In recent weeks we have been working with several clients on developing their inbound marketing strategies. In working through our strategy discussions, the subject of content and content creation inevitably creates much debate. The cliche that "content is king" is as important as ever. However, before this item on the agenda can be explored in a meaningful way, the question of buyer personas needs to be addressed first. Understanding and developing buyer personas is critical in order to create this valuable content that speaks to your target audience(s). At first blush this may seem to be a straight forward exercise, since most companies/businesses and marketers already know their target customers - or do they?
Buyer Personas have been around for years. David Merrman Scott has been talking about them for some time. In his book The New Rules of Marketing & PR, he discusses the importance of "buyer personas". He believes that they're one of the most fundamental aspects of great marketing. "A buyer persona is a distinct group of potential customers, an archetypal person whom you want your marketing to reach."
During these workshops we began by asking some basic questions to a variety of stakeholders within these organizations (ie. Sales, Marketing, Customer Service and Executive Management such as:
- What does your business do (in two short sentences)?
- What business are you in? (in two short sentences)?
- Who is your target audience(s)?
- Why do customers buy from you?
- How do your products and services help your customers solve their problems or meet their needs?
- Who are usually the decisions makers, their titles?
- Who are the influencers, information gatherers?
- What is the profile of the various stakeholders in the buying desision?
- What does their world look like from a day to day perspective?
These questions invariably resulted in very different answers from each stakeholder group and led to much debate when the answers were reviewed as a group. The end result was that these businesses and marketers really did not know their target audience as well as they thought. How well do you really know your target audience?
Which is why personas are so critical to your marketing success. Do you know who your business is talking to? And don't say everyone. Every business should know who their best customers are. These are the people who generate your companies' revenue. Creating personas based on this customer base is critical to targeting your message(s).
What is a buyer persona?
Quite simply, it's a composite picture of the real people who buy or might buy the products and services you sell. This buyer profile has to be considered from your buyers perspective (not how you or your business perceives this buyer to be). Therein usually lies the bigger challenge for most businesses and marketers. Historically, most business owners and marketers have framed their target audiences from their perspectives, how these buyers match what they sell. The messaging has largely been from the vendors perspective; how wonderful we are, how leading edge our products are, how many features and functions are included, how many awards we have won and so on.
I would like to caution you that personas are much more than just good old-fashioned market segmentation. If you resign yourself to slicing and dicing your market solely on demographics, you will be overlooking a great deal more valuable information, that could actually negatively impact your marketing efforts if not taken into consideration. Personas can't make a credible impact on sales and marketing strategies if their description is limited to information about demographics and pain points.
Developing buyer personas involves more than boardroom whiteboarding sessions with your team. To really get to understand your audience, you have to get out and engage with your customers, prospects, your former customers and even your competitors, customers to really understand them - their attitudes and beliefs. What causes them to buy from you or walk away from your product or service offering?
Here are a few suggested questions to begin your persona interviews:
- What compelling event or driver made you decide to look for a solution like ours?
- What process did you go through to find potential solutions?
- How did you narrow the options down?
- What criteria did you use to evaluate the options?
- How did our solution fare against the competition by those criteria?
That's what personas do.They shift our focus to the prospect, rather than us talking about ourselves.
Using personas is a very helpful tool to help you write stronger copy, create remarkable content that gets shared, develop customer service programs, makes your website sticky and ultimately helps your business drive leads and sales. If you haven't developed 3-4 personas for your brand - put it on your "to-do" list today and kick off the new year with a clearer more focused message that speaks to your target audience in their terms - not yours!
Here are some key details you will want to include in your buyer personas:
- Time in the job
- Works directly with
- Daily tasks
- Likes/dislikes about job
- Role in buying process
- Buying stage
- Photo of your typical buyer(s)
Additional information for complex sales cycles:
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