Audience Personas for Strategic Content Marketing [Guide]

A large sized audience of people with their hands in the air

Do you know who your customers are? 

Every SEO campaign needs a focus. You need to know who your customers are in order to market to them effectively.

So when you’re ranking keywords, on-site optimisation and link building, do you know who you’re aiming all these activities towards?

Who is searching for these keywords, who is visiting your site, or which other sites they will be visiting?

The trouble with SEO is that a lot of people don’t understand what it is. Many misconceptions fly around, and it can take years to truly understand this part of online marketing.

It’s a constant battle to move quickly, and many businesses hear that content marketing is ‘hot’ and want to jump right in. While this attitude is great, you’ll see more return from your efforts if you know who you’re directing your content marketing/SEO efforts towards.

Importance for content marketing and SEO

Audience personas become easier to understand when you know the relationship between content marketing and SEO. Many people are confused about these two marketing strategies, and view them as opposing. 

Kissmetrics has published an absolutely awesome post on how SEO and content marketing are intimately related, not in competition.

SEO is not a strategy in itself but more of a technical understanding of how content on the web is discovered and shared, then optimising your content for 'findability'.

To do great SEO, you need to be clued up about how the web works and how people are using it to find content.

But who exactly is doing the finding? This is what many companies don’t exactly know and it’s holding back their SEO and content marketing.

The answer to this conundrum is known as an audience persona.

It helps you avoid the scattergun approach to marketing. It’s similar to buyer personas or UX personas. It’s simply a semi-fictional representation of your target audience.

Here's an example:

We at Atomic Marketing target Marketing Managers, Heads of Marketing and SEO professionals at firms with 20+ employees. This means we can tailor our SEO and content marketing efforts to audiences who are usually the main people responsible for employing a marketing agency.

We’re producing content directly relevant to marketers who have a strategic level of responsibility.

By knowing our audiences, we can produce content that showcases our abilities to market their businesses online.

Why you need audience personas

It’s a key part of moving away from making assumptions about who your customers are to creating archetypes that accurately represent your distinct types of customers. Audience personas create an archetype that anyone in your team can use to improve content or other operations.

Especially online, where your nearest competitor is simply a click away, you need to hone in on your particular customers so you can answer their needs. 

Creating audience personas makes your content that much more powerful.

This is something your marketing department can help with. 

Marketing is highly dependent on knowing who you are tailoring your messages towards. It helps you to:

  • Use the right language to connect with your audiences
  • Come up with relevant content
  • Solve the problems that will help them convert into paying customers

Audience personas underscore how content marketing is about more than simply volume. It is about ensuring the relevance of your traffic to your website and increasing the likelihood that visitors will end up buying from you.

Your content marketing will be effective if it can connect with the lived experiences of your audience.

They take your company blog from being just a platform for broadcasting your corporate messages to a powerful tool for attracting engaged audiences that convert.

Difference between audience and buyer personas

There’s an important difference between your audience personas and buyer or customer personas, even though some people treat them as the same thing.

An audience persona should focus on what your customers’ pain points are and what they need to learn so you can create amazing content for them.

Buyer personas are more about the hard sell and focus on market data to define who to sell your products to. These will be used by your sales and marketing teams but are less useful for SEO and content marketing.

The reason for this is the sales and marketing funnel.

Often, with content marketing, your target audiences are much higher up the funnel (this means they are further away in their journey towards buying your products).

So, your audiences are not ready to buy.

The content you produce can be more about addressing related issues for potential customers in your niche, rather than directly related to your products.

The idea is just to introduce them to your brand and build trust.

Once you have a good idea of the type of content your customers would enjoy and engage with, you can make better use of tools such as Google AdWords or SEMRush to target keywords.

Get your team on board

If you are a company founder or content marketer, you may very well know who your audience is. But the rest of your team may be in the dark. Audience personas are a tool you can share will your whole team to improve operations across the board.

The key is to keep using your audience personas rather than just filing them away in a drawer.

It’s important to make your personas available to anyone at any time:

  •  Email them to your team and explain why they’re important.
  • Take them offline and print a few copies to stick around the office.
  • Nominate someone in senior leadership to present your personas to the whole team in the next company meeting.

What else can I use audience personas for?

Your current head of marketing may know exactly who your audience is, but if they move on to another job this knowledge can easily leave with them.

#1 Keeps knowledge in house

Audience personas keep valuable knowledge in house, available to your team in the future.

#2 Motivates the team

You can use audience personas to keep your team motivated. If you display them prominently in your workspace, they keep your audience at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

#3 Help bring people up to speed

It’s easy to get lost in the business operations and forget who you’re targeting.

 Audience personas are also handy for showing to external creative agencies or freelancers to quickly get them up to speed with your business.

It can be a long process to explain your business every time to new contractors.

Being able to send a digital copy of an audience persona is a handy way of illustrating your ideal audience.

#4 Lead scoring

They will be helpful for conducting lead scoring for your business.

If you are lucky enough to have lots of leads for your sales team to follow up, but not enough time to deal with them all, lead scoring helps you rank your leads in order of priority.

It’s impossible to effectively lead score without knowing your ideal customer. Customer personas are related to, but distinct from, audience personas.

How to build your audience persona

You need to combine hard data about your audiences with your intuition, empathy and industry expertise.

You and your team are the most qualified people to identify your audience personas. You can set at least a few hours aside for a brainstorming session.

The key is to keep it very specific.

Address the needs that your customers will have that your company can provide solutions to. You can have more than one persona. In fact, we recommend it.

Depending on your type of business, you should have around 2-3 personas. 

Get your questions ready which will help you build a picture of your audience.

The questions below relate to your audience’s demographic, psychological states, industry, goals and challenges, and product needs. 

