Let me introduce you to Ray and Janine.
Ray is an experienced entrepreneur with a fast-growing service business with several successful exits behind him. After 15 years, he knows exactly what he needs to focus on and it’s not the content marketing.
In order to meet his aggressive business goals, Ray knows he needs to assemble a lean marketing team that can handle the strategy and execution. He wants more time with his family so he’s focused on leveraging his time.
Janine is an in-demand online coach with a passion for teaching other people. Her core offering is a premium membership program that includes dozens of hours of training materials.
Her content is top-notch, but it’s all behind a paid membership. She’s frustrated with her current marketing and doesn’t have time to create even more content.
You know what’s interesting about Ray and Janine? They don’t exist. Not physically, anyway.
These two people are fictional avatars of our customers at Fluxe. They represent the types of people we want to attract and help.
Ray and Janine are our buyer personas.
A buyer persona (sometimes called an audience persona or customer persona) is a collection of detailed information about your target customer. It’s an avatar that represents the people who are most likely to buy your product or service. It includes all the information you need to craft effective messaging, imagery and offers.
When we create a piece of content, we ask ourselves “Is this for Ray or Janine?” Then we turn to our personas for reference to craft messaging that speaks to that person.
For instance, we know that Ray is a middle-aged guy with a slightly conservative background. The word “YOLO” is lost on him. That word doesn’t just fail to connect. It actively pushes him away.
But Janine, who's in her mid 30s, keeps up with the latest trends and language, even if she doesn’t use them herself. She used the word seriously when it was trendy, but now she uses it ironically. We can use it like she uses it.
Being successful with content marketing means crafting messaging that connects with your audience and builds trust. Buyer personas help you categorize what you know, identify what you need to learn, and organize it all so it’s useful.
If you try to create content that appeals to everyone, it will turn out weak and watered down. It will be less valuable than it could be, thus reducing the impact on your marketing goals.
Joe Pulizzi at Content Marketing Institute says it nicely: “It’s incredibly difficult to monetize an audience of everyone.” If you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one.
Every business needs at least one persona, but your business may require several. You need a persona for each distinct segment of customers, but only if their differences change your messaging, actionable data and offers.
A CEO of a small company who also manages the marketing would probably have the same problems and needs as the CMO of a slightly larger company, so there’s no need for two personas. A university, however, would have distinct personas for students, parents of students, faculty, alumni and donors.
There’s no limit to how many personas you can have but I suggest keeping it as concise as possible. Most small to medium size businesses have between one and three. If you find yourself with more than six, you should either narrow your focus (you can’t serve everyone) or be less specific with how you discriminate between groups. You can always make distinctions inside your personas.
Creating buyer personas is not about making assumptions. You need qualitative and quantitative, objective information. You can get this information in two ways:
The litmus test for a great buyer persona is this: Is every data point in your persona actionable?
Even if it seems like a great question, if you can’t figure out how to apply it in your customer lifecycle, get rid of it. Below is an example of a few Persona traits for the Fluxe target audience. Can you spot which two data points don’t pass the litmus test for us?
If you guessed the number of kids and background, you were right. Those might be actionable for some businesses but they aren’t immediately actionable for our personas.
Our Target Buyer Persona Template is an excellent place to store your data. Answer each question truthfully. If you don’t have an answer to any question or field, find it. Don’t leave this document incomplete.
One quick note about our template: Customize your personas for your business, product and customer. While the template is comprehensive, it might lack a key insight specific to your audience. Feel free to amend the template as you see fit.
Now let’s dive into the template. I’ll explain each box for you to complete.
It may seem silly to create fictional people to organize your information, but it helps us think about our personas as real people instead of spreadsheet rows. It also simplifies team communication. You can say “We’re putting this offer together for Emily,” or “We’re writing that article for Hank.”
Start by giving each persona a name that fits their avatar. If your customer is a 19 year old girl in California, I guarantee her name isn’t Agnus.
Further, attach a photo of your persona. You can use a stock photo or something you find through a Google search. The face should match your customer. If you’re selling to women over 60, the photo should be a woman over 60.
A word of caution: Avoid using a photo of someone you know, even if that person is your ideal customer. It’s too easy for your relationship with that person to influence the persona.
Next, summarize your persona in a few sentences. Include basic information that sets the scene. The purpose is to introduce the persona to someone who hasn’t “met” your customer.
This is a brief, high-level view of who they are, what they do, and what they want. Don’t get bogged down by details yet.
Here’s an example:
Maggie is a 33yr old professional in a high cost of living area. She is the marketing manager at her medium sized company. She feels overworked by little, repetitive tasks.
Since the description is a summary, it’s easiest to write it after you’ve completed the rest of the persona. I’ve included it first because that’s how someone would read the document.
