If you have done any reading at all on inbound or content marketing, you will probably have been struck by how often agencies emphasise the use of buyer personas. You may even be slightly bored with the constant urging to define and use these personas when developing your marketing strategy. But if you want to succeed in business, personas are pretty much essential. So if you want to understand the obsession with buyer personas, then read on, as I’m going to explain why they are so important and why successful modern marketing depends on them.
The importance of attracting and engaging prospects
Let’s start by going over some obvious business basics. Customers are the lifeblood of any business. But no customer, no matter how loyal they are to your brand and no matter how well you treat them, will stay with you forever. There is a constant need to attract new customers just to stay in business. And if you want to grow, then there is no denying that new business must become your driving force.
Assuming the market for your product or service is healthy, then the prospects will be out there - but how do you reach them? You need to find ways to attract, and hold, their attention. And you need to be able to engage with them in order to start an ongoing business relationship.
But how do you do that in an age when the old methods of interruption marketing, such as direct mail, email blasts, adverts and sales calls, not only don’t work, but annoy people and drive business away?
Timely, helpful content is the starting point
If you can reach people with helpful content while they are researching the issues they face, then they will stop and listen. But if you try and sell them something while they are still gathering information – then they will ignore you.
Most buyers will be using search engines such as Google to answer questions, evaluate approaches and investigate potential solutions. These search engines are very good at filtering information so that the searcher only sees results that are relevant to them. So if you don’t have relevant content – they won’t even find you.
Relevancy is the key to capturing attention
So genuine, potential customers will be looking. But they will be looking for a product or service that solves their problems; that is relevant to them. They will be looking for a story they can relate to; a message that strikes a chord with them; a solution that speaks to them in their own words.
Buyers haven’t got time in today’s fast-paced world to waste time looking at messages that aren’t relevant to their needs. They want to know what’s in it for them. Why should they read your blog; download your eBook; attend your webinar; subscribe to your email newsletter; read your post, update or tweet? They have to see a benefit to them or they will move on.
But how do you know what is relevant to them? How can you ensure your content and your messages are going to attract and engage?
Understanding where they are
When your customers are looking at buying a product or service, they embark upon a journey that begins with an understanding of the issue they face, and ends with a purchase. Along the way, they may be investigating their problem and looking at whether it’s shared by anyone else. They may be trying to get an overview of the possible approaches to their issue, identifying potential solutions and getting an idea of costs and implications. They could be researching suppliers and their standing in the market, reading reviews and getting the opinions of influencers and their peers.
At each of these stages they are looking for something different - a different type and a different level of information. So not only do you have to understand what is relevant to their requirements, you have to understand what is relevant to them at that particular point in their buyer’s journey.
From a practical point of view, you also have to know where they are looking, who they are listening to, and what social platforms they are engaging in, so you can understand how to reach your prospective buyers through whatever medium is native to them.
You have to get inside your prospects' heads
The more you understand what drives your prospects; what issues they face; what they really, really want, the more relevant you can make your content. You have to know what makes them tick. Why do they get up in the morning? Understanding what drives and motivates them will allow you to answer their question: "What’s in it for me?"
From a business point of view, you have to comprehensively understand the problem areas of their business - what is the pain they face? A deep understanding of their issues will lead to content that is not only supremely relevant but also genuinely helpful.
But more than this, you also need context for your marketing messages. You need to create your content and your copywriting – not only in a language they understand, but also with a frame of reference they can relate to. So, for example: if your prospects are golf-playing directors, then perhaps a golf analogy might get their attention. If they are into motor racing, perhaps talking about the F1 season will create interest, or if they are highly technical, then looking at the latest developments may prove an effective way to reach out and start the conversation.
Every group of prospects will be different – each will require a different approach. And the only way to develop an approach that will work with your set of prospects, is to get inside their heads.
Once they engage with you in some way, the real challenge of inbound marketing begins, as you nurture those who have found you early in the buying process. So you target contacts, who may have been engaging with you over a period of months, with tailored emails that recommend an eBook that compares "solution a" with "solution b" (moving them further along in their decision-making). Or else, based on your knowledge of your buyers’ barriers, you may be able to provide some content that helps them put together a business case to support their decision-making – sending them a middle-of-the-funnel tip sheet entitled, "How to convince your C-suite that X makes sense", for example - with killer stats and research that will help them support their case.
Laser focussed targeting brings the best results
This drive to gain an innate understanding of the buyer and their needs at every stage of their journey is the rationale for buyer personas. They are a way of formalising this targeting process – a practical and useful way of thinking about your leads, prospects, contacts and customers – their needs, their motivations, the issues they face and the factors that drive them.
If you put the effort in and compile a comprehensive persona portrait, it will pay dividends when you come to develop content for marketing channels. You may have to develop a small number of personas in order to address the main groups of buyers - but the more focussed you are, the more likely you are to truly understand them. And the more likely you are to create relevant and engaging content that your personas will respond to as they move towards a buying decision.
It is better to home right in on a single group of prospects and deliver highly targeted content to that group alone, than to try and create content for everyone – you will only end up creating bland, generic content that won’t attract and engage anybody.
Buyer personas are the key that unlocks the treasure
This then is the reason why your inbound marketing agency bang on so much about personas – you have to understand your prospects in order to develop truly meaningful and relevant content for them. The more you understand them and their buyer’s journey, the more relevant your content will be. The more relevant the content, the more they will engage – and, ultimately, the more business you will gain.