The title of this chapter is something of a trick question. Sure, content marketing means developing content around your business, your products, and your services. But that content isn’t supposed to exist in some youoriented void. Content is aimed externally: at customers, prospects, buyers, brand advocates, bloggers, the media, people participating in social networks, and potentially employees (if you’re recruiting).
So the first rule of knowing what kind of content you’ll create is knowing who you’re creating it for. This will not only help you determine what kind of content, but also in what form and where content will appear. Blogs? YouTube videos? Tweets? You’ll never know until you begin creating personas.
Personas are used in digital marketing for many purposes, not just content marketing. They’re woven into website design, usability, navigation, advertising, and marketing messages. They’re used in offline scenarios, too, particularly in the retail sector. The idea behind personas is that you can’t connect with your customers (and other constituencies) if you don’t know who they are. Obviously, you can’t know each person individually, but do a little research, and different audience segments start falling into pretty well-defined characters with distinct characteristics.
Although books have been written about the art and science of developing user personas, the idea is to boil your audience down to a handful of distinct individuals, each representing a group you’re serving—or trying to reach. Personas have names, faces, and real personalities.
Following are three example personas:
- Jill is 28, and a highly competitive person, both at work and in her personal life. Social status is important to her, and she appreciates these qualities in others. She tends to make impulsive decisions and is quick to turn to the Internet to accomplish tasks so long as she is able to get what she needs quickly and efficiently. She seeks verifiable results and quantifiable bottom lines. Social interaction in the process of a business transaction is not important to her. She’ll willingly pay more to get extra benefits or features. Jill is unmarried and does not see marriage in her near future.
- James, 36, is Internet savvy and is online in excess of 10 hours per day. He has multiple email accounts and does all his shopping and banking online, often from his iPad or iPhone. James works for an ecommerce company and has just purchased a modest one-bedroom condo in the suburbs outside a large metropolitan city.
- Stacy, 34, is a soccer mom and the main shopper for her family, living in a semi-rural community. Outside of using email to communicate with friends and family, she’s intimidated by technology and inexperienced with the Internet. She is well educated and usually confident, but she doesn’t really trust online shopping sites that require credit card information, and she’s leery of joining social networks. She’s heard too much bad news about identity theft and privacy and thinks it’s safer just to avoid these potentially risky areas.
Your content won’t connect with customers (or prospects) if you don’t know who they are, and it’s unlikely they’re some amorphous mono-person. They’re disparate individuals who likely fall into half a dozen or so distinct categories. People in each of these categories search differently. They discuss different things on different social networks. How they decide what to buy, or what to recommend to their friends, family, or colleagues at work, is different and distinct. They have different predilections and different preferences. Instead of creating content for everyone, you’re talking to Stacy, or Jill, or James.
So how do you go about creating personas? Start by digging into data. Look at website analytics. Where are people coming from? What keywords and phrases do they use to find you (and your competitors)? How does your conversion data pan out from those metrics?
You can use a variety of tools to collect and parse this data, as well as social media listening tools, services that break out a site’s demographic information, and services such as Flowtown and Rapleaf that tease social network data out of your email lists (assuming you have them). Then there’s that tried-and-true method: the customer survey. (Offering the chance to win a $50 Amazon gift certificate is a great way to encourage participation.)
After you’ve collected all this data, analyzed it, and segmented it into personas, it’s important to regularly revisit persona profiles. After all, they’re not etched in stone.
When personas have been developed, you’ll know who you’re talking to and writing for. You may even get a clearer idea as to whether pink or cerulean blue should be the dominant color on a web page or in a photo or video. You’ll have a clearer understanding of where your personas congregate online and how you might approach them.
Think of it this way: If you were trying to get a pretty girl to go out with you, you’d likely adapt a radically different approach when coming on to the bookish graduate student in the library, as opposed to the flamboyant party girl in the red spangled dress at a disco.
Well, wouldn’t you?
Every business has its own set of unique personas. Some have only three or four, whereas others have a dozen or more. Although all your content marketing initiatives ought to be addressed directly to one of your identified personas (although it’s perfectly possible that one content initiative may cover two or more profiles), all content marketing tends to fall into a specific set of categories.
Let’s consider them. The next few chapters break down the different content categories.