November 13, 2015
For your content to be effective, it needs to benefit its audience.
This means that, in addition to being well written and easy to read, your content needs to be tailored to the specific needs and interests of your readers. It’s virtually impossible to create content that adequately caters to more than one audience segment at a time and, as such, it’s important to identify the target audience for every single piece that you write. One of the most effective ways to do this is to create a persona.
What Does “Creating Personas” Mean?
Creating a persona doesn’t mean adopting a different personality and writing from that standpoint. Rather, it means identifying the primary persona of your audience and creating a fictional person at whom you can direct your content.
For example, if your target audience is middle-aged women, your target persona might be Barb: a 52-year-old married Caucasian female with two children. Barb works as a paralegal and has a bachelor’s degree from a state university. She makes less than $60,000 annually and owns a home. She is straightforward, concerned about value and unfamiliar with advanced technology. She wants actionable tips for how to organize her life and make daily tasks easier.
Why Does Creating Personas Matter?
It’s important to identify who your target personas are so that you can tailor your content toward them. For example, someone who is writing to a persona like Barb is going to write differently than they would to Lauren, a 25-year-old, single, tech-literate yoga teacher who makes less than $15,000 annually, has a master’s in English, values eco-friendly companies, fears big business and cares deeply about spiritual development. Creating personas for your target audience allows you to get to know your readers better and, most importantly, to tailor your content to provide the most possible value to them.
To put it another way, personas are an invaluable tactic writers can use to personalize content marketing for different audience segments. Personas allow you to alter CTAs, value propositions, openers and information for different segments of your readers and ensure that every segment of your audience is getting valuable, appealing content.
Four Tips for Building Personas
Creating personas means that you need to know your readers. You can’t simply apply a persona to your audience without knowing important information like age, demographic information, occupation and the skeletal structure of their online habits. That said; follow these tips to build effective customer typologies:
1. Consult Your Databases: Take a look at your databases or analytics to gain some more insight into how readers are finding your content. Are they finding your site organically? Coming to it after it was shared by a friend? Discovering it on social media? What types of search terms are they using? What are they doing with your content once they find it? Do they comment or share? This information will help you understand some of your target persona’s most important online habits.
2. Use Signup Forms to Gather Information: When you create signup forms to use on your site, make sure they are gathering more than just a name and e-mail address. Alter your forms so that they include boxes for things like gender, family size and occupation. This information can be difficult to glean otherwise and can provide an important stepping-stone in identifying your target persona.
3. Consider Where Your Site Interacts the Most: This goes back to taking a look at your analytics. Where does your site interact with readers the most? It’s likely that you use several content distribution tactics, so take a look at which of those draws the most interaction. Do your tweets garner dozens of favorites and re-tweets? Do your Facebook posts get a great deal of likes and shares? Does your blog draw thousands of readers a day? Focus on the part of your content strategy that draws the most interaction and use that platform to begin building the foundation for your reader personas.
4. Survey Readers: One of the hands-down most effective ways to gain more information about your readers is to ask them questions. Build a survey using an easy tool like SurveyMonkey and ask your readers what you want to know.
An effective blog survey may ask readers what types of content they prefer, how they found the site, what they’d like to see more of, how much time they spend online every day, where they’re located, what sorts of topics they’re interested in, etc. Surveys are direct, effective, time-efficient ways to gain important reader information that will help you better hone your target persona.
The Template for Effective Personas
In order to be effective, a persona needs to be detailed and complete. Once you’ve gathered your needed information, it should fit into a template that looks like this:
- Job Title
- Location (geographical/specific) of job
- Details about job title
- Where Persona Lives
- Family Size
In addition to this information, many companies choose to add things like level of tech literacy, frequently visited websites, source of news information and hobbies to the outline of their persona. Remember: the more information you add, the better you’ll be able to market to the target audience.
Fleshing Out Your Personas
Once you’ve gathered all of the above information, it’s time to flesh out the persona and employ some effective storytelling in your writing. First things first, the persona will need a name. The name can be anything you choose. The one rule is that the name should be real and often-used in order to help the persona feel more human and relatable.
