The proliferation of content and the availability of more granular data have created an atmosphere where marketers must understand more about their audience than just their business title and industry. Successfully competing in the ever-expanding content ecosystem requires that marketers know their audiences well enough to understand their preferences and deliver targeted, impactful, relevant, and even sharable content.
Enter content personas, profiles of people likely to buy your product or influence the buying decision. Instead of telling the story product teams want them to tell, marketers are looking at what their audiences want to hear. Taken one step further, some marketing thought leaders are talking about creating completely personalized content that goes beyond addressing the needs of a cohort group to finding and addressing the concerns of specific individuals.
If you have the ability to really understand your audience at the unique individual level, you can use that information to create highly personalized content. For many of us, that level of individualization is just not possible or necessary. Instead, we look at creating content for highly defined groups of people with shared interests and challenges. As part of a strategic marketing program, we create audience personas and use those models to define and refine our messages in hopes of engaging the people most likely to buy our product or service.
In their original form, personas were broadly defined groups of people based on general traits, such as professional title, industry, and geography. These broad cross-sections were generally identified based on current customer profiles and sales leads.
Our need to cut through the noise on the Internet has given rise to tools that allow us to track user activity engagement across our own websites, off-site, and even off-line in some cases. Using these data points, marketers can now create audience personas that include:
- Specific behaviors
- Buying patterns
- Message responses
- Purchasing habits
- Preferred channel engagement
- Social media channels
- Search habits
- Email engagement
- Preferred device usage
- Narrow demographics
- Company type
- Marital status
- Parental status
- Style and tone preferences
“The availability of a lot more data points allows us to slice and dice data and group people according to more specific information than just the traditional traits like age or gender and move on to knowing our audiences at the behavioral level,” notes Erin Robbins, GinzaMetrics President.
The Audience Persona – How Personal is Personal Data?
How much do you really need to know about your potential audiences? Is the granularity of the information different for B2B or B2C companies? If you’re a B2B marketer, do you need to know what sports your audiences like? If you’re not selling ice cream, do you need to know what flavors your audiences tend to eat?
The goal of creating marketing personas is to develop a model of who you’re talking to as a way to stay relevant to your audiences. In theory, if you create content specifically for your audience personas, you’ll forge a better connection and deliver relevant content that matches the problems they’re trying to solve when they search on the Internet. If you want to start a conversation, or get someone’s attention, you’ll have to know enough about their likes and dislikes to make it worth their while to communicate back.
If you don’t have enough information about your target audience, your content may not be aligned closely enough with their challenges and desires. Having too much information may mean you aren’t focused enough on the behavioral data that can inform your content creation and you’re getting lost in minutia that doesn’t necessarily inform your decisions. The key to audience personas is getting the right data to allow you to create the right content at the right time and deliver it on the right channel to get a response to meet your goals.
According to Erin, “In regards to the final sale, it may not matter what someone’s favorite flavor of ice cream is or what sports they like. But, getting to know your audience a little bit better and letting them get to know you a little bit better can help you create a connection that goes beyond just feature-level conversations.”
The Role of Negative Personas
When we talk about personas for marketing, we’re most often talking about buyer personas, but there are other people who fit within the persona profile that aren’t engaging with your brand. We call these audiences negative personas. Developing negative personas helps us to understand why people or groups of people within our target audience haven’t yet engaged. It helps us to identify their unique needs or traits and to craft messages specifically designed to engage them.
Creating negative personas begins with identifying the people who are somehow in the realm of where your content has been, or is going to be, and then segmenting them into groups. Negative personas can be segmented by those who have:
- Never bought
- Considered buying, but are unlikely to complete the purchase
- Missed opportunity
Opportunity and missed opportunity are people who have actually engaged with your brand, product, or service, and are either still considering, but haven’t moved forward in a long time or people who have tried or engaged and considered, but still haven’t purchased. It’s important to know why these people who have traits that seem to match your personas aren’t converting. Once you’ve identified similar traits among these groups, you can do two things:
- Create buyer personas based on a narrower target group of people who are more likely to convert.
- Find similarities between people who don’t convert and craft messages to persuade them back on track.
Creating negative personas is important to understand the behaviors, likes, and dislikes of those within your audience who haven’t historically converted. Once you’ve created negative personas, compare them to your buyer personas to understand the differences and determine what is keeping them from completing the buyer journey. Once you have an understanding of what makes them unique, you can make strategic decisions about what you can do differently for those audiences.
Although most people don’t focus on the audiences that seem least likely to convert, evaluating your “never bought” audiences may help you to identify miscues in your marketing efforts. If someone is searching and reading about your industry or issues around your industry, but not engaging in your content, you have to ask yourself:
- Am I delivering my message to the right place?
- Is the message I’m delivering suited to the audience?
- What changes do I need to make to become more relevant?
- Is this the correct target for my message?
“When considering audiences for content, most people throw away the “never bought” group. What they don’t realize is that there’s actually some interesting and important information to gather from this group of people who are in some way targeted or in the way of your content,” notes Erin.
Creating Connections with Audience Personas
Creating audience personas that are meaningful to your brand means getting more specific than just identifying professional titles and industry. While you’ll want to include those things in your profiles, you’ll want to know something more about how they spend their day and what they care about.
“I really look at persona creation as being similar to dating,” states Erin. “If you’re a man and you’re looking for a woman, you’re going to start out with all females and then narrow it down to the pool of available single women and then target an age and a geographic area so you can start to develop touch points.”
This is similar to working with personas. Once you’ve established your population of potential targets, then you can start looking at behavioral and interest information. Just like dating, it’s hard to date too many people at once. You end up feeling confused and fragmented. Keep your audience personas to a few key profiles and target your communications to them. Trying to be too many things to too many people will probably end up with a diluted and meaningless brand image.
Using Erin’s dating metaphor, when you’re ready to create content, think of it as you would planning a date. If you’re taking out a woman who’s really into music, you might want to take her to a concert or a bar that plays live music and bring her a bouquet of drumsticks. Similarly, if you’re dating someone who is vegetarian, you probably want to avoid steakhouses and hotdog stands. These are things that are considered common courtesy and show that you’re listening and care about the person you’re trying to engage.
Use the data you gather on your personas to keep your messages relevant to your audience needs. There’s nothing worse than going on a date with someone who only talks about him or herself. Don’t be that person. Talk about what your audiences are interested in and deliver your message in ways that are most interesting to them.