What are personas, and how can you create and shape them to boost your content marketing efforts?
If you’re using a platform like HubSpot, Buffer or Eloqua to supplement your marketing efforts, you’ve probably been advised to create customer personas to help target those efforts more effectively.
There’s a lot of confusion about what such an undertaking entails, how much effort you should put into building and developing them and their importance to your overall strategy. However, it’s more than worth your while to sift through the uncertainty, as the right personas — when effectively used — will focus your content in productive ways and, most importantly, improve your conversion rates.
What is a Persona?
Let’s start with the basics. In its most rudimentary form, a marketing persona is a customer profile that ensures you target the right people and tailor your message accordingly.
Hubspot defines a persona as “a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” One such representation emerges in the accounting software sector. If your company provides this software, two key people you might sell to include the CFO of a publishing company and the IT director of a manufacturing business.
Responsible for signing off on high-value expenses, the CFO may want to ensure the system itself will maintain a high ROI by enabling his staff to do their jobs more efficiently. The IT director, on the other hand, wants to know how the software will integrate into the company’s current systems and whether his IT team will need to make any workflow adaptations in order to implement the technology.
Personas also definitely have a place in the recruitment industry. An in-house recruitment manager may need to improve his team’s efficiency and ensure all roles in a company are filled within a certain timeframe, whereas a recruitment agency manager’s main goal is to attract more clients to the business and appear more competitive than other, nearby agencies.
How Should I Identify My Personas?
The hardest part of all this is of course defining who exactly your personas are. It’s a fair bet to say that each of your customers is unique and presents varying expectations, challenges and requirements.
That’s why it’s essential to spend time identifying who you wish to target. Even though it seems like a lot of effort — it may take months to create fully-developed characters — the benefits will far outweigh the time and resources committed to invent them. Don’t forget, your personas can evolve as your needs change, and you can even swap out irrelevant personas for new ones as your business grows and your customer base expands.
Start by bringing your sales team together to have an open conversation about characterizing the figures. Who do they approach in a company when looking to sell? Who in a company normally makes the final decision? Who are they struggling to sell to and why? What challenges do they face when approaching leads? And what issues pop up when it comes to closing the deal?
The personas should represent a perfect cross-section of the businesses you are selling into. If you deal with small, medium and large enterprises, ensure you have included employees found in the ranks of all three company types because it’s likely the operational structure and policies in each will differ.
I recommend you build out a maximum of six personas to start with, although that number can fluctuate as you begin to develop their stories.
Once you’ve compiled a list of generic targets, you can start building out the personas by interviewing your existing clients to find out a little more about their company (i.e. number of employees, annual turnover and brand values), more about the employees themselves (i.e. what challenges they come across every day, and why they chose your company), and a little about their personal background too, such as their work/life balance and what’s important to them outside the work environment.
You can also dig a little deeper to create fuller profiles, using market research to uncover a target’s typical age, salary and frequency with which they change jobs.
The next step is to connect the dots. Which of your product’s features perfectly align with a target’s needs and which features don’t matter to them? What would a potential customer see as a barrier to buying your product? What tone of voice does the customer respond to most positively? And, how do these answers diverge from other sales targets?
Finally, you can develop the way your customers consume information as a means of solving the problems they experience on a day-to-day basis. Do they read blogs? Do they participate in social media groups? Do they read broadsheet newspapers or do they check out web forums to find an answer? It’s important to know how they need the message presented so you can target them via the most appropriate channels.
Putting the Personality in Personas
In developing a persona, it’s essential that your profiles have clearly defined job titles and responsibilities, that you have identified the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis, and that you understand their professional and personal goals. Using this information, you should specify how your product or service will improve their situation and improve the efficiency of their workflow.
How much you want to jazz up your personas depends on your own streak of creativity and, more importantly, whether you think providing your targets with fictional names, ages and interests will help your sales and marketing teams increase their sell-through rate.
One of my clients has given each of their eight personas names (the majority are people they know in the industry), listed a specific job role at a named company, and included additional information you might not think of applying to fictional people, like age. However, the process has really helped them hone in on their audience. As a result, every one of their customers can identify with these targets and my client’s business has grown stronger as a result.
Applying Personas to Your Content Strategy
Once you have created the personas, you can start tailoring your content to specific layers of your sales strategy. I suggest drawing up a persona spreadsheet, detailing the personas down the left-hand side and then, along the top, adding each type of content or medium you plan to use to address them through the most appropriate channel (i.e. white paper subjects, blog ideas and email campaigns).
You can further target your approach by building out "decision stages," which allow you to target a specific piece of content at the awareness level of your lead — but we’ll save that topic for another day.
Have you created personas for your business? I'd love to hear your input
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