How to Create Personas for Content Marketing with Ardath Albee

August 6, 2016

How to Create Personas for Content Marketing with Ardath Albee

Knowing your audience is a critical element of any content marketing strategy. Your content needs to speak to your audience’s wants and needs; it must provide enough value to capture and hold their attention. That level of relevance can only come from a thorough knowledge of who you’re targeting and what they want.

As we put together The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing, we spoke to many of the brightest minds in the industry. We heard one word over and over: empathy. Many of our thought leaders said it was the most important attribute a content marketer could have.

Empathy means going beyond an academic knowledge of your audience to understand them on an emotional level. Perhaps the best tool for writing empathetic content is the persona, an abstraction of your ideal potential customer.

And when you think personas, one of the first names that comes to mind is Ardath Albee, CEO and B2B Marketing Strategist at Marketing Interactions. Ardath has spent a decade developing and refining a unique approach to B2B content marketing. Her book Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results, is a no-nonsense tactical guide for marketers in the digital age.

In this interview, she discusses how to get started with persona creation, the characteristics of the most effective personas, and more.

Q&A with Marketing Interactions CEO Ardath Albee

LinkedIn: There’s no shortage of content marketers who believe in the power of personas, yet haven’t put personas into practice. Where do you recommend they start?

Ardath: I’m one of those who believe in personas. There are two things to consider—the first is the creation of active personas that inform content marketing strategy. The second is gaining an understanding about how to apply the information in an active persona to your content strategy.

Start by doing the work to create a persona.  Start with one. Create a proof of concept program that you can benchmark against your content marketing programs that are not persona-driven. Prove the value, refine your approach, and then iterate to include additional personas.

One of the biggest things to remember is that personas are a content multiplier. Where you may have one general nurturing program today, three personas will mean you’ll need 3X the content you have now. Make sure you have the resources and capabilities to expand your approach or you’ll bury your content marketing team. That’s when publishing for publishing’s sake happens. And that kills the effectiveness of your programs.

Next, when you’re building the persona, keep asking “how will this information feed our content marketing approach?” Get rid of everything that doesn’t inform that. For example, in B2B knowing that a persona earns $150k per year and lives in the suburbs with a German Shepherd is not helpful. However, knowing that they tend to average 14 years in their career and are very detail oriented will help you determine the tone and style for your content.

LinkedIn: In your experience, how do the most effective content marketers approach personas differently?

Ardath: First, they know that effective personas need both qualitative and quantitative research and should be based on input from buyers, customers, and lost prospects. They also involve other functions in persona development, getting buy-in across the organization.

Second, they don’t make the fatal mistake of putting them in a folder on a server and leaving them to languish. They put their personas to work by relying on them to feed them through the line of the story they share with each target segment.

And third, they update them regularly because they understand at the rate of change in today’s marketplace what was true yesterday may not be true tomorrow.

LinkedIn: If you were starting a content marketing program from scratch, where would you begin?

Ardath: I’d begin with understanding my audience. My vehicle for doing this is personas —whether buyer, customer, end user, advocate, etc. Doing the work to interview, learn from, and research your audience is the primary factor that should drive a content marketing program. Without this knowledge, the relevance needed to drive engagement and intent based on matching context at every stage will be elusive. 

LinkedIn: In your eyes, what is the biggest difference between content marketing five years ago and content marketing today?

Ardath: Five years ago, content marketing was about “becoming a publisher.” Today, marketers realize that becoming a publisher is only step one.

They’ve begun to realize that publishing without a strategy is ineffective, limiting the performance of their content marketing programs. The same is true for the need to understand their audiences and the recognition that this information should drive that strategy. Pushing out content you want to publish is a lot different than executing a successful content marketing program that connects with customers by delivering meaningful experiences that are contextually relevant.

LinkedIn: If you are tasked with hiring a content marketer, what is the #1 attribute you are looking for?

Ardath: Empathy for your audience and writing chops tie for the top attributes. While you can teach refinements to writing skills, without empathy for buyers and customers, your content will be missing that secret sauce that compels people to stop, pay attention, and continuously engage.

Thanks to Ardath for joining us. You can find her on Twitter @Ardath421, and read more on the Marketing Interactions blog.

To learn more about content marketing strategy from personas to measurement, download The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing.

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