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DemandCon 2012: B2B Marketers Learning To Overcome Persona Panic


Do buyer personas make B2B marketers nervous? If you ask Jay Gaines, Group Director at SiriusDecisions, the answer is clearly yes – and that’s not good.

Gaines tackled this question during his keynote at this year’s DemandCon event, held in Boston this week. “When I bring up personas, a lot of my clients get a little upset,” he said. “They feel like they’re already operating at a very granular level to begin with . . . there’s no way they can get down to the level of creating personals and be able to manage.”

It’s an attitude that some of the attendees reinforced. “Good luck getting all of that done,” muttered one attendee during a subsequent DemandCon session on how to create B2B buyer personas (although he seemed more resigned to the task than defiant).

Yet according to Gaines, personas are a tool that B2B marketers can’t afford to ignore. For one thing, too many marketers are still counting on technology, and not sound processes, to save the day.

Personas Pay Off For B2B Marketers

Over the last five years, Gaines pointed out, B2B companies have doubled their investments in technology, and over the next five years 70% say they’re going to increase that investment even more.

“Yet spray and pray marketing is still ongoing, it’s still happening,” Gaines said. “And it’s still a problem.”

That’s where the effective use of personas plays a crucial role. “Most organizations continue to market to segments, and not to people,” Gaines stated. At the same time, “the primary challenge my clients face is getting a prospect’s attention. If you’re more relevant and targeted, you’ll have better success.”

Gaines noted that B2B marketers who use personas get up to an 18% increase in response rates, 15% lower costs per lead and a 10% improvement in pipeline to close ratios, among other benefits.

Gaines also offered some advice to marketers worried about the work involved creating personas: Don’t make the process more complex than it needs to be. “The fact is, you don’t need a lot,” he advised. In fact, on one recent project, he said, “we reduced the number of personas that they market to from about 170 down to 14.” Addressing the right decision-makers in a company, Gaines added, is a matter of focus – not of creating personas for every conceivable job role and situation.

The Art (And Science) Of Creating Personas

The process of focusing on the right personas was also a major topic during Laura Patterson’s DemandCon presentation that walked attendees through the concept and creation process. Patterson, the President of Vision Edge Marketing, called out the differences between profiles, roles and personas – three concepts that she said often get confused or conflated by marketers.

“Personas should put you in a decision maker’s shoes,” Patterson said. “They should resemble a real buyer or user of your products; they need to be tangible, and easy to envision and empathize with. . . persona-based marketing is part Hollywood characterization and part business analytics – it’s both an art and a science.”

Perhaps it’s that tension between the two – the quantitative basis of today’s B2B marketing mixed with old-fashioned imagination – that makes some marketers nervous. But given the benefits Gaines laid out in his presentation, persona-based marketing shouldn’t be an optional activity.

Content Marketing: Think Big, Get Small

A DemandCon session on content marketing raised the question of whether “quick and dirty” content creation today trumps the longer, more complex thought-leadership pieces many B2B marketers are used to creating. Shelly Kramer, President of V3 Integrated Marketing, had a blunt assessment of the issue.

“Clients don’t give a damn whether you’re a thought leader or not,” Kramer said. “What matters is how your content serves your clients. Forget the thought leadership crap, clients don’t care about that. They need information, and they need it in quick, easily accessible formats.”

Demand Gen Report’s own Andrew Gaffney added that one way to deal with the question isn’t to pick a format, but rather to pick a lot of formats – and to ensure that they all work together.

“In terms of big or small, think of what you can build up or strip down,” Gaffney said. “Your content needs to be flexible, modular and suitable for repurposing in as many formats as possible.”

SMBs And Marketing Automation: A Powerful Pair

Finally, during a session on marketing automation for SMBs, Act-On Software CMO Atri Chatterjee offered some interesting nuggets from a still-unpublished study recently conducted by Act-On and Forrester.

After segmenting the respondents into firms that beat their sales plans versus those that lagged behind Chatterjee noted that the top performers were far more likely to devote more than 5% of their revenue to marketing programs. It’s a notable finding, he observed, since 57% of the SMBs surveyed said they spend less than 4% on marketing, and a third of them spend less than 2%.

The other most interesting finding from the study was that 71% of the top performers are either using or plan to use marketing automation software, versus just 14% of the laggards. It’s a telling statistic in a SMB market where marketing automation is still an unfamiliar concept to so many firms.