Adele Revella, CEO and Founder, Buyer Persona Institute

Addressing shifting audience priorities is dominating the marketing conversation due to the disruptive impact of COVID-19. At a time when communication agility and targeting precision are even more relevant than ever, we asked Buyer Persona Institute founder Adele Revella for her take on how to generate the audience insights you need to create the content your customers want most right now.

CCO: How can developing more-agile buyer personas help marketers better understand the most appropriate content for demand-generation purposes – during our current crisis and as they move forward under our new normal?

AR: Before this pandemic, most marketers would say that their customer needs were relatively stable, which meant that new messaging and content strategies were usually tied to calendar cycles or new internal initiatives. Buyer personas were based on historical data or internal sources, built as a project, and rarely or never updated.

But now it is impossible to believe that those data sources alone can clarify the content that will influence their customers’ current buying decisions. And with the economic climate unlikely to stabilize anytime soon, every sales and marketing team will need to make frequent adjustments to their messages, content, and tactics to align their efforts around their customers’ priorities and concerns.

Implementing agile buyer personas applies a method used by software developers to rapidly deliver value that grows with each subsequent release. It helps ensure that enterprise teams have one source of in-depth truth around the customers they need to target immediately, followed by monthly or quarterly updates to the insights as those customers stabilize, normalize, and eventually accelerate their own businesses.

Implementing agile personas gives enterprise teams a single source of in-depth truth that can inform their targeting decisions, says @Buyerpersona via @CMIContent. Share on X

What advice can you offer to help marketers rethink their approach to segmentation and targeting as they build and activate those personas (i.e., whether it’s in response to the disruption being caused by COVID-19 and/or other dynamic factors that exist in digital marketing)?

As a result of COVID-19, your customer’s industry will become a primary indicator for segmentation, with some seeing revenue disappear and a few struggling with unprecedented demand. Other industries may fall in the middle of this spectrum yet still be preoccupied by problems they have never before encountered or anticipated.

Use caution, however, because it is not enough to rely on a list of industries that are faring better than others. Segmentation should always be tied to differences in your customers’ needs during their buying journey. If two or more industries have the same goals, priorities, and concerns before they will commit to buying a solution like yours, those industries should form one segment. Difference in your buyers’ questions and concerns must define your segments, even if that means combining industries or segmenting buyers within one industry.

The key to identifying your segments begins with in-depth insight into the knowledge and experiences your customers need before they will buy. This requires one-on-one conversations, so the interviewer can probe deeply to understand every question, concern, and objection your buyers might encounter throughout their journey. Patterns across those interviews will tell you which buyers have the same needs, revealing how many different ways you need to segment your market.

In your 2020 Demand Generation Summit presentation, you talk about the “economic buyer.” How would you characterize this persona and what makes their insights uniquely valuable for content marketing?

The economic buyer is the persona who owns the budget for the buying decision you need to influence. Before the pandemic, our focus was generally someone a level or two below the economic buyer, a persona we labeled “lead evaluator” because this person was leading the buying committee. The best part of the lead evaluator interviews was the deep understanding they provided across their entire buying journey. In a strong economy, these interviews were an efficient way for sales and marketing teams to know what they needed to do and say to secure their place among the buyer’s consideration set and win more deals.

With the world’s economy under stress, it’s become more important to focus on the economic buyer: the senior executive who is adjusting the company’s buying priorities to decide which investments will be accelerated and what must be delayed. Marketing and sales teams will use these insights to determine which segments are ready for engagement content that moves buyers rapidly into and through the buying decision and which customers will only be annoyed or unresponsive.

With our economy under stress, marketers must target “economic buyers” – the execs who are adjusting their company’s current buying priorities, says @Buyerpersona via @CMIContent. Share on X

We are hearing that many teams are concerned about marketing their solutions during this crisis for fear of damaging their brands. At the same time, we’ve interviewed buyers who say that certain investments remain a top priority, which means that provider outreach is critical. It is only through careful segmentation that sales and marketing teams can know which types of buyers need to hear from them now and which may require them to proceed with caution.

What additional steps should content marketers be taking right now to align their efforts with their sales team’s priorities?

It is time to seriously rethink your marketing messages and stop talking about long-term strategic outcomes. Your buyers are under stress, and in this kind of environment, it makes more sense to focus your messages and content on a single, vital aspect of your segment’s short-term objectives.

Most critically for your sales team, every deal in their pipelines is now an unknown, as economic buyers adjust their company’s budget and priorities. For the most part, your salespeople don’t have direct access to these buyers – they are engaging with lead evaluators who don’t know when they’ll be allowed to revisit the objectives that were so critical just a few months ago.

This is an extremely hard time to be in sales, where their compensation and their very position relies on achieving near-term results. Now more than ever before, your salespeople need to know where to invest their time and what they can do and say to move viable deals forward. This is a rare opportunity for content marketers to create a true partnership with the sales team.

Want to share your thoughts on this article or suggest additional ideas? Email us at [email protected].