Did you know that 52% of marketers support 2 to 4 roles and buyer personas with dedicated content, and the top 3 drivers of blog content strategy include personas, audience demographics and buying stage?
Thorough and well defined personas are the first step in any marketing program. In order to map journeys, target, personalize, and engage, companies must have personas that define a myriad of interests, behaviors, and attitudes. But to create those personas requires an investment of time and resources. So how can organizations move forward with persona development that meets the needs of the company from a first touch through advocacy?
The term persona is not new to a lot of marketers. However, what we understand persona marketing to be, and what persona marketing should be, tends to be different. How do most marketers approach persona marketing, and how should they actually approach persona marketing?
It helps to look back and see where personas became part of our business vocabulary. Personas actually began in the world of software development, and they were intended to help developers and engineers understand the human being on the other end of the tools and technology that they were building. And it was a way of humanizing a list of product requirements that helped them make better decisions based on empathy and an understanding of an individual.
Persona development has since become the proven initiative for increasing the effectiveness of what we do in marketing, the sales enablement we provide, as well as product development.
Unfortunately, many companies don’t have the resources in place to effectively research, create, and share those personas internally. So they don’t realize the irrelevance of their message, for example, until after a product launch, or when a campaign underperforms. In fact, SiriusDecisions recently found that 60% of B to B organizations don’t fully understand their buyers. I think this happens because companies tend to be the centre of their own universe.
Persona based marketing is nothing more than taking the time to understand the lives of the individuals who interact with any kind of purchase decision. Persona marketing allows you to speak their language, address their problems, and convey your message on their terms. This should be at the forefront of your marketing strategy, not an afterthought.
Personas are often developed and owned by marketing. Who within an organization should leverage personas, and how can marketing engage them in the development and use of personas?
If you walk down the hall of your organization and ask your sales team, your product team, and your marketing team, to describe the buyer, would the answers be the same? Marketers are increasingly looked to as the in-house resident experts on the customer in their organization.
In a recent study by the ITSMA (IT Sales and Marketing Association), they found that B to B marketers worldwide think that their number one priority next year will be understanding buyers. Marketers know that buyers are changing, and their best tool to compete is solid insight that drives more relevant decisions.
We must not only get this insight right in marketing, but also give sales what they need to have empathetic conversations.
I love personas as sales enablement tools to help sellers see the world through the eyes of their prospects. They become much more effective, much more powerful in what they do day-to-day. And personas can, and should, be put into action across every single department that ever has an interaction with a customer.
For companies that are beginning to define their persona research process, what are some best practices that you could provide them?
First of all, kudos for getting started. It’s the hardest step. I have a few simple tips that we see as really helpful to get started in the persona process.
Number one is to build an internal team. We recommend representatives in sales, customer experience, support, product development, and even a C-suite member be included where possible to help drive buy-in and adoption.
The next step is to use that internal team as a collaborative part of the persona development process. Sales and customer support individuals talk to clients every day, and they have insights from these front lines that can be really helpful. Keep an open dialogue with them, because it helps you to stay on top of evolving trends and new priorities that are emerging in the world of your buyers.
However, be aware of the internal bias that these teams do have. They will by default, even unintentionally, take the worldview of their employer. Be sure to use research, and have real conversations with real buyers. Persona interviews take time and effort but they will reveal the true perspective, vocabulary, and priorities of your audience.
What are some initial steps companies can take to recommit to, and refresh, their persona process?
We were shocked to find that personas are mostly updated only when there’s a marketing regime change, and that can mean years go by without refreshing persona insights. Consistently refreshing the persona is key to staying relevant. Just look at your own job. Has anything in your world as a professional changed in the last six months? New influences, any new legislation you need to look at, any new priorities? Of course the answer is yes.
Things change. Personas should be thought of as living and breathing entities. Have them reflect the real day-to-day environment of your buyers. Stay on top of topics that are top of mind for the customer, like new laws in the market that are affecting their decisions, market conditions, new influences, and news events. Your buyers are not static. You personas should not be static.
We recommend refreshing the persona with multiple streams of information from external research, internal perspectives, and additional rounds of interviews, or qualitative surveys that are done once a quarter, once every six months, or whatever the cadence is that you can support. This will keep your messaging current, and most importantly it keeps you relevant.
That of course is the holy grail of marketing - relevance.