In the good old days of mass media, broadcasting your message to a wide population worked much more effectively than it does now. There were fewer communication channels so it was easier for brands to direct their one-way traffic to a more receptive audience. And that audience was made up of people who were interested in what they had to offer, and those that were not. Ultimately the target audience of the brand would then take action. Marketing still needed to resonate, stand out and focus on a consumer benefit, however arguably getting laser-focused with your customers was less of a priority in terms of developing your marketing activity.
Fast forward to the present day: consumer choice has gone up, their patience has dwindled as competing demands on their time rise and the communication landscape has been thrown wide open. If I’m honest, it’s a pretty messy time to be in marketing right now.
So what can marketers do about it? Get to know your customers, intimately.
The better you understand who is interested in what you have to say, the more likely you are to create marketing strategies that work. Sounds obvious, right? I have worked in marketing for 13 years, for hundreds of different companies and I know that most of the time, this doesn’t happen. The constant time pressure to launch campaigns, websites and content mean that deep, reflective thinking on the audience is limited.
And the other challenge is that businesses have a misguided belief that their audience understanding is greater than it actually is. This is natural, especially when individuals have been within a company for a long time. But people change, trends change and of course, the world around us changes. And in the current climate, more quickly than ever.
Audience understanding does not mean sweeping generalisation like middle-class women over 35, or HR directors looking to save costs. This means a more intimate understanding of your customers’ pain points, their aspirations, what makes them tick, what they are afraid of, what motivates them, what life stage they are in, what influences and affects them.
Ultimately you need to know two things, but the more colour you can add around these questions, the better.
- The what: ‘what does this person need?’
- The why: ‘why would this person want to buy from us?’
Most companies will have a few different audience types. An ideal number of personas is 3, but 2 to 5 works well. Any more than this, the likelihood will be that they are not in-depth enough, not distinct enough from each other or worse, they become unusable, as they just add to the confusion.
Sold. Now, how do I go about doing this?
Run an internal audit to understand what your company knows about its customers
Different departments hold different customer data and in my experience, this doesn’t tend to be shared as openly as it should. So before diving straight into creating everything from scratch, take a step back and analyse what you have. It will help you understand the gaps and should provide some additional clarity on some of the nuances within your customer database.
Talk to your customers
This can be done through surveys or through more in-depth interviews. We recommend a combination of both. There is nothing more powerful than a customer talking freely about their life, as they don’t tend to edit themselves (as they do when taking surveys). The insights that you gain from this are much richer. We would recommend 3-10 interviews, and then a survey to test some of your hypothesis on a larger audience base. You may need to offer something in return - financial incentive, product discount, gift, etc..
Design your customer personas
If you can, select real people that represent your different audience segments. This will ensure that you are targeting someone specific as opposed to a person made up of dozens of different personalities. Exact quotes from the person are valuable to include as they can provide that killer insight from which to build marketing activity. Although the exact detail would vary from company to company, it needs to include the person’s pain points. This is the specific problem that customers of your business are experiencing.
Bring out these personas at every opportunity
Once these are created, these should be made as visible as possible. Laminate them, put them up on a wall, turn them into desk ornaments for the marketing team. For some clients, we’ve created small flip books. Whatever you need to do to make sure that all this work doesn’t just sit in a folder somewhere and actively use this insight to help you make better marketing decisions.
Once you have these in place, you will become much more empowered and confident in the content and activity that your team is producing. And that is always satisfying to see.
Finally, here are a few additional tips for you:
- Don’t create these at the beginning of a marketing campaign when a channel or message has already been semi-fleshed out. Do this as a standalone internal exercise and invest the time in it - it will pay out dividends, I promise.
- Refresh these every single year, at least. Sounds like a pain to do so often, but actually once you have the framework in place, it can be done fairly rapidly. And it will provide you with much more accurate and current information on which to base your marketing activity.
- Be guided by your personas with channel selection. Invest more in channels you know your audience uses as opposed to being seen ‘everywhere’. As marketeers, we know this. But in the midst of campaign delivery, if you don’t have your personas visible at all times, different stakeholders are involved with different viewpoints and before you know it, your campaign is being featured everywhere. Budgets are always limited, so more channels mean less investment in each channel. We always advise investing more in fewer channels to gain maximum impact and effectiveness.
Personas can be time-consuming but not as time-consuming (or as costly) as developing throwaway marketing campaigns that don’t achieve results. If you feel like your losing touch with your customers and need a cost-effective solution to help you create new or refresh your existing user personas, we have the answer.