Well-researched Audience Personas are crucial for best reaching your customers and marketing to their needs. Here's how to develop accurate buyer personas.

Part 1: Collecting buyer data & building your audience personas

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How well do you think your boss knows you? She probably knows that you arrive at work before her, that you won’t read emails that include all caps and that you leave work early each Wednesday to coach a youth soccer league. She also likely knows how to motivate you and how to speak with you to elicit a positive response: This is the sign of a boss who knows her audience.

Think about your favorite brand. Chances are you know it very well – from the colors of their logo, to the addictive jingle, all the way to the day of the week it releases sale prices. Take a minute to consider how well that brand knows you. Have you ever encountered a moment where you think, Wow, they totally “get” me? Or maybe the opposite, Wow, they are so far off the mark this time! Surely you’ve seen ads pop up on social media that have totally off target.

A well-defined, thoroughly-researched Audience Persona will equip any B2B or B2C business with the tools and knowledge they’ll need to address their customers’ challenges and solve their unique problems. The process for developing these personas may seem daunting, but delivering targeted content that speaks to your customers’ needs and goals is the cornerstone of any strong marketing campaign. Passionate marketers who develop marketing campaigns directed at wide varieties of industries are required to understand elements of the customers needs and desires.

Here are the steps you can take to find out exactly who you’re working with and create perfect representations of your audience… and it’s not as difficult as you may have thought. (and check back next week for Part Two: Developing content for your personas.)

The goal of your audience personas

A complete Audience Persona helps to segment your audience into familiar terms and categories, while also streamlining your company’s processes. The unified view of your potential and current buyers syncs your business’ teams, crystallizes clear goals for product development, and facilitates focused communication within your business and between your teams, keeping your customers as the primary focus.

When your business frames its audience information in a digestible, usable, human form (with names, faces and personalities), it’s easier to create successful content for your audience.

Wouldn’t your creative team have a better chance of delivering content that appeals to this guy:

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… Than this group:

“We’re targeting business buyers in the finance industry who are worried about compliance.”

Before you can put names and faces on your audience, you’ll need some information on who they are – what they like, what they want, what they think.

Gathering data to define personas

Methodology

There are two main strategies for conducting research on your audience:

  • Qualitative research involves examining what your customers actually say about your company’s offerings. You can gather this directly from your customers through focus groups and interviews, or by asking your client-facing team members (in sales, customer service, tech support etc) what customers are asking.
  • Quantitative research seeks to study customer thought and behavior trends through online surveys/polls, social media insights, web analytics, CRM data (i.e. Salesforce).

When preparing to conduct your research, it’s important to:

  • Note that successful customers aren’t the only pool worth researching. Everybody’s interviews have potential value for creating your audience persona – even unsuccessful, uninterested, or disappointed customers have use in terms of finding exactly who your successful audience is.

“Sometimes addressing your most unhappy customers is your best opportunity to succeed in marketing”

  • Make sure you’re setting yourself up to look at data that examines the audience’s buying journey considering prospective customers vs loyal customers

Data To Look For

Here are basic demographic elements to consider as a first step. Understanding the general makeup of your target audience is key to effectively marketing to them. Implement testing to determine what will generate the best response rate or conversions.

Demographics for all industries

Identify these elements to gain a basic understanding of your target audience:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Family
  • Education level
  • Keywords, search terms – What phrases are people using to find you? What questions are your target audience asking?
  • Lifetime value of customer – How much did it cost to acquire the customer? How long did it take to turn a profit from them? Which customers are the most profitable?
Demographics specific to B2B

If you are a B2B, you’ll want to consider these elements:

  • Career
  • Career industry
  • Level/status – Are they a C-level executive? Coordinator? Manager? Director?
  • Career goals
  • Anticipated work dynamic
  • Challenges faced day-to-day
  • Who do they answer to?
Specific to B2C

Ecommerce merchants can rely heavily on sales data:

