Friday, May 12, 2023

How to Create Customer Personas for Content Marketing

One of the questions I ask in a client or personal interview, when they invariably say, “Do you have any questions,” is “Who’s the target audience.” I can’t count the number of times I get a bunch of job titles and the words “People who want our product,” especially in my years in agency life, and that’s never enough. Invariably, it falls on Muggins, on day one, to start creating customer personas. Don’t get me wrong, I love this part and get a lot of inspiration from it, but so many companies don’t have this in place already, especially smaller companies. 

Google loves copy that fulfills customer intent, and who that customer is and what they want is the strategic backbone of the creative marketing process. Guessing is just throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks, and that’s a waste of my time. If I don’t know who our target audience is, I can’t talk to them, and I don’t know what’s going to make them care. I can’t write a Solution Brief if I don’t know the pain points.

Crafting customer personas is like writing D&D character sheets for the people I’m aiming to serve with an organization's products and services, so admittedly comes somewhat naturally, and I rather enjoy the process. Any content marketing or social media strategy should start with a chapter on who the customer personas are, then a chapter on the brand values and voice, and everything after that should be influenced by these insights. 

So, here’s how I go about it: 


Dive Into Discovery


Start with a healthy dose of professional curiosity. 

Some of this information can be teased from the existing company CMO and marketing team, but unless this work has already been done, this tends to be anecdotal and may be out of date. Going to the numbers and the source is always best. Making a fresh start will give fresh insights, and the process will stimulate ideas for campaigns and let you see any gaps in existing content assets.


I often use social media analytics, which can tell me the basics of who our friends and followers are, highlight the brand evangelists who may be more open to a survey or a chat, and give some clues as to what customers care about.


Quizzing the sales team is a good start, plus it puts you on their radar if they have other insights down the line. Plus, it’s the sales team who can help to arrange that valuable heart-to-heart Zoom with an existing buyer, and a good 1-to-1 is worth twenty people filling out some sterile form – no matter how personable you try to make it or what reward you offer for completion. Focus groups are a gold mine in this respect, but most SMEs don’t easily see the value and don’t usually have the finances to make that happen.


Here are just a few of the questions I like to ask and some things I like to know:


Demographic Information: 

Age, gender, location, education level, occupation, income level – most of this I can get by connecting on LinkedIn before any meeting, which saves the inevitable weirdness factor of getting “too personal.”


Behavioral Patterns: 

What problem does the product or service solve for them?

How often do they use the product or service? 

If it’s not them, who actually uses the product or service day-to-day? 

What features of the product or service do they use the most? 

How do they usually purchase/do their research (online, in-store, etc.)? 

Are they repeat customers or one-time buyers? 



What are their hobbies and interests? 

What values are important to them? 

What are their goals and aspirations? 

What challenges or pain points do they face in their daily professional lives? 

What are the big professional concerns for them right now? 


Customer Journey: 

How did they first hear about the product or service? 

What factors influenced their decision to purchase, and who else was involved in the purchase process? 

What was their purchasing experience like? 

Have they recommended the product or service to anyone else?

Who has the final buying decision in their organization?


Feedback and Preferences: 

What do they like most about the product or service? 

What improvements or changes would they suggest? 

What are their preferences in terms of product features, customer service, and communication? 


Loyalty and Engagement: 

Are they part of any loyalty program the brand offers? 

How do they prefer to be contacted for promotions or updates (email, social media, popping ‘round for a cuppa, etc.)?

What kind of content or offers are they most interested in? 

Do they visit industry events, and if so, which?


Technology Usage: 

What devices do they use to access content (mobile, desktop, tablet)? 

Are they active on social media? If so, which platforms? 


Expectations and Future Needs: 

What are their expectations from our brand in the future?

Are there any upcoming needs or challenges they anticipate where the product or service could help?


You get the gist, I’m sure. What you ask is likely to be product-dependent and should be influenced by who you’re talking to, obviously.


Group With Care


To further continue the analogy, it's like putting together the perfect D&D party. 


