Persona Research
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Persona Research: How to REALLY Get Into Prospects’ Hearts and Minds

“We’ve developed personas!” declare many marketers, especially in the tech space.

For example…

“We have ‘Willy WFH’ who is looking for ways to video chat with his team, and ‘Tanya Traveler” who works from the road. Plus, there’s ‘Henry Hybrid’ who likes both remote and in-person interaction,” a product manager or sales leader might declare.

But the problem with those descriptors is they are based simply on basic behaviors and suppositions. They don’t necessarily take into account the beliefs and desires of each market segment.

They may not reflect the insights that marketers can only glean through statistically significant and in-depth research.

That’s where persona research comes in.

Persona Research

Persona Research is hardly new.

Although business media first started writing about it in 2003, smart brand marketers have long believed investing in studies of human behaviors and attitudes leads to better, targeted marketing and messaging. Originally called “archetypes,” groupings of prospects are a fundamental part of sound marketing.

Before the Internet and automated research, consumer packaged goods companies spent hours and dollars trying to understand shoppers’ belief systems and motivations. Marketers and research companies used focus groups and phone surveys to grasp why certain groups of people shopped the way they did and how they evaluated certain products.

Now, we have big data (and highly-specific data) at our fingertips – 24/7. How it’s used can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, how companies spend their media dollars, and ultimately how the consumer or business buyer perceives an offer or a brand.

How to Get Started With Creating Personas

The first thing any great marketer needs to do is remember the people who are making decisions are flesh-and-blood human beings.

Tony Coretto, Managing Partner of PNT Marketing Services says, “I’ve always thought of a ‘persona’ as the pretty face of rigorous research into a company’s ideal customer. Keep in mind customers and prospective customers are fellow humans and not just “targets” for sales efforts. Marketers should always be thinking about how their research will create better customer experiences and outcomes.”

Use all the data you have at your disposal. Talk to your salespeople about the basic types of prospects they talk to during their sales calls. Create some general hypotheses about the types of people who are engaging with your company. Then, work with professionals to turn that data into groups of people.

Mike Noble, Chief of Research and Managing Partner at OH Predictive Insights adds, “Start with the information in your current database, segment by key verticals, and extend with secondary research.”

The types of data you should review are:

  • Behavioral data: The placestimes, and ways your customers shop 
  • Digital data: Part of behavioral data, knowing how your customers are engaging with your website and social media properties can be insightful. Google Analytics can be a potent tool.
  • Attitudinal data: This can be very helpful in helping you imagine the types of people you’re targeting and can feed into crafting messaging and content. This type of information is best gleaned from surveys, focus groups, and other tools that enable deeper probing into opinions and tastes.
  • Demographic data: Age, ethnicity, geography, and other specific facts about audiences. If you don’t have demographic data about your current customers, consider appending it to your database. Like attitudinal data, it can also be collected via survey tools. 

One research company breaks down persona research into three main categories. Which type you use is dependent on your budget, timeframe, and business size/stage. Lightweight, qualitative, and statistical are the three general categories, according to the Nielsen Norman Group.

Keep in mind that customers and prospective customers are fellow humans and not just targets for sales efforts.' Tony Coretto #PNTmarketing #personaresearch #research Click To Tweet

Motivations and Pain Points

Identify Motivations and Pain Points

The holy grail of effective marketing is knowing the “why” of a purchase. Not every prospect has the same motivation for trying or buying a product or service.

Let’s use this article as an example. Some financially-oriented readers may want to know about persona research to spend their marketing dollars more efficiently. A content strategist or writer might be reading it to learn how to produce better and more focused media for specific audiences. They are both taking the same action (reading the article), but for different reasons.

Similarly, if you are marketing a cloud-based SaaS product, some of your buyers may be interested primarily in saving time. In contrast, others are more concerned with the types of data they’ll be able to gather via your solution.

Israel Gaudette, Founder of Link Tracker Pro, sums up the value of these types of insights simply. “When you buy a gift for someone without a single bit of information about their preferences, you’ll get them something that they don’t want. The same thing goes in business.”

