Do you know who the personas are for your client or brand?
Maybe the client won’t provide a budget for audience research, or your schedule doesn’t allow the time for research and you just have to get work out of the door. Like, now.
Or, maybe you’ve created a range of personas for your brand and clearly defined who your audience are. You spent the time to research what drives your audience, what their frustrations are, and where they hang out online.
Hopefully, you’ve named your personas with real names and not a stereotypical pseudonym such as Digital Dave, Snowflake Suki, or Millennial Max.
And, you’ve written all your personas in first person and crafted a narrative about their day.
Perfect. (If not, you can read an in-depth guide here.)
So, there is a persona mood board is staring at you from your desk, but now what? How do you apply these carefully crafted personalities to improve your content marketing efforts?
Below I’ve outlined a simple five-step framework for applying a persona to your content marketing:
What’s the problem?
Speak the language
The right questions…
…At the right time
Be where they are
1. What’s the Problem?
If you can define what keeps people awake at 3 a.m. and then offer a solution, you have their attention.
If you can then craft your content based on the persona’s pain points and offer logical solutions to their challenges, you now have an engaged prospect to move along the sales funnel.
People are emotional creatures and their amygdala (that regulates emotions), known as the “lizard brain,” makes an initial instant decision based on primitive instinct. A split second later, but just enough to be in second place, the prefrontal cortex then regulates our seemingly irrational impulse.
Often, the prefrontal cortex will offer justification to your impulses by finding a logical reason to back up the urge. More often than we realize, we’re making choices that are entirely from our primeval amygdala that we have little control over.
A student with limited funds will see the new iPhone and their lizard brain will instantly say “buy it now” while their rational part of the brain then quickly looks for a reason to justify why they can buy it. Most advertising campaigns trade on this emotional drive.
Coming back to our persona, imagine we have defined Helen Matthews, senior manager, who is responsible for 12 team members at a property management company.
Helen is kept awake at night worrying that her CEO thinks she is overwhelmed by problems in her team and that she’s not leadership material. She wants to make director level next year and she worries that she will be overlooked unless she can start delivering a better performance from her team.
Now imagine Helen is reading Businessweek and there are two headlines:
How to better manage your team
A framework used by top leaders to increase team efficiency and beat overwhelm
It’s a safe assumption which article Helen is going to be drawn to read so that she can ease her worries and start to chase her directorship.
If, within the article, we then have a call to action that offers a tool that can help her to implement the framework, a seed is planted. She now has an ally that can help her.
People don’t want to buy a product just to own a product. They want to buy a solution to their problems – or they want to change how they feel.
As Tony Robbins said, “People don’t buy products, they buy feelings.”
People don’t buy insurance for the sake of insurance, they buy the feeling of security and certainty. They buy coffee to feel alive and energetic. And they buy a new expensive car to feel significant (and superior to their neighbors).
If you can understand your persona so that you know what their needs and drives are, then you can offer them the feeling that underlines their needs. And then you have a powerful connection through your content.
As Theodore Levitt said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”
But, why do they want the hole? To hang a photograph of their family so they feel happy and surrounded by love.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
2. Speak the Language
Once you have the awareness of your persona, to confirm the connection and engage them it’s necessary to speak their language. There are two reasons for this:
To cut through the noise.
Consider the different tones of voice that you use through the day, how you speak to your family, how you speak to your friends, how you speak to the people you work. You wouldn’t speak to your boss with the same informality and intimacy as you would to your partner.
Getting the level of language right in your content will make the difference between a reader connecting with what you write and just thinking, “meh,” and skipping to another page.
It’s one thing to get a prospect to a page but it’s another entirely to turn them into an engaged reader so that they want to consume more content that you can offer.
People are naturally drawn to group together in like-minded tribes. By truly understanding your persona and what motivates them you can speak to them in a manner that they can relate to so that they want to be part of the brand tribe.
Successful brands like Mr Porter, Patagonia and The School of Life are built on being positioned to niche, outlying tribes. And they go deep on the content they offer to that tribe covering all bases and emotions.
