What do effective marketing and PR messages have in common with memorable fiction? They both rely their creators developing and maintaining a vivid mental image of characters. But while a fiction writer uses that mental image to give us the likes of Alex Cross, Nancy Drew, Atticus Finch (my favorite hero), or Olivia Pope, the communications professional uses her imaginary characters (called marketing or buyer personas) to create attention-grabbing, persuasive campaign messages.
Marketing personas are fictional characters that depict the general attributes, goals and behaviors that characterize your potential and current customers. Since your customers and prospects are unlikely to be all alike, experts recommend that you create three to five different personas to reflect your different target groups. And just like the fiction writer, you’ll have to put in some behind-the-scenes grunt work to figure out what makes your personas tick and research relevant attributes to ensure that you’ve gotten them right.
Why go to all that trouble? Well, knowing your audience enables you to effectively address their needs and interests, so taking the time to craft these characters can make all the difference in your message truly hitting the mark. People respond better when they feel that you really understand them than when they feel that you see them as part of a faceless market segment. But you cannot frame your message that effectively without understanding your message recipients and keeping their personalities and attributes firmly in mind whenever you’re creating copy or content for them. So, what goes into making your personas?
Developing Your Persona
Even though personas are fictional, they need to be real to you. Give them names, find photos that represent them (and thereby their market segment) and most of all, base them on facts. Base their characteristics on information from your co-workers in sales, customer service and business development as well as from buyers themselves. You can supplement that data with your website analytics (e.g., keywords used to find you, how much time prospects who turned into customers spent on particular pages, etc.) as well as social media listening/monitoring.
Once you’ve collected your data, organize the facts into profiles that can guide you as you’re developing your communications. Below is an example of the information you’d include in a persona’s profile (we’re using a B2B customer as an example):
- Job role
- Type of organization – industry, size
- Demographics – age, geographical location (urban, suburban, rural), sex, salary, education, marital status, household
- Challenges – What’s preventing them from achieving their goals? What job-related frustrations have they voiced?
- Values – What’s important to them (as related to their job and industry)
- Personality traits
- Information-seeking habits – What are their professional development resources? Where do they obtain work-related information?
- Who influences their purchasing choices? – Who do they consult? Do they have to get a supervisor’s authorization for this purchase?
- Common objections
Below is an example of what a persona profile might look like:
Data Migration Manager
Manufacturing company, mid-size
- Skews male
- Early to mid-40s
- Average salary: $74,000/yr
- Urban location
- Bachelor’s degree
- Smooth and timely migration of data across manufacturing sites, sales offices, and the corporate headquarters.
- Gaining department leaders’ buy-in for company-wide implementation of new system
- Improving data quality
- Keeping communication flowing smoothly among team members and external consultants
- Managing expectations of business leaders regarding acceptable success rate, risk mitigation, etc.
- Addressing departmental resistance to change
- Managing team members disbursed throughout the country
- Team members pulled from other departments so only able to give part of their time to data migration
- Tight timelines
- Project plan usually does not reflect full scope of data migration needs
- Keeping to the timeline
- Giving team members support, mentoring, and professional development
- Keeping abreast of industry standards, developments, and best practices
- Acquiring industry contacts
- Fast-paced work style; prefers to-the-point communication
- Calm under stress
- Natural leader
- Conferences and industry events
- Industry-related blogs
Purchasing Choice Influences
Ranges from full authority over budget to being able to approve any expense up to a limit (e.g., $75,000)
“What’s the cost/benefit?”
“I don’t like being sold to. If I need your services, I’ll reach out to you.”
“We may need it, but we just don’t have the budget for it.”
As I mentioned, this is just an example of the information that could be included in a personal profile. Some marketers advocate including a “day in the life” so that you can see habits, goals, challenges from that perspective. The information that you actually include will vary according to your business. The only universal rule is this: leave out extraneous information. E.g., you don’t need to know if Kevin has a pet; unless you have a preexisting, positive relationship, he’ll probably be annoyed if you talk about his home life instead of getting to the point. The persona is tool that should help you focus.
Once you’ve created a persona profile, don’t just stick it in a file drawer. Use it. Post it somewhere when they write, add photos to your persona profiles and put them where you can’t miss them when you’re writing your material.
You also may want to consider sharing those profiles. Not only can marketing personas help you craft more effective messages, but they can also influence your overall content strategy, campaign or even the direction of your business. E.g., your research and development department may make changes to your product/service based on the needs, goals and challenges you identify while crafting personas.
So, even though you’re not writing the Great American Novel (yet), you still have something in common with the Great American Novelist: A well-crafted character may very well be the key to success.