The Key to Great Product Marketing: A Specific and Supported Target Persona
Emily Saka | January 14, 2014
Great product marketing gets specific.
Just look at eyeglasses phenom Warby Parker, for example. Named after a hybrid of Jack Kerouac characters, the brand is targeted at hipster 20-somethings – those who revel in a good book and going against "the man" (in this case, overpriced designer rims).
For Warby Parker, the “literary, 20-something hipster” is what we call their target persona. This persona is apparent in everything from Warby Parker product names to ads to blog posts to social media. It dictates the company's brand marketing.
To achieve great, specific product marketing, you have to concede that you can't possibly target every, single potential buyer or reader. But this is a great thing! Instead, you can focus on speaking directly to just one person - one person you will get to know like a best friend. Not only will this make your life easier, but it'll also make your content stronger.
Building a persona is one of the most valuable, and yet overlooked, components to a successful marketing strategy. We at Salsify learned this lesson ourselves after months of writing blog posts before we really knew the audience we were talking to. As a result:
Different blog posts resonated with different folks, which bred erratic traffic and virtually no subscribers.
Thus, when we sat down a few weeks ago to brainstorm our “Blog 2.0,” our first priority was NOT to drum up new content, but rather to construct our persona – a director of e-commerce marketing we named Grace.
Here's one key thing about this exercise we discovered off the bat:
No one explicitly tells you WHERE to find this information about your persona.
There are templates out there that help you organize this information (and we're going to provide you ours!) but as soon as I started filling one out, I realized that I needed more guidance than just a worksheet could provide. A lot of the exercise seemed like creative guesswork, but I wondered - how much of this could actually be validated? We're a small company with a year's worth of conversation notes and few resources to conduct wide-reaching surveys, but I was sure that we could still find ways to build an accurate persona.
We spent some extra time trying to map out a procedure that was both responsible and efficient. Here are some tips we learned from our process that can help you dream up your very own Grace:
1. GROUND YOUR PERSONA IN PEOPLE YOU’VE ALREADY MET
If the mere prospect of drawing up your persona is overwhelming, simply start by drawing inspiration from people you know. Use their stories, their interest in your product, and even their social media profiles to build a framework for your persona. This primary information will add legitimacy to your approach as you start creatively filling in gaps later on.
Even though we had to build most of our persona from scratch, I knew that there was also a treasure trove of information lying in the contact lists and conversation notes we’d accumulated in the last few months.
So I scraped our resources, looking for:
- Anyone who directly felt the pain we solve, and
- Anyone who ever responded positively to our messaging.
Through this exercise, I began noticing some patterns right away.
Two job titles – director of e-commerce and director of marketing – quickly rose to the top. (Conveniently, there were also a few folks who did both.) These titles were also filled primarily with females, which I could definitely support.
I started to build a list like this:
- Job Title: Director of E-Commerce Marketing
- Gender: Female
Once I had my short list of contacts sorted out, I took to LinkedIn. I looked at individual profiles to get a better sense of things like the age, college degree(s), previous experience, time at current company, and goals in his/her job role that would be most congruent with our persona.
* Disclaimer: Salsify does not encourage excessive stalking for this exercise (or any other exercise, for that matter).
Soon enough, my persona was coming to life:
- Age: Early 30's
- College Degree: Masters in Communications
- Previous Experience: 10+ years in marketing/e-commerce for 1-2 similar companies in the industry
- Time Spent at Current Company: 2-3 years
- Goals Our Persona Hopes to Achieve in His/Her Role: Maintaining and improving brand consistency across digital channels, innovating product marketing strategies, managing customer acquisition through direct-to-consumer e-commerce marketing
Before I stashed away my old notes, I scraped any information I could find from past conversations about our persona's current challenges, the particular problems Salsify solves for his/her company, and the kinds of resources our persona might want from future blog content. I'd supplement most of these findings later on with other resources, but they provided great foundation moving forward.
2. USE JOB POSTINGS TO HELP CRAFT YOUR PERSONA’S PROFESSIONAL IMAGE
Although we often learned about how our contacts’ day-to-day tasks overlapped with our product, our conversations never provided much insight about our persona’s professional life beyond that point.
Job postings are wonderful resources for filling in those gaps. They lay out, in explicit detail, the professional expectations of any given persona. What’s more, these postings also provide up-to-date information about the ideal candidate for the title. Thus, they’re full of information not only about what your persona does, but also about what your persona should be doing.
