When I first started working as a content strategist for a start-up phone company, I was a one-woman powerhouse, the only producer of content. I wrote hundreds of blog posts, case studies and planned many email campaigns. The majority of the content I produced was about one type of phone. ONE. PHONE. Although I was able to keep it original and interesting for the first six months, it became painful to come to work and even more excruciating for me to write. It became just as painful for my audience to read as the blog’s number of new monthly subscribers plateaued.
What did I take away from this? People are not one-dimensional and their interests go beyond what marketers try to sell them. If you want to keep your audience’s attention long enough to accomplish your marketing goals, you must create the type of content that not only educates but entertains. And to entertain, you must first define who your audience is and use that information to create creative personas to guide your content.
The difference between creative vs. buyer personas
According to The Buyer Persona Institute, “a buyer persona tells you what prospective customers are thinking and doing as they weigh their options to address a problem that your company resolves.” In other words, the purpose of a buyer persona is to very clearly identify who your exact audience is in order to identify exactly how your business’s actions affect prospective customers’ purchasing decisions. The information necessary to create buyer personas is gathered by reaching out to existing customers via online surveys, phone surveys, in-person interviews and the analysis of website data.
Creative personas, on the other hand, are memorable characters that you (the marketer or business owner) develop in order to help your brand focus on creating the type of content that draws in those types of people and keeps their attention. Creative personas help brands get away from generic data and center their editorial calendars. The best prepared brands have developed both buyer and creative personas.
Creating creative personas
Step 1: Do your research
If there is a premier authority within your niche, take the time to read about what they have to say about your audience. Within certain research-heavy industries — like law or medicine, for example — exact audiences have already been defined.
For other less research-intensive industries (like general contracting or the food truck industry, for example) start with Google. Here’s a trick I’ve learned, and often use as a starting point for unique projects: Type in the industry’s name in your Google search, followed by “for” and wait for Google’s auto-suggest feature to kick in. This is a great starting point because the suggestions that pop up are the top things people are typing into the search engine when looking for information on your product or service. You can then use that information to make educated decisions about where to continue with your audience research.
Step 2: Take a walk on the dark side
Look at who your major competitors believe to be their targeted audience. A Garner survey estimates top businesses spend 10.4 percent of their annual revenue on marketing efforts, with the greatest portion going toward digital marketing. For major businesses that are bringing in millions (if not billions) of dollars per year, this means they are spending tons of money on things like buyer personas, creative personas and advertisements. What does this mean for the mom-and-pop shop down the street? If you’re a small business with a limited budget and manpower, it can be beneficial for you to comb through the content that your Fortune 500 competitors are creating and deduce who they believe to be the audience in your niche.
Step 3: Document your findings complete with images
If watching enough episodes of Judge Judy has taught me anything, it’s that if you don’t have something in writing, it’s as if it never happened. In this way, your creative personas are no different. Document your creative personas — and do it beautifully. Take the time to come up with appropriate names, age ranges, interests, hobbies and images until they feel real to you.
When it comes time to create content, won’t it be nice to know some details about the audience reading that content? Maybe one of your personas is particularly interested in things like wearable technology and “The Walking Dead.” When you know little things like this, it gives you the opportunity to write about other content for a change and take a nice break from writing about the 110th feature of your product or service.
Step 4: Reevaluate and redefine your creative personas periodically
The job of a marketer is never done. To ensure your business continues to create the type of content that keeps your audience engaged, it’s up to you to review your personas and restructure them as your business evolves.
If you don’t think it’s important, think about this: when Apple first started, it defined itself as the underdog to the PC. It was the product for the people who wanted to do things well, but who maybe weren’t the most tech-savvy or rich. This audience is no longer who Apple is trying to influence. The brand has moved into a much more luxurious side of tech. It has a more affluent customer base (think of the new iWatch), which is exactly why it continuously switches up its targeting efforts.
Engage your customers and keep your sanity
You have a job to do as a marketer. You have to write that 100th article about your product or service… but this doesn’t mean that you have to let your marketing efforts become repetitive or draining. Take the time to create creative personas and you’ll be surprised at how much more focused your marketing will be. These personas will help you to generate engaging content, which you’ll love to create and your audience will love to consume.