One of the keys to smart content planning is making sure that content is linked to a clearly defined Persona.
A couple years ago, we helped a large manufacturing organization struggling to gain market share among distributors. Their sales team also struggled with how to approach each negotiation because every customer interaction felt unique.
Because we had seen this many times before, we knew if we took time to listen carefully to their customers, we would identify common needs and preferences that would allow us to split the distributor market into manageable Personas.
Sure enough, after analyzing the responses from a number of customer interviews, we identified four unique Personas in the distributor market. The primary differences between these Personas related to the ideal relationship they wanted to have with a manufacturing vendor and to the way the distributor ran their own business.
Company size, geography, or product mix were not good predictors of the customer differences. However, once they were identified, we believed they held the keys to more effective relationships across the market.
Now came the time to road test our Personas. We met with the sales teams at four different divisions that sold into this market.
Each session followed the same pattern:
- Description of four Personas including 1-2 key accounts that fell into each Persona
- Pause as the sales team digested the information
- Excited recognition that the Personas applied broadly across all their accounts
- Vigorous discussion about how the team could be more focused in communication based on matching accounts to Personas
- Conclusion that the Personas would also make it easier to train new team members
Working with Personas changes how you communicate with your audience. When you communicate effectively you both win.
Personas change the conversation within your team. Mountains start moving out of your way when everyone aligns around a common understanding of the customer.
We’ve written this guide to highlight the many benefits from adopting Personas as a content marketer. Throughout you’ll find links to additional resources for getting started and then going deeper with your own Personas.
Table of Contents
Why we wing it when it comes to writing to the audience
How detailed does my Persona need to be
Start the Persona Party
- Connect with audience on a deep level
- Build brand trust
- Develop better buyer journey
- Target your content promotion
- Optimize your website experience
- Get your boss’s attention
- Support sales team more effectively
- Increase alignment throughout the organization
- Plan more effective content
Why we wing it when it comes to writing to the audience
The cardinal rule for creating content of any kind is…
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
Okay, that admittedly probably didn’t need a drumroll because as marketers, we all know this. Still, how many times do we plan a content calendar or create a new piece of content without taking into consideration our exact audience and their needs.
We’ll get you started answering that question by giving you just a few of our favorite excuses:
- We feel pressure to get content out the door
- We’ve been doing this for a for a long time and we already know what works and what doesn’t what works
- We don’t have enough time to do additional research
- It is too difficult to get a representative view of our audience
- Defining target audience at a detailed level is a political hot potato
Rather than go into a lengthy list of details on each of these excuses, let’s get straight to the point. The easiest way around these excuses is to make a modest time investment to build a small number of Personas that represent the most important groups within your audience.
Before we go on, there’s something you should know.
Marketers don’t agree on the definition of Persona…
...or the most important aspects of a Persona description…
...or the nuances that distinguish Audience, Target Market, Customer Segments, and Personas.
Ok, we said it.
Now that we have that out of the way, we’ll give you our view. Our view is motivated by the belief that what matters most to a marketer is how different individuals make choices at each step of the customer journey and why they choose the marketer’s offering vs.an alternative.
First, we’ll weigh in on the most valuable aspects of Personas and how to get started creating or updating them. Then, we’ll take a deep dive on what’s in it for you when you make the commitment to Personas.
How detailed does my Persona need to be?
Building and socializing Personas takes discipline and time. It’s easy to ask if the juice is worth the squeeze. Can’t we get by with our years of customer experience rather than taking the precious time to create formal Personas?
Fair warning. You stand to lose a lot when you take shortcuts in favor of what feels like (at the time) a simpler approach.
Let’s look at an example. Comparing differences among the four most recent US presidents highlights the risks to approaching your content strategy without considering the unique Personas present in your market.
Imagine for the moment that you represent the foreign affairs departments of one of the most influential nations around the world outside the United States. When planning foreign policy or communication with the US, if you took a target market approach (e.g., size, geographic location, population), or even narrowed in on the primary decision maker based on title, role, and responsibilities (e.g., president), you might be convinced that you wouldn’t need to update your strategy every time someone new was elected. In your eyes your customer (the president) would be the same. However, it is obvious that your approach would miss a great deal unless you took into account the unique behaviors and preferences of the specific individual in office.
What you need to maximize your success is a Persona. In the example above, the president is the target Persona. When your audience has tens and thousands of decision makers, you need a way to simplify and capture the most relevant differences between those decision makers and easily communicate them with your team.
When we have well-thought out Personas, we know:
- How they fit into our target market
- What customer segment they belong to
- The role they play in the buying process
- Their unique behaviors and preferences when it comes to our product category
It’s important to keep in mind that effective Personas act as a quick reference during the planning and creation for each new piece of content. That said, your Persona descriptions should be simple.
How simple exactly? Check out our Persona eBook complete with a manageable Persona template and the support you need to to complete each section.
Start the Persona Party
Remember, the ultimate goal for building Personas is to clearly describe the different stakeholders you serve in a memorable way so that you clearly understand their targetable characteristics, behaviors, and preferences. Moreover, the goal when using those Personas is to plan more effective content and other marketing activities in order to build a strong relationship with your audience.
Ready to dive in? Download our Ultimate Guide to Building the Best Personas and to get this Persona party started!
