A Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing: Developing Customer Personas (#2 of 5)

What are Customer Personas?

Customer personas are archetypes that describe the various goals and observed behavior patterns among your customers. In other words, customer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on market research and other data you gather. 

By learning about your ideal customer—their challenges, goals, demographics and so on—you can set an effective and efficient strategy for creating content that attracts them to your business. Personas offer a framework—structure and context—for mapping content, allocating people’s time and other resources, and overall gaining goal alignment across the organization. Developing customer personas benefits your content marketing program, and company overall, in the following ways:

  1. Connection: In general, making customers feel more personal to your content team.
  2. Understanding & Empathy: Giving your team an in-depth understanding of your customer’s needs, interests and how they spend their time, allowing you to tailor content accordingly. 
  3. Retention: If you know more about your customers and can get into their shoes, the more effective you will be in appealing directly to them with your content—effectively gaining your business “better” customers.

In summary, creating specific, thorough customer personas can drive business results from your content marketing. Alternatively, if you don’t understand your customer, it’s a challenge to land on an effective content strategy for attracting them. Before you do anything else towards installing a content marketing program, you need to spend time creating comprehensive customer personas. 

We’ll show you how!

Why Personas Matter to Marketing

At the risk of sounding redundant, we want to further underscore here how customer personas can help you. At the most basic level, personas allow you to personalize and target your content marketing more surgically to the different segments of your audience. When overlaid on lifecycle stage (i.e. how far along a prospect is in your sales cycle), personas can help map out and create highly targeted content. For example, instead of sending one email to everyone in your database, using personas you can segment and tailor the messaging to what’s meaningful for each customer type. 

Customer personas make your organization better at content marketing in the following ways:

  1. Tailoring Your New Content to Personas: If you know your customers better because you’ve done personas, you can make your new content more meaningful: what resonates, what they care about, what they hate, what they’re challenged by, and so on…
  2. Re-aligning Your Existing Content to Personas: Using customer personas, you can audit of all your existing content and then take concerted steps to better align it.
  3. Using Relevant Language: Once you know how your customers communicate (per your personas), you can be sure to speak their language to ensure your messages resonate.
  4. Optimizing the Whole Online Experience to Personas: From all your site content and landing pages to the brands you choose to partner with, having personas can help make all of your online experiences more relevant and valuable.
  5. Focusing Your Approach to Marketing Channels: After creating personas, you’ll have a better understanding of where your customers spend their time online and armed with that knowledge, you can distribute content more strategically and deliberately.
  6. Allocating Your Human Resources: The same approach can be applied to your team. Say you know the majority of your audience is on Instagram, you can allocate the necessary level of support to monitor and engage with the right users on that platform.

How to Research Personas
The first step will be to gather data on your target customers and prospects. This process usually takes the form of doing one-on-one interviews and general online research.

Interviewing

You want to start by interviewing customers and prospects in person or by phone, to better understand:

  • What they like about your product or service
  • Where they live
  • What they do (their job and title)
  • What their typical day looks like
  • What information they search for and consume online, and how they find it
  • What challenges they face with respect to your product/service area and in general

Interviewing Existing Customers: 

Start with your existing customer base. They’re a perfect starting point because they’ve already bought your product and you have access to them. But be sure to not just speak with those people who love your product or service—unhappy customers can tell you a lot too, so be sure to balance interviewing between both “good” and “bad” customers. You never know, while chatting with a so-called “bad customer”, you might just win them over and turn them into a happy one.

Interviewing Prospects: 

You will also want to interview people who have yet to purchase your product and your current list of prospects are a great starting point because you already have their contact information. Be sure to leverage what you already know about them to assess who fits your target profile.

Finding Interviewees

  • Referrals: Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network to find people to interview. You can start by searching LinkedIn for people who fit your target.
  • Third-Party Networks: There are a handful of 3rd party services that can recruit interviewees for you.

Improving the Response Rate 

  • Leverage incentives – e.g. an Amazon or Visa gift card
  • Make it clear upfront that you’re not looking to sell something – i.e. that you are doing research
  • Make it easy for them to agree – e.g. by suggesting times, being flexible, limiting the time you are asking for, using a tool like Calendly to allow them to easily find a window of time that works for them, etc.

