products the way they want to buy them? Do you have competitors that are executing the “how” that your company is missing?
- Customer acquisition. How much is your company spending to gain new customers? Do you get a lot of website visitors but not a lot of purchases? Is it a problem with the product or a problem with the purchasing process? (It could also be a problem that conversion rate optimization can help with, but that’s a story for another day.)
- Eyeball the website for “how” problems. Check for easy-to-see contact information; intuitive website navigation; obvious calls to action; and simple, functional checkout. Note broken links, shopping cart bugs or payment difficulties.
- Use Google Analytics. Get quantitative information like ad click-through rates (CTR), bounce rates (how many customers leave the website without making a purchase) and conversion rates (the number of leads that make a purchase or fill out a contact form). Also, get qualitative information like top referring domains to understand how current customers make purchases.
- Calculate value per lead (VPL). To start, calculate how much your company earns from new customer purchases every month. Divide that dollar amount by the number of new customers that your company gains each month, and you’ll know the approximate value of each new customer. Multiply that value by your company’s conversion rate to calculate value per lead. A low VPL indicates that people are visiting the website but deciding not to purchase. Your job is to figure out why.
Know Why They Buy
In 2010, J.C. Penney’s annual revenue had taken substantial hits from both the economic recession and the intrusion of online shopping. The company hired Ron Johnson, the brains behind the Apple Stores who had also revived Target’s brand by creating hipper, more designer-oriented stores. Johnson became CEO and was tasked with re-envisioning the Penney’s brand.
Johnson conceptualized a younger, bolder Penney’s, so he applied the boutique setup that he’d used at Apple and Target. He also eliminated Penney’s sales and coupons in favor of everyday low prices. His strategies may have worked well at other stores, but at Penney’s they only ended up alienating current customers who liked the drama of sale, promotion and coupon-driven shopping. No coupons or discounts meant no sense of urgency, so current customers had no reason to come to the stores. Even worse, the younger, trendier customers that Johnson assumed would flock to Penney’s never showed up to replace the customers that Johnson drove away.
Ron Johnson implemented a panacea that had worked for him in the past. He lost his job in 2013. Unfortunately, he didn’t appreciate why current customers shopped at J.C. Penney, and he didn’t give new customers a reason to come and fill the void. Your job is to make sure your company understands why current customers buy from them. Your company also need to know why new customers might convert to their brand.
- Persona. What is your company’s typical current customer like? What are the customer’s demographic characteristics? What does the customer do when he or she isn’t purchasing from your company? What motivates your customers to choose your company?
- “Watering holes.” Where do your customers hang out, both physically and digitally? What do they read or watch? Do they participate in certain groups? Do they frequent some social networks more than others? What do their habits say about why they buy from your client?
- Mood. Are customers happy with your company? Why or why not? What are they saying about your brand and customer service quality? Are they enthusiastic with your brand or restless for something new?
- Gather information and sentiment through customer surveys. Online and phone surveys are easy to set up and aggregate.
- Monitor social networks for customer engagement and communication. Many programs, like Meltwater Social or SproutSocial, automatically monitor social networks for customer sentiment, but it’s also good to engage with customers on social networks.
- Leverage CRM programs to mine customer data. These resources can provide invaluable insights into customer persona and habits. A digital marketing agency can take CRM to new heights, if you need help.
Once you know your customers, you’re ready to make actionable suggestions. Talk to your coworkers and higher-ups about goals and about how they measure success. Ask what kind of progress your company wants to make to grow the business, and get familiar with its short-term and long-term objectives. Then, based on your knowledge of your customer, offer candid advice about strategy. Affirm goals that would work for your customers, and dissuade your colleagues from objectives that aren’t going to make the connection. Bringing in a third-party vendor, like an outside digital marketing firm, invites a fresh perspective and better, more objective insights.
Your customers determine your company’s choices and direction. That’s why a comprehensive customer review is such a powerful tool for understanding your clients. Ultimately, if you’re not serving your customers, then you’re not going to develop a lasting and prosperous business strategy.
This section has given you a starting point, a means of preliminary evaluation of your marketing, company and customer identification. But how do you really, officially build out your target audience and put together actionable sales and marketing tools?
If you follow all the steps we just went over, you’ll have a clear picture of where you’re at and what you need to accomplish. All of this information will come in handy when you get down to it and build out personas and journeys.
A Deeper Look at Marketing Personas and Customer Journey Maps — How do They Take You to New Heights?
Obviously, you understand the value of zeroing in on your target customer base and developing (and using!) personas and customer journey maps — since you’re here, reading this guide — but maybe that’s not true of everyone on your team. Or maybe your boss thinks it’s just a creative exercise with no real impact. Ready to show them how wrong they are?
