Developing content marketing campaigns without buyer personas is like writing a letter before you’ve decided who to mail it to. You’ll be a whole lot more effective if you understand the recipient and can personalize your message.
How do we personalize our marketing messages, you might ask? Aren’t we trying to talk to as many people as possible? Yes, but one of the basic tenets of content marketing is that your leads and customers are each on an individual journey, and they need different information from you at each stage of that journey. Before you can even think about the journey, though, you need to know who “they” are.
What are buyer personas?
If you’ve ever read Harry Potter (or even if you haven’t), you know that the fictional characters that J. K. Rowling created have become archetypes in our popular culture. Their names can be used as shorthand to signify character traits and impart meaning. Call someone a Hermione Granger, and most people will understand that that person is book-smart, logical, a rule follower, and perhaps a bit of a perfectionist.
Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customer — characters if you will — that are grounded in data and designed to help you understand and create content that resonates with your target audience. Well-developed buyer personas use quotes and stories to help marketers truly empathize and connect with the audience.
Why create buyer personas?
Buyer personas help us understand the behavior patterns, motivations, and goals of our ideal customers and then leverage the data we have in order to deliver the right message. The goal of any marketer is to attract visitors, convert those visitors into leads, close those leads into customers, and continue to build customer loyalty. Buyer personas help us to create more effective, powerful content at each step of that journey.
How to create buyer personas.
While it would be fun to dream up characters from thin air like J. K. Rowling, buyer personas are based on real people and insights from aggregated data. To get the best outcome from your buyer persona development process, it’s worth spending the time to ensure you’ve got those insights right. These are the four steps we take when developing new buyer personas:
1. Start with data. Examine your current customers. Look at their industries, company sizes, locations, and annual revenues. Then begin to add to what you already know by asking questions.
We recommend conducting at least a few one-on-one interviews with current customers, then sending a survey to fill in the remaining details. (The interviews are helpful because you can follow up on any interesting revelations in real time.) Here are some helpful questions to ask during your interviews or in your survey:
Once you’ve conducted your interviews and survey, we recommend making this information gathering process part of your client relationship workflow going forward so that you can monitor and refine your buyer personas based on what's happening in your customers’ industries and roles.
If you don’t have a good sample size from your current customers, this step can be supplemented with market research. Other ways to supplement this information would be to interview your sales team about common objections and to analyze your lead database. Be wary of drawing too many conclusions from your leads, however; they may not accurately represent your ideal customer.
2. Identify trends. Look for patterns and similarities in your research and begin to bucket your audience into groups. These groups are the beginning of your personas. You might bucket by company size or revenue, by job title or seniority, by market segment or vertical, or any other key differentiators that arise from your analysis.
How many buyer personas you have will depend on how many distinct audiences you’re targeting. Some companies have as many as 15, while others have two or three. Start small to keep it simple; you can always revise a persona later.
3. Personify your profiles. Now it’s time to give each persona a name and a profile. We like to make our personas’ names memorable to encourage adoption across the company — use rhymes or alliteration to help your personas stick. For example, one of our personas is named Marketing Mindy.
Include the persona’s goals, challenges, how you can help, and common objections. Use real quotes, if possible — the more real your personas seem to you, the easier it will be to keep their needs in mind.
Finally, think about the messaging that works best to address each persona’s unique goals, challenges, and objections.
Putting your buyer personas to use.
Buyer personas come in handy in dozens of ways in the day-to-day of marketing. First and foremost, you can use the personas as a guidepost to help you create engaging content and effective messaging strategies. Think about the journey of each of your personas — what does each need at the awareness stage, the consideration stage, the conversion stage, or the retention stage? Use the messaging that you’ve created as part of your buyer persona’s profile in content that’s targeted at people who identify with that buyer persona.
At Trekk, we go beyond content creation to use buyer personas in our marketing automation. Using form fields on your website, you can ask questions that help you identify which buyer persona best fits each visitor or lead. Then, create workflows that deliver targeted content to those leads based on buyer persona. The approach involves tailored landing pages and smart content so that the further a lead gets in the customer journey, the more personalized an experience you can provide.
And buyer personas aren’t just for marketing. Use them in Sales and Customer Service to help align departments around one message and provide a seamless customer experience across your company.
Ready to build your own buyer personas? Once you’ve dug into your data and conducted your interviews, download our Buyer Persona Template and fill it in for each of your customer segments. Save the PDF, share it with your colleagues, and get working on that killer content.
Header photo by Tom Barrett.
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