Visualize…Visualize…Visualize

Put a stake in the ground, based on all the data you have, and create a small group of names and descriptions of the types of people you see emerging from your data analysis. For example, the content on this blog may be read by:

  • CMO Mary: Busy, visionary, and results-oriented, she reads 50 marketing media a week, goes to conferences, and is primarily concerned with overall business success, providing the sales team with tools they can use, and presenting great results each month to her investors and board. Because she is time-pressed, she wants facts and figures, not fluff. Between 35 and 65, Mary is hard to fool because she’s a savvy business pro.
  • Marketing Mark: 7-10 years out of college, he is always looking for ways to streamline his job and wow CMO Mary. He is digitally savvy but is deluged with information about products, services, and new technologies.
  • SEO Sally: She has a precise role in the marketing infrastructure. Identifying and leveraging those terms that will build traffic and engagement. She spends a minimum of 6 hours a day online.

In addition to describing the work roles of these groups, you’ll also want to dig into where they live, what types of marketing media they currently consume, and how they make buying decisions.

“Keep it simple,” advises Coretto. “A persona should be carefully drawn and accurate, but not so complex that it can’t inspire marketers to clear relevant action.”

Beware of letting your biases get in the way of the facts. Balance profiling your current buyers/consumers with other groups that might be good prospects for your product or service.

Validate and Quantify

Validate and Quantify

Never let your preconceptions of customers and prospects get in the way of what the data shows. Only through quantitative research and analysis can you say with a fair degree of certainty the personas you created really exist and those segments can be clearly defined.

Among today’s many research tools are:

  • Surveys: Quick, economical, and flexible, you can gather information from a wide range of prospects on a wide range of topics. But keep your surveys short and offer incentives for completion.
  • Focus groups: Once conducted in-person, this form of interactive research has moved online. They can be run in different ways but add a dimension to research. The actual words of consumers or business decision-makers can hold tremendous insights into motivations.
  • AI-powered tools like Delvve.ai and Pulsar. Rather than relying on human researchers to collect, cross-tabulate, and present data, these new systems will gather information from various sources, including real-time online customer behaviors. This accuracy and speed will allow marketers to do great things with messaging, targeting, and personalized communications.

Budget permitting, engage a research company or freelancer to help you with persona development. Professional researchers will speed up gathering data, ensure questionnaires are being properly constructed, and add an important level of objective reporting to your efforts.

Professionals will also be able to recommend the size of the samples you’re studying. Drawing conclusions based just on anecdotal evidence or a small group of people can be dangerous and lead to mistargeting your messages, media, and spending.

Create Common Language and Goals Within Your Organization

Research need not be dull. In fact, persona research creates a great opportunity for organizations to come together around common definitions of the prospects they are serving.

Once you’ve created and validated your personas, present them to your internal teams. Make it fun.

Sales and marketing efforts become more human because professionals can envision the people with whom they are interacting.

Says Andrey Doichev, Founder of Incandgo, “The more specific you get, the more refined the persona, and ultimately this means more specific targeted content.” Writers and other content producers have an easier time developing campaigns and matching media types to demographics.

Persona research, if done well, can lead to greater focus, more efficient spending, and a common language around sales and marketing that ultimately leads to better campaign results and more engaged buyers. Especially in our era of content glut, prospects appreciate companies that understand their pain points and engage with them as humans rather than names on a list.

In short, persona research can humanize your marketing efforts and build your business. Because behind every persona is a flesh-and-blood person who might buy from your company.

When you're doing research, Start with the information in your current database, segment by key verticals, and extend with secondary research.' says Mike Noble, OH Predictive Insights #ohpredictiveinsights #personaresearch #research Click To Tweet

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Nancy Shenker

About Nancy

Nancy A. Shenker has been an independent consultant, writer, and speaker for more than 15 years, following a career as a C-level marketing executive. Her company theONswitch provides virtual CMO services. A content strategist and writer, she is the author of four books and publisher of five business and lifestyle websites. Her passions are humanistic tech, food, gadgets, and travel.

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