could use a good cleaning
The problem marketing departments have with personas comes down to one thing: they don't use them PHOTO: frank mckenna

When was the last time you saw your company’s personas, let alone used them in a marketing campaign? Would you even know where to find them if you looked? 

All too often, personas are created as part of a box-ticking exercise that, once completed, end up stored as a PDF somewhere in a marketing folder, never to see the light of day again. 

This is unfortunate, because evidence points to the impact personas can have. When you use them. 

Take this research from persona software startup Cintell, which found that companies who exceed lead and revenue goals are over twice as likely to create personas as companies who miss these goals. What’s more, this small survey by B2B marketing consultant Tony Zambito confirms that personas helped companies understand their buyers better and improve their marketing strategy. 

However, Zambito’s study also revealed 60 percent of respondents were frustrated by their existing personas’ ability to boost their understanding of buyers. And the Cintell research revealed less than 29 percent of respondents believed at least half of their colleagues couldn’t even name one of the company’s personas. 

So why the discrepancy? 

Puzzled by Personas

Katie Martell, an on-demand marketing consultant who coauthored the Cintell report spoke with me about the findings. 

One of the key revelations of the study was organizations rarely value their existing personas. Martell explained, “I've seen many marketing teams fail to get organizational buy-in for personas because of a lack of executive sponsorship.” 

That said, buy-in won’t automatically happen just because the CEO says it’s a good thing. Any successful persona depends on the collaboration of colleagues across the business.

Again, Martell: “Often times the marketing team will publish personas because, after all, it's their job to do so. But without first gaining some buy-in from other teams (who operate under their own understanding of the buyer), including executives, and sales teams there's understandable scrutiny of the final product.” 

How to Get the Most Out of Your Personas

Getting people in your organization to use personas will ultimately depend on getting them to believe they provide real value — and that starts with the design. As Martell explained, “What often happens is that marketers Google 'buyer persona template' and go find a bunch of information that ends up being absolutely useless to everyday business decisions.” 

What if you already have smart, well designed and effective personas, how can you start using them more effectively? 

1. Make them easy to find

Even the best personas in the world are useless if no one can find them. Martell suggested, “make it easy for employees to find the personas — you have an intranet, right? Where does your sales team find important documents? Include them here.” 

2. Put them at the center of campaign planning meetings

Very often, campaign plans are driven by your new product or service. Of course, that’s got to be a key part of your campaign, yet you need to filter the plan through your personas too. 

What aspect of your new product or feature will resonate with your personas? Your campaign must focus on emphasizing how your product relieves their pain points and will help them work better, faster and smarter.  

3. Integrate them with your technology

Another way of making your personas relevant to the actual day-to-day of your users is to place them ‘front and center’ in the place where they have most contact with customers: usually the CRM. Martell explained, “Tag your CRM contacts and leads by persona [and] designate specific campaigns to personas.” 

4. Include them in your content creation process

Any marketing content — be it a blog, a whitepaper, an email, a LinkedIn ad or anything else — must focus on your reader’s needs. 

And this is where your personas should come into play. For every piece of content you write, make it your habit to open up that persona document and ask “how is this blog / whitepaper / email / LinkedIn ad answering my persona’s worries, fears, goals, questions?”

5. Run a campaign for internal adoption

Finally, it’s worth remembering that people are relatively unlikely to use personas just because they’re there. Martell recommended an internal adoption campaign roll-out, “Prepare an FAQ document for common questions folks might have when they interact with these personas. Send internal emails … host a "meet and greet" with your personas, where your teams can ask questions and … mention your personas in team meetings.” 

Take Your Personas Out for a Spin

Personas play an invaluable role in making your marketing, sales and R&D consistent, valuable to the audience and timely. However, it can only provide that value when you put them to work. Don’t leave your personas gathering dust — bring them into your campaigns and watch them shine.