By the numbers
The results are in — marketing personas and customer journey maps work. Check out these stats:
- 79% of customers are more loyal to a brand that understands them
- 57% of consumers are willing to share personal data in exchange for personalized offers or discounts
- 39% of marketers reported seeing “major uplift” from personalization in search engine marketing (SEM), while just 7% reported no impact
- Email personalization generates 17% more revenue than the average campaign
- Using marketing personas made websites 2-5 times more effective and easier to use
- 3-4 personas typically account for 90% of a company’s sales
- We’ve achieved better results for our clients, including 16.5% increase in organic conversions for Syniverse
How are Personas and Customer Journey Maps Used?
So you want to discover, tap into, and market best to your target audiences. But how do marketing personas and customer journey maps (buyer’s journeys) help you? Personas serve as the foundation for countless successful marketing campaigns. Part of the reason for this is their wide applicability, with uses including:
- Content strategy
- Customer service
- Human resources
- Ad development
- Email/social targeting (and retargeting)
- Landing pages
- Web development/UX
- Recruitment and hiring…
…and so many more.
As for customer journey maps, or buyer’s journey maps, the same uses apply in a different manner. Since this method plots out the touchpoints of a prospective customer, defining each stage of the buying process, it’s useful both on its own to ensure relevant touchpoints exist, and in combination with personas.
When a persona is applied to a customer journey map, marketers can acutely develop the experience to meet that persona’s expectations at specific moments in the buying process, alleviating pain points, answering questions and helping them achieve goals along the way. It’s also a great auditing tool, highlighting where marketers may have gaps in their current content strategy.
Trust us — we practice what we preach, and it yields tremendous results!
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. In our preliminary research section above, you’ve developed a sort of customer profile — but even there, we took you beyond the basics to tap into “why,” “how” and “where” of the buying process, too.
In some cases, your company may have customer profiles on file. Someone, at some point, probably created this or commissioned it. Unfortunately, though, most customer profiles are far too generic to be of any real use — or they don’t go far enough to help you actually stand out from the competition. 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 and customer journey map comes in.
A buyer persona is a detailed, semi-fictional representation of the target customer that looks at the individual behind the demographic categories. A customer journey map is a reflection of real-world buying patterns and important moments leading up to and following a purchase.
The persona is 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. The customer journey map shows you how they interact with your brand, and others — and organizations not even in competition with you — along their path to purchase. It’s a roadmap of awareness, consideration, conversion, advocacy and loyalty.
Getting Down to Business: Creating your Buyer Personas and Customer Journeys
We’ve broken down each process into seven steps that will guide your persona creation and journey mapping. Following these seven steps, we’ve provided some additional exercises that can bolster your personas and journeys, help you mine for information, organize your research and make sure you’ve covered every aspect of your audience.
Kick Things Off With Customer Profiles
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, existing customer data and anecdotes from your sales and marketing staff. You can’t base personas solely 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 Tony 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.
Seven Steps to Persona Development
- Understand the brand. You’ll want to have in-depth familiarity with your company’s brand goals, positioning and personality, including the “reasons to believe” in its product or service and the existing core messages in use.
- Collect and analyze data. This is where you’ll do some research to find the data that informs your persona development. Look to demographics, segmentation data, designated market areas (DMAs) and survey data. Another key component here is empathy mapping and an “All About Me” workshop, in which people collaborate and discuss the brand, customers and more to begin to craft the framework of a persona.
- Consolidate key themes. After your market research, identify shared goals, pain points and questions among the audience you’ve discovered.
Extensio Persona Template
- Now, you’ll build the persona outline. This include psychographics, behaviors, assumptions, expectations and personality details. Check out the example above and others later in this post for inspiration and guidelines. You can also download our persona template.
- Validate. Arguably the most important step in persona development, validation means you’re interviewing real customers to gather real-world experiences, opinions and more. You should also look to survey data, feedback and actual quotes or testimonials. Essentially, you want external buy-in — that is, your actual customer personas should agree, for the most part, with the marketing persona you’ve developed. Also crucial here is internal buy-in — you need to validate the personas with those inside your company to ensure consensus and understanding.
- Refine. Here’s when you will adjust your personas based on any additional findings in the validation process. This is a time for fine-tuning, not re-defining, to best capture the key characteristics of the persona. It’s an opportunity to adjust original assumptions and align your research with actual customer input. The output of this refinement step is the final persona documentation, typically a combination of visuals and text (see examples throughout this post). Most importantly, this step involves training your teams and coworkers to use the personas in their marketing (and other) work.
- Revisit. Now that you’ve defined your persona(s), you’ll have to periodically come back and revisit them to keep everything accurate. In an ever-evolving market, the needs and wants of your customers — not to mention the customers themselves — may shift. Update your personas regularly and engage in ongoing validation to keep them up-to-date. It will be up to your team to decide when the market has changed enough to warrant fresh personas. Then, you can start again at Step 1.
