"I tried content marketing, but it didn't work."
I can't tell you how many times I've heard that excuse. In fact, if I had a nickel for every time a business owner has told me that, I'd have enough to run a content marketing campaign that proves them wrong.
The truth is, marketing never works if you don't have a clear goal, direction, and target audience.
It's like saying, "I tried Google maps, but it didn't work," without ever having entered an address.
People often get the goal part right; we are usually pretty clear on what we want. But where they often fall over is in creating a direction for their marketing campaigns, and one that targets a specific audience.
That specific audience part is crucial. Even simply targeting 'a specific audience' isn't going to deliver the goods, you need to be speaking to 'your specific audience.' So how do you know who your audience is?
That's where marketing personas come in.
Marketing Persona Definition
Also known as buyer personas, marketing personas are basically a made-up version of your typical customer. You've seen that CGI picture of the world's 'average face,' made up of millions of photos from around the world merged into one? It's kind of like that, but for your marketing efforts.
Marketing personas are based on real-life information about your customers. Stuff like buyer behaviour, demographics, interests, goals and motivations, user behavior, and typical challenges faced.
Usually, you'll have more than one marketing persona. Two to three is pretty standard, even as many as 5-7 for larger corporations with a whole host of products and services. For many of you, though, you should be aiming for around 2-4 personas.
That's because people buy from you for different reasons. As you do your research (which you'll learn about soon), you'll begin to realize that not all of your customers are alike, and that they probably fall into some pretty distinct sub-categories.
Why You Need Marketing Personas
You can't hit a target with a blindfold on. In the world of digital marketing, that's akin to running an entire marketing campaign without any idea who your audience is. Customer personas for marketing help you visualize the kind of person or people you're speaking to. So they help to refine your marketing messages.
They also help to determine the tactics and channels you choose. For example, Business Owner Bob, the 60-something owner of a spring manufacturing company, probably isn't going to see that targeted Instagram ad.
It's also a great idea to share your marketing personas with your sales team, as it will help them understand who they're dealing with, how to engage with them, and how to close that deal!
At a high-level, buyer personas also give you a good indicator as to required product development, as you constantly tweak and adjust your service offering to serve your audience better. From a marketing perspective, it will help guide your content creation and distribution. Basically, anything marketing-related starts with the customer persona. Clearly, there are several major benefits of creating marketing personas.
How To Develop Marketing Personas
Step 1: Collect Data
The first step in developing your marketing personas is to gather some data. Don't make the mistake that many do and assume you know exactly who your customers are. You might, but chances are you don't.
There are three main places you should look when gathering information:
Leverage The Data You Already Have
Jump into your sales CRM or marketing software, and start pulling out as much information as you can. Ultimately, it depends on what your team has actually entered (crap in, crap out). Still, if your data is well-kept, you should be able to get some insights into:
- Average deal size
- Typical customer locations
- Demographics such as age and gender
- Common roles - e.g., Director, Marketing Manager
- Average time it takes for a lead to turn into a purchase
Talk To Your Team
Who knows your customers better than the people who are talking to them every day?
Your sales and support team literally spend all day calling, emailing, and visiting your customers. You’d be foolish not to head down to the sales floor and ask them a question or two. Plus, you’ll probably learn a thing or two that you can’t from speaking to customers.
For example, your salespeople are going to know the crucial phrases or snippets of information that turn your prospects from a maybe to a yes. Well, you should hope they do. You can’t really get that from an interview with a customer or prospect. “Hey, what do we need to tell you, so you’ll give us money?” doesn’t really go down well.
Interview Your Customers (And Your Non-Customers)
While your data and your team are great places to start when creating marketing personas, you should by no means rely on them. Interviewing your customers is the number one way to get a good overview of who they are, what they care about, and what drives them to make a purchase.
At Roketto, we’re regularly creating marketing personas for our clients. This is what our internal persona development checklist template looks like:
You’ll notice that the first step is: “Propose incentive ideas to client.” Not everybody is going to be open to filling out a survey with nothing in it for them, though, so it’s always a good idea to offer some form of incentive in exchange for their time. Maybe it’s a discount off their next purchase. Perhaps they get put into a draw to win something they’d value. It doesn’t have to be much, but it needs to be motivating.
You should also be clear that it isn’t a sales email, you’re not trying to pitch them anything else. People tend not to enjoy that, so make it abundantly clear that you’re simply obtaining information for future use.
Customer Persona Survey Request Email Template
A survey can be a great way to show respect for your customer’s time as well. To save you even more time, here’s our template for inviting customers to take part in your marketing persona survey Feel free to customize as needed:
A/B Split Test That Survey Request
We've done a ton of A/B split testing to develop this persona email template and encourage you to do the same for your audience. A little extra effort can have big results.
