Shelley Pringle

Buyer Personas are Critical for Content Marketing Success

By: Shelley Pringle | July 2, 2014 | 
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Why Buyer Personas Are Critical for Content Marketing SuccessBy Shelley Pringle

If you’re creating content to help market your business, you know there’s a ton of competition for your prospects’ attention.

How do you ensure your content marketing stands out?

There are two critical steps to creating content that gets noticed and converts: Develop buyer personas AND determine what questions they will ask at each stage of the sales cycle.

This post covers the first step (and if Gini Dietrich is kind enough to have me back, I’ll write a second article covering the latter). (From Gini: Absolutely!)

What’s a Buyer Persona?

A buyer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer. Marketers develop personas by combining real data with a good dose of educated assumption.

You get real data by talking to your sales or customer-relations teams – the folks who interact with your customers on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to survey your customers to get additional feedback straight from the source.

And don’t just talk to your satisfied customers. Interview some of the people who weren’t so happy with your product or service to get a 360-degree perspective.

What Do Buyer Personas Include?

Typically, a buyer persona consists of basic demographic information along with defining customer characteristics such as needs, concerns, motivations, and pain points.

Consider Potter Paralegal Inc. This fictional company specializes in debt collection. When a client’s customer doesn’t pay, Potter provides assistance in small claims court.

Like many companies, Potter targets a wide customer base. Its clients include bookkeepers, accountants, and small business owners.

Each of these client segments is made of very different groups of people with distinct concerns and motivations. To be successful in its marketing, Potter must connect with each group in ways that are relevant to that group. To this end, the company has created a set of buyer personas that represent ideal customers in each segment.

Betty, the book-keeper

Potter’s book-keeper persona is Betty. Though Betty assists her clients with collections, she has many other responsibilities, including payables and invoicing.

If a client is unable to collect an invoice, she doesn’t have the expertise to handle small claims court. Nor does she make the decision to hire a paralegal. But she’s definitely an influencer in determining if and when a paralegal is needed.

Bottom line: Betty wants to look good with her clients.

Allan, the accountant

Allan is Potter’s accountant persona. He runs an accounting department at a small manufacturing company. If a customer drags out its payables, he’ll have someone else in his department research solutions, but he makes the final decision.

Bottom line: It’s all about the bottom line for Allan.

Sam, the small business owner

Let’s give Potter’s small-business owner persona the name Sam.

Sam is a roofer. He’s busy installing shingles and doesn’t have time to figure out what to do when someone doesn’t pay. He also would rather not have to deal with it himself. Nonpayment of debts is upsetting for Sam because the money comes right out of his pocket.

Bottom line: Sam is looking for someone he can trust.

Creating Buyer Personas

By creating buyer personas, Potter has put a human face on customer information that otherwise is largely abstract. This approach helps the company create tailored content for each of its audiences that hits home and encourages action.

So how can you, like Potter, develop buyer personas representing each of your target groups?

The first stage of the process is to divide your prospects into relevant segments. There are many ways to do this, and the best approach for your business will depend on your particular situation and the types of customers you’re targeting.

One method is to segment based on decision-maker status. Recall that Betty the book-keeper is not a decision maker, while Allan the accountant is. This difference had a significant effect on their personal “bottom lines.”

You can also consider other contact traits. Betty wants to look good with her clients. Allan wants to deliver the bottom line.

Other factors that can contribute to this process include geographic location, company size, market or industry, ethnicity, age, and gender.

Get a Deeper Understanding

Once you’ve segmented your audience, you need to learn more about them.

Questions to ask include:

  • What are their pain points?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • Is there a type of content they prefer?
  • Who do they listen to for advice on the decision you’re concerned about?

What Type of Content Will Convert?

After you’ve completed the information gathering stage, you need to think about the types of content that will appeal to your different buyer personas.

At the top of the sales funnel, prospects are researching solutions to their particular problems. Potter’s top-of-the-funnel content strategy might include a different ebook targeting each of its client groups:

  • For Betty, the bookkeeper: Top 10 Account Collection Suggestions for Bookkeepers
  • For Allan, the accountant: 21 Tips for Collecting Receivables and Building Your Bottom Line
  • For Sam, the small business owner: 10 Insider Secrets: What to Do When Customers Don’t Pay

As prospects move further along the sales cycle, additional content is required to encourage action.