Crank up XL, and find the common threads that link your customers/personas together. It could be young parents who love technology or retirees who are travel enthusiasts. Maybe it's time-poor middle-aged CISOs with staffing shortages or Dwarven barbarians with a fondness for real ale and with anger management issues. 


Start to group these traits to begin forming the outlines of personas and give them names sourced from their age/gender/preference demographics and regional info. You might find 'Eco-friendly Eddie,' 'Techy Talli,' or 'Budget-conscious Beatrice' starting to take shape with surprisingly little effort.


Bring Personas to Life


Another favorite part of the process is sketching out the personas with names, faces, and stories. 

Imagine 'Gourmet Gordon,' who’s all about the latest cooking trends and follows Jamie Oliver, or 'Adventurous Atina,' who’s always on the hunt for her next thrill and has the Instagram account to prove it. Detail their goals, like finding the perfect espresso machine or a tent that won’t quit in a storm, and their pain points, perhaps 'Gordon' hates complex instructions, and ' Atina' can’t stand slow delivery times. 


Go to MidJourney, and craft each one a profile picture to help the rest of your team visualize who they are – all in the same style. Give them some flavor, it’ll help to humanize them for our other team members and for us to see them as more than numbers. What car do they drive? What TV shows do they watch? Where do they get their news? Keep it accurate and based on the numbers, but roll them in a bit of creative glitter.


Get Team Input


Start with the main stakeholders one at a time. An initial free-for-all of opinions is no good for the process. Once you’ve got some initial insights, roll your persona portraits out with everyone else, especially those who chat with customers daily or run the likes of PPC campaigns. They can add splashes of color and texture to our ‘characters’ with their own sub-departmental insights and their firsthand experiences. 


This will generate a ton of notes and new ideas, perfect for rounding the personas off into useful assets.


Take Them Out for a Test Run


Take the finished NPC out for a level 1 adventure. Put the personas to the test in real-world scenarios to be sure they truly capture the essence of the audience segments. 


In <inset situation>, how would <insert persona> respond? How would 'Gourmet Gordon' react to Black Friday Deals or 10% off if they were prompted to sign up for your newsletter? Would 'Adventurous Atina' want to get involved in a photo competition, and how would they react to a server outage? 

Here's the place where we can also start crafting a few headlines for the brand content they'd be likely to respond to favorably. Think what posts 'Gourmet Gordon' can’t wait to read or video that's good how-to value to 'Adventurous Atina.' The scenarios should be product/service and brand dependent, and opening the exercise to the rest of the teams can give some interesting ideas.


Use Your Personal Wisely


With our personas as our muses, we can let them guide our content marketing adventure and customer service approach - and more, even product design. It's all about creating experiences that resonate personally with each character in our party – because making it personal makes players come back to the table, adds that feeling of involvement, and with an eye to their backstory, it makes for memorable games/campaigns. 

I’m probably taking this analogy too far… But we should now have a much clearer idea of their wants, needs, intent, and expectations, which means we can be of genuine value to our actual audience. This means our content has a far greater chance of being consumed, shared, and being of actual significance to our prospects - helping to make a relationship and steer them through the purchase process by putting the things they give a damn about (sympathetically) under their noses.


Keep Them Fresh


Over time, people change, and charters go up levels, and so should our personas. 


Regularly add new details, touch up the backgrounds, and add new elements to keep them fresh. Creating personas isn't a one-time thing, but an ongoing process that evolves with business developments and market trends.


Summing Up


Crafting customer personas for content marketing is an important (and hopefully rewarding) process that should tap into creativity and strategic thinking. It involves a deep dive into discovery, gathering demographic, behavioral, psychographic, customer journey, feedback, loyalty, technology usage, expectations, and the future needs of any audience. 


This process is more than just collecting data, it’s also about understanding the heart and soul of our customers and their motivations. The aim is to form rich, detailed personas representing real audience segments. This brings a human element to marketing strategies, making sure that content resonates deeply with the intended people, making it more effective and authentic. Ultimately, these personas should become the creative benchmarks and influencers of any content marketing or social media strategy.