Do personas REALLY matter in content marketing?
Here's what personas can do for your content marketing efforts, plus audience research tips to help you get them right.
Do you know who you’re selling to – and, by extension, who you’re targeting in your content marketing?
If you’re building a content strategy, you probably have done audience research to figure those things out.
And, if you’ve done audience research, you’ve probably heard of personas, too.
A persona is a content strategy tool used to understand your audience on a deeper level and position all of your content so it speaks to them effectively.
A persona is incredibly useful because it represents the conglomeration of a lot of thought, research, conversations, data, and insights on the most important consideration in content marketing – your brand’s specific audience.
That means, yes – personas really do matter in content marketing. Let’s explore deeper.
What is a persona in content marketing?
So, we’ve already said a persona is a content strategy tool. How does it work?
A persona is a representation of your target audience. Their main commonalities, including defining traits, preferences, habits, demographics, goals, challenges, and more, are combined and distilled to create a fictional character or avatar representing your ideal customer.
This puts a face and a personality to your audience, who can easily become a faceless mass to people on your team who work disconnected from the customer experience (like content creators, who ironically have little direct interaction with your audience but are in charge of the bulk of communications).
And, if you have multiple target audience segments, you can create multiple personas to represent them and refer to as you create, publish, and distribute content.
Here’s an example of a B2C persona for a coffee shop:
As you can see, a persona can get extremely detailed. When you create one, it’s almost like reading a dating profile that makes you go, “Whoa, TMI.”
The thing is, all of these details must be backed by research and actual data. These aren’t made-up attributes. Instead, they come from studying members of your target audience, interacting with them, surveying them, and looking at data. None of it should come from assumptions or guesses.
The more you know about your ideal customer and persona, the better you can speak to them in your content, target their exact needs and concerns, empathize with them, and solve their problems. And that’s powerful.
Why do personas matter in content marketing? Key reasons to use them
A content marketing strategy that includes targeted personas can improve your results drastically. One case study found with this strategy, website traffic grew by 210% and leads increased by 97%.
Using personas can make your website 2-5x more effective and lift email click-through rates by 14%.
Why do personas work? Here are three reasons.
Personas are the manifestation of real data
If you’re creating personas the right way, they should be based entirely on data, insights, research, and real customer interactions – not assumptions.
That means a persona represents real data you’ve learned about your customers. A good persona can represent hours and hours of research, months of social listening, and countless interactions with your customers.
This is the only way a persona is valuable. But that value is undeniable to your content marketing.
Personas capture the true spirit of your customers (when done right)
Since personas are the distillation of mountains of customer research, they have the unique ability to capture the true essence of your audience.
This is invaluable when trying to target your messaging and customize your content.
How? When you use and refer to personas to create content, you’re far more likely to hit your audience in the heart or punch them in the gut with impactful content.
For example, personas can guide the tone and style of writing used in your blog posts, short- or long-form content or lead magnets (i.e., ebooks, whitepapers, case studies).
It can also guide the topics you write about or the angle you approach certain topics. For instance, if I was using the coffee shop persona above to lead me while writing a blog about gifts to give coffee lovers, I would lean toward affordable gifts vs. luxury gifts because I know my persona is budget-conscious.
Personas are an ultra-useful marketing tool
Personas are a useful tool for marketing and your entire business. They can align how you approach your customer and talk to them throughout your brand.
Sharing personas with different teams (such as sales and customer service) can inspire a better understanding of your customers and, thus, better interactions with them. And better interactions can lead to higher customer satisfaction, more sales, and more repeat customers.
You can also share personas across your marketing team to align different creators in their approach. Personas are helpful for content writers, graphic designers, video editors, and social media managers.
Lastly, personas are a valuable tool to employ as you craft your brand voice/tone and style guidelines. Your persona(s) will help inform the voice you use in content, the tone you adopt for specific circumstances, and the style and personality you craft for your brand identity.
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How to create accurate personas
The accuracy of your personas will directly affect how valuable they are to your content marketing. Here's how to ensure they're useful and precise.
Gather customer data from the right sources
There are many places to gather the data that will inform how you create your persona. These are some of the best sources.
Remember, if your assumptions aren't reflected in the data, you must toss them out the window.
- Sales team: Gather insights about your customers from your sales team – they're on the front lines of your business.
- Customer service team: Your customer service team should have tons of insights from directly helping your customers, especially about the questions your audience asks repeatedly and their challenges.
- 1:1 interviews: I always recommend talking to ideal clients 1:1 to get deep, personal data.
- Social listening: Watch and observe your ideal clients on social media to gather data.
- Customer surveys: Surveys can help you find specific information from a swathe of your targets.
- Analytics: Don't forget to check your analytics software for real data about your website visitors.
- Social media insights: If you have an audience on social media platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn, you can get live insights on them with the platform's specific tools.
Analyze and synthesize the data
Once you've spent some time gathering audience data from various sources, you can start to analyze and make sense of it.
Look for commonalities, recurring themes, and patterns as you sift through it all. What details pop up over and over? What words do customers repeatedly use to discuss themselves and their goals/challenges?
During this process, you might find multiple categories of people or different ways to segment your audience. You can use each of these categories to craft a connected persona.
Fill in persona categories
Your completed persona will look a lot like a character fact sheet. Here are some categories you should fill in based on your research findings.
- Name: Name each persona uniquely to refer to and differentiate them easily. Some brands name their personas based on their role in a company (especially for B2Bs) or their biggest defining quality (e.g., "Marketer Molly" or "Sarah Student").
- Background/demographics: What's the age bracket of your persona? What's their gender? Where do they live? What's their income, and what do they do for a living?
- Goals: What are their goals (for B2B personas, think of goals in terms of their job; for B2C customers, consider their life goals as they relate to your industry, i.e., health and fitness goals, lifestyle goals, skills goals, etc.)
- Challenges: What challenges are they most frustrated by in their work/life?
- Content preferences and consumption habits: It's a great idea to include what types of content they prefer to read when they read and what platforms they use to get it.
- Blogs they read/social profiles they follow: What related brands/influencers/bloggers do they follow and like?
- Quotes: Include quotes from real customer conversations that help define your persona. (Your customer service, sales and social media teams can watch for and collect these.)
- Photo: A photo helps personalize your persona even further. Find a stock photo of a human who encompasses their gender, age, and lifestyle and add it to your persona.
Bonus: Take your persona to the next level
Your persona(s) can be used in your content marketing and whole business as a useful tool for understanding your prospects.
For that reason, consider turning your persona into an asset. Here are a few examples:
- Ask a graphic designer to illustrate your persona with a character and turn your document into a pleasing infographic.
- Format your persona for easy reading and upload it to a shared location, like an online workspace, a file-sharing service, or a shared Google Drive.
- Link to the persona inside your content strategy.
- Create a presentation that shows your disparate teams how they can use the persona in various ways to help them do their jobs better.
Personas matter in content marketing – now go out and create yours
Personas matter in content marketing. They're a vital instrument every brand should have in its content strategy toolkit.
When done right, personas result from weeks or months of research and data synthesis. They give teams across your business a deep understanding of your ideal customer at a glance. Personas are also a boon to sales, customer service, and social media teams.
A detailed persona can help you craft the right messages and content to resonate with your audience. Your content will be more relevant, empathetic, targeted, useful, and engaging.
There are no downsides to using personas for any brand. That means it's high time you got down to business and incorporated persona-building into your strategy.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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