  • Household income
  • Household size
  • Purchase behavior & who makes the purchasing decision
  • Average order size / How many items are they buying in one time? What affinity products do they purchase?
  • Seasonality – What events are sparking behavior? Holidays? Tax season? Weather?
  • When are peak sales curves? when are people more likely to purchase? How can you lengthen peak?
  • Audience Segmentation – Segment by AOV, frequency, channel (online, brick & mortar, mail)
  • Shopping cart abandonment – (consider developing an email campaign to entice them back to your site to complete their shopping experience)

Framing data in terms of your company’s value to your audience

When looking at your audience data, ask yourself “What challenges does an audience member face in their life (long-term or day-to-day) or career that maps them to your company’s offerings?” While it’s important to retain a holistic view of an audience’s life that balances at-home lifestyle with in-office persona, framing your data analysis in terms of why your service is valuable to solve your audience’s challenges is helpful for finding out why they might be quality targets.

Consider:
  • What has your audience tried similar to us before? How might that have been unsatisfactory?
  • What past experiences have been holding them back from trying your service?
  • What are the limitations your audience faces that keeps them from success?
  • What are points that are helping audiences gain success?

Challenges for companies in the B2B and B2C sectors often differ in terms of voice or marketing strategies, but find common ground when trying to answer the above question of what keeps their audiences from success.

For example, a financial company might conclude that clients aren’t finding them easily enough, perhaps because intensifying compliance regulations prevent the company from making content notable enough to reach an audience. Toward the other end of the business spectrum, a health-food truck might recognize that their potential audience’s main challenge is that they have no access to healthy food trucks.

What value, or solution, can your service provide? What features of your offering can you promise to an interested audience?

Analyzing audience behavior

Examining your audience’s buying patterns, knowledge, and lifestyle

In addition to collecting demographic data, analyzing the lifestyle and buying patterns of your audience can unveil important information about what your audience buys, when they buy it, and how much they buy. Deeper data on these behaviors can also determine if an audience buys online or in person, or if they’ve considered alternatives or competitors before deciding on your product.

Analysis specifically of B2B audiences should yield insight into your audience’s knowledge about your business and industry, and how they view your company. Aim your research to identify information about the daily lives of your audience, their favorite recreational activities, their travel schedule, even their communication preferences at work.

Finding synergies in your audience

In marketing, synergies refer to multiple factors combining to create a sum greater than the separate inputs. Recognizing trends in synergies can help your company to find new business opportunities. If you notice that members of your audience who buy Product A, overwhelmingly tend to subscribe to Service B, you not only learn more about what your audience wants, but you might also learn how to more completely market to them. Synergies shed light on what audiences need at their core, and help you figure out how to layer in additional value to your audience.

Once again, examining negative correlations can be just as effective as studying the positives. If you notice polarizing, or distinctly non-overlapping relationships within buying behaviors, you can gain insight as to what audience actions proscribe other actions, which can help boost your efficiency and streamline your marketing efforts.

Make a human out of your data

Process your data. Be scientific, but also use your instincts about people. Make a human out of your results with a balanced, holistic and data-driven approach. Don’t get held up by misleading data. Discard useless info and narrow down your audience by removing irrelevant, non matched, uninterested pools of people.

Think about person as a person, not only in the context of your business. Who is this person at 7 p.m.? Who are they on Saturday?

Defining an accurate target audience depends on clean, detailed data without the obstruction of conceptualizations you may already have about your audience. If you stay open to what your data and results lead to, your data will remain accurate and you’ll be able to learn from it. Be realistic to your company – don’t go overboard or bite off more data than you can chew. Remember throughout all of your efforts – you are marketing to humans who have thoughts, likes and dislikes. They have schedules, jobs, families and friends. They watch movies, go the beach, own a cat, went to college, take the train to work. Your job is to use your data to learn what they like, and learn who they are.

Want more? Sign up for the Content Marketzine to get regular content marketing insights, including the next installment of our persona series. We’ll include a free template for your to build your personas, and plan content for specific audiences.

Gwen Slattery
Gwen Slattery is the Senior Director of Content Marketing at Brafton. She leads a team of Content Marketing Strategists in Boston and works with Clients to ensure their strategic goals are achieved. Gwen's marketing experience spans over a decade and includes both digital and print realms. She enjoys traveling, playing cello and hiking.

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