When I talk to marketing professionals about content, one of the biggest complaints I hear is that many writers don’t know how to communicate in a peer-to-peer tone with their audience. This is especially true in B2B (business to business) markets, where buyers are likely defined by their role in an organization, whether it’s a VP of finance, a director of operations, or a mid-market CEO.
Content written without that “in the head of the buyer” ability tends to sound “off”—either overly simplistic, too flowery, or just not quite on target. This creates a host of problems for the marketer, from having to rewrite the content to having to micro-manage the writing team.
Naturally then, copywriters who have developed this ability stand out. They are more productive, easier to work with, and more valuable team members. For copywriters, it means being more in demand, and for agencies it means better efficiency and fewer headaches.
Truly commanding the “inside the head” ability takes study and practice—it won’t be mastered overnight. However, the fundamentals can be learned, and the place to start is with persona documents.
Writer Pro Tip: Learning to create persona documents will not only increase your effectiveness as a marketing writer, it can also become an additional service line that you can charge for, thus increasing your profitability.
What is a Persona Document
The word “persona” in a marketing context refers to a specific way of thinking about the audience. Some marketers call the persona an “avatar” or even just “the audience.” A persona is a description of a particular portion of the audience, usually presented in a fictionalized narrative as if they were a single person.
For instance, if an audience consists of Marketing VPs, the persona might be called “Joanna, Marketing VP.” Its accompanying document (the persona document) would proceed to describe “Joanna.” Information usually included in the persona document:
- – Demographics
- – Role in the organization
- – Business challenges
- – Pains
- – Fears
- – Aspirations (hopes)
- – The buyer’s journey
Your clients may already have personas for their market, which you can supplement with the additional details called for in the process described below. In other cases, the client may appreciate your ability to create personas for them. Unless the client already has detailed, well-conceived persona documents, I make the persona process a part of every package I sell.
Agency Pro Tip: Systematizing your persona process will yield benefits in efficiency, and will allow you to hand the process off to writers and others on your team. Use this article as a template to create your own customized process.
How to Create a Persona Document
In some cases, a client may already know precisely who they want to target with their content. In others, they may have multiple markets and multiple decision makers and influencers. In order for content to be effective, it must focus on one or two closely related audiences, and your clients may need your help in creating this focus.
Step One: Identify Buying Decision Makers and Influencers
The client will already have a wealth of information about who they want to market to. Ask them to nail down the specific business decision makers within the organizations they want to reach, as well as anyone who influences the decision.
Then ask them to choose one or two to targets first. You may have to remind them that you can’t please everyone all the time, and that if you try to please all the personas simultaneously, you’ll end up with bland content that helps no one. To help your client nail down personas, here are some questions to ask:
- – What types of organizations are your best-fit clients?
- – What are the criteria that define a best-fit client?
- – Within a best-fit client organization, who is the primary decision maker for your solution?
- – Within a best-fit client organization, who is usually your first contact or your “in” with the company? What is their relationship to the primary decision maker?
- – Besides the primary decision maker and your first contact, who influences the decision to purchase your solution? Remember to include users, managers, outside stakeholders, HR people, executives, and anyone else who may have an influence.
- – Of the potential targets, who do you most want to consume your marketing content?
- – Of the potential targets, who is most likely to consume this marketing content?
Step Two: Collect Information from the Client
Once you’ve identified the target persona, it’s time to dig deep with the client. This second step can often be started or even completed within the same session as step one, but don’t be afraid to schedule a second session if necessary. This is important, and it pays to slow down and get it right. You may also want to involve members of the sales team in this conversation, who will usually have valuable insights based on their daily interactions with actual prospects.
Here are the questions to ask.
- – What is the persona’s role in your best-fit client organization?
- – What is their role in the buying decision?
- – Describe the target’s likely approximate demographics: Age, gender, income. Feel free to include information about hobbies, interests, etc.
- – What is the target’s current pain, as they would describe it (their reason for looking for your solution)?
- – What is the underlying cause of their pain?
- – What is the personal impact of their pain?
- – Feel free to list as many relevant current pains as you can think of. A minimum of three is a good start.
- – What is the target’s future pain?
- – What happens if they don’t solve their problem?
- – What happens if they make a bad choice in solving their problem?
- – What do they perceive as the risk of choosing your solution?
- – List as many of each as you can think of.
- – What is the target’s aspiration?
- – What do they want the solution to do?
- – What is the vision for their company that the solution supports?
- – What is the personal impact for them of achieving their aspiration?
- – List as many aspirations as you can think of relevant to your solution.
