How to Develop B2B Personas for Remarkable Content Marketing

content marketingWhat’s a Persona?

Buyer personas are fictional characters that marketing leaders create to represent the people they sell to. A persona integrates the characteristics of typical buyers.

For a couple of decades, personas have guided industrial and software designers. And now they have become the foundation of content marketing strategies, enabling marketers to provide all the information buyers need to move them efficiently through the buying cycle.

Consumer and B2B Personas—The Difference

Consumer personas typically focus on demographic information and what a “day in the life” might be like. Most of us, for instance, are familiar with the Soccer Mom. She represents the suburban, middle-class mother who ferries her kids around to sporting events, and puts her family first. We know where she lives, her income level, and how she spends her day. The two words “Soccer Mom” became verbal short hand in 1996 for the market segment politicians felt could swing presidential elections.

This type of shorthand can also be a powerful tool to keep a business to business marketing team focused on their buyers, and creating relevant content for their prospects and clients. The persona, however, should not be shaped like a consumer persona. To provide a competitive edge it needs to describe in-depth all the concerns that surround the buying decision and how people interact to make the decision. Why? Because this is what you need to know to craft an exceptional content strategy and marketing message. You need to discover the questions buyers are asking…and answer them, providing the information they need to move effortlessly through the buying cycle.

The 5 Rings of Buying Insight

According to Adele Revella of the Buyer Persona Institute, the persona should include the 5 Rings of Buying Insight which include the: priority initiative, success factors, perceived barriers, buyer’s journey, and decision criteria.

  • Priority Initiative

The priority initiative goes beyond looking at the pain points that your buyer might be experiencing to discover what changed in their organization to make this issue a priority. Because many resource-starved business leaders live with the pain, you need to understand what motivates them to move beyond it.

  • Success Factors

What does the buyer want to achieve? How do they think the company will change for the better once they institute your solution or buy your product?

Answers to these questions let you know how your product impacts a buyer’s business so you can incorporate this into your marketing message. For example, your solution might save the company money. That’s nice. But if a buyer tells you that he needed a solution to prevent his company from hemorrhaging money and going out of business, that’s powerful.

  • Perceived Barriers

Perceived barriers are anything that could stand in the way of your buyer looking into a solution for their problem or purchasing your product. This might be a price or a feature-set that doesn’t meet the buyer’s needs. It could also be poor messaging that caused a misunderstanding about what your solution offers. Finally, the buyer could be barred from investigating a solution due to internal politics, scarce resources, or a hangover from past decisions that have gone awry.

  • Buyer’s Journey

The buyer’s journey is the steps they take through the buying cycle. It describes the roles and titles of people who research alternatives, and the resources they consult. Perhaps they talk with their peers and/or search online for blogs, white papers, webinars, and more. The journey also examines the trade-offs the buyer makes while sorting through the initial products they considered.

  • Decision Criteria

One product makes it to the finish line. Whether it’s yours or a competitor’s you want to understand what features, capabilities, or relationships that impacted this final decision.

Persona Research Tips

There’s only one way to create an accurate buyer persona–have a conversation with some of your clients, and, ideally, a few that got away and went with your competitor instead.

  • Talk with Recent Buyers

Select several recent buyers and recruit them for interviews. These people are most likely to remember exactly how and why they decided to buy your product. If you talk to them several months to a year after they’ve made the purchase, they will be more focused on the results they’ve achieved with it, and less able to reflect back on the buying process.

  • Include Non-Buyers

While it may be more challenging to recruit prospects that bought from a competitor, you can gain insights from them about why they opted for a competitive solution. You may discover, for example, that your product is not lacking, but your message needs to be tweaked, relationships must be built, or content offerings aren’t strong enough.

  • Ask Open-Ended Questions

You need to ask open-ended questions, those that begin with “why,” “what,” “where,” “when” and “how.” They allow the respondent to describe the situation in detail and share their feelings. Multiple choice and “yes/no” questions don’t add up to “ah-ha” moments.

  •  Be Persistent to Keep the Interview on Track

Respondents often want to jump to their buying decision right off the bat. If you ask a buyer why they decided to look for a solution to their internal communication issues, they might respond, “Marketing and sales people were not on the same page so when we came across your solution, which was easy to implement, we subscribed to it.” If you accept these answers the interview will be over in no time leaving you with no better understanding of your market than you started with. Therefore, don’t be afraid to keep bringing the respondent back to the point on which you need clarification.

  • Dig Deep

Dig beneath the surface of the first answers your respondent gives you. For example, the buyer above said your solution was “easy to implement.” What does “easy to implement” mean to them. Does it mean they don’t have to reallocate their internal resources to the project? How does this help them achieve their goals? As you can see, you need an interviewer who listens well and is mentally agile enough to follow the conversational thread wherever it leads.

Persona Research is critical to developing your content marketing strategy, creating messaging, and mapping out content to answers your buyers’ questions. So don’t skimp on the process—it’s your foundation for content marketing success.

Note: This post is a guest post from a member of our DMR Insider Community.

Image credit: marco antonio torres