I’ll let you in on a little secret.
The buyer personas most consultants and agencies try to sell you is overrated.
To build any meaningful buyer persona, you need to analyze your actual customer behavior. You then need to identify patterns from those massive data sets.
Think of what Amazon does with all your purchase and browsing history. They tailor the website based on your behavior. Oh, and have you seen their highly targeted emails? That’s the kind of persona building you ought to be doing.
Let’s just admit it. Most of us cannot do personalized marketing like Amazon. It’s not practical with our limited budgets and available toolsets. So what do we do instead? Have no clear personas or worse, use assumptions and light research to build flawed buyer-personas.
Because it’s easier. Just outsource it to some branding agency who think they know your customer better than you. They will take weeks building fictional characters who they think are your ideal customers.
Why are buyer personas ineffective?
#1: Correlation does not mean causation.
Take a look at the above charts. Do you think that US spending on technology impacts suicides?
Two factors correlate. However, that does not mean one factor has a direct influence on the other.
How do you know if your marketing campaigns are doing better or worse after introducing personas? Guess? Or do you see the end result and look for correlation?
The truth is, most buyer persona focused marketing rely on a belief system. That correlation means causation. And it’s rarely the case.
#2: The customer buying journey has changed
Before the internet impacted our life so much, the buyer journey was straight forward. Marketing and sales people could control the entire process- from discovery to a sale.
Today, buyer journey is different. Most people have already done their research before coming to your website. Or they have multiple touch points before an actual purchase happens.
What this means for marketers is that static buyer personas are less relevant today. Customers are more empowered to take decisions on their own (HBR report: PDF).
#3: It’s difficult to put persona based marketing into practice
Personas have detailed customer demographics and psychographics. The truth is, most of your digital marketing is going to be limited to the option online channels provide you.
Most ad networks online give you limited targeting options to work with. How are you going to factor in all those persona traits into your targeting?
On social media, you have no control over who follows you or likes your page. Social networks control which content to show to which segment of people, not you. Forget the complex psychographic targeting. Most of the time, you can’t even control basic demographic targeting.
In short, if you create content for Persona A, there is no way to ensure the content reaches them. Retargeting doesn’t help you either. You are just targeting a subset of the audience you targeted earlier.
Yes, there might be one or two paid ad networks that give you more control. Organic reach in almost all networks is outside of your control. Most popular networks have limited targeting available, especially content distribution networks.
Even Facebook, which has one of the comprehensive targeting available cannot take into account psychographics.
Should you completely avoid buyer personas?
No, I am not saying you should completely ignore the concept of a buyer persona.
There are definite use cases for buyer personas. Buyer personas provide value in that they give you a framework to work with. But not enough to spend huge amounts of time or money to build out dozens of them.
In 2012, J.C. Penney underwent a radical rebrand. I am sure they had buyer personas all figured out. Yet, they failed spectacularly. They didn’t realize coupons were the driving force behind their most loyal customers.
J.C. Penney failed to understand one crucial thing- their customers.
What’s important is that you know what makes your customer buy your product or service. Not random facts like your customers own two dogs, is busy at work, and owns a three-bedroom house.
What’s a better alternative to traditional buyer personas?
If you cannot control user behavior, what else can you control?
Everything you do is content. From the written word on your website to the words spoken by your sales rep.
Relevant, useful, and engaging content makes people tick. Copywriters have known this for a long time. They make a good living using words to convince people.
If you know which content people engage with, you can use it to meet your business objectives. In other words, create a content persona, if you will.
What’s a content persona?
What type of content gets people to your website? What content genre drives people to sign up for your product? What topic convinces people about your ability to deliver and show buying intent?
Your business goals will change from time-to-time. The underlying goal will always be to get more customers. However, your secondary goals can vary from generating more engagement to acquiring viral reach. That’s why you should always map your content persona to your business objective
When to use a content persona?
Content personas are useful during content ideation, planning, or creation phase.
Based on your business objective, pick relevant content personas. Ideate and create a list of content that you can create for each content persona. During the creation process, use content personas as a framework for creating content.
