How To Create Brand Personas To Optimize Your Content Marketing

Larissa Russell

published on March 17, 2015 in Content Marketing

Online targeted marketing is not new; From branded content and native advertising to contextual placement and retargeting, the Internet has empowered marketers to reach their audiences with ever-increasing specificity for years. But how can you leverage this strategy to go beyond just ad placement, to optimize and revamp your entire content strategy?

Knowing your target audience has always been essential for marketing; content marketing only offers more opportunities to leverage the information you collect. Especially for marketers offering multiple products with several use cases, establishing brand personas can be an invaluable way to segment your audience effectively.

What’s a Brand Persona?

When companies are just starting out or even pivoting, establishing a target audience, and – consequentially – establishing brand personas, requires marketers to make a lot of assumptions. For instance, if your company is selling artisan organic coffee at a relatively high price point, as a marketer you might assume that your target audience consists of fairly active, working professionals who are also coffee buffs with a concern for the environment and a large budget.

So, you name your first brand persona… Jim. You assume that Jim works as an environmental consultant, age 35-45. He rides public transportation, and during his commute he tends to spend a lot of time on Instagram or checking his email. During his lunch break, he attends yoga at the gym. To reach him, you’ll set up your shop in the financial district of your city and you’ll focus your activity on social media that is most conducive to sharing pictures of lattes. You’ll partner with his gym to offer deals – he’s looking for an escape when he goes to yoga, so you make your shop feel like somewhat of a refuge, too. When he’s already a customer, you might send him promos early in the morning when you know he’ll be looking at his phone.

As companies and campaigns progress, brand personas will naturally evolve alongside them. As you collect more data on new and existing customers, your brand personas can grow more targeted, or split into sub-segments. For instance, you notice that Jim always buys the same thing every day – a shot of espresso. Meanwhile Sally can’t get enough of your green tea, and Ignacio is hooked on your espresso but only comes in in the late afternoons, asking if you have wifi. What else is different about these personas? How old are they? Where do they work? What are their hobbies? What do they want in a coffee shop? You won’t be able to describe everyone (Jim, Sally and Ignacio are groups of people) but you’ll reach the vast majority.

Why Create Brand Personas?

When you are able to answer these questions, you’re able to find a balance between tweaking your product offering based on the prevalence of specific personas in your customer base and optimizing your messaging to shift audience perception in the direction that you want. Digital marketing has helped the establishment of brand personas become far more granular – and perhaps especially for B2B companies – more grounded in data.

What Sort of Data Should You Look For When Creating Target Audiences & Brand Personas?

At Visually, we’ve had plenty of experience establishing brand personas, both for ourselves and for our clients. While every business is subjective, we’ve noticed some key demographics for B2B companies, which we think are most important to look at when establishing brand personas:

  • Industry
  • Company Size
  • Country of Company Headquarters
  • Level of Education
  • Job Function
  • Role Type (Level of Seniority)
  • LinkedIn Profile if applicable
  • Twitter Handle if applicable

If you haven’t done so already it will be essential to gather all or most of this information for your existing clients — or just for your recent clients. We hired two contractors on Odesk to go through our Salesforce database and gather the information we didn’t have. LinkedIn and Rapportive are two tools which proved to be very helpful for their research. Data.com can also be useful.

Tip: It’s important to sit on your data for a while and think about exactly what information you need for your personas and why – these are only guidelines. What do you need on the account level vs. the contact or opportunity levels? Map it out first. Ask people from other departments what they’d like to see too – this information can be useful for everyone, and it’s best to do it right the first time.

How Can You Establish Personas From The Data?

1. Determine your major criteria on a first pass. Make a master report containing all of your closed won opportunities in the past year and sort it. At Visually, we started with industry, noting the top clients by number of won opportunities and total spend in US dollars. We also looked at the top company size groups, top job functions/domains and role types. Finally, we noticed overall trends in social media presence (for instance, were they likely to be on Twitter? Active on LinkedIn?).

2. Ask deeper questions. We weren’t surprised to see that Software and Technology companies were represented among our top clients, and we weren’t surprised to see that larger companies overall spent more per project and came back more often. We also weren’t surprised to see that our top job functions were PR/Communications, Marketing and Content/Innovation — these functions aligned with our initial assumptions about who would value Visually’s products and services. But who within each industry had which job function? Which industries spent the least but came back the most, and why? What products were they looking for and for what purpose?

3. Get answers. If you have a lot of quantitative data, it may be useful to run statistical analyses, like a principal component analysis, to determine commonalities across multiple fields. More often, however, brand personas rely primarily on qualitative information – grounded on now educated assumptions. Go through the data manually and look for trends. Choose your top industries, drill into them and take notes. How senior are your clients in each industry? What is their primary job function? What is their age group? Spot check a few LinkedIn profiles — is it filled up with recommendations or is it entirely empty? Take note of specific job titles, common locations, or anything else that may be interesting to you and your business.

Tip: If you’ve already run any social media ads, they’ll give you valuable insight not only on what – but also on who – actually converts. Use this to your advantage – you probably have more data than you think.

4. Group field values, then slice and dice again. At Visually we noticed that our data had many sub categories with overlapping semantics. Group major field values together: “Director” and “Manager,” for instance: consider them “mid-level” as job titles vary between companies anyway. From there, drill down into top industry groups to see top role types, job functions, age groups, etc. within each industry.

5. Set a manageable number of segments. Fewer is typically better, so start with two or three segments that hit the majority of your overall target. This way, you can ensure that you’re able to cater to your segments easily and without too much upfront heavy lifting. If you develop too many personas, with too many similarities, you might become overwhelmed. You’ll also have less budget to work with to target each! We recommend starting from the bottoms up: begin with more granularity, then group your personas as you notice similarities until to reach a reasonable threshold.

Tip: Depending on the nature of your product, job function is often ultimately the best way to group personas. Multiple PR professionals across different industries, for instance, may need a specific product you offer for the same reason, and they’re likely to spend their time on similar marketing channels. Salespeople across those industries on the other hand would likely need you for a separate reason, and they might find you in a different way.

Leveraging and Evolving Your Brand Personas

Establishing brand personas allows you to create more of a give-and-take between you and your customers. As you iterate on your product, make sure you iterate on your personas, too — they should always reflect the major needs you’re trying to satisfy, and in turn you must know the specific challenges of your personas and how you fit in.

Finally – and most importantly – leverage the information you determine by offering targeted content to each persona. LinkedIn and Facebook make it incredibly simple to reach nearly your exact personas for ad placement, and with tools like Marketo you’re able also able to create separate landing pages and segment your website based on certain criteria. If you’re able to run campaigns up front based on what you know about your target audience, you’re able to revisit, expand and revise your personas based on your conversions.

Tip: continue to collect meaningful data as you go, and establish the process for it now. We kept our contractors on board to do research and fill in the same information on all new leads that request a quote. Data.com is also a great tool to help with this, and so is Marketo. This way you’ll even be able to notice differences between who is interested in your product and who eventually becomes a client.

Ready to get started?

Creating brand personas is a useful exercise that can guide and anchor your marketing campaigns as well as inform your product development roadmap and overall business strategy. By following the process above, we’re confident you’ll have Jim and dozens more like him in your pipeline.

Larissa is a marketplace analyst at Visually.  You can follow her on Twitter @rissyrussell.