Demographics are helpful for starting to get to know our target audience. They don't give us specifics but they do help us deepen our search.
Check out the gif below. I think of demographics as zooming halfway into that picture of SeaWorld : ) You know the general area but not enough to know exactly who your persona is if you were to meet them on the street.
A high school educated 22 year-old woman from Detroit making $30,000/year lives a different life than a 50 year-old man from Beverly Hills making $175,000/year. Those two people have unique problems that require specialized solutions and messaging.
Here’s a good starting point for demographic info to include in your persona:
That said, don’t lean too heavily on demographics. Even within demographical groups, people have unique needs. We need insights that help us connect. You have to drill deeper, which we’ll get to next.
Next, we need insights that explain what’s going on in your customer’s head. We want to know how they think, what problems they face, and what solutions they expect.
Complete each mindset category thoroughly. Most people have multiple goals. Write down everything you know, even if they don’t directly relate to your product or service because they help you understand the person better.
Before customers buy a product or service, they experience a problem. After they buy, that pain is relieved. Customers are really buying the transformation between those two states.
As marketers, our job is to help people transition from a before state to an after state. So it’s important to know what the customer looks like before they buy your product/service and what they look like after. This helps you craft messaging that bridges those two states.
The Before and After grid asks five questions. Answer each question twice – once in regards to the customer’s before state and once in terms of their after state.
Click the image for a closer view.
Your customers’ wants and needs change as they become aware of their own problem and the solutions available. They go through three basic phases:
We go through these stages for every problem, but it usually happens quickly. For example:
In that example, the journey happened instantly. Online, it takes more time, so you have to offer content that speaks to your customers when they’re in different parts of the journey. If your messaging, imagery and offers don’t align with your customer’s phase in the journey, they won’t connect with it.
For instance, let’s say you’re a lawyer signing people up for personal injury cases. Someone comes to your website trying to determine if they have a case, but you immediately push for an over-the-phone consultation.
The prospect isn’t ready for that yet. They need to understand their own problem before they’re willing to consider solutions.
On the template, fill out your customers’ status during each of the three phases of the customer journey.
Click the image for a closer view.
A trigger is an event that causes the customer to take action. By understanding triggers, we can directly connect with people experiencing problems we can solve and position our offers to solve very specific and relevant problems.
We want to focus on triggers with the highest impact and predictability. A job promotion has a big impact on someone’s life, but we can’t predict it. A birthday is predictable, but isn’t impactful (unless you’re selling birthday gifts for 8 year olds).
There are three types of triggers: Internal, external and seasonal.
Internal triggers are thoughts, ideas or feelings that happen within a person that would lead to seeking a solution. On your template, answer each of the internal trigger questions.
External triggers are events and circumstances outside of the customer’s control that spur them to seek a solution. One your template, answer each of the internal trigger questions.
Seasonal triggers are easy-to-predict events that create opportunities for smart marketing. A birthday is a common seasonal trigger, but your industry surely has predictable months, days or times when customers are more likely to make a purchase.
There’s only one question on the worksheet to answer: What happens regularly that affects their purchasing habits?
We may speak the same language, but the words we use vary depending on our interests, goals, status, feelings, subgroups, and a million other variables. Take note of words, phrases, clichés, or patterns of language your customers use.
Do they use text-message abbreviations? Religious references? Are they comfortable with stock market shorthand? Do use Latin concepts? Maybe they communicate by passing memes.
People behave most authentically around other people like them. Someone who loves cars is going to be themselves at a car show. Similarly, someone who loves real estate is going to be genuine in a Facebook group for real estate investors and realtors.
We can learn about the people we serve by understanding where they spend time. To get a deep understanding of your customer, you need visit those places and people. But first we have to find them.
When Yuji Yokoya was assigned as the chief engineer to redesign the Toyota Sienna minivan, he started by visiting every state and province in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. He also visited with minivan owners to find out exactly what they loved and hated about their minivans.
On your template, list all the online and offline communities, events, conferences, hangouts, and meeting places where your customers are found.
There’s no limit to what you can include (as long as it’s actionable!). Make notes for traits that might spark insights or ideas that need refining before you place them in a category.
Once you have built your personas, you’ll find yourself relying on them often. You’ll share them with your entire organization.
Customers, businesses and products change, and your knowledge will become more refined over time. So it’s important to review your personas regularly and update them for accuracy and completeness.
Content is most effective when it’s crafted for a specific person with a specific problem. By creating thoughtful buyer personas, you can identify your customers’ problems, challenges, desires, and motivations. Then you can use that data to craft messaging that connects with prospects and turns them into customers.
Joel Widmer is the Founder & CEO of Fluxe Digital Marketing—a content marketing shop that helps smart businesses create, produce and promote their content through a unique one-on-one interview process. When he’s not working, Joel can be found trying new restaurants with his wife and son.