- – Where does the target go to learn about potential solutions? For instance:
- – Trade shows
- – Social media
- – Reading industry magazines
- – Inquiring with colleagues
- – Describe the buyer’s purchasing journey, as best you understand it.
- – How/why does he/she become aware that he/she has a problem?
- – What does he/she do when he/she first becomes aware of the problem?
- – What avenues does she/he pursue to research the problem and its solution?
- – What options will he/she likely consider as a solution?
- – How will he/she choose which solutions to consider?
- – At what point in the process will he/she likely encounter your brand?
- – At what point in the process will he/she likely contact your organization?
- – By what means will he/she likely contact your organization?
- – What do you know about which parts of your sales funnel works? Doesn’t work? Where are most of your target leads coming from now?
- – Are there any points in the buying journey where you know that leads are dropping off?
- – By what means and on what basis does the target make the final buying decision?
- – What are the factors that determine the final decision
- – What are some known obstacles to choosing your solution?
- – How long does the total buying journey typically take?
Step Three: Conduct Interviews (Optional)
In some cases, it may be worthwhile to talk to prospects and/or clients of your client to get more insight. If you do this, be sure to build it into your pricing, because it will be time-consuming. In other cases, it may be more efficient to get started based on what the client can provide, and make adjustments as necessary.
If you do interview prospects and clients, here are the questions to ask them. Note that many of these are similar to those listed above, but with some differences. Any discrepancies between what your client thinks about their audience and what the audience reveals to you will be valuable information to share with the client.
- – What is your role in the organization?
- – What is your role in the buying decision?
- – What was the problem you were trying to solve when you went looking for this solution?
- – What was the underlying cause of the problem?
- – What was the personal impact of the problem?
- – Were there any other problems you were trying to solve?
- – Were there other pains associated with any of the problems you were trying to solve?
- – What might have happened if you hadn’t solved your problem?
- – What might have happened if you’d made a bad choice in solving the problem?
- – In your mind, what were the risks associated with choosing the specific solution you chose?
- – What did you want the solution to do?
- – What was the vision for your company that you wanted the solution to support?
- – What was the personal impact for you of achieving your aspiration?
- – Where do you spend time when attempting to solve your business problems? For instance:
- – Trade shows
- – Reading industry magazines
- – Asking colleagues for recommendations
- – Describe how you came to make your purchasing decision.
- – How did you become aware that you had a problem?
- – What did you do when you first became aware of the problem?
- – What avenues did you pursue to research the problem and its solution?
- – What options did you consider as a solution?
- – How did you choose which solutions to consider?
- – At what point in the process did you encounter the brand that you ultimately chose?
- – At what point in the process did you contact that brand’s sales team?
- – By what means did you contact the solution provider?
- – Were there any times in your process when you considered letting go of the solution provider and choosing something else? When were they and why?
- – By what means and on what basis did you make the final buying decision?
- – From your active awareness of the problem to choosing the solution, approximately how long did the journey take?
- – Did you have questions about the solution that you didn’t feel were adequately answered at any point?
- – Were there topics you already knew the answers to or that you felt were covered too often in the materials and conversations you encountered during the purchase process?
- – Was there anything that the sales team or marketing did that you felt slowed the process unnecessarily?
Step Four: Write the Persona Document
Once you’ve gathered all the right information, it’s time to build the persona document. You’ll want to collect the critical information near the top of the document in easily consumable format (bullet points work well): Demographics, pains, fears, aspirations. A short narrative section will cover the “story” of the persona’s journey, and a table at the bottom can demonstrate the essential points of their buying story.
Download our persona template here to see how I do it, and feel free to adapt it to your needs. The resulting document makes a beautiful deliverable, as well as a valuable asset for the writing team to develop content from. It’s also a useful source of blog topics, which can be based on pains, fears, aspirations, and unanswered questions of the target persona.
Writers who spend time developing persona documents have a distinct advantage when it comes to being “inside the head” of the audience. Because some personas will come up again and again (CEOs, directors of operations, and VPs of various sorts are among those that I write for regularly, e.g.), writers who use this process will quickly develop proficiency for those personas, and more quickly develop highly targeted peer-to-peer content for those audiences.
Of course, writing a persona document is only the start of true mastery. At Command Copywriter, we’re committed to supporting writers in their careers and agencies in developing their writing team. We offer copywriter training resources developed for the real world, including webinars, workshops, video training, and a wealth of downloadable resource packs. Contact us today to learn more.
Don’t forget to download your free template here: Persona Template