By Marcia Riefer Johnston published May 12, 2016

Buyer Personas You Want to Use: The 9 Essential Parts

buyer-personas-want-use

Ever been part of a team that skipped over creating personas to get to the “real work”? Or maybe you had personas, but everyone ignored them.

Personas are easy to dismiss.

The problem with ignoring personas – as Ardath Albee pointed out at the Intelligent Content Conference in her talk, How to Develop Audience Personas That You’ll Actually Use – is that companies go out of business if they ignore these questions:

Who the heck are we going to talk to? Why will they care? What are we going to say that’s relevant to them?

Those are exactly the questions that well-formed personas answer.

In this article, I summarize what Ardath identifies as the nine essential parts of a buyer persona. When you include all nine parts, you end up with personas that you and your team want to use – personas that help you make good decisions about the content you create and manage for prospective buyers.

All quotations and images come from Ardath’s talk.

Persona defined

A persona is a composite sketch of a target market based on validated commonalities – not assumptions – that informs content strategy to drive productive buyer engagement (i.e., revenue).

persona definition

Ardath’s emphasis on commonalities goes against the hyper-individuality that some people expect from a persona:

A lot of us get excited when we find a unique attribute of one of our customers. We think, ‘Oh, this is cool. Let’s focus on this.’ The problem is, if you focus on the interests of the person wearing the red shoes, you miss all the people in the white shoes.

Unless you’re advanced enough to do one-to-one personalization, which I haven’t seen very often except in smaller account-based programs, you need to focus on the commonalities. Focusing on commonalities allows marketers to be relevant to a wider swath of that target market.

commonalities—shoes

To get value from your personas, you have to take the time to build them with enough depth and insight to enable your team to generate ideas and topics that resonate. A useful persona also informs you about tone of voice and style.

Build personas w/ depth & insight so your team can generate topics that resonate via @ardath421 Click To Tweet

To create a persona with depth, include nine parts:

  1. Day in the life
  2. Objectives
  3. Problems
  4. Orientation
  5. Obstacles
  6. Questions
  7. Preferences
  8. Keywords and phrases
  9. Engagement scenarios

Read on to discover how Ardath suggests building each part into a persona that you and your team want to use.


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1. Create a day-in-the-life scenario

A day in the life is No. 1 in Ardath’s list, but because it’s based on all the other components, you develop this one last. This component enables content creators to step into the persona’s shoes. You might, for example, hand this scenario to a new a writer. “When people read this, they should think, OK, I get this persona.”

Don’t describe the persona to the reader. Have the persona talk to the reader in first-person.

component 1 day-in-the-life

Source: Ardath Albee’s ICC 2016 presentation

Don’t describe the persona to the reader. Have the persona talk in first-person says @ardath421 Click To Tweet

In this example, the third-person description (“Diane is a hard worker”) gives some insight into Diane but not as much as the first-person phrasing (“I’m struggling”).

Notice Diane’s reference to “my boss.” That’s probably another persona needed, Ardath says. “You want to incorporate each persona’s relationships with the other personas on the buying committee.”

Often we develop personas in silos. We fail to look at the “overlay.” If personas are going to serve us, they need to include relationships with other personas. The description that mentions the boss, for example, might inspire the content team to create content that helps people like Diane to convince their bosses to make a change.

The day-in-the-life component “doesn’t need to be a novel,” Ardath says. About 300 words should do.

2. State the persona’s specific objectives

Make your persona’s objectives (goals and responsibilities) specific. For example, the objective “grow revenue” is too broad to help anyone create relevant content.

On the other hand, if you say something insightful – and targeted – for example, this persona wants to “eliminate inefficiency to speed time to market” – you give content creators something they can use. Something they want to use.

component 2 objectives

Source: Ardath Albee’s ICC 2016 presentation

Personas must give content planners and creators something to work with. The more specifically we understand the persona’s objectives, the more likely we are to develop content that makes real people say, “Hey, they’re talking to me.”

