Using personas in online marketing is not new. Among others conversion optimization practitioners, web developers and usability experts have been using personas for ages. By defining personas we put ourselves in the shoes of a “typical” target person and define processes by empathizing with them in a very detailed way so we can ‘convert’ them, directly or indirectly. In marketing we mainly look at buyer personas, based on different segments on the – again – typical ‘types’ of target persons, in this case buyers. Is it any different for content marketing personas?
Working with buyer personas is very important. However, it’s not perfect. There is a difference between putting yourself in the shoes, regardless of your degree of empathy, of the customer and really knowing what each individual wants in actual situations. So, we test, improve and ideally involve people from our different ‘target segments’.
As we move towards a further personalization of marketing interactions, including increasing needs for personalized content, it might seem that working with personas is ‘old school’. But it’s certainly not, on the contrary. It forces you to take a deep dive into the typical needs and behavior of your customer segments and to look at what influences them across all their decisions. Buyer personas are examples of people you want to convince and influence so they take action.
That’s not only the aim of the content on your website but also of the content you use to attract and engage people. In the end, even sharing content on social networks is some form of conversion, albeit most of the time without a direct selling goal. So, content marketing personas are really buyer personas.
When developing websites we also use personas but on top of buyer personas these can include other characteristics or even ‘types’ of people that would visit your website. Think about potential future employees, for instance, or journalists, to name a few. However, stick as much as you can to buyer personas. In the end, everyone is a customer in the broadest sense.
It’s the customer lifecycle that matters in most marketing and content marketing . By mapping buyer personas, stages in the customer lifecycle (pre-purchase, post-purchase, etc.), touchpoints, content needs/gaps and KPIs we can then bring everything together. I will share an example soon whereby we use personas in a content marketing and touchpoint model for a bank.
Focus on action and persuasion, also in content marketing: an overview of persona models
Personas, whether buyer personas or not, represent how different segments will interact with you. As said, in each step and across each touchpoint they take decisions and by giving them a name, face and personal story as representatives of your typical buyer segments, etc. you take that narrative when looking at every decision. It’s clear that content is essential in taking decisions and persuading people to make them. From a content marketing personas perspective we add this additional mapping layer of auditing content needs.
It’s not only important to identify buyer personas. In fact, we even “interview them” (since before we even talked about content marketing). In the typical example of a content mapping process below, you notice there are different steps:
- Identify concerns, drivers, role, etc.
- What questions do they ask at each stage?
- How do you provide answers (and motivations…)?
- Look at the content you need to persuade and inform – or better: to facilitate the buy (or whatever other action you seek).
- Map it all.
- Identify the gaps and fill them.
In reality more steps need to be added such as matching touchpoints and KPIs but it’s a good – B2B – example and you can find it in this PDF, made by demand generation firm Leftbrain DGA, on the website of the Content Marketing Institute (scroll down to see more, such as the persona details but do add more than the ones mentioned).
There are different models that have influenced the way marketers defined personas, including psychological models. In online marketing and this post we mainly look at rich personas, with that additional content mapping twist. Rich personas are those fictive people in our ‘target’ groups that get a name, a face, a psychological, relational profile, etc. as explained previously And they are buying personas. Nevertheless, let’s also look at other models that are sometimes used in a marketing context, including social, etc. to have a full picture.
Personality and psychology models
Let’s start with some that are deeply rooted in psychology.
The functions and types of Jung
In developing his own psychoanalytical views, Carl Gustav Jung, defined two “primary” rational judging functions: thinking and feeling. He also found two irrational perceiving functions, being sensing and intuition.
He further refined this by adding that these functions are either expressed in an introverted or extraverted form.
This resulted in eight psychological types.
The Myers-Briggs approach
Myers Briggs is based on the mentioned typologies of Jung and is really a psychological assessment that aims to understand psychological preferences.
The so-called Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is composed of 16 psychological types. They are expressed by combining four letters for each type.
The letters that are used in these combinations are E (extraversion), S (sensing), T (thinking), J (judging), I (Introversion), N (Intuition), F (Feeling) and P (Perception). Obviously, you can’t combine them all since extraversion, for instance, is the opposite of introversion. The same goes for S and N, T and F, and J and P.
Other psychological models
These psychological models have been used for persona development as well, just as many others have, such as the 16 personality factors of Raymond Cattell, the so-called “Big Five” and the four (and five) personality models.
It’s interesting to study and understand them but to be honest; I don’t use them (also since I have a fundamental problem with categories and labels anyway). “Translate” them if you want but in the end, you will only work with probably four personas anyway (maybe up to six).
Buying and behavior personas for marketing
Here are some more pragmatic models that are used in marketing, some for specific marketing tactics.
The buyer personas model of Bryan Eisenberg
Bryan Eisenberg has an actionable model that is based on buying decisions and behavior. It also corresponds with the four typologies Jakob Nielsen found in heatmaps and the usability tests he conducted, as Bryan found out.
Eisenberg identified four buyer personas, that are based on two axes: pace (quick or deliberate action) and bias (logical and emotional decisions).
The resulting personas are called competitive (quick and logical), spontaneous (quick and emotional), methodical (deliberate and logical) and finally humanistic (deliberate and emotional).
The human motivations approach by Synovate Censydiam (now part of Ipsos).This is not a persona model as such, but you can work with it to create personas that suit your goals and correspond with the traits of your ‘target’ groups. It is based on motivation and intent (see the flip book “True Colours: Using Human Motivations to inspire Marketing”) with two axes: personal and social dimensions.
The model is developed for marketing and branding purposes and defines 8 motivations. Is it perfect? No. However, it’s an actionable model as well. Motivations are obviously essential in taking decisions and they are mainly emotional (although we explain them rationally). Most persona models I have seen, based upon it, distinguish four personas. Indeed, just like Bryan’s.
Forrester developed several typologies that you’ve probably heard off in recent years. One of them is the social technographics ladder, categorizing consumers into creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators and inactives.
Such models are often used in social media marketin and even content marketing but they are not really personas in the strict sense. So, while they are probably interesting to use, it’s my feeling you better use them to overlap with one of the above models since they only highlight a specific dimension.
Digital footprints, interactions and data
This brings me to other ways that are more closely related to actual behavior and the ways in which people interact with businesses, both online and offline. By measuring, testing and aggregating data, you can define personas when moving forward in your digital marketing or touchpoint marketing strategy. When starting with content marketing, it’s relatively easy to enrich these personas with more insights. Beware though that we are more than digital data.
How people interact, their buying journey, how they decide, their customer lifecycle and why/how they act, click, share, like, recommend and get out their wallet in the end is what marketing and thus personas should be about. In future posts we’ll look more at practical examples in different situations and at what we could call content marketing personas and even social personas but in the end they will always be buyer personas. It just depends on your definition of ‘buying’ and customers…
Let me know if you work in other ways, agree or disagree.
UPDATE: a list with buyer persona definitions
List.ly founder Nick Kellet created a list with some nice buyer persona definitions. You can find it below. Thanks for mentioning this blog post, Nick. However we voted a blog post by Tony Zambito up as it’s an important one. Check out Tony’s work and that of Adele Revella. And of course check out the tools out there (such as the one Ardath Albee made) and the content marketing software platforms with a buyer persona feature.