How to Develop Personas for Your Online Marketing

Earlier this year we discussed ways to build a winning online marketing plan. The first part of that discussion included a brief overview of developing personas and using them to customize your messaging for your target audience.

Today we take a deeper look at personas and show you exactly how to develop realistic personas that will help your messaging resonate with your best customers and prospects.

Start With Your Data

If you keep track of demographics and other customer traits within a CRM tool, then you’re already ahead of the game when it comes to developing realistic personas. Look for trends that you can readily identify by answering these types of questions:

  • What demographic traits do my customers share? (If you sell multiple services/solutions/products then separate out the demographics accordingly
  • (For B2B) What role(s) does the customer have in his or her company?
  • On average, how many touch points does a lead require before they become a customer?
  • What do these touch points involve?

Analyze Behaviors

If you don’t have a CRM solution, there are still ways to get solid background data for your personas. Customer and lead behavior can be tracked through email campaigns, web analytics, social media engagement and more.

Analyzing the behavior of website visitors who convert into customers will give you a clearer picture of who you need to address in your messaging.

Buying Cues

Step backwards through the conversion funnel and look for common traits. What actions early in the funnel predict a successful purchase or sale? For example, are most of your clients also newsletter subscribers? Which actions do they take most often: downloading whitepapers and case studies, or chatting with a sales rep?

Making a purchase takes trust, and trust has to be built gradually through many interactions. If customers are consistently downloading materials before purchase, you can be sure that they are conducting research before they buy, and the same can be true of conversations with sales reps.

The difference is in the types of questions they want answered. A case study for a particular industry may be highly valuable to others in that same industry as it answers questions about how you’ll work with others in the same niche. A chat with an online representative zeros in on specific needs and has more immediacy. Also, a real-time chat may be used to gauge your responsiveness and expertise “on the fly”. All of these interactions are glimpses into the needs of a particular persona when properly aggregated by the type of purchase that is ultimately made.

Conduct Interviews

Interviews are the most effective means of getting the information you need to build a proper persona, but they are also the most expensive and the most time-consuming.  One way to integrate persona interviews into your current online marketing plan is to make them a part of your typical sales meetings and discussions with prospects.

This works remarkably well because many of the answers you need to build a successful persona are the same as those you need to close the sale. Instead of focusing solely on demographics and other “basic” information, take the time to dig deeper with value-based queries such as:

  • Why is the person or company looking to make a purchase right now?
  • What problems/challenges does this lead face?
  • Why are the solutions to these problems/challenges important?
  • What are the consequences of not having the right solution?
  • How will they select the vendor/provider to provide the solution?
  • Why were the selection criteria chosen?
  • How do they prefer to interact with the vendor/provider?
  • What do they absolutely not want in a provider/vendor/solution (i.e. deal breakers)?

Pay particular attention to the answers to the “why” questions, because these will give you the reasons behind their needs, which are reasons you need to address when marketing to each persona.

What’s Next?

After you’ve conducted all the research, analyzed buying trends, and gotten answers to your interview questions, what do you do with all that research? In a word: categorize. Start grouping customer profiles based on the kind of solution they need, the kinds of problems they have, their goals, or any other common factor that makes sense for your business.

Once you have your customer profiles in specific groups, start looking for commonalities – not only in demographics, but in other traits as well. For example:

  • Do these customers rank their problems in a similar way? (i.e. 85% of customers who purchase X are looking for an answer to problem Y)
  • Which factors most influence the buying decision?
  • What questions do these customers ask, consistently?
  • Why are these customers choosing us over the competition?

Your persona will initially look something like this:

Persona: Janie Doe – 35 years old, works in customer acquisition, management role

Chief problems/pain points: Client needs a fast, simple way to keep track of lead interactions, past conversations, and sales for previous customers. Because of constant travel, client must have an integrated mobile access to any solution.

Ideal Solution: Mobile application that provides seamless integration with web and desktop apps. Triggers alerts for specific lead statuses as selected by the client.

Preferred Method(s) of contact: Social media – Twitter – or email

Most likely to purchase when: Quarterly sales numbers are coming due – two to three weeks prior

This is a solid starting point for both sales conversations and messaging for your online marketing. Already we see that this is a potential client who thrives on mobility. This means several things:

  • The mobile website for your company needs to be easy to navigate – chances are, this client isn’t going to be doing research at her desktop
  • Marketing copy needs to focus on the benefits of your app’s mobility, and custom alerts.
  • Your online outreach needs to include social media (Twitter specifically) and your email marketing campaign needs to demonstrate clear value.

Over time, as you get a more nuanced refinement of each customer persona, you will likely find other important details that can make or break a sale. It’s up to you to address these details both in person and in the marketing copy you use to attract leads.

Building personas takes serious effort and attention to detail, but the end result is a tighter, more effective marketing campaign. When you reach out to your leads, do you have a specific persona in mind? If not, it’s time to create them!

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