Some Questions to Ask in the Interview

  • (1) Their Personal Background
    • Demographics? e.g. their age, marital status, children – Y/N, etc.
    • Education? e.g. level, schools attended, areas of study
    • Career Path? i.e. how they ended up where they are today
  • (2) Their Job
    • Job role and title?
    • Industry?
    • Company size by revenue? 
    • Company size by employees?
    • How they are measured in their job?
    • What their typical day looks like?
    • Which skills are required to do their job?
    • What knowledge and tools they use in their job?
    • Who they report to?
    • Who reports to them?
  • (3) Their Goals & Objectives
    • What they’re responsible for?
    • What it means to be successful in their role?
    • What their biggest challenges are?
  • (4) Their Online Destinations
    • Where they get new information pertinent to their job?
    • Which publications and/or blogs they read?
    • Which social networks they spend time on?
  • (5) Their Shopping Behavior
    • Do they shop online? 
    • Do they shop offline?
    • How they conduct online research?
    • Have them describe a recent purchase (e.g. what they purchased, why they purchased, what the evaluation process was, how they made a decision, etc.)

Talking with Sales Team

Finally, be sure to solicit the input of your sales team. They’re the ones that probably spend the most time interacting with your customers; what generalizations do they have about your different customer types that you can use to inform your approach to content marketing?

Creating Customer Personas

When it comes to creating your customer personas, here are the basic steps that you’ll follow.

Step 1: Define a Spectrum of Unique Customer Types

In essence, parsing and organizing the research data to group customer types by characteristics that are meaningful to your business (e.g. age ranges, use cases, product or service types, working environment, frustrations, relationships with others, skill level, etc.). More specifically, you review all the data you’ve gathered looking for patterns and clusters of behaviors and/or attitudes with the goal of creating discrete groupings of customers based on those attributes. 

Step 2: Refine Your Groupings According to Content Goal

Like any product or service, customers consume content to solve an underlying problem (e.g. find an answer, learn something, get information, etc.). Solving that problem is their so-called “content goal”. The fundamental idea behind developing personas for your content marketing program is that the more closely your content maps to customer problems, the better it will fulfill their underlying content goal and thus, the more attractive your content will be to your target audience. So in this step you will:

  • Define the spectrum of “content goals”—the goals your different customer types have when it comes to your content
  • Refine your groupings by that spectrum—use that spectrum of goals to revisit the groupings you did in step one, taking into account those new variables by asking yourself: can some of these groupings be further split up into separate groups based on underlying content goal? In other words…do some of the people in a given group have one content goal whereas others in that same group have another? And…is the difference substantial enough to merit creating a whole separate group that is organized around creating content tailored to that goal?

Step 3: Develop a Persona for each Customer Type

Once you have your clusters of customers set, you can start writing personas for each. Remember for each customer type, you will create a composite (i.e. a persona) that typifies the full set of characteristics of that type of customer. If you are creating customer personas with your team members, come together and post all of your personas on the wall. Then, pick the most fitting features of every persona and create your final set of personas.

A customer persona template may look something like this:

An Example of a Customer Persona:

Tasks and Scenarios

Make sure to pay special attention to the Tasks & Scenarios box when completing the persona template. “Tasks & Scenarios” articulates the actions your customer is trying to accomplish with your product (e.g. tasks) and the context in which they’re trying to accomplish them (e.g. scenarios). We use the tasks and scenarios to provide color around why a customer might be consuming our content (i.e. their content goal) which can serve as an excellent starting point for brainstorming content ideas. To complete this section, write out a short list of all the tasks that customer persona type might accomplish with your product, then for each of those tasks, write out a scenario to dig into the nuances of that use case. This is gold for creating relevant content.

Reviewing and Validating Your Customer Personas

Reviewing

After you’ve created your set of customer personas, go back to make sure:

  • Each reflects a good composite of the common attributes of that persona type.
  • They come across as real. If a persona is too much like a caricature, tone it down.
  • They don’t reflect the idiosyncrasies of people you actually know. They need to be more general, idiosyncrasies can skew them.

Validating

Now you validate your customer personas by talking with customers again. This provides a good check on the accuracy of what you’ve written. You only need to do a handful of interviews and can then use the feedback received to further refine the personas.

Using Your Customer Personas

When done, make your personas prominent in your office and around the company—post them on walls, distribute to remote teams and refer to them constantly when brainstorming and refining content ideas.

August 3, 2020
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