As marketers, it’s our job to create content that caters to the interests of our target prospects, organization members, and customers. Content that can be promoted and shared across a variety of channels to drive traffic to your website and generate qualified leads. BUT – before you produce all of that content, it’s critical to consider the people for whom you are producing it. Without truly knowing your audience – and what makes them tick, how can your marketing efforts be successful?
The solution is to create buyer personas.
This term may seem like one of those common marketing buzzwords that everyone is a little bit sick of, but they do serve an important purpose. To briefly define the term, a buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer (or in some cases, association member, student, etc. – whomever you are trying to attract to your organization). This representation is fleshed out by attributes like responsibilities at work, values, motivations, interests and a number of other qualities that help you determine the persona’s needs and wants. And when going through the content creation process, no blog article, white paper or even social post should be crafted without referring back to the persona – and whether it contributes to the way you’re marketing to that audience.
Inbound marketing giant HubSpot provides some insights here to get you started (as well as a free template), but we’re going to break down the buyer persona development essentials right here, right now. Let’s get started, shall we?
1. Hold a Brainstorm Session.
First things first, you’ll want to sit down with your team and think about the type of buyer to which you want to appeal. Is it Human Resources professionals from the hospitality field who are working for companies that have 5,000+ employees? Is it an SMB product manager from the manufacturing industry? It’s important to establish a point from which to launch your buyer persona creation process by highlighting the overall marketing objectives and thinking about what audience matters most to your business strategy. From there, you can decide on an approach to your research.
Questions to ask:
- What industry / target vertical do we want to go after?
- What job title (or range of titles) does our ideal buyer have?
- Do they have purchasing power? Are they the decision maker? Or an influencer?
- What is the company size? Annual revenue?
- What are we expecting them to pay?
2. Consult Your Sales Team
To start developing your buyer personas, it’s a good idea to talk to the people on the front lines: your sales people. These team members are dealing with your prospects on a regular basis, answering common questions and learning about what matters most to the customer as he or she nears the end of your funnel. They’ll likely have insights you can’t get elsewhere – and they’ll know what techniques work during those crucial discovery calls, assessments or product demos.
Questions to ask:
- What information immediately perks up a prospect? What seals a deal?
- And what turns them off?
- Are there any common obstacles to becoming a paying customer or member?
- To what marketing & sales materials do prospects best respond?
3. Talk to Your Customers
Although it may not be the first step you take, this is the most important one. We recommend holding a series of separate 30-minute interviews with 3 or 4 current customers whose general characteristics align with the persona you’re building (or perhaps potential prospects if you don’t have enough customers that match up with the type). You also want to pick customers with whom you have a relationship where they can be open and honest about this topic. When discussing high-level items like job function or purchasing processes, this may seem easy. But when you probe them about the challenges they face and what’s important to them in a partnership, you want to avoid collecting sugarcoated responses.
Questions to ask:
- What are the key responsibilities of your position?
- How is your performance at work measured?
- Are (or were) there problems or challenges you face on a regular basis?
- What attributes or values are most important to you when selecting a working environment?
- What conditions triggered a search for investing in our services / program?
- What results do you expect from working with a program like ours?
- Does anyone else impact your buying decisions? Do you report to anyone?
- What are some qualities that would make you hesitant to buy / join a specific program or organization?
4. Dig into Their Research Process
During the customer interviews, you’ll also want to ask about their research processes and where they get their information. This helps to inform your marketing strategy by giving you insights into where your audience is hanging out, what channels to use to distribute your content, and the keywords you should be leveraging in that content to make it more SEO-friendly. Plus, you’ll gain a better understanding of the marketing mediums, tone and style that best resonates with them.
Questions to ask:
- How do (or did) you go about evaluating and comparing the competition?
- What types of resources do you use when conducting research for business?
- On which social media channels are you most active?
- What keywords do you type into search engines when searching for help in this area?
- Are there any industry publications you regularly read?
5. Consider Your Company Values
Another critical piece to the buyer persona puzzle! What type of person do YOU want to work with? Again, these are ideals, not requirements. So you don’t have to think in terms of absolutes. But if your company culture and the way you do business is relatively relaxed and informal, you probably don’t want to be going after rigid personality types who have no interest in getting to know you personally. Or if you are looking for the “strictly business” professional, perhaps little small talk and zero-fluff content is what you should be producing. In any case, your buyer persona should be on the same page as you and your team when it comes to professional values.
Questions to ask:
- What values define your organization or brand?
- How can you incorporate this into your message?
- What matters most to the customer when entering a business engagement?
- How often do you want to communicate with your customer?
6. Select a Name and Photo for Your Persona
Last, but not least, you should name your persona and assign an image of a person that you feel represents them. Albeit a little corny, it’s common practice to use alliteration (ex: Vanessa the VP of Sales, Engineering Eddie, Procurement Paul) when putting a name to the face. Perhaps it helps make the persona stick? We’ve noticed this as a trend among marketers, even if it’s just for fun. Regardless, putting a name to a face makes the persona more concrete, and you can reference this ideal customer (reminder: for internal use only) when working with your team to develop more meaningful content.
Before you continue working on your next project, try building a buyer persona that drives a more specific set of marketing messages and content. Remember, you can also target more than one persona. It’s probably more efficient to concentrate on one or two to begin, but as your marketing plan begins to fill in those gaps, you can create a persona for each of your prospective buyer groups. We think you’ll find that knowing your audience becomes a lot easier when you’re equipped with a detailed buyer persona.