Now that you understand the process of creating a buyer persona, here’s a few more ways to dig deep into audience metrics during your discovery.
Who Are Your Current Big Spenders?
You’ve probably heard the old adage: 20 percent of your customers generate 80 percent of your revenue. It’s not a hard and fast statistic, but the principle is true.
Developing a profile of your best customers, and seeking more customers just like them, is the best way to jump start growth. The way you find your big spenders probably depends on how many of them you have.
- If you run a service business with 10 or fewer clients, it’s easy to figure out who spends the most money. Just take a look at your accounting software records.
- If you have a large number of customers, you probably use a customer relationship management (CRM) system to track their spending patterns, or you track them through your loyalty program.
- In a B2B business, your sales team will have a lot of insight into which customers spend the most.
If you’re starting a new business or don’t have a lot of historical data, research your competitors to see who they’re marketing to. It’s not as accurate as mining your own data, but it’s a good place to begin. You can also check Google Analytics data for your website to see demographic and interest data for your visitors. Even if no one’s spending money yet, you’ll get an idea of who’s attracted to your products.
To get demographic and interest information about your visitors, open your Google Analytics dashboard and look at the left sidebar. You’ll see Demographics and Interests under the Audience portion of your dashboard.
What Are They Like?
After you’ve identified your best customers or developed a target based on competitor research, it’s time to get specific about every quantifiable customer characteristic. One of the most common mistakes businesses make is spending too much money on marketing to a mass audience instead of developing targeted marketing segments.
Marketers identify customers based on demographic and psychographic characteristics.
If you run a B2B business, and you’re used to thinking of the business as your customer, it’s time to drill down and think about the person behind the buying decisions. The person who writes the final check might not be the person who requests your product or has the initial contact with a salesperson. Develop personas for those important influencers as well.
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?
What Problems Can You Solve for Them?
Some purchases happen because people see something very shiny and have to have it. Most purchases, however, happen because a customer has a problem. With persona-based marketing, you show your customers that your products and services are the solutions to their problems.
After you’ve identified your target buyer’s characteristics, ask yourself what problems they have that you can solve.
- What are their day-to-day frustrations?
- What are their aspirations?
- What do they like or dislike about their current product?
- What are the larger goals of the business (for B2B personas)?
- How can you make this person look good in front of bosses or clients?
- Can they buy directly from you or do they have to run it up the chain of command?
Be Careful — Don’t Make These Mistakes
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 to 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/decision-making processes, not to determine whether the buyer prefers paper or plastic (unless you’re in the business of bagging groceries!).
- 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 a more effective and engaging persona-based strategy that speaks to their needs and spurs them to action.And this will naturally lead you to begin analyzing your customer’s buying journey. So, without further adieu …
Seven Steps to Customer Journey Map Development
- Create personas. Without personas, there’s no one to go on this journey!
- Identify stages. Sketch out (literally, a white board is great for this) the following milestones in your buyer’s journey: discovery, awareness, consideration, acquisition, delivery and advocacy.
- Identify touchpoints and “moments of truth.” You’re going to want to rally the troops for this one — get everyone in a room and start throwing ideas on the board (or on sticky notes, etc. Have fun with it!). Once gathered, you’ll start to list customer actions, things they do or decisions they make at each stage; touchpoints or channels your customers engage with, such as websites or social media; pain points they may experience along the way; sentiments, feelings, opinions or attitudes they experience at various stages of the process, such as confusion, frustration or open-mindedness; and opportunities for your brand to provide value to the persona along their unique journey.
- Build customer journey map outline. Translate your offline notes into a visual journey map by utilizing spreadsheets, wireframes and more. It will also be helpful to have a text version of your journey, typically using bullet points to lay out the stages, then layering in touchpoints and moments of truth.
- Validate. Just like with your personas, you need to validate the journey you’ve mapped. In this case, you’ll want to work with real customers, walking through their buying process, to see if you need to make any adjustments based on the real-world feedback. Internal sales teams will also be a resource here, but real customers are most valuable — consider leveraging your strong client relationships here.
- Refine. With your company workshop and customer insights in mind, refine the customer journey map to best fit the common real-world experience. At this stage, you’ll be designing your final documentation — see the examples in this post for inspiration — and making sure your coworkers know how to use this tool. This may require training around how specifically to apply customer journey maps to various departments, and not just in marketing and sales.
- Revisit. Again, like personas, you’ll need to set some kind of cadence to regularly revisit and refine your customer journey maps. That includes engaging in ongoing validation to make sure you’re painting an accurate picture.
Throughout your buyer’s journey mapping, you’re going to need to do some serious “put yourself in their shoes” thinking, so here are some additional exercises to help you get the insight you need.