For example, if you have a customer list of over 10,000, don't just send out your survey request right away. Test 2 different subject lines and calls to action or incentives on the first 1,000, see which one results in the most survey submissions, and send THAT version to the remaining 9,000 customers.
What To Ask In Your Marketing Persona Customer Survey
You’ll want to keep it as short and sweet as possible. Too long and chances are your customer will switch off and won’t complete the survey, or just select random options. Keeping the questions multi-choice is a good idea too, but you will need to make sure each question has a purpose - only ask for the information you need.
We typically like to split our surveys into six sections:
- Job details
- Watering holes
- Shopping preferences
- Previous purchase with your company
How you go ahead and ask those questions is up to, but bear in mind that some of the questions you’re asking might be considered personal. It’s best practice to include a “decline to answer” box, and try to keep the survey light and humorous.
You should try to ask questions about:
- Marital status
- Annual income
- Job title
- Educational background
- Job requirements
- Company size
- Goals and motivations
- Challenges they face
- Social media use (platforms and time spent)
- Other web usage
- Online shopping preferences
- Associations of networks they are involved in
- What influenced their previous purchase with your company
Of course, not all types of questions are going to be suitable for all verticals. If you're in a B2B company, for example, questions about your buyer's company, role requirements, and specific goals and challenges, are going to be absolutely vital. These might be less important for you if you're in the B2C space.
Step 2: Collate and Extrapolate
With your survey results in hand, it's time to consolidate that data and make some conclusions about your typical customers.
We've found that the best and easiest way to do this is by dumping all of your data from the survey form into a spreadsheet app such as AirTable or Google Sheets and pull the data you want out with pivot tables so you can create visually friendly bar graphs.
Below are some examples of the data work involved in creating rock solid personas, where the business we’re creating personas for in this fictional example is a major appliances store.
Looking at the above graph, we can clearly see there are two distinct buyer groups: 36-55yo, and 55+. Let’s dig a little further.
This is an interesting insight. Given over 84% of our buyers are female, we can safely assume this applies to both age groups.
Careful analysis of these figures highlights something of particular interest; this company can earn the same potential revenue from focusing on less than 10% of their total current audience. In creating your marketing personas, it is important to determine whether those ‘whales’ are easily identifiable in other brackets.
For example, chances are those big spenders are over-represented in higher income brackets, as well as property ownership and employment type.
We have a fairly even income distribution, which doesn’t seem to have a huge correlation to the average annual spend on appliances.
Further analysis of these particular survey results didn’t indicate a correlation with any of these factors. In fact, the big spenders were spread fairly equally across all categories. This is an important observation. It’s challenging to target big spenders simply on the basis that they are big spenders, as you don’t have any other form of information on which to base your marketing efforts!
Step 3: Build Out Your Personas
It’s time to turn all those numbers into people!
As you continue to collate and analyze your survey results, clear trends and a picture of your typical customer types will start to emerge. Just a heads up, this part is really exciting! If you’re close enough to the action, you’ll probably even start to recognize some of these trends in your actual customers: “Oh, that’s just like James. And Steven!”
Primary and Secondary Personas
Chances are, you’ll identify two or three subgroups of customers within these results, which is precisely what you want. Let’s say you’ve found two. It’s common practice to form a Primary Persona as well as a Secondary Persona. This guides your marketing tactics and decisions; you might put more spend into Primary Persona-targeted ads, or perhaps create content that actually applies to both.
Marketing Persona Requirements
At a minimum, your summary should include:
- Occupation or role
- Relationship status
You might include other information that is specifically relevant to your business. In this example the client is a home appliances store, so an important section might be to include how often customers update their appliances. Or if you know more about your ideal buyer, like in our persona example above, you may ask them how many homes they design/build each year that will need appliances
Give Them a Story
Most marketing personas include a little bio or story, which provides a narrative or snapshot of the buyer's key characteristics. Humans are hard-wired to connect to stories, it’s how we’ve passed on knowledge for thousands of years, so this is a fantastic way to help communicate persona characteristics to your team.
Marketing Persona Example
Completing Your Marketing Persona
The remainder of your persona document will depend a little on your business, but you will likely want to include these three areas:
- Challenges or pain points
- Needs (what they are looking for out of your company)
- Purchasing preferences
Particularly important in creating B2B marketing personas is including a section on Goals. This would focus on what your buyer is trying to achieve in their role (whether they are the company owner, a marketer, or sales manager).
Knowing what their responsibilities are, and what they are aiming to achieve, will help you to align your sales and marketing messaging with their goals. If you can show them how your product or service will help them achieve those goals, you’ve already got a foot in the door.
Other helpful areas to include in your marketing personas might be any common questions that particular customer type has, as well as a description of how your company helps them achieve their goals.
Step 4: Negative Personas
Another highly valuable exercise to complete while creating marketing personas is to create a negative persona.