A useful trick I use to apply a persona to content is to imagine them as an actress. Who would play the part of Helen Matthews? Anna Kendrick?
Imagine how she would speak, the accent, how she would conduct a conversation and the level of language and intellect she would use.
“Speak to the dog in the language of the dog about what matters to the heart of the dog.” – Bryan Eisenberg
“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
3. The Right Questions…
Content marketing is based on answering the right question at the right time.
And that question is driven by your reader: their thoughts, wants, and worries. It’s all about them, not you.
A brand that broadcasts what they want to say without considering what their audience wants to hear is like the boorish person at a dinner party talking incessantly about themselves. No one wants to sit next to that person.
Don’t just amplify what you want to say, listen to what your audience wants and needs to hear.
By doing the research and understanding your persona, you can build a content map based on what questions are asked at each stage of the buying journey.
4. …at the Right Time
A project I conducted last year was for a personal development workshop retreat, known as a “Weekend.” As part of the application for the Weekend, a participant was required to complete extensive paperwork surrounding deeply personal and emotional questions.
For some people, this was like taking an egg and smashing it with a spoon. Cracked wide open. Unsurprisingly, they had a high drop-off rate at this part of the registration process.
Through a review of their buying process and personas, I mapped a combination of a user journey flow chart (I call User Flow) that highlighted where key touches of content could answer “the right question, at the right time.” This was only possible through a deep understanding of their three distinct personas.
I mapped out an automated email series to run after downloading an introduction brochure. And, a series that would help a person after the Weekend to assimilate from a deeply personal journey back into “real life” and encouraged them to join the ongoing community (for extended engagement).
I created a series of documents to be sent at the key stages of the buying process that explained the process of the Weekend and why certain information was requested.
As their biggest driver of sign-ups was through word of mouth, I created a document that taught Weekend graduates how to talk about the program to others and also to recognize who might benefit from experiencing it for themselves and, more importantly, who wouldn’t.
This is to reduce inquiries from people who were not suitable for the course. Making all participants brand ambassadors of this life-changing experience.
I also created a full content map based on the queries, feelings, and concerns for possible participants and mapped a full range of content for on and off-site for awareness and connection.
All of this reduced the friction of the user journey, reduced drop-off, and made participants feel better connected to the brand. All through understanding who we were speaking to and answering the right questions, at the right time.
5. Be Where They Are
The final stage of content marketing to unlock is to know where your audience hang out so that you know where you need to be.
By trying to be everywhere, you’re in danger of spreading your efforts too thin, or you may find yourself in the wrong place where there is no one of relevance to engage.
Much like a Dungeons and Dragons aficionado attending a fashion show looking out of place in their Gary Gygax T-shirt, they will struggle to talk to anyone dressed in Helmut Lang about how to defeat a Goblin with the next throw of the dice.
Part of researching your persona will include what social media channels they frequent and what high-profile sites they turn to on a regular basis. Not forgetting to include offline watering holes and places your persona turns to when looking for information.
Taking an individual piece of content and broadcasting it across all social channels through a scheduled tool is lazy marketing and not a strategy to deliver the best returns (a lot of people still do this). Each channel has its own nuances and unwritten rules – your content should be tailored to each channel.
An individual piece of content can be repurposed across different channels but ensure that the messaging is using the right tone and language for each channel or medium.
It’s also important to consider the types of content that your persona will best relate to. Webinar, video, podcast, blog, white paper, quiz, tool/calculator, listicle?
If you’ve done your research you can answer all of these questions and create much better content.
Defining your persona, and really understanding their motivations and challenges, is essential to underline your content strategy and production efforts.
But, you do have to apply your persona in the right way to benefit from your research and hard work.
As a starting point, walk through these five steps to apply your persona to your content marketing:
What’s the problem?: Use their pain points in your content to get their attention.
Speak the language: Get the right level and tone of voice to engage your prospect.
The right questions…: Know what questions your persona will have in their mind.
…At the right time: Know at what stage of the journey they will be asking those questions so that you can be there with the answer.
Be where they are: Know where your prospect will hang out online (or offline) so that you can be there with content to get their attention.
Screenshot taken by author, January 2019
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