Steal Mike King’s Ideas To Get Your Feet Wet With Personas

If you’ve ever seen a grown man reduced to tears, you know it’s not pretty. There’s lots of sniffling and “uh-huh-huhs,” in addition to the bits of spittle that fly everywhere as they attempt to talk through the episode. So, you can imagine my discomfort at sitting in a room with the senior vice president of a midsize company as he grilled a contractor —an SEO recommended by one of his friends— about the information, or lack thereof, he’d presented.

“You aren’t telling me anything I don’t know,” said the SVP, who headed up marketing and advertising, but whose background was in data. “This report is something I can generate myself. And don’t give me some B.S. about competitive analysis. I’m asking you about my customers … Who are they? Answer that. You can’t, can you? Because if you could you wouldn’t have spent—what is it now?—24 minutes of my time going over B.S. metrics, analytics, keywords and other worthless s**t! You’re supposed to help me define my customers, and to this point you have not.”

I witnessed this train wreck first-hand. It was as shocking as it was telling, leading me to come away with three thoughts:

  1. Don’t position yourself as a “data-focused SEO who can help you identify and market to your target audience” unless you have the chops to back it up.
  2. Know your client’s “m*[email protected]#^$*&^+g audience!”
  3. A few hours spent reading and researching Mike King’s work could have saved the poor guy a lot of heartache and embarrassment.

I’ve written before that I’ve stolen, er, appropriated, numerous ideas from the work of Mike King, a brilliant digital marketer who understands how to develop buyer personas as well, or better, than anyone whose work I’ve read.

If you’ve seen Mike present, you know he’s entertaining and a wealth of knowledge.

What I appreciate more than anything about his work is (a) it pulls folks away from the silliness of single-mindedly focusing on keywords and (b) it provides a simple (though not necessarily easy) framework for companies to clearly discern the audience they should be targeting, which is a far cry from the “guess-and-miss” approach I see all too many businesses employ.

“When you target everyone you actually target no one,” he says.

I’m on record as saying keywords do not play a huge role in any of the work that I do for clients. As a content strategist, my role is to help companies use content to reach their long-term business goals. The last thing I’m interested in doing is giving them information they can hire pretty much any junior SEO or junior content person to provide.

Rather, what I spend my time doing is getting my hands in the squishy places where others aren’t interested to go, but that the business desperately needs to delve into.

One of those places is buyer persona development, which makes businesses aware of who buys from them and why. This is an effort your business needs to undertake.

Before you roll your eyes and click to another page, hear me on this:

Understanding who your core prospect is, in addition to why they buy from you will make you more money than you could have ever imagined. It’ll also save you more money than you could imagine.

Here’s how:

  1. If you know who your customers are, it’s much easier to figure out where they congregate online, then market to them with a message that will resonate, anywhere online, including on your website.
  2. Unlike the competition, which is likely taking a spray-and-pray approach, you aren’t wasting money on content (e.g., web design, copywriting, PPC, etc.) that’s 70 percent guesswork.

Now do I have your attention?

If you’ve read any of King’s work, you know it’s involved, thorough and has the depth of a Calc II textbook.

That’s not where we are going to start, however.

In my experience, the easiest way to get a company energized about buyer persona development is to get everyone’s hands dirty simultaneously, and that’s by taking the qualitative route.

Here’s how that process looks for your company:

  • Create. One of the biggest energy sappers for staff members is the constant genericising of information about their users and prospective users. Not here, though. Have a member of your team pull the data on three to five of your customers, while ensuring that the sampling is representative of the breadth of your customers. Then, get in a room with a whiteboard and begin mocking up each person, creating a demographic profile that highlights everything from age and sex to income, employer and residence. Keep in mind that this is not science, so some of this information can be assumed based on known factors. This is my preferred method for rudimentary persona development, and I refer to it as “going from specific to general,” for you are looking to market to cohorts of the specific person you’ve profiled.
  • Test: Begin creating content for these personas based around their assumed needs. That is, blogs should “speak” to prospects in a way that matches their education, interests and goals for interacting with the business. Web pages should be clear, uncluttered and compelling, sure, but they must also instantly deliver the message your personas expect to encounter and would be amenable to. What’s more PPC ads, too, should mimic the style, voice and tone reflected in your persona discovery process. The more clear and aligned this process is, the better and more relevant the information you’ll receive.
  • Analyze: After a pre-determined amount of time, put the team back together and analyze the data. What messages seemed to perform best? How could they be enhanced? What changes should be made? What form those changes should take?.
  • Tweak: Resist the urge to make wholesale changes only because you didn’t receive the feedback you hoped for in the allotted amount of time. If your persona models are accurate, or even close, maintain the course and only change what looks like a clear loser. For example, if the homepage looks like a dud, applying a heat map or conducting an A/B test could prevent you from making changes for changes sake.
  • Repeat: The goal is to continue refining the process as more information becomes available. The key here is accurate information, however. The more prospects reach out to and interact with the brand, the more opportunities you have for meaningful data-gathering. In this way, you’re acting as a baker leavening bread, continuing to fold in those essential elements.

This qualitative approach could be deemed elementary. But I love it for getting buy-in from stakeholders and for energizing brand managers about the need to gather as much accurate information as possible about their target audience.

I’d love for you to give it a try and let me know what you think.

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