What do Andy the Adventurer and Gerry the Grandparent have in common?

Not much.

As personas, they are fictional characters birthed by research to represent a composite of the company’s target audience. And for these two, their needs, experiences, goals and behaviors are wildly different. What speaks to one may seriously offend the other.

Don’t Make Gerry Angry

Providing great content can not only engage, connect and create a community of loyal customers who feel appreciated, understood and cared about — it can also infuse your organization with a solid reputation of authority on topics important to your clientele.

In contrast, providing the wrong content not only wastes your company’s precious time and resources, it also makes the people represented by Andy or Gerry feel angry and unappreciated.

And you really don’t want to see the review Gerry leaves when she’s angry.

Good Content Is Non-Negotiable in Marketing Efforts

As Director of Content Marketing for ChartHop, Sharon Shapiro-Rusinowitz said providing good content is a non-negotiable part of any marketing strategy.

Because content flows throughout all of marketing (and beyond,) it needs to be good to have any impact.

“Churning out content just for the sake of it won't serve an organization well,” Shapiro-Rusinowitz said, “people will see right through it and won't return. It's a quick way to lose trust. First and foremost, good content is relevant to both the individual consuming it and to what's currently going on in the world or their environment.”

She emphasized that while there's a lot that goes into "good" content, it’s important to consider a few questions in advance, such as:

  • Is it memorable? Does it elicit some sort of emotion?
  • Does it actively engage the audience as opposed to a more passive scrolling experience?
  • Does it demonstrate expertise by offering a clear and confident point of view?

Related Article: Content Marketing: Develop Your Omnichannel Strategy in 9 Easy Steps

The Struggle Is Real

Coming to understand who your unique customers really are and what they care about typically depends on sifting through an accumulation of accurate consumer information.

Unfortunately, many marketers still struggle with deciphering data. According to a 2022 Parse.ly survey of more than 800 content marketers, nearly half of respondents were unsure if they were tracking metrics correctly. And incorrect insights can lead to flawed preconceptions of who your customers really are.

“The more teams rely on preconceptions about their target audience, the more content takes on that ‘inside-out’ mentality and becomes more about what the organizations want to push out than what the audience wants to hear,” Shapiro-Rusinowitz said.

“That can be a trap, as you always need to lead with how your organization can solve problems that your audience cares about, not who you are or what you do. And the best way to understand what your audience cares about is to ask them directly.”

Perfecting Customer Personas

Accurate customer personas — somtimes called buyer personas — provide a path for any organization to create good, effectively directed content. For Shapiro-Rusinowitz, personas are essential to creating good content because they help you understand your audience, who they are, what they're interested in, what they're struggling with and where they typically consume content.

“There's a lot of different ways to think about personas, but no matter how you slice it they're critical to creating relevant content that really speaks to your audience,” she said.

In her opinion, content focused on something unimportant to an organization's personas is usually not worth creating.

“If the target audience doesn't care about the topic, then who is that content for?” she asked. “Who's expected to engage with it and what action are they expected to take as a result of doing so?

"For content to deliver true marketing results, it needs to be hyper-focused on what the target audience, as represented by personas, cares about. That's what will build their trust and keep them coming back.”

The Laws of Attraction

Aaron Beashel, B2B SaaS marketing consultant and co-founder of Simul, said personas should fundamentally guide your overall content strategy.

Previously Director of Demand Generation and Head of Content Marketing for Campaign Monitor, Beashel’s team conducted interviews of existing customers to build personas and better target users. They learned that their ideal customer was a marketer in a small team of two to three people who were still growing their lists, writing email copy, etc.

Also important was learning who their customer wasn’t — the big CMOs with huge marketing teams who no longer did the work.

Using this user research, the team focused their content strategy on creating actionable content pieces on how to write and design better emails, using buttons or text links and the ideal length of subject lines.

“These are the kinds of things that marketers in two- to three-person teams care about,” said Beashel. “They’re not thinking about digital transformation or macroeconomic forces, they’re thinking about how to make this email campaign they are creating successful.”

