There’s a great line from the hit show Friends that seems appropriate to any discussion of target personas. If you’re a fan, you may remember when the whole gang goes to Barbados in one of the later seasons, and Joey meets someone who doesn’t own a TV. Dumbfounded, he says: “You don’t own a TV? What’s all your furniture pointed at?”
Similarly, with inbound marketing (the process of attracting prospects to you), when someone doesn’t have a clearly defined persona we think, “You don’t know your target persona*? Who’s all your content targeted to?” While a TV isn’t necessary to make a room, a target persona is absolutely necessary for a successful lead generation strategy.
Why? In order to be successful, you must generate amazing content that speaks to your prospects’ various needs, pain points, and buying cycle stages. If you don’t have that information, how do you create content that is of value to them? (Hint: You can’t.) That’s why knowing your target persona is so vital.
What is a Target Persona?
What exactly is a target persona? They’re your ideal prospects and customers that you’re trying to attract with your inbound marketing efforts. It’s whom your entire lead generation strategy is focused toward. Often confused with target audience, your target persona goes beyond demographics and psychographics and focuses more on your prospects’ and consumers’ needs, pain points, and buying process. When you understand their buying process and speak to their needs, you can engage with them through each phase until they’re ready to purchase.
Creating Your Personas
While the information you want to know will vary depending on the type of business you are and what industry you’re in, some of the core insights will be similar. Adele Revella, founder of The Buyer Persona Institute, has identified the “5 Rings of Buying Insight.” These serve as an excellent guide when you’re deciding what information is (and isn’t) necessary to know.
- Priority Initiatives: What causes certain buyers to invest in solutions like yours, and what is different about buyers who are satisfied with the status quo?
- Success Factors: What operational or personal results does your buyer persona expect to achieve by purchasing this solution?
- Perceived Barriers: What concerns cause your buyer to believe that your solution or company is not their best option?
- Buyer's Journey: This insight reveals details about who and what impacts your buyer as they evaluate their options and select one.
- Decision Criteria: Which aspects of the competing products, services, solutions, or companies does your buyer perceive as most critical, and what are their expectations for each?
Relevance is Key
Business owners often go astray when they simply guess the answers to these questions… or even assume that they already know the correct answers. If you start your inbound marketing journey by heading in the wrong direction—because your initial assumption was wrong—you’ll never reach your destination (good leads!).
Getting caught up on irrelevant information can derail efforts, too. Demographic information (age, gender, location, socio-economic) is usually not very important with B2B products and services; they should be considered only if you know that this is material information. In most inbound marketing scenarios, the relevant information is found in the answers to the questions in those five bullet points above.
To take the guessing out of your inbound strategy, we suggest going straight to the source – your customers. Here are several ways we recommend to do this:
- In-person or phone interviews with recent or past customers are the most accurate (and recommended) way to uncover these insights. These are beneficial because they allow you to dig deeper and ask follow-up questions.
- Customer surveys, while limited in comparison to actual interviews, can still help you get answers to necessary questions. With these, you’ll want to make sure you’re respectful of your customer’s time and keep it as short as possible. Rewards can also be helpful.
- Surveying your sales team and any other internal employees that interact with customers on a frequent basis is another option that is often overlooked. These are the people who are answering your customers’ questions, addressing their concerns, and engaging with them through the buying process. Don’t overlook them as a resource.
How Many Target Personas Should You Have?
There are good reasons that a company might need to have more than one target persona, but remember that the point of this is to narrow your focus, so you don’t want to have too many. If you feel that you have more than three key target personas, decide which two or three are the most valuable and focus on them. Remember Peter Drucker’s wisdom: “Concentration is the secret to all economic success.” It’s better to “do right” by only two or three targets than to make a half-assed effort to serve many.
One way to find focus and reduce the number of targets is to group them together based on needs. For example, a home improvement company might group their personas based on “length of time lived in home” (e.g., less than 5 years, 6-11years, 12+ years), which would speak to the type of improvements they’d likely be making.
Compile and Organize
Once you’ve gathered the relevant information, compiling and organizing it into a succinct reference document is a great way to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding whom you’re targeting. When questions arise, you can refer back to that document as needed. We also suggest on giving your persona(s) a name and photo, just so that you can better visualize this person.
Having an accurate understanding of your target persona is vital to the success of your inbound marketing efforts. Remember: the better you know your customers, the better you can generate content that addresses their needs—and thus turn them into customers. Because that’s the point of all of this, right?
*The term Target Persona and Buyer Persona are typically used interchangeably. We simply prefer the term target persona, as we feel it is more relevant to what we’re trying to achieve.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on July 15, 2014 and has been updated.