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Buyer personas - How they can help your marketing

Digital marketing consultant, Mark Kelly explains how developing personas can be the perfect starting point to developing a focused marketing strategy.
A lot of businesses are aware of the change in marketing from a 'broadcast' or 'outbound' model (taking out ads in newspapers, on the radio or cold calling etc) to one where you really need to create great quality content to help your 'inbound marketing' activity. That means telling engaging 'brand stories' about your business and creating engaging content in relevant places for your prospective customers to find you. But that's easier said than done - it can be quite daunting to get going with your content marketing!

Buyer personas can really help you get started and also help you keep producing relevant, engaging and helpful content that attracts the kinds of customers you want. They are also really helpful in planning and creating a great website.

I'll break this post into 3 areas - What? Why? And How?

What exactly are personas?

Personas are 'modeled' or constructed representations of your real customers (or people who may refer customers to you). Depending on your business, you may have hundreds or even thousands of customers over a typical week, month or year. Now, you can't keep all those individual people in mind when you're creating content. But you can sort them into 'archetypes' or a handful of personas that represent the most important customer types.

So, for example, if you sell paint (to individuals and also to trade) that may be 'The Professional Painter and Decorator', 'The Estates Manager', 'The Interior Designer', 'The DIY-er' etc. You'll discover these key types (your initial personas) by looking at your sales data and/or talking to store or salespeople etc. (they shouldn't be finger in the air 'made up' types based on your hunches of who your customers are).

But using these types of job descriptions won't really bring the to life for you so you'll need to
give them a real name ,and also add a photo that represents that type of person. You should also flesh out these initial persons with some other researched details against them (which I'll cover later).

Why go through this exercise?

I've already alluded to the fact that creating personas will make your content creation efforts easier (whether that's a video, a blog post or a new section of your website) but here are some more facts:

  1. Having a set of personas means your content and/or website meets actual customer needs (e.g. not your guess at what they might want).
  2. You'll have a solid understanding of where your customers spend time online - so you can signpost to your website or blog or have helpful conversations (with you helping potential customers) inside those spaces/social media networks. E.g. don't spend huge effort on twitter if your key persona is mostly active in LinkedIn groups.
  3. Creating personas and then crafting content and offers etc. that help solve problems that you've discovered your prospects may have will increase conversion rates (Smart Insights 2012).
  4. It is easier to brief a website designer and builder with a set of Personas than trying to verbally describe that types of people who you want to attract to the site. So you'll get far more effective outcomes for your marketing budget!

How do you create personas?

The best place to start is with actual data - look at your sales records and start to group customers into types.. you'll already have a good feel for who those main types are but if you can, look through your existing database/sales records and don't make assumptions before you start.

You'll probably reduce down those hundreds/ thousands of customers down to between 4 and 6 personas (it does actually tend to work like that). As well as job title/job function (if you are a B2B business) or occupation/demographic (e.g. 'Pensioner', 'Young Mum' etc.) if you sell direct to the public; you should look at additional descriptive variables that add colour to your personas.

This additional information could again come from your sales records or perhaps some market research you have previously carried out. If you have recorded very little in the past other than (say) a demographic and the value of a sale; you may need to go back out to some previous customers (within each persona group) and ask some questions:

  1. Demographic information (typical age, gender and economic status of this persona)
  2. Job function and level of seniority (if you sell B2B)
  3. What is a day in their life like? (with an emphasis on online media channels the interact with /what technology used etc.) .. e.g. do your personas live their life on a mobile?
  4. Their challenges and 'pain points' in their jobs e.g. 'I need to convince the board that any new supplier has a good track record'
  5. What do they value most? What are their goals? (in your market) e.g 'to use a supplier who can get the product to me within a day'.
  6. Where do they go for information? What is the decision journey/process like? E.g. do they seek help on specific sites like Mumsnet or ask lots of questions in LinkedIn groups? Or do they use your local town's Facebook group (if you have retail outlet/s)?
  7. What experience are they looking for when seeking out your products/services? 'I'm a bit nervous of technology so I need to be able to talk to someone or watch a video that explains how this will work'.
  8. What are their most common objections to your product or service? 'I'm not sure you offer a guarantee', 'Wouldn't it be cheaper if I did this myself?'.
  9. Why did they choose (or not) our brand/service/product : e.g. 'I couldn't tell who was behind business and I like to know who I'm dealing with'.

When you have as much of this information as possible you then create pen portraits of each of your 4 to 6 (or so) personas. The design of these can vary but a persona 'sheet' is typically an A4 summary document that features a photo that best illustrates that persona, a 'real name' (not 'The Busy Mum') and bullet points of all the information you have gathered (points 1 to 9 above). You should then pin these Persona cards/overviews up near where you create content so you always have them in mind!

About the author
 
Mark Kelly is an experienced digital marketing consultant and producer. He blogs at markkellynet.com.

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