Content marketing is all about connection. You want the stories you tell to grab attention, bring people in, and make a strong impact. But how do you do that effectively? Contrary to popular belief, good content marketing doesn’t start with a good idea (shocker, I know). It starts with understanding who you’re trying to reach through your content. That’s why you need marketing personas.
These simple tools are the secret to telling stories that resonate and making relationships that last.
Why Every Content Team Needs Marketing Personas
According to the OnBrand 2017 State of Branding Report, only 47% of respondents said their strategy included a deep understanding of marketing personas. This isn’t surprising. Many people have content marketing backwards.
Oftentimes, marketers vet their story ideas by asking, “Would I be interested in this?” This is a huge mistake. Content marketing isn’t about what your brand wants or what you’re interested in. It’s about what the people you’re trying to reach are interested in.
Good content marketing is a conduit between a brand and its people, allowing the brand to deliver meaningful, useful, and valuable content that people need and want based on their aspirations or problems. But many marketers don’t totally understand what their people’s needs and wants are.
Instead, they create content without a clear idea of who they’re trying to educate, engage, or inspire, then send content out into the ether with the blind hope that someone somewhere will come across what they’ve created and like it. Unsurprisingly, this content usually fails.
But it doesn’t have to. Marketing personas can save the day. Marketing personas fill in the blanks, helping you intimately understand the people you’re trying to reach: the problems they’re dealing with, the issues that affect them, their secret hopes and aspirations, the things that drive them (whether they know it or not), etc.
What Are Marketing Personas, Really?
In essence, they’re a combination of someone’s character traits, attributes (e.g., age, demography, and geography), and psychographic information (what makes them tick). All of that combined serves as a representation of an actual human that you want to attract.
Basically, marketing personas are a comprehensive “map” of their minds and personalities, helping you see the world from their perspective. With this X-ray super power, you can find, vet, and tailor your ideas to fill in the gaps, ensuring your content is interesting and relevant.
Not only does this give you a huge leg up on your competition, it makes it easier to form a genuine relationship with your people and become their go-to resource for the info they want and the info they don’t even know they want—yet. This is hugely beneficial for two simple reasons:
- People are more receptive to what you have to say if they perceive you as someone who adds value to their life.
- It makes coming up with content ideas a lot easier because it reduces the guesswork that generates wrong or irrelevant ideas.
Tl;dr? If you want to do content marketing well, you need marketing personas.
How to Create Marketing Personas in 4 Steps
There are many ways to create marketing personas. It can feel intimidating and overwhelming, which is why some marketers give up entirely or end up with half-formed personas that don’t really give them the insights they need.
We don’t want you to get stuck, so we’ve broken down the process into simple steps, including our best tips (and a free template) to make it as easy as possible. If you’re starting from scratch or need to give your marketing personas an overhaul, here’s how to do them the right way.
Caveat: We base our marketing personas on real people we have done business with and have come to know and work with over the years. (This is definitely an ideal position to be in versus starting from scratch.)
If you are just starting out and working through product-market fit, this may take some time, trial, and error. I recognize not everyone has the luxury of already having clients.
Step 1: Ask the Right Questions
On the surface, the people you’re trying to reach are probably not a homogeneous group. They have different fears, worries, and concerns, but they do have one thing in common: they can use your product or service. Thus, your goal in making personas is twofold. You want to know:
- What things do they have in common? What do they desire or need help with?
- How do those things relate to your product/service? How can you fulfill those desires or solve those problems through content?
To uncover this, you will need to talk to directly to your people. But first, you need to identify what it is you want to really know about them. There are a million attributes you can identify, from their favorite podcasts to their preferred type of workout, but it’s important to hone in on what is most relevant. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can better tailor the questions you ask.
To start, make a copy of our free marketing personas template spreadsheet. This is a sample of the type of demographic and psychographic information you may want to define. You can add, edit, or tweak relevant items as you see fit.
Pay particular attention to the job-challenge questions in the template, as these speak to the heart of what people deal with on a regular day. These questions also address things like the problems they’re trying to solve, as well as the risks they’re attempting to mitigate.
