By Keith Wiegold published May 26, 2010

How to Build Personas to Bring Your Targets (Back) to Life

The whole idea of ”targeting” is an odd practice. As marketers we spend so much time and effort, trying to narrow down who our customers are into an age range, a gender, a geographical location, a household income, that type of thing. Then we end up calling it a target, and wringing our hands about just how difficult it is to ‘hit’ this target. Apparently, we’re aiming at this boiled-down, most-common denominator.

Focusing on demographics may be terrific for buying media, but creating content for a boiled-down, most-common denominator leads to, well, boiled-down, common content.

Nothing personal. Literally.

A key to engaging content is put the customer first, to solve her problems and answer his questions. This requires understanding their beliefs, feelings, wants and needs. A tall order when we’re attempting to influence this man or woman, aged 18 through 24 or 55+, New Englander or Southwesterner, HHI of $200,000+ or $25-49,999.

Whether you are a B2C or B2B company, real humans are making the buying decisions – and they require humane content. That’s why creating a persona – a humanized representation of your target customer – is vital to crafting engaging content marketing efforts.

Here are three key steps to developing your personas:

Step 1: Start with what you know

Yes, begin by using what demographic information you have on your customer groupings: age, gender, occupation, and all the bland but important ‘targeting’ information available. Add in any data you have on hand, such as spend levels, focus group information, and surveys that suggest intended behavior. Find any psychographic information that indicates values and preferences. Look to pre-existing segments you’ve developed based on recentness, frequency, spend per transaction, or other variables.

Step 2: “Humanize” your customer group(s)

Instead of naming your target “W 25-54, HHI $70,000+, college+ education, household size of 4+, frequent purchaser” actually name her. Give her a past, a present, even a future. Include specific traits and examples such as:

Name:
Lucy Meachum

Hometown:
Springfield, Iowa

Spouse:
Morris Meachum

Children:
Nanci (14), Kevin (9)

Occupation:
Associate Dean for Giving, Department of English, College of Language Arts, University of Southwestern Iowa

Past:

  • Grew up in Ulm, Iowa
  • Met husband Morris at Northern Iowa University
  • Liberal/left-leaning, but venturing right as she grows older

Present:

  • Often torn about time spent at work vs. that with her kids
  • Neat-freak, organization a strong suit
  • Politically savvy, in the know

Future:

  • Worries about state funding for university, and hence her job
  • Would like to retire early, before she hits sixty
  • Wonders if she pursued being a writer, where it might take her

Step 3: Provide a first-person statement from your target customer

Finally, create a short soliloquy from your target’s point of view. Focus on statements beginning with “I hope,” “I dream of,” “I worry about,” “I wish…,” and so forth.

For example:

“My name is Lucille Meachum, but I’m Lucy to everyone, only Lucille on my business cards. I’m 41, and happily married now for seventeen years — wow. I have two great kids that can really get my blood pressure going one minute, but can be sweet and caring the next, even to each other. My husband Morris (Morrie to me) is a state trooper here in Bucks County, Iowa. His job isn’t overly dangerous, like in a city, but he has been in several vehicular accidents – it worries me when he arrives home even a little late.

Anyway, I work at the university nearby our home as a fundraiser for the College of Liberal Arts – my title is Associate Dean, but I’m like one of seven ‘associate deans’ – guess it’s like being a vice-president of a bank. Though at least a banker’s job isn’t tied to the financial health of the state…and of those cheats screwing it up in Des Moines. I hate that the university’s fiscal well-being is so tied to the state’s economic health. Sure would be nice if we could work it where we’d be more independent…

I think I’m pretty good at my job: responsible, organized, efficient. I like to think the dean can trust me; boy, if I could only oversee the rest of this department – sometimes they are just a mess. In fact, the other day….”

And so on.

This ultimate step truly places you within her shoes and provides the customer-centric viewpoint so crucial to effective content marketing.

Imagine how to engage her if marketing educational business software, easy-to-assemble meals, life insurance, cellular phone packages, etc. It becomes easier to envision your content marketing efforts when considering “Lucy” versus “W 25-54, household size 4+, HHI $75,000 – 100,000, college educated plus.”

That’s the real power of personas: bringing your customers – and hence your content marketing efforts – to life.

Author: Keith Wiegold

Keith Wiegold is Chief Content Evangelist of Nutlug, a content marketing consultancy. He has created C.A.R.E ™, a proprietary strategic framework for Customer Acquisition and Retention through Engagement, as well as N-Gauge Level™, an engagement measurement system. Along with his position as adjunct professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School, Department of Integrated Marketing Communications, Keith has worked for several of the leading and pioneering agencies in custom content, nationally and globally. Follow him on Twitter @ContentKeith.

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  • http://www.firehead.net CJ Walker

    Brilliant post! As an American who lives in Sweden with an Irish partner, we're rather hard for conventional marketers to pin down. But with content marketing methods, we get to go to the party too! And we have some pretty specific interests we like to spend our money on.

    • Keith Wiegold

      CJ: thanks for you comments! Glad you are a ‘party-goer’ — content has a way of inviting us, drawing us in, growing with us, celebrating. You’re right – it’s a party, and personas are superior to nametags any day.

      Keith

  • http://blog.junta42.com Joe Pulizzi

    Keith…this is extremely helpful stuff. The examples make it hit home.

    • Keith Wiegold

      Thank YOU, Joe, for bringing your CMI vision to life.

  • Keith Wiegold

    CJ: thanks for you comments! Glad you are a ‘party-goer’ — content has a way of inviting us, drawing us in, growing with us, celebrating. You’re right – it’s a party, and personas are superior to nametags any day.

    Keith

  • Keith Wiegold

    Thank YOU, Joe, for bringing your CMI vision to life.

  • http://www.nutlug.com Keith

    CJ: thanks for you comments! Glad you are a ‘party-goer’ — content has a way of inviting us, drawing us in, growing with us, celebrating. You’re right – it’s a party, and personas are superior to nametags any day!

  • http://www.nutlug.com Keith

    Thank YOU, Joe, for bringing your CMI vision to life.

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  • http://tribalstylemarketing.com/blog TribalStyleMarketing

    I was listening to one of Dan Kennedy’s old recordings recently, & he said it’s our job to know every little detail about our customers/clients.  That way we know how to reach them on their emotional pain points.