The next thing you need to do is fill in the details: give your persona a job, a role and a position within a company. Once you’ve done this, fill in the persona’s demographic information, including information like age, sex and location. Typically, this information comes from reader surveys.
Lastly, fill in your persona’s goals and challenges. Although this may seem inconsequential, it is one of the most important pieces of creating a persona because it allows you to cater to the specifics. For example, if your reader fears technology but values learning, you can create content that is focused on easy tips for mastering new technology. Defining your persona’s goals, values and challenges allows you to brainstorm ways in which you can use your content as a vessel to appeal to those goals and values and address their challenges and fears, which allows you to deliver more valuable content.
Once you’ve done this, add a photo of someone who resembles your target persona. When you’ve finished, your content marketing persona should look something like this:
The Power of Value Propositions
Value propositions tell your readers why they should stick with your site rather than hitting the “back” button and, as such, learning to write compelling value propositions is an important skill for content marketers. If you can’t tell your readers exactly why your content is valuable and why they should want more of it, you don’t stand a chance at ranking well, gaining a broader reader base or increasing your visibility. A great value proposition does the following things:
- Explains how your content can offer a solution to reader problems.
- Promises and delivers on clear, explicit benefits.
- Tells customers why, exactly, they should stay with your site rather than going somewhere else.
Examples of great value propositions look like these pages, from Apple:
(Source of Images: IMPACT Blog)
4 Questions to Write Value Propositions for Your Target Persona
Writing an irresistible value proposition is all about taking the information you gleaned while developing your target persona and applying it to the process of writing your value proposition. To create an effective, well-rounded value statement, answer the following questions:
1. What is the Value of the Product?
Why does your product (read content) matter? What makes it cool? What does it do that other products don’t? How can it simplify your reader’s life or solve problems? Can it help them get more organized or learn something new? Use the information you gathered about your target audience to appeal to their values. If you’re marketing to Lauren, the eco-friendly Yogi, it may be worthwhile to include something about how low-impact your product is.
2. What Do You Offer That the Competition Doesn’t?
Once you’ve established what you do, it’s probable that there are thousands of other companies or individuals that do the same exact thing. What sets you apart? Why should readers stay on your site rather than hopping over to someone else’s? What do you offer that the competition falls short on? What do you have that your target audience loves and won’t find anywhere else? Think critically about your target persona’s values, fears and concerns and use those to outline the ways you stand out from the competition.
3. Why is Your Company Unique? This is a broader question than what sets you apart from the competition. This portion of the value proposition is all about showcasing your company’s values and point of view. There are plenty of computer companies in the world, for example, but Apple made it big by branding itself as an advanced company with a devil-may-care attitude, designed for rebels and free thinkers everywhere. So, ask yourself again, what makes you unique?
4. Why Should Your Readers Care? This is the portion of the value proposition where you make your benefit clear to your readers. If you’ll simplify your life, tell them that. If you’ll help them feel happier, tell them that. This is not a time to mince words and direct statements of value get the best response. If you’re marketing to Barb, tell her that your product will help her stay organized and get more done with less stress. Remember: it’s all about targeting to a specific persona. That said, the question here is not why your readers should care, it’s why Barb should care.
How Reader Personas and Targeted Value Propositions Can Enhance Your Content
Who are you writing to? It’s impossible to write to everyone at once and the value proposition that appeals to Sally may not appeal to Bob. Therefore, it’s important to define your target persona, take the time to flesh him or her out and then develop highly personalized value propositions that address your target audience’s specific fears, concerns, strengths and values. By doing this, you create strong, highly shareable content that is irresistible to your readers.
Julia McCoy is a bestselling author of So You Think You Can Write, podcaster and an expert content marketer. She’s also the founder and CEO of Express Writers, a leading online content creation agency, with more than 60 content writers and strategists. Julia leads her team to serve hundreds of worldwide businesses with the highest-quality content for their online presence. Follow Julia's blog.