We find that focusing on these ideas more heavily makes it easy to develop high-level content ideas, whereas some of the other inputs, such as interests, hobbies, or age, are useful items to consider when developing tone, design aesthetic, etc.
Note: Some of the geographic or psychographic information may seem tedious or unnecessary for coming up with good content marketing ideas. But if those inputs help you better understand who you’re trying to reach, then the more information you have, the better and clearer your content will be.
Step 2: Talk to People
You may, like us, have long-standing relationships with your clients and a deep understanding of their needs and desires, but it’s still important to take the guesswork out of it. Go directly to the source to find out as much as you can. You can consider this the “research” phase of crafting marketing personas.
Your goal is to find out as much information as possible about the people you’re trying to reach so that you can find the common threads and fill in your marketing personas in detail.
There are many ways you can get this information. You can ask questions via in-person chats, calls, and emails. You can comb through customer surveys or online feedback. (It’s also helpful to loop in sales and customer service at this stage; these are the people who have the most direct contact with your customers.)
Ultimately, the goal is to have as much info as you need to develop well-rounded and thoughtful marketing personas.
Step 3: Consolidate Your Responses
Once you’ve collected your responses, gather your team to collate and condense. Comb through your research to identify the common threads, concerns, hopes, desires, and challenges people face. Sometimes you may notice a common theme or even phrase in your responses. These are incredibly valuable.
At this stage, you want to create a rough draft of your marketing personas. Block off an hour or 90 minutes, depending on how fast you move and how many personas you’re attempting to map. (It’s helpful to take about 20 to 30 minutes per persona.)
First, identify how many personas you’re going to create (at least three is helpful to start). When we did this for ourselves, we segmented personas as people who work at the same organization at different levels of seniority.
(Note: There is no wrong or right way to do this. Your business and your goals should dictate your approach to how many marketing personas you want to create.)
Next, start to brainstorm the attributes for each identifying element in your template, based on your research. Write everything down and refine as you go so that you have a succinct list of attributes for each question. For example, you might have three to five items for “fears,” whereas you might have a range for “age” (e.g., 35-45).
We find that it’s helpful to whiteboard this out first. This enables our team to stay focused and interact with each other in real time. It also helps to have one person facilitate. By the end, you should have a loosely defined group of personas.
Step 4: Finalize Your Personas
Once you have your “rough” personas, it’s time to refine and vet. Make sure you have a name for each, and circulate your personas for feedback from relevant people (e.g., your sales team or company founder). Once refined, memorialize these in a Google Doc or Excel spreadsheet that is easily accessible.
Use these finalized personas to brainstorm content. Going forward, you should be able to identify:
- Which persona will be interested in the idea
- Why that persona will be interested in it
Make sure to regularly review and update personas as well.
Remember: Always Put Content First
The best way to get people to listen to what you’re trying to say is to first make yourself useful to them. You can do this by teaching them something new or creating something that they simply find interesting or entertaining. If you lead with this type of content (instead of only what you’re tasked with communicating as a brand), people will be more receptive and attracted to your content.
Of course, there are a million things that influence and affect your content operation, from departmental directives to your editorial calendar. Luckily, in addition to marketing personas, there are several things you can do to ensure your content is as effective as possible.
- Make sure your strategies are aligned. Document your brand strategy to ensure that your content strategy supports your ultimate goals.
- Tell a consistent story. Use this brand messaging framework to help you tell a cohesive story in every piece of content you create.
- Measure your success. Make sure you’re tracking the right metrics for your content strategy.
- Use empathy when you brainstorm. Learn how to do empathetic content marketing that shows people you really “get” them, and try these prompts to come up with better content ideas.
- Assemble the right team. Here are the roles you need to fill to create a strong content operation (even if you’re a two-person team).
- Bring in re-enforcements. If you’re struggling to get content out the door consistently, extra help may be needed. Here are 12 questions to help you find the right content agency.
Of course, feel free to hit us up if you need someone to talk you off the content ledge.