You can't sell to everyone, right? That's the whole point of developing marketing personas in the first place. However, even if your targeting is strong and your marketing efforts are delivering tons of quality leads, your sales team still isn't going to close all of them. It's just impossible.
If you can avoid having those “pain” leads enter your pipeline altogether, then you'll be saving your sales people time and allowing them to focus on leads that are more likely to turn into sales and generate revenue.
An excellent way to identify critical characteristics to form a negative persona is to interview previous prospects who didn't buy from you. This is not a case of trying to find where you can make changes to improve, not that that's a bad thing in itself. Instead, you are trying to understand trends that tell you, "This person isn't going to buy from us."
Negative Persona Example
Let's say you are selling inbound marketing services, and you have the following 3 service package price points:
In your web lead form, you can ask prospects for their monthly marketing budget range. If they select under "$5,000/mo", that could be an indicator that they may not be the right fit for you.
Another question for your prospects might be how soon they need to see results and ROI. If they absolutely need results within 3 months, they probably aren't going to buy from you, because inbound marketing takes time.
The more trends and characteristics you can learn about the people who don't buy from you are just as valuable as those who do, as you will be able to quickly discern which prospects to prioritize, and which are not likely to be a fit.
Step 5: Using Your Marketing Personas
Once you've got your marketing personas sorted, you should start embedding them in absolutely everything you do. Here are a few places you can begin.
Align Your Email Marketing
I'll never forget something my father once said to me: "There comes a time in every man's life where you stop collecting phone numbers and start deleting them." I'm not quite there yet (single ladies apply below), but it seems an apt metaphor for email marketing campaigns.
One day, you'll get to the point where your email list gets so big you start to think, "Who are all these people, and why are none of them emailing me back?" Chances are it's not the volume that's the problem. Chances are, you're sending the same thing to everyone.
That's not such a problem when you've got 100 emails in your database. When you've got 10,000, though, you need to do something about it. What you need to do is segment your email lists. And the best way to segment them? By customer personas.
Think about it, if you have only three different buyer personas, then any email you send is only relevant to one-third of your list. Now imagine if you have eight. So, consider segmenting your email lists as soon as you have your buyer personas sorted, and start sending relevant, valuable, targeted emails.
Track Personas In Your CRM
Data is king when it comes to making marketing decisions, and one piece of invaluable data to have access to is how your different personas perform. Most CRMs have a field for customer personas, but you can generally add a custom field if not.
With this field created (and a persona assigned for each lead), you can start to ask some helpful questions and answer them using your CRM data:
Number of new leads by persona
Average deal size by persona
Average time to sale by persona
Close rate by persona
Rates by persona and salesperson
With this information in check, you can draw some valuable insights which lead to well-informed decisions, such as:
- Focus more on Persona A as the average deal size is much higher
- Assign all Persona B leads to Salesperson Y as they work really well together
- Develop your marketing automation campaigns to delivery content you KNOW that particular persona will be interested in and move them down the funnel
Get Leads To Self Identify
Once you've got your marketing persona fields created in your CRM, you actually have your new leads tell you which one they are!
Obviously, you're not going to give them the full details of your personas, but it's a good idea to include a field on your lead forms that asks for some form of identifier.
A typical example is occupation. Let's say you have three personas. Your Primary Persona is a business owner, and your secondary personas are either retired or in some form of management position. In this scenario, you could include a field that asks this question, which would tell you immediately which bucket they go in.
This is fantastic for automated email campaigns, assuming you've followed our advice and segmented your email lists.
Self Identifying Marketing Persona Example
At Roketto, we have several people download our inbound marketing guide each day. We ask the simple question “how would you identify yourself” with the first 2 options aligning with our personas, and then some other options afterwards.
If the downloader matches one of our personas, they are automatically entered into an automated email campaign, where we’ll periodically send them more content we think they’ll be interested in (and move them down, or out of the funnel). If they do not match a persona, we simply let them be.
If there's one thing that's certain, it's that creating marketing personas is no five-minute job, far from it.
You'll need to dedicate hours of your time into planning, interviewing, analyzing, and documenting your findings. Trust us, though; it's time well spent.
Well crafted marketing personas give you the ability to:
- Boost brand engagement
- Better understand how your leads perform once they're in the funnel
- Create strong, relevant, targeted content
- Improve your email marketing campaigns
- Generate higher quality leads
I can't imagine a single company on this planet who'd decline the opportunity to improve in any of these areas, so you can see why marketing personas are so valuable.
We know, though, that it's difficult to find the time to create them, so if you're struggling to make space to get started, give us a call. We're here to help.
Chris is one of the managing partners at Roketto. His area of expertise is digital marketing and loves sharing and educating on topics like Google Ads, CPC bidding tactics, Google Analytics, and marketing automation. When Chris isn't in the office, he enjoys playing volleyball, mountain biking, and hiking with his American Eskimo.