“If we didn’t do the customer research and build personas,” he added, “we wouldn’t have known what our target customers cared about and could have ended up spending a lot of time and money writing about the wrong things.”

Without doing customer research and building personas, you simply don’t have the knowledge you need to create a marketing strategy that works.

Related Article: Personas and Analytics: Unlocking What Motivates Your Customers

The Challenges of Creating Customer Personas

One of the biggest challenges in creating personas can be deciding how many to have.

Learning Opportunities

“It’s likely that when you do customer interviews, you’ll speak to a bunch of people who all have some similarities and some differences,” Beashel said. “It can often be tempting to create multiple personas to capture some of these nuances, but that can be confusing for the people who are ultimately using these personas to guide their day-to-day decision making.”

He said the question to ask yourself in these situations is: “Would we dramatically change our actions when marketing to this other persona?”

For instance, does this other persona hang out in different places online? Would we use different channels to reach him or her? Would we need dramatically different messaging to make our product appeal to him or her?

If the answer is “no” to the above questions, then it’s likely you don’t need to create separate personas for these people.

Target Users With a Plethora of Customer Personas

While personas are typically built around an organization’s target audience to emulate the main person who buys your product (the buyer persona), Beashel suggested creating a few other types as well.

The Influencer

This is somebody else in the buying process who is likely to have an impact on whether the purchase happens or not.

A common example in the world of software is the manager versus user. Think customer relationship management (CRM) software, like Salesforce, where the buyer is usually the sales manager, but the user is the individual sales representative. In this case, the reps are the influencers, because they can influence the sale in various ways.

The Detractor

A detractor is someone who may railroad the purchase. An example of those is the IT team in the buyer’s organization. They often want to do security reviews and are known to veto deals for their own reasons, even when the business user wants the software.

The Anti-Persona

This is a representation of someone you are specifically not looking to target with your marketing efforts. These can be helpful to have alongside your buyer personas just to clarify to the organization who you are and aren’t targeting.

“As an example, at Campaign Monitor, we targeted marketers in small marketing teams and our anti-persona was the small business owner,” Beashel said. “We specifically didn’t want to attract them as they sent emails less frequently, paid us less and needed more support.

"It wasn’t to say we would stop a small business owner from signing up for our software, it just wasn’t who we were targeting with our marketing and our messaging.”

Related Article: 4 Methods for Hyper-Personalization That Get Results

Customer Personas in Action

As President of Longbow Strategic Group, a boutique advertising agency, Eric Needle said his company focuses on a select group of clients to really get to know their needs — and creating accurate personas for each is a big part of the process.

For a client that made beautiful leather camera bags (a shrinking, niche market) his team was able to envision a new market by developing a persona.

The persona was a woman aged 21–30 who cared about fashion and photography and loved Coach bags, Nikon cameras and accessories. She attended art school and was fashion conscious, active and enjoyed being “seen.”

“Based on our persona, we came up with a campaign that gave away products on art school college campuses,” Needle said. “This gave us physical areas to target, like Rhode Island School of Design, Savannah College of Art and Design and Art Institutes, to name just a few. Being able to limit an audience allows us to better spend ad dollars, and we got creative.”

Next, in an influencer campaign, they gave away stylish, leather photo bags to photographers in exchange for their photos and access to the people they communicate with.

In a few short weeks, they had 50 high-profile people sending and sharing their products all over the world. Then, just in time for the holidays, they created a series of magazines (electronic and in print), full of fashion photos, selling the photo bags and crediting the photographers who also added their Instagram handles, allowing people to look them up.

“That's how we used personas to go from concept to customer,” said Needle. “We built a new digital audience with a stream of content and elevated the brand in a way the client could never have imagined.”

“Each client is unique and deserves a strategy that delivers results,” he added. “Content comes in many forms. In today's world, brands need to speak to attract attention, build awareness and foster loyalty.”