How to create a content persona for your business?
Step #1: Run a content performance audit
An in-depth content audit is usually the best way to uncover information required to construct content personas.
To track individual content performance, use utm_content parameter along with other UTM parameters. Use shortened version of the URL as the value for utm_content.
The downside to this method of tracking individual content is improper attribution.
Example: Let’s say you tagged page 1 URL with utm_content=content_page_1.
A person visited page 1 by clicking on the tagged URL but did not convert. They subsequently visited page 2 without any new UTM parameter and converted. Since the last utm_content value associated with the person is for page 1, credit for conversion goes to page 1 instead of page 2.
Step #2: Analyze your marketing channels
Your marketing channels form an important part of your content marketing strategy. Performance data for your website (leads, bounce rate, etc.) can sometimes be a poor indicator if your on-site conversion is bad.
Look at performance metrics provided by various channels to measure content performance.
You’ll be able to measure total people who saw your content (impressions), and how many of those people took any action (clicks, like, retweet, etc.)
Click Through Rate (CTR) is an important metric used to measure relative performance.
CTR = (Total clicks) / (Total Impressions) * 100
If you spend money to promote content, you can derive the following values
- Cost Per Visit (CPV), the cost you incurred for each unique visitor coming to your site
- Cost Per Lead (CPL), the cost you incur for each lead generated
- Cost Per Click (CPC), the cost you incur for each click on your content within the network
- Cost of Acquiring Customer (CAC), the cost you incur for each customer you acquire
At this stage of content persona creation, you need to look at content individually. Measure content performance for each content based on metrics that’s important to your business.
Step #3: Identify patterns
Now that you have all the required data, it’s time to dig deep and identify patterns.
Patterns are trends that you can spot across various content. Example: The CPV and CPL values are lowest on LinkedIn for thought leadership posts compared to other channels. This will tell you it’s better to target such content on LinkedIn. These insights will help with budget allocation decisions for paid distribution.
Use patterns as part of insights that you add to content personas.
Step #4: Build the actual persona
Combine patterns, metrics collected, and data from marketing channels to create content personas. A good content persona identifies at least six factors:
- Content type: the format of the content- images, text, video, etc.
- Seasonality: tells you if the content gravitates towards certain seasons for peak popularity. Think Christmas gifting related content.
- Channel affinity: indicates the channel the content is most likely to work well in. For example, career-related content works much better in LinkedIn compared to Facebook.
- Audience affinity: identifies the segment of users who’ll find the content useful and engaging. Use practical targeting options available within your preferred channel to construct audience affinity.
- Scope for growth: identifies the potential scale at which content can operate optimally. Some content can meet objectives even with millions of people consuming it. Others have limits before it plateaus.
- Business goals: defines the kind of business objective the content is best suited to achieve. Can the content be best used to generate leads or attract a lot of website visitors?
You can also add content tonality, ideal content length, and any other relevant metrics.
Step #5: Keep updating content personas
Content persona behavior can change based on market conditions. So it’s important that you keep them updated at least once a year.
How to measure the effectiveness of content personas?
There are two aspects to measure.
- How does content within a persona perform?
- How does the persona as a whole perform?
Each content persona will have several content pieces associated with it. To understand the relative performance of content within a persona, use median values. Identify the median values for critical metrics as benchmarks.
Example: You have defined a content persona – “Thought Leadership”. Your audit revealed that the median CPC (Cost Per Click) for all associated content is $1.5. Now, if the new content you create withing the “Thought Leadership” person has a CPC less than $1.5, the content performs well.
To measure the effectiveness of a content persona, define few metrics that’s measurable and positively impacts your business. Use it to measure content persona performance over time.
Example: Your “Thought Leadership” persona has a median CPL (Cost Per Lead) value of $15 in January. CPL value became $13 in June and further dipped to $12 in November. That’s a clear drop in your acquisition cost which is desirable. Use weighting to account for seasonality, marketing spends, and other variables.
We need to be marketers who rely more on data and less on guesswork. Let’s start building solid content personas that deliver business results.