Why the biggest content marketing mistake is a lack of user personas
The term ‘user persona’ can sound a bit like a nonsense marketing word. A fluffy concept that can easily be overlooked when there are deadlines to meet and real targets to hit.
But what if we told you that this buzzword was the key to content marketing success? – now you’re listening.
User personas are content marketing’s bread and butter and without them the strategy that you have sweated over could well be all for nothing – because you have quite literally aimed it at the wrong people. Perhaps by amplifying your strategy through LinkedIn when all of your audience is school age – which is the sort of key detail you would have known about if you’d bothered to do user personas!
What are user personas?
User personas are a fictionalised representation of your ideal audience or customer. They are not necessarily a reflection of an actual individual, but rather a distilled essence of your real users. They should be snappy and easy to digest providing readers with a broad-strokes profile of your target audience.
A user persoana should contain key demographic information like age, gender and income levels alongside more nuanced factors such as needs, goals and observed patterns of behaviour. Most content strategies will incorporate a number of user personas to give a detailed understanding of who various content pieces are aimed at and what they are looking for.
Why does your content need user personas?
1. Personas give your content (and strategy) focus
User personas provide a research-based profile of your intended audience – this in itself is invaluable to producing quality content. With this information at your fingertips you can create information that will be useful to an audience who you know are interested in engaging with your company. And once created you can build a strategy and amplification plan that will be more likely to reach your chosen group.
For example if you know your audience is in the 25-30 age bracket and regularly listens to music you may consider a Spotify ad, which is something that would never be suitable for a 70-80 year old bracket that has limited access to the internet. Working with these details can make or break a strategy.
Without the focus that user personas provide there is a danger that you will produce content at cross purposes. This commonly results in content that is spread too thin across an impossibly broad audience, and that by trying to please everyone, pleases nobody.
2. Personas provide a clear reference point for the whole team
User personas are fantastic documents because they are such a concise way of explaining the makeup of your users. This is important when many people are involved in creating and orchestrating a strategy. It means that everybody is always on the same page and the process from start to finish is tied to the same goal.
3. Personas force you to define your audience
If you have a close-knit content team and what you feel is a clear idea of your target audience it can be tempting to crack on and skip making user personas – don’t! Creating user personas is a key part of defining the audience for your content. Having a rough idea in your head is just not good enough for a structured and successful content plan.
A strong user persona will give you a consistent base to your content strategy. Having it there to constantly refer to will keep your actions consistent and provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions as you progress.
How to create great user personas
To be useful, user personas need to be based on good quality research. Most companies will have a wealth of data and content analytics that can help you build an accurate image of your target audiences. Here are the key areas that you need to find from your data:
Demographic information helps to give the basic structure to your user personas. While factors such as age, income, education level, location, etc, don’t define people absolutely, it can be useful to give you a more general picture of typical behaviours while also helping you as the content producer get a clearer image of who you are targeting. Some key demographics to collect are:
- Age: While we don’t like to admit it age brackets and the generations that they denote can give a lot of insight into basic patterns of behaviour. For example if your audience is below 16 you can assume they are mostly still in full time education, and those over 70 are likely to be out of full time work. These insights can help you better understand what people want from your content. Note that Google Analytics can be a good way to get accurate age information on your current users. Through the Audience tab you can find Demographics and then an Age section.
- Income: understanding what income band your audience falls within can help you gauge the overall price for your product – as well as references that you may make in your content. For example students will probably relate well to articles that refer to budget items and cutting everyday costs, whereas well-off professionals may want to learn more about managing the extra money they have after paying for the basics.
- Location: This is very important on a number of levels. At its most basic it informs you which language is most important for you to produce your content in. For example if you’re competing for an Asian audience English may not be your best bet. For businesses that only operate in certain countries or localities there is little point in creating content specifically for people who will be unlikely to buy products or services in your area.
- Education: This can often be linked to income levels but is worth researching. Average levels of education are important for gauging the tone and style of your content. This could also impact the sources you use and where you choose to amplify your best material. Matching your tone and style to your audience helps establish trust and authority.
This very official-sounding term refers to the inward characteristics of your audience. So rather than demographic facts like age, this looks at values, ethics and pain points. These aspects tend to be less quantifiable than demographics and for that reason take more effort to research. Social media interactions and customer interviews can be a good way of gathering reliable information around psychographics. Key psychographics are:
- Values and beliefs: This is a key part of the character image you are creating and the answer could vary a lot depending on what is relevant to your service. For example understanding what people’s financial values are is often useful along with broad life goals, like having a secure family unit or aiming for retirement at 50. Think about what goals and belief it would be useful to know about in relation to your service.
- Pain points: People buy things or look for information to solve problems. Knowing their problems is the first step to convincing them that you have the solution.
Common user persona mistakes to avoid
1. Using only qualitative data:
Interviewing a few favourite clients can give you some good insight, but while qualitative data can be easy to analyse and collect it has one fatal flaw: what people say and what people actually do is often not the same. Relying solely on qualitative data can skew your information and make you miss the mark entirely. Instead combine it with solid demographic data and onsite behavioral stats.
2. Creating an ‘ideal’ persona that doesn’t actually exist
Another common mistake is failing to look at the data at all and instead making up an ‘ideal’ buyer that doesn’t exist. Don’t assume that because you want your brand to appeal to this type of person that it actually does. While an ‘ideal’ customer can sometimes be useful when starting a company, an established brand needs to rely on facts.
3. Using irrelevant data
The fact that Tim brushes his teeth every day or Val prefers soaps to documentaries only has value if you are selling very specific products. So If you aren’t selling toothpaste or entertainment, stick to what is actually useful for your company. User personas should be brief and to the point. Unnecessary information only muddies the waters and makes it more difficult for your strategy to succeed.