In this week's guest post, Bob Scheier illustrates the value of buyer personas. Read on for inspiration!
Like most folks new to content marketing (the use of content to nurture and drive prospects towards a sale) I was eager to dive right in. I wanted to play with the marketing automation software and start blasting out content.
The one thing I didn’t want to do was what every expert recommended: Develop personas (fictional representatives) for each of my target audiences. I thought I knew my prospect base (PR professionals, product managers and chief marketing officers) well enough to come up with content that would fascinate them. Did I really need to invent a fictional name for Mr. Chief Marketing Officer? Did it matter if the PR professional I was writing for was in her late 20s or late 40s, and preferred skiing to shopping in her spare time?
But wanting to get it right, I obediently sat down and started creating my three fictional target customers. And boy, did I get an education.
The first thing I learned was how little I knew about my customers, at least as it applied to content marketing. I was used to talking to them about specific projects, such as who was the target audience for a white paper, or what corporate messaging they wanted to highlight in a specific bylined article.
What I didn’t understand as well was, for example, how the rise of social media and marketing automation affected a marketing manager’s day to day job. Was it kind of important? Very important? Irrelevant? How did budget pressures, skepticism over its value, or sheer overload from other work affect its adoption?
For my PR audience, I knew the rise of social media, the decline of the trade press and a tough economy put pressure on them to deliver more measurable results. But was content marketing (or marketing at all) a service PR firms were comfortable providing? What obstacles were they encountering, and what skills did they have in-house and what did they need from outsiders?
Fortunately, a few days trolling Twitter and LinkedIn let me eavesdrop on conversations within each group, and even gave me a feel (courtesy of those Twitter profiles that combine business and personal interests) whether each group mountain bikes in their spare time or watches Masterpiece Classic. This time-off information gave me important clues into their age (a proxy for where they are in their careers), their affinity for risk and their tech savviness. That gave me useful clues about what images and analogies to use in my content (“Imagine you’re out of control on a black diamond trail. That’s the way you’ll feel two weeks into your content marketing campaign if you haven’t prioritized your goals…”)
On a more substantive level, a LinkedIn conversation taught me, for example, how overwhelmed chief marketing officers are with multiple responsibilities, and their needs to weigh social media into other marketing/advertising channels such as direct mail. That told me I needed to create some content around such integration to help me reach CMO types. And interviewing a PR friend gave me some quick insights on building content marketing in traditional PR practices.
Talk to People, Not Groups
Finally, thinking of a specific (even if fictional) person with a name, face and personality kept me away from just repeating general observations and trends to making specific recommendations in a way that would hold their interest. I suspect that’s because it’s easier to care more about the reaction of a real person than a vague group, and makes us work harder for their approval.
Summing up, creating personas forced me to:
More precisely define who is, and isn’t my target audience, and why.
Learn enough about their needs to provide them useful information, and
Skip the platitudes and tell each of them new and useful things they haven’t heard before.
All of which helps assure the rest of the hard work I’m doing (creating content, lead flows and scoring rules, and analyzing the results) won’t go to waste.