25 February 2016 | Team Tamar

Do you have a persona-based content strategy?

Content has long been an essential part of the digital marketing strategy, but are you attracting the right audience?

Digital marketers are usually very good at measuring performance, but how do you know that the users sharing or reading your content are the right people for your site?

More importantly, you may know exactly who your demographic is, but how can you ensure that all of your content team are on the same page (sorry) when it comes to who they are writing for?

Why use personas?

“The idea behind personas is to more easily understand the behaviour and mentality of your intended audience so you are better prepared to engage them.”
Seth Godin

All designers are used to working with personas; they enable designers to design for a target audience rather than the client or (more importantly) themselves, and they ensure that the full team are all focused on the goal (normally conversion). They allow them to explain, defend and test crucial decisions without making it personal.

Personas are slightly different for content, but the purpose is the same: to ensure your team of content writers aren’t writing for themselves, but your brand’s audience instead. Your audience may be very different from your content team, so it will help inspire content ideas and ensure they are all focused and aligned.

Personas will also allow for diversity, as you can create many personas for different outcomes and have your team create content for them. Without personas you could be in danger of creating lots of random content with no real strategy or just have one customer or demographic in mind and then the content focus becomes rather narrow.

Creating personas

Most FMCG brands invest in research to identify their real customers in great detail, but there are a few different types of personas, with varying degrees of detail to suit all budgets.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a designer or UX professional to create or orchestrate a persona for your content.

The naming of personas varies but the concept is the same:

Marketing personas

These are based on broad research, interviews and focus groups on real customers to determine demographics, marketing messages and lifestyle habits of customers. Often they come from a large one-off piece of research before a big re-brand or brand alignment project.

  • Pros – A thorough and unarguable piece of consumer research that will back up and determine everything you do.
  • Cons – Takes months and requires a significant budget, in addition doesn’t necessarily drill-down to focus on online purchasing or goal orientated tasks.

Buyer (UX) personas

These are based on focused research on real customers, their online purchasing behavior, goals and their conversion needs. They are often used before, during and after web/app builds across multiple platforms as part of the user-centered design process.

  • Pros – Essential for large web design projects, giving designers and user experience professionals the best chance of  improving usability and increasing conversion on launch.
  • Cons – Very goal/buying focused, so not necessarily useful for other marketing purposes.

Proto personas

Quick and fictional personas, created via collaborative workshops, based on educated decisions. These are the ideal starting point for small to medium sized teams, who want to raise audience awareness to ensure everyone has the same direction.

  • Pros – Cheap, multi-purpose and can be created quickly to align vision.
  • Cons – Not validated with research, so harder to get buy-in and back up.

Brands may have buyer personas for their last web build, but unless they have a marketing persona, the best bet is to get the core team together and start with the proto persona.

Creating your proto personas…

Analytics is a good place to start

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Before you bring the team together, use the analytics available to work out as much as you can about your current audience. This can become the starting point to the brainstorm, asking questions about attracting an older/younger/wider demographic, or information about location etc. For example, you might be getting a lot of traffic/engagement from the US, but if as a retailer you don’t fulfil orders there, it might be a good idea to start creating more localised content.

Ask the right questions

Start with a discussion on the purpose of the content is and who you want to engage with. Your brand analytics might not paint the picture you want, so who do you want to attract?

Find a list of persona questions and choose which are relevant; aim for about 10-15 questions to help you design your personas.

A few persona questions that are specific for content development:

  • Where else are they getting similar information?
  • Why do they trust the information they are reading?
  • Do they want thoughtful or instructional content?
  • Why are they reading it?

We usually suggest aiming for around 3-5 personas to start with.

Team brainstorm
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Hold a team brainstorm or workshop; it’s essential that the content team have buy-in otherwise they won’t work. Even if you are the Marketing Director and have ultimate knowledge of the brand and control, sitting at your desk and creating them yourself will make your life harder in the long run.

Leave the name till last

You can’t really decide on a name for each persona until you have the full persona picture. Include a lifestyle choice in the name to help the team identify them, for example Time-Short Timothy, not just Timothy and make sure the team believe the photos you choose to represent each persona, you’ll be surprised how passionate everyone can be about their personas, after they’ve had a part in creating them.

Take the information away and create the personas so everyone can access them easily.

Going forward…

Use them every day

Use your personas as a starting point for every content brainstorm and talk about them regularly. Assign a persona column in your content plan, ensuring every piece of content has a reason to be there.

Next steps

If using proto personas turns your content around to a more focused and aligned content strategy, then the next step would be to get budget to talk to real people. Proto personas are a great and useful starting point, but they are no match for research carried out amongst your current and potential customers.

Team Tamar