Where Are They in the Buying Process?
Now that you have a good understanding of your target buyer, identify how close they are to making a purchase. Their current progress in the buying process will tell you which types of content you need to create and how that fits into your buyer’s journey:
- Blissfully unaware. Your business is new or hasn’t attracted a lot of customers yet, or you’re launching a new business initiative. You need content designed to pique their curiosity and turn people into leads.
- Starting to research their problem. These target buyers know they have a problem, and they’re actively searching for a way to solve it. They need long-form, in-depth content that explains your product and how it solves their problem, such as a blog post series, webinar or white paper.
- Almost ready to purchase. At this stage, target buyers have narrowed their options to a few businesses, one of which is yours. Push for the sale by sharing video testimonials, case studies, promotions and other types of content with a clear call to action.
- Another satisfied customer. These people are your current customers with whom you want to build long-lasting relationships. Send tutorials explaining how to get more from your product, launch a podcast about your industry that they can follow or find ways to involve them in your community through social media.
Most companies encounter different buyer personas in different stages of the buying process. For example, a cashier might have a problem with mobile POS software, research a new product, and make a recommendation to a manager. When it’s time to make the buying decision, the manager or head of accounting might make a final decision between two or three options. In these cases, you’ll need to create content for multiple personas to cover all your bases.
Where Will They Find Your Content?
According to data from Social Media Examiner, 93 percent of small businesses use Facebook to share content. Only 30 percent of B2B businesses use Facebook; the majority use LinkedIn. Your job is to figure out where your target buyer looks for content and make sure your content is there — this speaks to several stages of the customer journey.
- Choose the right social networks. In addition to Facebook and LinkedIn, look for your target buyers on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit or Snapchat.
- Prioritize search engine optimization (SEO). For buyers who want to solve a problem, the first step is navigating to Google and typing in a search query. Optimize your content with the right keywords and make it in-depth so it has a better chance of getting a higher search ranking. When you engage an SEO agency, you’ll want to be sure you share this persona information them so they can also target their work.
- Publish with your target buyer’s favorite magazines or blogs. Publish guest blogs or sponsored content on sites where your target buyers look for trustworthy information. As an added bonus, when these sites link to yours, you’ll boost your search rankings.
- Capture the email address. Design landing pages for your best content, and provide content upgrades after customers have given you their email address (which reminds me, download our free personas template).
At this point, you have a pretty solid vision of your buyer (through persona development) and their purchasing journeys (with customer journey/buyer’s journey maps). You even know where your content needs to show up in order to make a purchasing impact.
Putting Personas and Customer Journey Maps To Work
OK, so you’ve done all this — now the leads should flow in, sales easy as pie, right?
Well, not quite. You’ve still got some work ahead of you, but now you’re armed with an arsenal of information on your prospective clients/customers.
That means you can get more specific in your appeals to better resonate — at a deeper level. This shows the customer you understand them: their distinct needs, goals, pain points and (in B2B cases) business objectives.
Audience segmentation is the name of the game now. You’ll want to design distinct ads, content and experiences for each persona — and make sure they fit into the buyer’s journey at the right time and on the right channel (social, web, email, etc.).
Audience segmentation can mean something as simple as customizing the subject line on your email campaigns to developing completely distinct landing pages and email messages for your different personas. It will also mean adding pieces to your content marketing editorial calendar that speak to distinct personas.
Even more, the persona and customer journey map will tell you how persistent to be — perhaps one persona responds well to a follow-up email, while another gets turned off by too much communication. Stick to email for the former, but pivot to social ads, perhaps, for the latter.
Understanding your audience, especially how they’re segmented, is key to defining impactful marketing techniques that resonate.
Remember, though, one of the most important elements of audience targeting, buyer personas and customer journey maps: they’re going to change! Set a cadence, perhaps annual, that spurs you to review and revise your personas and journeys. This may be just slight tweaking or it may be a complete overhaul, if your company has made strides in a different direction or the industry has taken a leap in one direction or another.
The Final Assignment: Never Stop Learning
In today’s fast-changing world, the buyer persona you create today may no longer be relevant tomorrow. Also, content that works this year might not work for next year’s buyers. Always track content metrics (that goes for ads, emails and any other initiatives, too) to make sure you’re creating and sharing the right content.
The information you collect about who reads your content, and which pieces are the most popular, will help you identify new target buyers and send even more personalized content to existing leads and customers. When it’s done right, content marketing and persona-based strategies can become the driving force behind every marketing decision, both online and offline, that your business will ever make.
Need help defining your customer?
If you’re still unsure how to develop a buyer persona and building a customer journey map — or the process just seems too daunting, too time-intensive, or out of your realm — 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.