Understanding your customers is the most important step in writing great, valuable content. It’s the difference between writing a post that’s just ok and a post that’s fantastic.
The trouble is, it can be tricky to work out exactly who to write for, and how to make your articles attractive to them.
Enter user personas.
User personas are profiles. Think of them as pictures of your ideal customers (or potential ideal customers). They help you characterize their needs, wants and loves—they’re personalities on a page.
The best user personas are living, breathing documents. You’ll refer to them in every aspect of your content marketing and product development and update them often.
[tweetthis]The best user personas are living, breathing documents[/tweetthis]
How User Personas Improve Content
A good set of user personas can have a massive impact on your content. The word “set” is key. You’ll need to create more than one. Why? Well, because there’ll be more than one type of customer or reader. It’s rare that any business targets exactly one type of customer that always acts the same.
Let’s say you’re writing an ebook about SEO with the goal of using it to generate leads for your SEO product. There are several kinds of people who would be interested in reading it. Small business owners new to SEO and SEO professionals wanting to learn new techniques are just two examples, and each has different motivations and goals.
By building user personas, you can tell how different types of people might feel when they use your product. Knowing this can help you tap into their emotions through your writing. This in turn helps you build trust with them. A deep understanding of what each persona wants—not just what they say they want—means your ebook can be far more persuasive. You can directly address their concerns and relate to problems they’re experiencing right now.
Good knowledge of personas’ buying triggers is useful too. Having insight into their buying triggers can help you capture the attention of people visiting your article. You can funnel them right into your ebook’s landing page – and at just the right stage of the buying cycle.
This means you’ll be more likely to convert them into a trial signup because you know exactly what your prospect is looking for, and when.
Still don’t see the value? Try it out for yourself.
While user personas may feel a little silly to start out, they really help you focus in on customer needs. Then, when you’re focused on the needs, you’ll have a better perspective on how to best serve your customers.
You’ll end up writing better content that your prospects will love and get a ton of value from. In turn, they’ll be more likely to convert into customers. It’s a win-win.
Creating a Good User Persona
OK, so you’ve decided user personas are a good idea for your business. Now what? Where do you start?
I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news—building great user personas is tough. Luckily it can be broken down into stages, some of which you should already be doing. Building off your existing data will help you craft your personas in no time.
What You’ll Need
There are a lot of different data points you’ll need to include in your user personas. Here’s some data you’ll want to find, and some questions you can ask to find it:
Demographics include all of the physical and external characteristics of a person, and help bring your user persona to life. These characteristics can include age, education, income, location, and more. The more information that you have related to your persona, the more well-rounded a picture that you can draw of them. The more life-like your persona, the more likely you and your team will target them properly in your writing.
The age of your persona can make a big difference to the way you write your content.
For example, if you’re a trendy store offering casual clothes to young professionals, you’re unlikely to write formally. However, if you’re a store offering high-end suits to middle-aged men, you’ll probably need to use a more professional tone.
If you’ve got Google Analytics installed, take a look at your data to help you find out the age of your visitors. Head to Audience > Demographics > Age and you’ll find some handy insights.
The age of your persona makes a big difference to your writing style, but so does the education of your readers.
Why? If your readership is mostly tenured professors, for instance, you can use more complex writing. You’ll also want to reference studies and academic papers more often. If you’re targeting teenagers you’ll want to keep it more conversational.
Earnings and Income
Knowing how much your readers generally earn can help you determine the price for your product or service. But it can help you when you’re writing content too. When you reference products or services in your articles you’ll be able to match the price points to your users. No use writing about high-end luxury goods to cash-strapped startup founders.
While demographics cover the physical and location-based characteristics of your readers, psychographics look inward. These are equally, if not more, important for conversions when targeting your ad copy and content. This information speaks to the values, ethics, ideals, and pain of your target audience(s).
What does your user persona value? The answer to this is usually dependent on the demographics. For instance, an older person with a high school education might value security over freedom when asked. A great determination of the values a person has is made by some of the hobbies which they pursue.
What are some of the underlying beliefs that a person has about your industry or product? If you are, for instance, a bank, does your user persona generally trust banks, or are they more prone to need a little extra nudge when asked to trust a financial institution?
Products and Brands
Take a look at the products and brands that your user persona might already be using. Is your product or service the next step or a better alternative? Knowing about their brands and what they like about them will help you better adapt your content.
What is the biggest struggle that people have when it’s related to your product? What issue does your product or service solve? Most likely, your user persona is already trying to solve the issue. When you find out how, you can better craft the content to suit their needs.
An easy way to start understanding your customers is to look through all your current data. As a business, you’ll have gathered tons of content and product usage analytics. These can give you a great insight into what your users love.
You can ask yourself questions like:
- Do visitors spend a lot of time reading a certain type of content?
- What product features do they use the most?
- Which article types get the most amount of shares on social media?
These types of questions help you think more qualitatively about your data.