3. State the persona’s main problems

Again, express the persona’s main problems in specific terms.

Take “inefficiency.” This general term may accurately capture a pressing problem, but if you want a persona to help your team generate ideas and make choices about the tone and style of your content, you need a more specific description – for example, “Lack of automated workflows adds months to product launches.”

component 3 problems

Source: Ardath Albee’s ICC 2016 presentation

If you were asked to write something helpful for readers you’ve never met, which problem description would you rather be handed?

4. State the persona’s orientation toward their job

“I can’t tell you how many personas I’ve seen that say ‘married with two kids and a dog, lives in the suburbs, and makes $125,000 a year,” Ardath says. This kind of description could prove helpful if you sell homes or cars, but for many buying contexts, this kind of information is gratuitous.

component 4 orientation

Source: Ardath Albee’s ICC 2016 presentation

The more details you include about the persona’s professional demeanor, the more that persona can help your team decide what content to create and how to communicate in a way that engages the people your company wants to engage.

Look for things like ‘He has been in this career for 20 years.’ What does that tell you? You’re talking to someone who has been around the block. He knows how to get a deal done. If you know that you’re addressing a confident leader, you know what tone and style to use. If you know that he mentors his team, you know to talk about how your solution will elevate his team’s skills.

5. State the persona’s relevant obstacles

People often think of price as the main obstacle, Ardath says, but it’s not. “I’m talking about things that get in the way at each stage, at each step, that keeps your buying committee or your persona from moving forward.”

component 5 obstacles

Source: Ardath Albee’s ICC 2016 presentation

For example, let’s say your persona has an influencer or buying-committee member named Tom. She might need information to convince Tom to keep moving forward. Have you provided that information? If not, you may want to create some content that helps people eliminate this kind of obstacle.

6. State the persona’s burning questions

Questions are Ardath’s favorite component of personas: “You need to figure out what questions your persona would ask at every step along the way.” Questions form the foundation of conversations. People ask something, you answer, and then they say, “That’s great, but what about this?” And so on.

component 6 questions

Source: Ardath Albee’s ICC 2016 presentation

When you put your persona’s questions in logical order, they form a storyline. For example, prospective customers don’t ask, “What are my options for a vendor?,” until they have an answer to “Why the heck should I care?”

Each time you answer a question, you open the door to the next question. “We need to set ourselves up to be mentors, to help people solve a series of problems,” Ardath says.

When you use this approach, people who engage with a certain set of questions are telling you where they are in the buying process. We can create content that not only informs our prospective customers but also informs us about our prospective customers.

“Getting the questions right for each stage of the buying process is a critical piece of building a persona. Questions can inform a lead-nurture program. They can inform lot of things,” Ardath says.

7. State the persona’s content preferences

You need to figure out your personas’ content preferences:

  • Channels: What channels do they prefer?
  • Social media: How do they use social media?
  • Content: What tone and style and voice engage them? Are they more inclined to engage with content that has a glass-half-full perspective or do they need a stick – “Hey, you’re exposing yourself to a lot of risk if you don’t do this”?
  • Formats: Do they prefer text? Audio? Visual? Long form? Short form?
  • Interactivity: Do they want ROI calculators? Infographics? Quizzes? Webinars with Q&A sessions?
  • Media: Where do they go to get information?

component 7 preferences

Source: Ardath Albee’s ICC 2016 presentation

8. State some keywords and phrases the persona would use

Your prospective customers are probably not searching on words related to your products. (Bummer.) Discover what phrases they use most. What are they most inclined to type into that search box? Maybe they type something like “reduce time to market” or “product launch best practices.”

component 8 SEO

Source: Ardath Albee’s ICC 2016 presentation

People typically search on the same phrases they use in conversation. When you talk with customers and prospective customers, notice what phrases come naturally to them in relation to the problems they’re trying to solve. Capture their most telling phrases in your persona descriptions.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
A Nutshell Guide to Proper Keyword Research

9. Sketch out engagement scenarios for the persona

After you’ve gathered all the information about your personas, Ardath suggests pulling it together into an engagement scenario that helps your team use the information strategically. “There are a gazillion possibilities,” she says.

