By: Kathleen Booth
Kathleen Booth

Using Audience Personas to Improve Your Marketing ROI

audience personas, marketing ROI

Use_Audience_Personas_to_Boost_Marketing_ROIIt’s something you learn in Marketing 101 – to be effective, your marketing efforts need to be directed at a well-defined target audience. Most businesses are great at coming up with a list of targets. For example, a client in the commercial real estate industry recently sent me a list of her target audience that read simply “building owners, business owners, and leasing agents.” I suppose you could call this a target audience, but how does this list really help my client design an effective marketing campaign?

The short answer? It doesn’t!

The point of defining your target audience is to gather the information necessary to create marketing messages and campaigns that not only reach your audience, but that gets them to take action. Whether that action is to call you, buy your product, agree to a meeting, or hire you as a service provider, the bottom line is that marketing can only be considered effective when it gets results.

How do you get great marketing results?

Although it is widely considered a creative field, when done well, marketing is more like a science than an art. And just like science, great marketing begins with research. When it comes to defining your target audience, this means going beyond broad categories of people (such as building owners) and asking questions like:

  • Who are the specific decision makers that I am targeting?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What information do they need to do their job well?
  • How do they make buying decisions?
  • How can my marketing answer their questions, address their concerns, and provide them with useful information?

Unfortunately, most companies never move beyond the broadest definition of their target audience and as a result, they spin their wheels churning out ineffective marketing campaigns that do not yield the desired return on investment (ROI).

Using Audience Personas to Improve Your Marketing ROI

Regardless of what industry or business you are in, it’s important to remember that you will always be selling to people. Not categories. Not companies. Not industries. The moment of truth in every sales process always – yes, ALWAYS – comes down to a person or group of people making a decision. It stands to reason therefore that great marketing will be targeted directly at those people.

How do you target people? Let’s use the example above, of the commercial realtor looking to target building owners. It’s fine to begin the process of defining her audience by identifying the broad category of building owners as a target, but that is really just the start. The next step is to segment that category into more specific demographic groups. There are a variety of ways to do this:

  • Geographically: Where are these building owners located? Is the realtor interested in owners from across the country, or is she targeted a specific state, county, town, or metropolitan area?
  • By Size: Who is the ideal client? Do they own a large, multi-story office building, or a small strip mall?
  • By Industry: Is she targeting owners of industrial, commercial, or retail property?
  • By Market: Does the realtor specialize in a certain market, such as restaurants, strip malls, or commercial office buildings?

After completing this process, you should be left with a more tightly defined list of audience segments within the “building owner” category. Some examples might include:

  • Owners of small commercial office buildings in the greater Baltimore metropolitan area;
  • Owners of strip malls in the State of Massachusetts; or
  • Owners of large, multi-story office buildings in Washington, DC.

As you can see, although answering these questions will help to narrow down the potential target audience, it still doesn’t get to the question of who the person is to whom our realtor will be selling.

Audiences are People Too

Once you’ve segmented your audience, the next step is to determine the types of people within that segment that are involved in buying decisions, and get to know their needs, concerns, goals, etc. In this case, we know that our realtor is targeting building owners, but not all building owners are individuals. What happens when that strip mall or multi-story office building is owned by a corporation? Who is the person to whom she will be selling?

Answering this question requires a solid understanding of the industry (in this case, commercial real estate). The good news is that, regardless of what business you are in, you most likely already have this information based on your experience to date in sales.

In the case of our commercial realtor, who is looking to reach a corporation that owns a strip mall or multi-story office building, the key is to determine who within that corporation is responsible for keeping the space leased. This may be the company’s owner or perhaps a marketing director involved in leasing campaigns. In some cases, there may be more than one person who influences the buying process.

Developing an Audience Persona

Armed with your audience segments and a specific list of individuals involved in the buying process, the next step is to develop a complete profile for each “persona” you are targeting. If it’s the owner of the corporation that owns the strip mall, you need to ask yourself questions such as the following:

  • Is this person a man or a woman?
  • How old are they?
  • How long have they been in this position?
  • Where did they go to school?
  • What do they like to do in their free time?
  • What type of degrees or professional background do they have?
  • What are their job responsibilities and day-to-day tasks?
  • What are their pain points?
  • What do they like/dislike about their job?
  • What criteria do they use when making buying decisions?

These questions are just part of a long list that should be answered. The temptation as you go through this process is often to be general. For example, when answering how old the person is, I commonly have clients answer “between 40 and 50 years old.” While it may be true that many of their clients and prospects fall within this age range, that is not the point of this exercise. The objective of the audience persona is to paint a detailed portrait of a fictional individual. I don’t know too many people who, when asked their age, say “between 40 and 50” (its more common for them to refuse to give their age at all!)!

When crafting personas, be specific. Pick an age. Choose a specific college or university when thinking about educational background. Write down what their hobbies are. And before you finish, give this person a name AND a photograph. I like to use Google Image Search to look for photos that remind me of the picture I have in my head. The result will be a believable portrait of a person who would be interested in your products or services.

Using Audience Personas in Your Marketing

Creating audience personas can be a lot of fun, but you might be asking what the point of the exercise is. Once personas are drafted, you should use them at every step in the development and implementation of your marketing strategy. If you are putting together an email campaign targeting strip mall owners and the audience persona you’ve developed of a strip mall owner is Bob Jenkins, ask yourself, “Would Bob Jenkins open/click through this email?” If not, it’s time to go back to the drawing board!

Personas are also a very helpful tool when trying to map out how your audience makes its purchase decisions. The classic sales funnel begins with a wide pool of unqualified leads that must be made aware of your brand/product/service. Once they are aware, you can then educate them about what you do or sell. If they are interested, the challenge is then to provide them with information that is relevant to their specific needs, and to nurture them through the funnel to the point where you can make a sale. Working with personas makes this a much simpler task. A good audience persona profile should already contain information about what your audience’s needs are, and this information can be used to develop content that will answer their questions and speak to their concerns. It will also help you to determine what types of topics you should address through your marketing (ex. if targeting a CFO, product/service cost and potential ROI would be appropriate topics, whereas content aimed at someone in a company’s IT department should address functionality, hardware requirements, etc.).

Building a Persona Library

Don’t stop at just one audience persona. Most companies have a long list of the types of people that they sell to or who influence customer buying decisions. The creation of audience personas should be an ongoing process that results in an ever-expanding library of personas to whom you can target your marketing efforts. The more you know about your audience, the more effective your marketing will be. I promise!

Do you already have audience personas that you use in your marketing? If so, share with us here how you use them to fine tune your marketing efforts!

{image credit: By Lakeyboy at en.wikipedia (Own work Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}

Audience Personal Profile Templates