My LinkedIn searches of job postings for “directors of e-commerce marketing” were extremely useful for this exercise. I quickly started getting an idea of her annual salary and the structure of her typical workday (how long she stays at the office, her daily tasks, the average amount of time she spends at her desk, etc.).
- Annual Salary: Between $80,000 and $100,000
- Typical Workday Lasts Between: 8 am and 6 pm
- Average Amount of Time Sitting At Desk: 4-5 hours/day
- Day Spent Primarily: In strategy meetings with team and various internal social/brand management departments, monitoring performance of customer acquisition and product marketing initiatives
Job postings give you the best insight into what a cutting-edge version of your persona looks like. This will help you compose the most useful, forward-thinking content for your readership.
Most importantly, I started figuring out how to position our blog as a resource for our persona. I took buzzwords from these postings - everything from "SEO" to "Adwords" to "comparison shopping engines" - and started building an editorial calendar of posts and series based around these topics. There are so many buzzwords in each job posting that it's unlikely any one person is an expert in them all.
I also Googled these buzzwords to get an idea of the blogs and articles our persona is likely reading already. I knew that if I just wrote a general blog post about SEO, I'd be the 1000th person to do so - but perhaps if I combed through the other 999 SEO posts, I could find a missing angle that would have especial benefit for my persona.
Coming up with blog topics is only half the battle. To be sure that your persona will find your blog, you must also carve out a niche for your content that no other blog exactly fills.
The combination of buzzwords and professional goals makes job postings integral to the persona-building exercise. By this point in the exercise, you should have a wealth of potential blog topics, as well as an idea of how to present them in innovative and valuable ways.
3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO GET REALLY CREATIVE
At this point in the exercise, you probably think you know your persona pretty well. But in reality, most of your information is composed of facts you might glean from your persona at a networking event, or over coffee, or through some light social media "stalking."
To really make sure you know your persona through and through, fleshing out details down to when he or she will engage with your content and on which device round out the complete picture.
There's also a section of details I like to refer to as the "best friend" section, which includes things like his or her favorite band and TV show. While you probably won’t start using Arctic Monkeys lyrics as your blog headlines or inserting obscure Arrested Development references in your posts, knowing these details will make it even easier to see the world through your persona’s eyes.
- Relationship Status: Recently married
- Number of Children: None, yet
- Purchases Most of Business Wardrobe From: J. Crew
- Hobbies: Yoga, food-blogging, traveling on long weekends
- Favorite Band: Arctic Monkeys
- Favorite TV Show: Arrested Development
- De-stresses With: Chai tea and TV
- Three words friends use to describe our persona: Optimistic, hard-working, sharp
If this exercise seems too off base to have a logical starting point, expand upon details you wrote down earlier in the exercise. The following resembles a stream of consciousness that took place during my own brainstorming session:
I've noticed that most of the contacts on my short list work at companies in the heart of Manhattan, so lets place our persona there too. I've inferred from my contacts that our persona is probably in her early 30's, and the job postings tell me that she probably makes $80,000 to $100,000 a year, so let's get her a place in Brooklyn. With her new husband. And their French bulldog. Do you see it now - our persona walking her dog around the block after work, J. Crew scarf blowing in the wind? And how does our persona relax when she gets home from work? For some reason, chai tea and Arrested Development sound like the perfect combo.
Hopefully the exercise will feel natural soon enough, or convince you that creativity just isn’t your thing. In either case, contrary to many other resources about persona building, I’ve found that saving your imagination for the end of the exercise makes the persona profile more accurate, in addition to more complete.
For example, it’s much harder to prove that people in your target persona are all married with two kids than it is to prove that people in your persona work in large cities. But if you start off imagining your persona driving her sons to soccer practice on the weekends, chances are you’ll place her in a big home in the suburbs to stay true to her profile in your head but, perhaps, not true to reality.
If you’re like me, the hardest part of the entire exercise is simply coming up with a name. I held off until I had time to really go through my persona profile thoroughly. She was insightful, clever, hardworking, cultured, relatively young, and, all in all, really kickass.
Just then, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals came up next on my Spotify queue. Grace it was.
Now that the persona is put together, the hard work begins! We've got our editorial calendar off to a good start, but what are some of the other topics we should start writing about right away? What articles might be particularly successful right out the gate? Which publications should we start targeting for shares and guest posts?
Our target persona has primed Blog 2.0 to drive a loyal readership to our site - now we just have to bring it to life.
We created a free template that outlines our process for building our target persona. Download here and begin your exercise now!