Inspiration for questions to ask:

  • How old are they?
  • What is their gender?
  • Where do they live?
  • Do they have a family?
  • What is their profession?
  • How much do they have to spend on your products?
  • What is their socioeconomic status?
  • Where do they get their information?
  • Are they the primary purchaser?
  • What is their level of education?
  • Who are their role models?
  • What objections do they have to buying your product?

Additional questions for B2B marketers

  • What is their job title?
  • What are their responsibilities?
  • What industry do they work in?
  • What professional groups do they belong to?
  • How do they learn more about their field?
  • Who do they report to?
  • Who reports to them?
  • How do they communicate with suppliers?
  • What are their professional goals?
  • What is their biggest challenge in their role?
  • What is the size of their company?
  • Why might they choose you over your competitors?

This is where empathy comes in to help you imagine what it’s like to be your audience. It also helps to have in-depth knowledge of your industry which you can apply to answering these questions accurately.

Combine your brainstorming sessions with hard data from your existing customers, through surveys and data analysis, to make your audience personas come to life.

Best practices

  • Use photos to illustrate your personas visually.

  • You can have two or three audience personas to be most effective.

  • Make your audience personas as specific as possible.

  • Use empathy to bring your personas to life.

  • Combine intuitive insights with hard data from existing customers.

  • Use audience personas to create exceptional content marketing.

  • Differentiate audience personas from buyer or customer personas.

  • Take the time to share your personas with your team.

  • Remember your audience personas are always evolving so update them at intervals.

Examples of great audience personas

Hubspot have created some fantastic resources for making audience personas, including this list of audience persona examples.

HR Manager Tina is brought to life with both industry and demographic information.

Tina wants to make a big difference at her workplace by addressing some of the key challenges her department faces. Many of her goals could be met and challenges addressed by rapidly developing technologies.

Knowing Tina’s story and her desire to seek out information and best practices provides a sound starting point for content marketing. A good content marketing strategy would incorporate popular topics in the HR management sector.

Potential topics would include recruiting and retaining top talent, saving time and money in HR, and winning buy-in with senior management. Tina is from quite a corporate background and content should reflect this.

static1.squarespace.jpg
 

Buffer have also created some handy audience personas as examples.

Image: Hubspot

Image: Hubspot

 

This persona is useful in targeting small business owners in digital marketing. In the fast-paced world of social media, content topics can address how to keep up and get ahead of your competitors with content sharing.

A primarily female demographic can inform content, and your content can also play to a relatively high level of education. Her salary, age and location also mean she wants content that gets straight to the point. She wants content that speaks to her on her level and addresses her individual challenges.

Tools to save time online and curate content would be useful for Rachel. Content can be a lot more informal as Rachel is a small business owner. She is the primary decision maker so it will be easier to sell products and services to Rachel later down the line.  

Meet Tony

Tony is our example audience persona and he is the CEO of a fashion e-tailer. He sells clothes online so he is in the e-commerce space. It’s a high-pressure business and he’s most concerned with generating more traffic to his website.

Tony is proud of being a self-made entrepreneur who has taken an alternative route to higher education. His business is more than just a job. It’s a vocation.

His ideal content will in some way be geared towards helping him with his business, whether that’s ways to generate more traffic, improve his branding or achieve better work-life balance.

The fact that Tony is a millennial can inform our content marketing because we may assume familiarity with popular culture. More informal content, memes and irreverence can all be appropriate.

Guest posting on blogs that Tony is interested in and already following will be a good way to reach him.

How to gain the information you need

You may well have the information required to build your audience personas at your fingertips.

Your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system is a valuable tool for finding out more about your customers. Perform some analysis on your data to find out key trends about your customers, such as job titles, age or salary.

If you don’t have a CRM, you can always use survey tools like SurveyMonkey to ask your customers questions over social media, or send them to your email marketing list.

Simply ask your existing customers questions to gather information. After an interaction with them through your support team, send them a quick one-question survey to answer.

Face-to-face works, too. Just make sure to record your answers in the same place for use in brainstorming sessions later.

Resources

In the digital age, you have so many more options at your fingertips than your traditional pen and paper. Have fun with technology when creating your audience persona.

Xtensio provides a great free user resource for SMEs that you can play around with, with further paid options for larger businesses. UserForge is another free tool that is targeted at designers, agencies and in-house teams.

Hubspot has created an awesome free survey to create your basic audience persona templates in just a few easy questions.

Marketo has published a handy cheat sheet to help you create your audience personas.

How to go above and beyond

A lot of smaller businesses come together in a rough and ready, organic way, and can find themselves reaching a point where they’ve lost their direction. If you’re looking to boost your marketing efforts, audience personas are the way forward.

It’s easy to know who your audience is when you’re just a one-man-band. But as your company scales, or if you have scaled already, it’s not so easy for everyone in your team to know who they’re marketing towards.

Audience personas are an important part of being customer-focused. Instead of publishing the content that you think your potential customers need, you are basing your content on real data and customer interactions that you’ve collected.

Don’t market in the dark. Explain to your team why audience personas are essential and get everyone on board.

Takeaways

If you work without audience personas, you may gain some more traffic from your content marketing efforts. But they are much less likely to convert. If you try to appeal to everyone, you won’t appeal to anyone.

If you use audience personas to guide your content, you will generate more traffic and, more importantly, traffic that converts into paying customers.

Think about it. You’ll be competing with far less people if your target audience is ‘HR Managers’ rather than all mid-sized businesses. Your market becomes more focused and your marketing becomes much more effective.

The web is always evolving, and it’s important to avoid getting distracted by all the new fancy tools that are available and the “algorithm changes”. What’s important is knowing who you are marketing to and why.

Further reading