How to Apply a B2B Buyer Persona to Content Marketing Strategy
In a previous post, I shared a four-step process for creating in-depth B2B buyer personas. In this post, I’ll discuss how the details of a buyer persona inform a content marketing strategy.
With the wealth of information gained during the process of determining buyer personas, you can now create the nine components for each persona.
9 Components of a Buyer Persona
1. A Day in the Life
As the title suggests, this element gives a narrative snapshot of a day in the life of your persona. It’s written in the first person as if they are talking to you. The first person perspective brings the persona up close, making them more reachable.
Consider the difference between these two descriptions:
Sally is the VP of Finance at the organization, in charge of 18 direct reports across multiple divisions that manage the financial health of the organization. Meetings take up much of her time. Her goals are to improve financial transparency and to increase efficiency in data utilization to prioritize key decisions that help the organization run profitably. She wants to be able to use a tool that will allow her to identify issues for a department and provide guidance on actions to take. The untimely, static reports she uses today create inefficiencies that keep her division from meeting its goals.
As VP of Finance for my company, most of my time is spent in status meetings with my direct reports. It can be like herding cats because our financial information is so hard to use. I feel like I’m never able to get ahead given the volume of transactions and the difficulty of getting information that allows me to be proactive, rather than reactive. My direct reports need better, more timely guidance. And I worry that my CFO sees me as overwhelmed, rather than as a leader. I need to be able to move faster, access data in real time and ensure the decisions I make are based on accurate information.
Which one of these inspires you more? I’m guessing it’s the second one. First person allows you to see Sally’s personality. And, you’ll find that speaking to her will be relevant to many in the target audience because her story is based on the commonalities discovered during the persona creation process.
“A Day in the Life” establishes a shared view of the customer across the organization. It also enables content creators to step into the persona’s shoes when the time comes to develop content or ideate programs designed to engage her.
This section can also be classified as “Goals” or “Priorities” of the persona. These are the things the persona is responsible for achieving, given their role within their organization. When you create a buyer persona, make sure you include the details, rather than providing only vague terms such as “grow revenues,” “increase efficiency,” or “reduce costs.” Always remember to define the “what” that applies the persona’s perspective to the objective.
- Automate processes to speed time to market by removing inefficient workflows
- Lower total cost of ownership for ERP by moving to a cloud platform
- Improve productivity by creating a flexible work plan that reduces the number of FTEs needed
This level of detail highlights long-tail keywords for top of the funnel SEO, provided you’ve chosen phrases your customers also use.
Problems are the flip side of objectives; they’re essentially why the objectives have yet to be met. As applied to the three examples above, they might look like:
- Inefficient workflows make our products late to market, costing us market share
- Our legacy on-premise ERP system has prohibitively costly inefficiencies, which keep us two steps behind our competition
- Due to a market downturn, we need to reduce staff without reducing morale
Seeing both sides of a pain point is helpful when generating content to address a persona’s needs. Some people that represent your persona may be glass-half-full people; some may be glass-half-empty.
For a B2B, orientation is the equivalent to demographics in a B2C. However, in B2B, knowing whether your persona is married with two kids and a dog is irrelevant. You can’t capitalize on that information. Age and salary are also not relevant given the rise in startups, where a senior executive can be fresh out of college.
Instead, orientation focuses on attributes such as time spent in their career. Has the persona been around long enough to know where all the bodies are buried or are they still climbing the ladder? Is the prevalent trend that your persona starts and stays with a company, making progress up the ladder? Or do they tend to have eight jobs in 10 years at different companies? This type of information can define the tone and style of your content, as well as the approach you take to some topics.
If you look at what people say about them in LinkedIn recommendations, are they often referred to as mentors? As detail oriented? Or, as efficient and focused? These types of details also play into tone, voice, and style for your content.
If you read their LinkedIn profile, how do they see themselves? As a proactive leader? Perhaps as a seasoned warrior who’s been in the trenches of their industry for 20 years…?
You get the idea. This type of information is much more important in a B2B buyer persona than the type of car they drive or in which suburb they live.
Obstacles are whatever could derail the deal. Often, these are seen as late-stage issues, such as, “the price was too high.” But obstacles can happen during any stage of the buying process.