If you’re just getting started and don’t have that much data at hand don’t worry. You can find out a ton about your customers online. How? By using the power of social listening tools.
Use a social listening tool to find out:
- What customers are saying about you and your brand
- What customers think of your product
- How your team responds to customer interactions
- What customers are saying about your competitors
Looking through all that data’s great and all, but to truly understand your customers, you’re going to need to dig a little deeper.
The best way to understand your customers is to actually talk to them. Customer feedback is super important, you already know that. You can take it one step further, though. Ask your customers in person. It’s even more valuable.
[tweetthis]The best way to understand your customers is to talk to them[/tweetthis]
An easy first step is to talk with your support staff. They speak with your customers all the time. Support staff should be your first port of call when you’re figuring out what people really think of your business. They should give you a good idea what to focus on in the interviews.
Next up you’ll need to reach out to some customers. You don’t even need to leave the office. Try asking some of your best customers for 15 minutes of their time to help you improve the product you offer them.
Video calls or in-person interviews work best so you can pick up on non-verbal cues. If that’s not possible though a quick call will do fine.
Start by asking questions about their demographic, then move onto qualitative questions about them. You’ll want to find out about their goals, and what motivates them. What are they looking to get out of your product? What other products did they try before yours?
Be sure to probe them on the negatives too. What objections do they (or did they) have about your product? Was it difficult to get started? What don’t they like about the product?
Lastly, find out what caused them to buy. Ask if there were any triggers—maybe a piece of content, or an ebook you wrote? Does anyone else influence their buying behavior? Where do they look to find new products? What do they search for?
Write down some quotes to use in your persona. It’ll help anyone else that uses it understand the feelings a real customer has, and give an insight into how they think.
Remember, the more realistic your persona is the more valuable and useful it will be your business.
Bringing Everything Together
It’s time to add a name and personality trait to your persona. For example, one of our personas is Marketing Mandy. If your persona is a high-end executive, you could go for something like Executive Eric or CEO Cindy.
Now you’ll need to find a picture that represents them. Don’t use one of your actual customers unless you have permission.
You can find a picture pretty easily by heading over to Google and typing in ‘user avatar generator’.
Why add a name and picture? You don’t have to, but I’ve found it helps personify your persona, making it all the more valuable for your business.
Now that you’ve collected all the data, and added a name and picture, it’s time to combine everything into a document. Don’t be afraid to add a touch of design here. The more appealing your personas are to look at the better they’ll be received by your team, and the more likely they are to be used.
Try to distill all the information you’ve gathered into one page, and don’t be too verbose. You should end up with a section of bullets for each data type (demographic, psychographic, etc.).
Example: Marketing Mandy
To add a little context, I’ll walk you through how we created Marketing Mandy, one of the personas I mentioned earlier.
First off, we took a look through our people analytics to find exactly who our most engaged users were. We found our top 10 most engaged users, and sent out some personal emails to try and set up a video chat. Turns out our customers are all pretty busy working (something we can include in our persona), but we were happy to be able to set up 4 customer interviews.
After a quick chat about the weather we asked questions about them and their company, so we could get a picture of our overall demographic. Then we finished up each interview with a conversation about our product, how they’ve been using it and what they’d like to see in the future. Plus a little chitchat about content marketing in general.
From our interviews we found a ton of common traits. All 4 of our interviewees worked at small startups with 10-50 employees, and all were responsible for running a content team of 2-5. Most were 25-35 years old, college-educated, and all were very passionate about marketing.
With all our data in hand we went on to make our persona. We used a Google Sheet so we could easily share it with the team (if you like, you can grab our template). Now Marketing Mandy’s an integral part of our content strategy.
Ongoing Persona Development
One of the biggest mistakes people make with their user personas is leaving them to collect dust. They go to all the trouble of collecting the data, processing it, and distributing it to their team and then they never update them.
Don’t be one of those people.
If you don’t regularly update your personas the information may no longer be relevant. At best that means you’ll stop using it, at worst it means you’ll be writing content for the wrong people and your business will suffer.
When your business grows and you begin talking to your customers, you’ll likely find that the personas you created at the start were way off point. That’s OK.
[tweetthis]If you don’t update your personas the information may not be relevant[/tweetthis]
You need to treat your persona as a living document and try to update it every few months. Keep showing the personas to your coworkers. Asking often about the types of people that are using your product or reading your articles helps. They may be able to give you some fresh insights.
The information you’ll collect during this process is incredibly valuable.
Using user personas in your content marketing helps you write better, more relevant content. Gather all the data you can through customer interviews, then condense it into a digestible one-pager your team can use.
Every time you write a piece of content, make sure you’re writing it for a specific user persona. The more targeted you can make it, the better the piece will be. The better the piece, the more likely someone will convert.
Jake is the CEO of Contentacle, a startup that makes content marketing software for teams. He’s passionate about marketing, code and design, and when he’s not working you’ll probably find him in the nearest specialty coffee shop.