Content strategy: Use personas to see trees in a forest
Your content strategy, personified
Content strategy consists of focusing your business and aiming your marketing efforts.
Content strategy is a digital marketing pursuit. It takes place largely on the Internet – a vast, dense, worldwide forest of people, most of which aren’t even remotely interested in what you have to sell.
So, how do you craft a content strategy to appeal to your ideal customer? How do you identify the perfect type of tree in an overwhelming forest?
Pragmatic Marketing describes them this way: “Personas define the ideal profile of a potential buyer or user.”
I’ll get into the difference between a buyer and a user a bit later. But I think personas are the best way that startups, entrepreneurs and freelancers can aim their content at the people that they’re best able to help. Let me explain.
How content strategy is like tapping maple syrup
This morning I had pancakes for breakfast, with plenty of melted butter and lots of sweet maple syrup. I know, not the healthiest, but it was mighty tasty!
It got me thinking, “What if your business was that of a maple syrup harvester?”
Think of maple syrup as your revenue stream. Only a few tree species produce sap that can be made into syrup suitable for human consumption, so only those trees are of interest to you.
But the world (fortunately) is still populated by uncounted trees around the globe. Those trees come in a fantastic variety of species, and are often in nearly impenetrable forests. How do you find your unique revenue source?
- Maple trees only grow in certain parts of the world.
- Maple trees have specific characteristics: size, shape, leaf configuration, bark profile, fall colors.
- When you see a maple tree, you know you’re looking at a maple tree.
Find the trees that match those qualities, and you’ve got your revenue source.
Personas do the same for your business.
Personas make your content strategy human
Okay, so you’re probably not planning to tap sap to make money. But you are going to focus on real people, aren’t you? Actual human beings?
What do they look like? Where can they be found? What jobs do they have? What are their issues, their needs? What specific needs will your business serve?
Define those things, and you’ve identified your perfect persona, your maple tree.
Content strategy and personas: B2B vs. B2C
Your content strategy, and the personas you define, will differ depending in whether your company is Business-to-Business (B2B) or Business-to-Consumer (B2C).
B2B companies exist to make people’s jobs better. B2C companies exist to make people’s personal lives better.
So, here are more detailed definitions of personas in these two settings:
B2B Persona. If you market to other businesses, then a persona is a composite profile of an individual whose job success is impacted by your product offering. B2B personas are based on individual functional roles and needs in a work setting.
B2C Persona. If you market to consumers, then a persona is a composite profile of an individual whose personal or family life is impacted by your product offering. B2C personas are based on individual personality, attitude, behavior and lifestyle.
Note that both persona types describe an individual, not a group, using a profile of several defining characteristics. It’s easy to understand this focus on individuals in a consumer setting. But even when selling to businesses, you’re selling to individuals, too, not to the whole business itself. In both cases, specific people will view your content and make buying decisions about your company.
Often your business will need to target several different types of people to be successful. That means that you’ll need to define multiple personas, one for each unique type of person served.
Personas help you picture your ideal buyers
The whole point of creating personas as part of your content strategy is to help you understand your ideal buyer or buyers. What makes them tick? What do they care about? What problems are they dealing with that you might help solve?
That means that the more you know about each persona, the better you’ll be able to serve them. You might even go so far as to attach a representative portrait to each persona and give each a unique name. That way your targets have a face, a name and a personality. They’re individuals, not statistical segments.
How to create a persona
To create a profile of your ideal perfect customer, you’ll need to collect everything that you already know plus any new information you can learn about them.
When you’re in early startup mode, you might have to create personas using assumptions, internal discussions and research. As your business progresses and you attract real customers, you’ll gather more and more information about your ideal prospects.
As a result, a persona isn’t a static document; it should evolve and get better over time.
Also, be sure to spend some time early on to decide whether you should create multiple personas. In B2B, your product might serve different job roles in a particular industry. In B2C, you might serve different family members (mom, dad, child, etc.).
What’s in a B2B persona?
Here are some common elements you’ll need to define in a B2B persona:
- Job role (what an individual actually does, not their title)
- Buying center or budget that funds their purchases
- Common titles
- Who they report to (job function, not title)
- Challenges and pain points
- Buyer role
Let’s look at a real life example from a client of mine. Their B2B product was crime analysis software for police and other public safety agencies. Here’s what we sketched out for one of their personas, which we named Colleen:
The highlighted items are the really important characteristics, ones that I would encourage you to emphasize in your own persona development.
Colleen’s job role is to conduct crime analysis on a day-to-day basis. The core element here for content strategy was to identify the specific challenges and pain points of Colleen’s job. If we could understand those, we’d be able to craft information for Colleen’s persona that resonates and has a real connection to her work situation. That’s the main goal of B2B content marketing!
What are B2B buyer roles?
There are usually multiple people involved in a business buying decision. This is especially true for bigger-ticket items, in which buying committees make collective decisions.
While several people may have a stake in the buying decision, each individual is likely to play a different role and have a different perspective.
A B2B buyer role, then, is a characteristic of each persona that specifies their role in the B2B purchasing process, including their unique concerns and authority.
SiriusDecisions has studied B2B buyer behavior extensively and has identified five different buyer roles, each with unique concerns.
Colleen’s role was that of a user; she would use my client’s crime analysis software on a daily basis to perform her job function.
But we also identified several other personas that were central to marketing crime analysis software. Their buyer roles included Champion, Influencer and CxO.
What’s in a B2C persona?
There are many different elements that could go into a consumer persona. At minimum, you’ll want to consider individual
- Demographics (population segments)
- Psychographics (thoughts and ideas)
- Behavior (actions)
Beyond these, think about where each persona spends time on social media. Also, similar to the B2B challenges and pain points, identify his or her personal challenges, fears, hopes, dreams. Finally, what influences this persona? What would make her life easier?
What are B2C buyer roles?
B2C buyer roles are simpler than those in B2B. I narrow them down to just two: buyer and user.
A buyer is someone who actually pays for something, whereas a user is going to benefit directly from the purchase.
If you’re buying for yourself, with your own money, you’re both a buyer and a user. But if you’re a parent, you may be the buyer and your child the user.
Consider maple syrup again. One persona here is the grocery shopper in the family: the buyer. That persona is likely to care about price, ingredients, and packaging choices. A second persona might be a teen-age child in the family who loves pancakes with maple syrup: the user. He or she is likely to care about taste, calories, and whether or not the syrup can be heated in the microwave.
Accordingly, if you were to create content for each persona, you’d have different messages for each.
Content strategy depends on personas
It can be challenging to define and refine personas; they take a lot of effort and thought. But they’re an essential part of an effective content strategy because they help you aim your marketing efforts at the right people.
In a future post, I’ll show you how to create a content map that defines the specific information you’ll provide for each persona in your sights.
Until then, think about the people you intend to serve with your business. Then start building personas to develop a better understanding of their wants and needs.
And do let me know how that’s working for you!
See you in the forest.
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