How to Understand Your Audience: Get to Know Your Personas

By Liz Palm, Director, New Media Strategies

How to understand your audienceImagine answering the phone to a restricted number, chatting with the amorphous silhouette on Facebook, or attending an event blind folded. Do you think you would have any idea what to say or with whom you were speaking? Probably not.

Unfortunately, this is the way all too many B2B companies approach their marketing strategies. When asking a marketing manager about the company’s target audience, you will most often hear a general description of the appropriate industry, geography and maybe a department within the organization—IT at a consumer goods company, C-level within an SMB, or even marketing at a professional services company. Traditionally, this would be plenty of information. However in the hyper-targeted, technological world that we live in, it is possible to market to a specific person—or persona—rather than an industry or general type of buyer.

Learning to understand and target these personas is similar to removing that blind fold, seeing the caller ID, or noticing a friend’s photo on social media. Suddenly, you know much more about the individual on the other end before you start the conversation.

How to Put a Face to a Persona

Within every industry and department mentioned above, there is an actual individual that addresses each step of your buying cycle, including someone that has the power and authority to determine if his or her organization will buy your product or service. Amazingly, individuals from organizations across your general target audience experience similar pains and challenges; however these challenges are not consistent from one level of the buying cycle to the next.

To better understand the personas that you want to target, you need to get to know the individuals within your current customer and prospect organizations. So, just like any relationship, it’s good to ask questions. Here are a few to get you started.

• Can You Tell Me About Yourself? Though you won’t know much about the actual individual you are trying to target, when getting to know your persona, it is best to give them a name, typical age, education level and even a photo of their expected likeness. The more familiar this persona is, the easier it will be to provide information that is valuable to them.

• What do you do at work? It is vital to determine each persona’s roles, responsibilities and priorities when on the job. This identifies what is important to the individuals you target and what equals success against their professional objectives. Knowing this will enable you to specifically explain how your product or service will help them achieve success.

• What challenges do you face in completing your job effectively? Addressing real or perceived barriers and limited resources in your marketing outreach lets a prospect know that you truly do understand how difficult their job is—and that you have a solution to make it easier!

• What part do you play in the buying process? Identifying a persona for each role of the buying cycle—researcher, tester or ultimate decision maker—will determine the tone and type of information that you deliver to each of them. You wouldn’t want to offer product comparisons to a decision maker when it is a proposal that is really important.

Before long, you’ll quickly notice very specific personas start to materialize. Use your sales staff, project managers, account executives and anyone else that is in direct contact with your prospects and customers—if possible, conduct third-party in-depth interviews with your customers. The more detailed information you can amass, the better marketer you’ll become.

Though this seems like a time-consuming effort, I can personally attest to its level of effectiveness for the successful B2B tech companies that we have worked with throughout the years. Public relations and marketing campaigns that speak to a specific persona instead of a general target audience tend to increase the organization’s credibility, level of trust and overall perception within the marketplace.