On the other hand, if you’re not convinced that allocating a bit of time to building out Personas will strengthen your content strategy, then the rest of this article is for you - you’re welcome to keep reading. Without further ado, here are the nine benefits that come when content marketers adopt Personas in their content strategy.
1. Connect with your audience on a deeper level
We’ve all likely experienced an example of marketing content where we came away thinking that individual, brand, or organization really “gets me.” Achieving that intense level of empathy is the entire goal, right? It should be a no brainer to carve out some time for identifying or reviewing customer needs into the content planning process.
If you take the time to get to know your audience - especially what they want, what they need, how they behave, what they value, etc. - then your content will deeply connect with them - and more effectively communicate with them. You can ask these 10 questions to stay focused on customer needs.
Need more convincing? Here is a study of the medical device industry that highlights the gaps that can easily exist between businesses and their customers when it comes to understanding customer needs.
2. Build brand trust
Gaining customers’ trust takes a lot of time and hard work. It’s sure easy to blow it if we fail to communicate effectively. One way this happens with brands is emphasizing benefits or features that don’t resonate with a particular Persona.
Fostering a deep understanding of your customers and following through with genuine, consistent interactions, you can be more effective at earning their trust over time.
Content that speaks directly to the key struggles of your audience is a fantastic way to build brand trust because it gives a sense of quality that can’t be substituted in other ways. And Persona centric content can be part of a broader content strategy to build brand trust.
3. Develop a better buyer journey
A descriptive Persona not only provides details for WHY your audience may choose you over a competitor, but it also tells you something about HOW they make that choice. Spending the time up front to capture some of the basics around your Personas’ media consumption habits, their search process when looking in your category, and their likely purchase channels can make all the difference in building content that reaches and engages your audience or gathers dust in a lonely corner of the Internet.
Documenting how your customers make choices enables you to perfect the distribution channels and timing for content delivery because you have a clear understanding of the buyer journey.
4. Target your content promotion
Content must be consumed to be effective. Paid promotion is likely a part of your content strategy. With Personas in hand, it can be easy to dial in your target audience for sponsored content on social media. The same can be said for programmatic ad buying and other paid advertising channels.
5. Optimize your website experience
Personas can help optimize your website in multiple ways. The most immediate impact can come by doing an audit of the home page and other major pages on the site to compare the pain points, benefits, and CTAs found in the headlines and primary copy with the characteristics of the Personas. Aligning website copy to your highest priority audiences not only improves traffic but improves the right kind of traffic.
Navigation and organization of the site should be built to make it easy for each Persona to feel welcome on the site and find the information most relevant to them once they arrive. This can go beyond industry- or role-specific landing pages and get built into the copy on those pages by clearly identifying the major differences among your Personas.
For example, a page targeting IT execs my have copy or call outs that speak directly to different Personas’ pain points so that once an IT exec lands on the appropriate page, it is easy for them to go one step further because they easily recognize the next step, i.e., solving their pain.
6. Get your boss’s attention
It’s easy to focus on the day-to-day of planning and creating content. Still, the value of content will only be appreciated if it moves the business forward towards its goals. Having content plans linked to Personas and then linking Personas to business outcomes is a great way to have a high impact conversation with your boss.
Here are examples of 5 metrics that can be used to connect different groups of customers to business value. You can get started using these metrics yourself with this easy to use worksheet calculator. [link to metrics/rockstar calculator tool]
7. Support the sales team more effectively
Personas are a great resource for sales teams. They can be used to train new sales team members as well as increase the effectiveness of your top performers.
Once the sales team starts working with Personas they can more clearly identify the major differences among your Personas when working with prospects, particularly the top pains each of them are experiencing. This helps them to identify the appropriate next step earlier in the sales process and tailor each interaction to the needs of the customer.
8. Increase alignment throughout the organization
In a Content Marketing Institute survey sponsored by Vennli,
- 71% of respondents said their organizations were challenged prioritizing marketing activities for one audience over another
- 61% said their organizations were challenged in knowing what was most important to their audience
- 41% said they do not have or are unsure if their organization has a documented content strategy.
A lack of a defined strategy creates gaps in creating alignment across the organization. Not taking the time to build Personas, or building customer segments based on demographics alone, only heightens this gap and creates uncertainty in marketing teams.
When you take the time to articulate clear, strong Personas and share them internally, you create a common currency throughout the organization. Marketing, sales, customer success, product, every single department in the organization, knows who you’re offering your services to, what their needs and wants are, what their pains are, how they behave, etc. When everyone is on the same page with this level of knowledge, the organization is able to more effectively communicate with one another and better serve your customers. It’s a win-win.
9. Plan more effective content
Once you think about it, it is obvious that different individuals need different content to answer their questions and help them move through their journey. But, without Personas your content calendar will feel more like spray and pray than a buttoned-up content strategy.
Creating and maintaining different streams of content for different Personas or different versions tailored for Personas takes planning. You’ll have the tools you need to tailor your content to particular groups within your audience once you have the Personas laid out in front of you.
Adopting a smart content planning approach ensures that your content is organized around the appropriate business objective, is targeted to the right Persona and right customer journey stage, and is aligned with the rest of the organization.