Research by CEB found internal buying committees reach their height of conflict 37% of the way through the buying process. And even if they’re able to resolve the issue and move forward, that conflict is bound to rise again.
Obstacles present in a variety of ways. The more we know about them, the more preemptive we can be in squashing them, before they impede progress.
Examples of obstacles:
- This is too complex; there’s bound to be too much risk
- Harry wants to solve this problem differently; he has more clout than I do
- My boss doesn’t buy into this concept and reallocated budget to another project
- What if our people won’t adopt the new system and insist on doing things the old way?
- This solution looks like it will disrupt more processes than the value we’ll get
It’s important to note that each persona’s perspective on obstacles will be different. Understanding their fears, doubts, and threshold for risk will help you to address misconceptions or confusion before they throw their hands in the air and walk away.
Obstacles will also help you identify potential triggers in an engagement that indicate when a persona has confronted a block. This means you’ll be prepared to respond quickly to calm their concerns.
Questions are undoubtedly my favorite part of a buyer persona. Depending on how you’d answer these questions, you can frame the content you need to engage a buyer across the buying process. Questions are also the catalyst for a conversation.
They ask a question. You answer it. They take in the new information and respond with a new question. This Q&A feeds right into a storytelling approach when done well. You can even see the flow come together as a guide for driving engagement.
With questions, we need to understand what the buyer persona needs to know at each stage of the journey.
- Why should I care? I have a process for doing this
- What if I choose to do nothing? How bad could it be?
- What are my competitors doing about this issue?
- What are industry trends driving it?
- What will it take to convince Harry, Steve, and Diana to get on board?
- How do I build the business case? What does the value look like for me?
And on and on.
The questions you define for your buyer persona will be specific to their needs and objectives, but they will be variations on the questions above. The beauty about questions is, as you identify new ones, they will slot into the flow you’ve already established. This means your content marketing program has infinite flex and agility. If a question goes away, you simply remove the associated content and replace it with whatever question or concern has taken precedence.
7. Content and Channel Preferences
This information can be found in two ways—by listening and observing people who are representative of your buyer personas “in the wild” or by asking them during interviews. Hopefully, you’ll do both.
While B2B marketers have shown a propensity for jumping on every new channel out there, a buyer persona can be used to apply constraints. If a prospect doesn’t fall within your set parameters, you don’t need to spend resources on them. A tighter focus can bring huge rewards due to higher value and relevance.
This is also a key factor to be considered in your content marketing strategy. When you understand where you need to be for the best effect, you can spend your time and resources perfecting those areas, rather than chasing everything that moves.
One thing I will caution against: attributing behavior to your personas without verifying it. For example, just because videos get the most traffic on your website doesn’t mean videos are the persona’s content of choice. Always investigate before you make assumptions, or you could make critical errors in how you market to your persona.
8. Keywords and Phrases
As mentioned earlier, the details you collect during customer interviews can be indicative of keywords and phrases your buyer persona will use. There are tools you can use in this process, like Google’s Keyword Planner or Ubersuggest. But it’s critical to understand how keyword usage will change during the buying process as your customers become more educated about solving their problem and about the class of solution you provide.
As you develop your content for different stages (in answer to different questions), make sure you’re also adjusting your keywords and phrases to follow suit. And, while buyer personas can provide some great input for keywords, make sure to test and refine them. Use your analytics and continuously monitor how well they’re working toward achieving your content marketing strategy goals.
9. Watering Holes and Social Media
Where your buyer persona turns to for information is an important consideration to gain awareness and attract them to your own products. But, once again, it’s not about being everywhere; it’s about being where they spend their time.
Different platforms require different types of content and engagement. This is where listening really comes into play. Posting the same content and messaging everywhere is not a strategy. Nuance is important.
Focus on a handful of industry sites and social media platforms that give you the best opportunity for engaging this specific audience. The more of a specialist you can become, the more results you will see.
B2B buyer personas can contribute a great deal to your content marketing strategy. The key is developing a depth of information and actually putting that knowledge to work. Creating buyer personas as a check-the-box item and filing them away won’t add value. But the same is also true if you don’t get organizational buy-in or don’t use buyer personas to facilitate cross-functional alignment in your organization when building relationships with your customers. The key is to understanding your customer’s experience in its entirety, and being able to provide the perfect piece of content to continue their progression to buying.