The concept of a buyer persona in the business world is nothing new. In fact, it originated in the '90s in the world of software development. The first user persona, named Cathy, was created by famed developer Alan Cooper. The concept made its way firmly into B2B sales and marketing strategies thanks to consultants, industry analysts and many agencies that specialize in customer research.
Although the pace of marketing technology innovation has accelerated significantly since the late '90s, the exercise of developing fictional models of buyers to create empathy in the minds of your team remains a widespread practice. But is it an outdated one?
Even in today’s landscape of automated marketing and scalable lead management, I’d argue that buyer personas play a more important role than ever before. Here are five common situations where marketing faces challenges and how personas can help:
1. Your Messaging is Underperforming
Underperforming messaging is a symptom of a larger problem — irrelevance. In a buyer-driven world, personas ensure relevance. In a situation where buyers are inundated with sales calls and oodles of content to sift through, it has never been more important to understand exactly who they are, what they need and what they care about. To be noticed and remembered in the attention-deficit world of a buyer, your marketing must be able to articulate what it is you do in such a way that it aligns with the problems your buyer is looking to solve, in the language they use to describe it.
2. Marketing and Sales Can’t Agree
Personas can act as valuable communications and strategy tools to unify departments. They can build consensus — or settle disagreements — around who to target and, related, what message and formats are relevant to them. When messaging and tactics must align with what a pre-defined persona needs and their goals, decisions are easier to make.
3. Your Mix of Content Isn’t Resonating
As a good product marketing friend of mine, Hally Pinaud, so eloquently says, “quit sending users stuff you wrote for their boss.” A complex B2B sale has a buying committee comprised of multiple individuals with varying degrees of influence, but all are involved in the eventual decision process.
Creating personas for each individual in the committee is a reliable technique for refining your content strategy. Simply, personas done right make it clear what content is appropriate for which individuals, by understanding what questions they have at each stage in the process and how they prefer to consume information.
Cintell advisor and B2B marketing strategist Ardath Albee recommends including prompts within these pieces intended to begin the sharing process between individuals.
4. You’re Stuck In Spray And Pray Mode
We are all guilty of this old-school approach to email marketing; send a message to as many people as possible (spray) and cross your fingers hoping a big enough chunk of them respond (pray). The role of personas in this context is to help align your campaigns to the buyers and their purchasing lifecycle. Even the most basic segmentation and attention to variations in your buyers will go a long way.
5. Your Content is All About You
I’m sure your product is fantastic, really. It’s probably got fancy widgets and impressive doohickeys. If your content spends too much time talking about your solution, you’re missing an opportunity to truly connect with the buyer and their pains. There’s an underlying science to all of this: empathy. With a better understanding of the world of your buyers (what keeps them up at night, how they describe solutions like yours, what’s important to them about your category) you and your team have critical insight to formulate more relevant content using the language and the vocabulary of its intended audience.
With the technological advances happening in cloud computing and marketing technology, I’m excited about the future of buyer personas to become actionable tools connected to the real-world behavior of buyers, and enhanced by the plethora of information available on the web about them. At their core personas remain a timeless strategy tool to improve even the most automated of marketing tactics. After all, we’re still selling to human beings.
Katie Martell is the Co-Founder and CMO of Cintell, a SaaS customer intelligence platform that helps B2B companies better understand their buyers. Her experience includes B2B firms NetProspex, Aberdeen Group and Version 2.0 Communications. She is a scotch enthusiast, ska aficionado and board member of the American Marketing Association. Connect with her on Twitter @KatieMartell.