By focusing on your buyer personas, you can develop messaging that is highly targeted and relevant to your customers.

A Blend of Art and Science

Creating buyer personas is part art and part science. It’s a best-practice skill that takes time to master.

If you’re new to creating buyer personas for your business, you might benefit from a handy template I created do just that.

Though they’re fabrications, buyer personas are effective tools that allow you to be targeted, specific, and concrete in your messaging. Content developed without the benefit of buyer personas is likely to be generic. And less likely to engage.

About Shelley Pringle


Shelley is the principal at Polaris Public Relations Inc., a Toronto-based marketing company that helps consumer brands build their profile, connect using content and share with social media.

  • Shelley! This is so good! The needs of different buyers can be drastically different, and you have to make sure you have some messages that speak to these different people.
    For awhile I worked with a company that sold a product for churches, and thinking about the different needs and desires of the users of the product (largely church admins / secretaries) and the decision makers (largely pastors) helped us stay focused in our messaging.

  • Eleanor Pierce Thanks, Eleanor. Understanding your buyer personas makes a big difference in how you talk to each of your different audiences.

  • I love this post 
    Also make sure your buyer personas are accurate.

    http://www.cc-chapman.com/2011/ragu-hates-dads/

  • Howie Goldfarb Hey Howie, good point. A customer survey is a good final step to substantiate the speculation done at the beginning of the process. We all know what happens when we ASSUME 🙂

  • EmilyNKantner

    Eleanor Pierce That’s so interesting! I currently work for a church software company so I consider the exact same things–and the size of the church can make all the difference in who the decision makers are. So again, the idea of adapting the message based on who you’re working with.

  • Funny, I’ve always hated buyer personas, (probably because of the dumb names they give them! LOL) but I’ve really changed my tune recently on them. They absolutely do serve a purpose, and I can’t get over how much great information you stuffed into this post, Shelley Pringle! Can’t wait for part two!

  • JoshuaJLight

    Creating buyer personas is a great way to create quality content…especially when considering the trend to approach content as storytelling.  Thanks for sharing.

  • EmilyNKantner Eleanor Pierce Absolutely! I’m dying to know which one …

  • This is really helpful information, Shelly. Thank you. I’ve been resisting this because, honestly, I probably have 10 different potential customers for the various things I offer and do. Which may be a problem in itself. But I’m going to check out the template and see if it lends a little clarity.

  • This is really helpful information, Shelly. Thank you. I’ve been resisting this because, honestly, I probably have 10 different potential customers for the various things I offer and do. Which may be a problem in itself. But I’m going to check out the template and see if it lends a little clarity.

  • EmilyNKantner

    Eleanor Pierce Elexio–we’re a smaller company out of Lancaster County, PA

  • Damian Martin You are very welcome!

  • RobBiesenbach That is a bit of a problem! I try to keep buyer personas to no more than 2 or 3. Are you sure they’re all completely different? Or do they have enough similar traits you could combine some of them?

  • JoshuaJLight Welcome!

  • belllindsay Ha! The dumb names are the best part 🙂

  • Shelley Pringle belllindsay I totally agree! Dumb names FTW!

  • This is such a great breakdown! I love buyer personas because they help in your strategy planning, but they also help keep you accountable. We always talk about curse of knowledge and it’s very easy to operate and write from that perspective. By keeping your buyer personas at the forefront you are forced to keep asking yourself “is this serving their purpose,” “is this addressing Betty’s needs,” “would Allen understand this or find it useful.”

    Can’t wait for part two!

  • Okay, maybe 10 is overstating it, but I have people who might just buy my books, corporate decision-makers who might hire me to speak, others who would hire me to do corp comm work, and agency people who bring me in to help their clients … And I’ll ignore the acting side for now! But you’re right — some of these could probably be combined.

  • RobBiesenbach Air, water, and Rob Biesenbach. Three things EVERYONE needs 🙂

  • RobBiesenbach Wow! You just cut 10 back to 4–way to go. The corp comm folks and agency people likely have similar goals and pain points. Could you combine those into one persona?

  • Shelley Pringle Yes, you shamed me into it! We’ll see how many I actually end up with.

  • LauraPetrolino And now I have my new tagline.

  • I couldn’t tell you how often I’ve seen a real disconnect between how a brand perceives their customers, and who they really are. Personas are quite important. Unfortunately, not every client will pay for real persona research and development, so a lot of it is done on the fly.

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