In this example, think of the blue boxes as questions, hesitations, doubts, or concerns that your persona might have. The white statements are answers that your content would provide.

component 9 engagement

Source: Ardath Albee’s ICC 2016 presentation

Visualizing ways in which your persona might want to interact with your content over time helps you imagine useful ways to link that content together instead of “doing one-off random acts of content.”

In her workshops, Ardath sometimes asks marketers how many are registered for their own nurture programs. “I get very few hands,” she says. “We need to get immersed, understand the experience from the prospective customer’s point of view. How do we improve on our program? How does everything we do connect?”

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
How to Measure Engagement the Right Way

Conclusion

To build buyer personas that you and your team want to use – personas that help content marketing strategists and content creators make decisions that support your business goals – include the nine parts that Ardath recommends. And make sure that “every piece of information you put in a persona informs something that you can use.

How do you know what to put into each part? How do you gather the information that goes into your personas? In her ICC talk, Ardath went on to address that topic. Check out How to Build Buyer Personas That Build Sales that picks up where this article leaves off. Better yet, sign up for our Content Strategy for Marketers newsletter to have the next article delivered to you.

In the meantime, please let us know in a comment what you and your team do to create personas that people want to use.

Join us when Ardath is a special guest on our #CMWorld Twitter chat about personas at 12 p.m. Eastern May 24. Or, see her speak at Content Marketing World this September. Register by May 31 for early bird savings and the opportunity to win prizes. Use code BLOG100 to save an extra $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

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  • Mike Myers

    I heart this. Packed full of such great advice and information. Thanks for curating, Marcia!

    • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

      You’re welcome, Mike. I got a lot out of listening to Ardath. I trust that you’ll feel the same way about her insights in next Thursday’s post.

  • grahamkahl

    Great article. We are going to add this type of thinking to our persona creations. I look forward to the second part of this article.

    • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Graham, I’m glad to hear that Ardath’s ideas will come in handy for your team. I learned a lot myself from her talk.

  • http://coschedule.com/blog Nathan Ellering

    Very interesting insight, Marcia! Love the idea behind the nine points (the yes and no was also helpful). Also, smart to write them in first person to make it feel like the persona is telling you about themselves.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Nathan, Thanks for your comment. I agree with all your points. All credit goes to Ardath. Every insight here comes from her talk. Tune in next Thursday for the rest of the story.

    • Sherri Henkin

      I agree with @nathancoschedule:disqus Nathan about the yes/no and the clear descriptions. The graphics highlight the points! Thanks for the post, @marciarieferjohnston:disqus

  • HunterClary

    Ardath rules. This is solid stuff. Thanks! Already saved to my Pocket for easy retrieval and team sharing.

    • http://howtowriteeverything.com/ Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Hunter, Glad to hear that you found this useful and plan to share it.

  • Gabriello Ferrero

    Thank you Marcia for share these important 9 points. I have start use the buyer personas with my team and I find it works a lot. But reading your post I learn and increase my understanding. I like a lot the point: “Don’t describe the persona to the reader. Have the persona talk to the reader in first-person”. Introduce any buyers personas speaking in the first person is the best way for make the team feel that the persona is in front of them. I’ll study and use all of these suggestions, Thank you again

  • ronellsmith

    Always impressed with Ardath’s information regarding personas. One thing she makes clear and that you cover well above is the need to not be distracted by information that won’t, in the end, provide a great deal of benefit and/or insight for your brand. It’s great to know all things; being distracted by all the things wastes resources.

  • Japs

    I enjoyed reading this article Marcia! Keep up the good work 😀

    I think using psychology + buyer personas = conversion

    would you agree?

    I would like to share this article -> Understanding Psychology of your customers.