Personas are “hot.” Many companies swear by them and say that they help marketers engage with prospects and customers in a meaningful way.
But what are personas? And why should you care?
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.
A persona is an overview or composite. It is not a specific person, but represents a group that has characteristics in common. Personas put a face to your customers and prospects, and help you identify their needs and wants.
It takes time and effort to develop effective personas that can guide your marketing programs and help you reach your goals.
Nine Components for Effective Personas
To learn more, I listened to the Marketo webinar “How to Use Personas to Power Content Marketing Performance” with Ardath Albee, the CEO and BB Marketing Strategist for Marketing Interactions, Inc.
Albee is also the author of Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results.
Here is my take on her nine components of effective personas, which can help us develop effective accurate personas and target relevant content.
One of the most important things is to determine what your target persona is responsible for. Be specific. “Growing revenues” is too general. “Getting rid of distribution bottlenecks” is better.
Why can’t your personas achieve their goals?
Their problems might not be obvious, as most of us develop workarounds to problems. Again, be as specific as possible. A good problem statement could be “products are always late because we don’t have automated workflows.”
What could keep your persona from taking the next steps at each stage? Determine what would stall the process, hinder decisions or create uncertainty, and decide how you’ll deal with those challenges.
Your Questions and Interviews
Probably the best way to get information about your persona’s goals, problems and obstacles is through interviews. Invite your target personas to talk and they’ll tell you things you wouldn’t even think to ask.
However, it’s important to figure out the “right” questions beforehand, as they can help you organize and produce content later. Have at least a dozen questions for each persona, make them open-ended, and arrange them in a logical sequence.
Possible questions include:
- What do you do?
- What happened to make you look for a solution?
- What did you hope to achieve?
- What did you need to learn about?
- Why couldn’t you solve this in-house?
- Who else was involved?
- Where did you find the most valuable information?
- What kind of pushback did you get?
- Do you remember the turning point when everyone got on board?
Don’t get carried away. You can always add questions later.
Questions are particularly important in technology sales, because the people represented by your persona might not know what they need to know. (Maybe the problem itself is new, or the technology was not even around the last time they had this problem.)
In B2B sales, also think in terms of the entire buying committee. Often several people, all with different questions and concerns, are part of a B2B purchase team. You need to connect with all (or at least most) of them, and determine their common bonds.
Orientation refers to the common personality traits and interests of the people in your persona group. For example, computer programmers will likely be detail-oriented; other groups may not be as obvious.
The interviews can help here, as can LinkedIn. Research the career background and professional demeanor of your personas. You’ll approach someone who has 20 years’ experience in one company differently than someone who worked in a dozen start-ups in that timeframe. This information will help determine your tone and method.
In addition to reading the profiles, check out the recommendations. If someone is described as a “confident leader,” give her broad picture content, with little (if any) detail. If someone is frequently described as a mentor, give him content to share.
Also check who the personas follow, whether they post their awards and other achievements, and what groups they belong to. You might find gems of information.
In the process, some words and phrases will probably come up repeatedly. Those words can help you talk about what your buyers care about, so use that terminology in your content.
Don’t be afraid to test out the words. Type them into Google and see what comes back. Also type the words into the Google AdWords tool and see if the space is crowded.
Now, using the information you’ve gathered, draft a day in the life of your persona. Write in first person, as if the persona were talking to you. Include emotion as well as facts (e.g., “I’m struggling to….”).
This is not a novel; just tell the story in a few paragraphs. This process is especially important for long sales cycles.
You need to present appropriate, engaging material from the beginning to the end of the buying process. Map out the steps it will take to attract the persona’s attention in the first place, and then move them toward a purchase. Include the channels (e.g., Facebook), types of conversations, and interaction with other personas.
Your goal is to present a continuous flow that connects the dots for the stories and crosses channels. For example, when you offer your persona groups a blog post, tell them what’s next. Offer them another link, a webinar, an infographic and so on.
If they are in the first stages of the buying process, and just learning about you, don’t give them your most advanced, detailed material. Give them more general, “why you should care” information and lead them step by step along the way to purchase.
Social Media and Online Destinations
As stated before, you need to determine where your buyers are and how they interact in each place. If they can’t even tell you (and sometimes they can’t), ask what organizations they are active in, and what sites they have bookmarked.
Everything you put in a persona needs to be usable so don’t include extraneous information. In many B2B sales, demographics (such as “married with two kids and a dog”) don’t help much.
In doing this work, focus on the personas that will get you where you want to go, and only create personas you have the resources to address. How many can you support? How much content can you create?
Remember that this is not a “once-and-done” project. Revisit the personas on a regular basis, perhaps twice a year.
Again, this is not a summary of the webinar, but my take on items of interest to me. Among other topics, the webinar also includes tips on using personas to drive content marketing. I’ll leave it to you to catch that information from the webinar yourself.