An Alternative Approach to Developing Content Marketing Personas

An Alternative Approach to Developing Content Marketing Personas

Audiences are not just buyers. Buyer personas – limited answer for content marketing Before we begin, let me state that I’m a huge proponent of buyer persona development. Buyer personas help us define the best place for distribution or access to our product. We have found that the jobs-to-be-done theory is an extraordinarily helpful tool for getting to a much more useful audience persona profile for content marketers. And it can also be extraordinarily specific – helping the brand get to what CMI founder Joe Pulizzi might call the better “content tilt” – something our brand is the best in the world at delivering. Just as every single marketer should know the size of their TAM (total addressable market), every content marketer should know how big their audience (total addressable audience) is in (or outside of) that TAM. That TAM for its products and services was 45,000 (each business would buy the software once). Step 2: Discover the “so I can” – uncovering the jobs to be done A job to be done is not just an audience “need.” For example, the statement “I need directions” doesn’t compel me to use a particular map or resource. Step 3: Decide on your niche – finding the sweet spot Once we’ve assembled both the size of your audiences and started to catalog the jobs to be done, we can begin to explore and make decisions. His last book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, was called a “treatise, and a call to arms for marketers to lead business innovation in the 21st century.” You can hear Robert on his weekly podcast with co-host Joe Pulizzi, "This Old Marketing”.

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Audiences are not just buyers.

Let me explain.

As we’ve outlined, one of the key elements of the approach of content marketing is that it cannot simply be a replacement for our direct marketing efforts. If we are ever to truly succeed with a content marketing strategy, we must provide for the capability to drive multiple lines of value for the business. Audiences enable this capability. Thus, the content platforms we create have one distinct goal: They must build an ever-growing, addressable, trusted audience.

Yes, some members of our audience will become customers – traversing the traditional funnel, acquiring the attribute of “lead,” then “opportunity,” then “buyer.” Others will never buy from us but may provide more long-term value than a customer. They may acquire the attribute of “engaged,” helping us organically connect with four new customers that we may have never otherwise reached with paid media. Other audiences may be “influencers,” helping us amplify our reach, thus creating a more efficient paid media effort. And, finally, some audiences may be “trusted,” and enable us to drive direct revenue from content – thus providing a marketing platform that pays for itself.

At the heart of this valuable audience is, of course, content. And if we are to build successful, trusted platforms, we must change the way we go about developing the personas that will subscribe to them.

Buyer personas – limited answer for content marketing

Before we begin, let me state that I’m a huge proponent of buyer persona development. I think it is a critical part of helping product- and service-focused marketers get an understanding of how to bring their product into the marketplace. Buyer personas have been defined as:

research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions

This is a perfect definition of the person I want to understand after they self-identify as someone who has a specific need for my product or service.

If we are focused on the classic four Ps of marketing, buyer personas are, well, perfect. Buyer personas help us understand how to position features and benefits and the way we describe our product. Buyer personas help us define the best place for distribution or access to our product. Buyer personas help differentiate pricing strategies we may need to employ. And, buyer personas help us determine the right promotional mix for our integrated plan. In the simplest terms, buyer personas put our company/product/service at the center of the story.

Instead, as we develop personas, what if we started with the customer’s need at the center of the story? In other words, what if rather than starting with an answer – and then attempting to figure out how we lead the audience to get to that answer – we started with the question. What if we started with the audience’s interests, challenges, and questions – and then figured out what our unique answer to them might be.

Jobs to be done

If you’re not familiar with the jobs-to-be-done theory, it’s an extraordinarily powerful framework to get to new, innovative product ideas.

To be clear, the jobs-to-be-done theory is neither new nor a CMI invention. The history of the approach can be linked to the late 1960s when marketing professors Chester Wasson and David McConaughy suggested customers don’t buy products – but rather a “satisfaction bundle” for solving problems.

And, my marketing hero, Harvard professor Theodore Levitt, suggested products themselves had no intrinsic value – that customers really use products for problem-solving activities. This was the birth of his now famous quote, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

Image source
Image source

But the theory really became more popular out of an idea called Outcome-Driven Innovation® in the late 1990s, and it was popularized (and the name trademarked) in Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Solution.

There’s much more, of course, to the jobs-to-be-done theory. And if you’re interested in that, there are wonderful books here and here and here.

We have found that the jobs-to-be-done theory is an extraordinarily helpful tool for getting to a much more useful audience persona profile for content marketers. It opens a wider set of opportunities for content marketing stories. It helps broaden the story to theoretically cover the entirety of the audience’s journey. And it can also be extraordinarily specific – helping the brand get to what CMI founder Joe Pulizzi might call the better “content tilt” – something our brand is the best in the world at delivering.

We’ve used this approach in our workshops and advisory engagements, customizing it a bit for audience development. It breaks down into five steps:

  1. Define your target – Detail the total addressable audience.
  2. Discover the “so I can” – Uncover the jobs to be done.
  3. Decide on your niche – Find your sweet spot.
  4. Differentiate your content approach – Sweet spot meets the tilt.
  5. Design the map of success – Document the audience journey.

While each one of these steps could be its own post, let’s briefly take a look at each:

Step 1: Define your target audience and its size

When we define a target audience, it’s critical to go beyond the traditional segmentation of demographics such as age,…

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