Putting Personas in Perspective

Done well, buyer personas can be fundamental to understanding your prospective customers. Marketers typically build these archetypal profiles for insights on the buyer’s decision journey which, in turn, informs their content, marketing and sales enablement plans. Emphasis here on ‘done well’ because, like most core tactics, success lies in quality execution.

Here are 3 key lessons learned to help get the most from your investment in personas.

Go Deep. To create real value and utility for the organization, personas must be rich, data-driven profiles. Research should focus on building out an in-depth look at your target, answering questions like:

  • What characteristics do they tend to share (key demographics, skills and attributes)?
  • What’s the scope of their responsibilities – and how is their success measured?
  • What challenges and pain points do they face – and where can you help?
  • What role do they play in the buying decision and what are their key selection criteria?
  • Where do they tend to go for information to stay on top of their game?
  • What are their content preferences – by format, channel and device?

To gather those insights, you’ll draw on a combination of primary and third-party research along with input from your internal SMEs and 1-to-1 interviews. This body of work tends to yield a substantive picture of your target – insights that will have practical implications for your team.

More is not always more. While valuable, there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to personas. Being overly specific – say, creating a persona for every job title that could possibly play a role in the purchase decision – will have diminishing returns. Distinctions boil down to nuances. As Hubspot’s Joe Lazaukas put it, that too prescriptive an approach can result in “distinguishing characteristics [that] are quite often trivial at best and fictional at worst.”

We’ve helped multiple clients rationalize their persona inventory from 25, 30 and even 40+ personas to a more manageable set of priority profiles. No surprise, those original personas were largely sitting on the shelf. Why? There was little consistency among the profiles in terms of the kind of insights they served up. Few of them went deep enough. And as result, it made it too difficult to operationalize.

The lesson learned – choose your priority buyers wisely. Start by looking at the full buying center – the group who will collaborate on a purchase decision. Parse them into their key roles – are they decision makers, influencers or end users? Focus on those buyers that are the most broadly applicable to your business and your most common purchase scenarios. In many cases, five core personas will give you a solid base to guide your planning.

Value lies in Utility. So how do you ensure your now right-sized set of personas will be used by the teams they’re intended to help? Ideally, you’ve involved those colleagues from the get-go, outlining the purpose and approach, and soliciting their input on the kind of insights that’d be most useful to their efforts. Setting periodic updates and readouts on findings keep them up to date and let you incorporate their feedback along the way so that it becomes more tailored to their needs.

That socialization effort not only builds consensus and ownership for personas but also boosts the collective empathy for that prospective customer. Having that common view should also lead to a much more consistent experience with the brand.

So where do you go from here? For content strategy teams, personas are often the jumping off point for:

  • A content audit that gauges how well you’re existing inventory or planned editorial speaks to your buyers’ needs and pain points
  • A more in-depth look at which topics are on your buyers’ minds and best align with your agenda so you can produce the most relevant content, or
  • A buyer’s journey that tracks your personas’ experience with your brand from awareness to consideration and purchase to post-purchase, across channels

For personas to provide that solid foundation for your content and marketing strategy takes focus and strong execution. The pay off – more customer-centered content and programs designed to better engage your most important buyers.

Cheryl Treleaven
Cheryl Treleaven

Principal

Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.

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