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Buyer Personas: The Secret to Content that Sells

Every marketer has heard it often enough: in the new era of digital marketing, content is king.

As someone familiar with the Marketo universe, you probably already know how effective the right content can be at attracting, nurturing and converting leads. Emails, landing pages, white papers, ads and social media content can work in any industry to take your leads from initial interest to closed sale.

Yet there’s an art to intelligent content marketing. To develop material that truly resonates with leads and drives them to the next stage of the funnel, you must inject your content with hooks that grab their attention and speak to their specific interests. Impersonal emails get the delete key; generic ads go ignored. Readers must feel personally addressed by the content – or they’ll disengage.

So what’s the secret to creating targeted and nuanced content? Buyer personas. By outlining profiles that describe your actual buyer segments in depth, you can deepen your insight into the customer journey and discover when, why and how your customers make those all-important buying decisions.  Armed with that information, you’ll know exactly how to craft high-impact, influential campaigns – because you’ll understand your buyers’ challenges, pain points and goals. In fact, buyer personas offer several tangible benefits that can transform your campaigns.

Go Beyond Assumptions

I think most of us rely on assumptions more than we realize. It’s easy to piece a few clues together and assume we understand our true audience and their buying habits. And all too often, we fail to notice that outdated personas are no longer relevant. Creating in-depth buyer personas will often shatter our superficial demographic assumptions and reveal surprising buyers with unexpected motivations.

Break Down Existing Categories

If your company sells software that manages medical practices, you might think you understand the needs and challenges faced by doctors and healthcare administrators. But by analyzing real data and talking with customers about their daily lives, you’ll have more insight into which physicians and administrators need to receive which messages. A doctor in a private, small-town practice will probably have very different challenges, goals and budgets than a large hospital administrator. Outlining those differences can help you inject a precision and relevance into your hooks instead of wasting the wrong message on prospects.

Reveal Hidden Barriers to Purchase

Buyer personas don’t simply reveal why customers are buying your product; they can also reveal hidden barriers to purchase. By digging into their true priorities, you may discover that a certain persona is looking for safety when buying a car, and therefore hasn’t responded to your car campaigns that emphasize style and status. Now you’ll be able to develop a campaign advertising the safety of your cars and enjoy sales from an entirely new audience.

Identify the True Influencer

Personas are also helpful in situations where purchasing decisions are influenced by multiple personas. By outlining the perceptions, power and needs each person brings to the table, you can be surprised to discover the real influencer. It may not always be the executive with the highest title or the person with final purchasing power. The true influencer may be someone deep in the decision process. Identifying that person is critical for tailoring campaigns that hit the mark, as they’re the people who need to be convinced.

Obtain Product Insight

Buyer personas aren’t just for cultivating new leads, but also deepening engagement with current buyers. The same analysis that reveals struggles and goals can reveal features and products customers are using and which they’re not – providing a foundation for upsell or cross-sell opportunities.

Provide a Funnel Framework

Complete buyer personas provide a framework for addressing leads at each stage of the process. By knowing each persona’s questions in the initial stages and the internal justifications they need to make, you’ll be able to map content to their needs at each specific stage.

Align Sales and Marketing

Buyer personas aren’t just for the marketing department. If a sales rep receives a new lead and identifies it as a specific persona, that rep now understands how to approach the lead and what kind of strategy to adopt.

Ultimately buyer personas help you develop meaningful and appealing content by putting you in the shoes of your audience. By understanding your buyers inside and out, you’ll be able to frame the message from their perspective. Crafting relevant content involves more than simply mentioning a customer pain point; adopting a certain voice, style, design and topic are all vital elements in delivering relevant and memorable content.

So while you’ll still want to pay attention to industry trends and high-level data, don’t forget to use buyer personas in your strategies. There’s no better tool to help you reach into the mind of a prospect and help them make that important final purchasing decision.

8 Comments

  1. Tony Zambito on October 10, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Ken,

    Nice recap of some of the benefits of buyer personas. Since founding the buyer persona concept 11 years ago, I find the hard part for companies is in uncovering the deep insights and information needed to inform lead gen and content strategies. Buyer personas are the vehicle by which you can communicate and inform. I offer help to anyone who may struggle with getting started and how to actually research for insights and then synthesize into buyer personas. Please go to my website http://www.tonyzambito.com where I offer resources as well.

    Thanks,
    Tony

  2. Ezra on October 11, 2013 at 5:51 am

    Great post Ken. I definitely agree that even though most companies have personas, the amount of effort placed into creating them are relatively small and leaning on several assumptions. Digging deeps definitely pays off.

  3. Matt Heinz on October 12, 2013 at 3:12 am

    So many companies ignore or gloss over this critical step. But when done well, they can grease the wheels of the entire sales & marketing effort. Great reminders here guys!

    • Justin Gray Justin Gray on October 15, 2013 at 1:31 am

      Thanks Matt – completely agree. Personas are the most important step in defining value for the company as a whole, unfortunately they are also the most misunderstood and neglected.

  4. Lori Richardson on October 14, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    Good discussion on buyer personas. Because I’m from the sales side, not the marketing side, I focus more on “sales messaging” rather than talking with sales people about personas – I like to ask them about their buyer, what they like and don’t like – what their challenges are. Same idea, and sellers “get” that. Now if we could all proactively think about this before we craft messaging, we’d all be more successful.

    • Justin Gray Justin Gray on October 15, 2013 at 1:30 am

      Thanks Lori – absolutely agreed that buyer personas as a joint discussion, not relegated to one side of the house. Only when they both participate do sales and marketing teams become truly aligned.

  5. Andrew Koller on October 14, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    Good post. My favorite book on this topic is Crossing the Chasm, but that normally refers to sales rather than marketing.

    What do you think is the reason that marketing is missing the mark here?

    • Justin Gray Justin Gray on October 15, 2013 at 1:28 am

      Andrew,
      I would say marketing simply has had less motivation historically to align as alignment often reveals their shortcommings, where as sales shortcomminsg are well advertised in a black and white manner regardless. Marketign technology has caused marketing to scramble for better quality – which has furthered the alignment discussion.

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