Content marketers often pay lip service to the need to understand their customers in order to create great content. And, increasingly, many of them don’t just talk the talk, they also try to walk the walk by creating customer personas. Usually taking the form of short descriptions, these personas, as the name implies, are intended to help marketers personify their customers and bring clarity about who they are and what they care about.

Unfortunately, though, in many cases these so-called personas lack depth and as a result just aren’t all that useful.

The problem is that most content marketers don’t treat persona development as a rigorous research task. Instead, they often develop their personas in a vacuum based on their gut feelings about who they think their customers are and what they’re likely to care about. While these insights may reflect a lot of knowledge and experience, and are certainly an important and useful starting point, unless they’re validated, they’re nothing more than assumptions that may or may not be correct.

Equally problematic is that even if marketers do invest the time to create meaningful personas, they often fail to use them appropriately. That’s because after going to the trouble of creating the personas, marketers use them as a reference tool less frequently over time. As a result, those personas wind up having far less of a bearing on the company’s content marketing than they need to.

All of these issues lead to a single result: generic content that’s not particularly effective at cutting through the noise, that doesn’t resonate with customers, and that doesn’t help move those customers down the path to purchase.

Thing Are Changing, Don’t Get Left Behind

Going forward, this somewhat lackadaisical approach to understanding customers just won’t be good enough. Instead, savvy content marketers are already raising the bar by taking the time to truly understand their customers, develop meaningful validated personas, and then fully integrate those personas into their content strategies.

In fact, it won’t be long until content marketing becomes hyper-focused on ensuring that all aspects of content strategy tie back to specific, well-crafted personas to ensure complete alignment. The result will be content that’s carefully designed to resonate with specific audiences and strategically delivered to where those exact audiences are most likely to find it.

So what can you do to get ready? Below are four tips:

  1. Push your customer personas to become the insightful tools they need to be. Interview or survey your customers and prospects to find out as much as you can about them, including their:
  • Role in their organization
  • Decision-making authority
  • Demographic information
  • Education level
  • Buyer journey
  • Needs and pain points
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Primary sources of information
  • Preferred places to hang out online
  • Preferences regarding types of content and method and frequency of contact

Capturing all of this information is important because it can be useful in creating content that’s going to resonate with your target audience. If a large portion of your audience plays golf, for example, that could influence the imagery and references that you use in your content.

  1. Ensure you have separate customer personas for each of your unique audiences, rather than trying to create a single persona to use across the board. Most companies have different types of customers (e.g., they have different pain points, they represent a different use case, etc.) and therefore need distinct personas so that they can target each type of customer specifically. That said, start small by focusing on just the two or three personas that matter most to your business rather than trying to tackle them all at once.
  1. Create a content matrix that maps all of your existing and future content not just to customer personas, but also to specific stages within the customer journey that each of those personas goes through. Doing so will help you to create alignment between your content and your target audience, thus putting some rigor behind your content strategy. For tips on how to create a content matrix, check out this post.
  1. Target your distribution strategies to be relevant to your personas and the stages of the customer journey they are in. For example, you’re not going to rely on people finding your late-stage content via search when they’re already deep in your sales funnel and hopefully receiving your content directly. Conversely, content that’s intended to raise awareness needs to be optimized for search to facilitate its natural discovery.

The reality is that in content marketing, you have got to take the time to find out the right information about your target audience. While you may have been able to get by with assumptions in the past, going forward successful content marketing will hinge on the quality of your customer personas and your ability to align those personas to your overall strategy.

How rigorous are your customer personas and what steps did you take to create them? Share your experiences in the comments section below.