I’ve said before that there are six critical questions that you need to ask before creating content. One of those six questions is to ask who the target audience will be for the content.
How do you decide who your target audience is?
And how do you decide who the target segments are within that target audience?
The professional marketer’s way to define a target segment
A few months ago, some marketers were writing eight pieces of content. At one point, they stepped back and defined personas that corresponded to these eight pieces of content.
Personas? What’s that?
Let’s use Aurora Harley’s definition:
A persona is a fictional, yet realistic, description of a typical or target user of the product. A persona is an archetype instead of an actual living human, but personas should be described as if they were real people.From https://www.nngroup.com/articles/persona/
Harley shared an example of a persona (go to her article to see it) that incorporated a lot of detail:
- A name (in this case, “Rosa Cho”)
- Biographical details (job title, age, city of residence)
- Behavioral details (what motivates her, her frustrations, her goals)
Why all the detail? Because this detail allows us to think of this abstract persona as a living person. As marketers design their product, they can reference this persona and ask themselves if Rosa Cho would like this content.
So all you have to do is build the personas.
But how do we create Rosa Cho and her persona friends? Do we need weird science to perform this feat?
Or maybe not.
How to create a professional persona in 9 steps, or 4 steps
When professional marketers at large companies create personas, they often use a persona creation process.
For example, Arthur McCay has defined 9 steps in persona creation, as an aid to people who are befuddled with the whole persona creation process.
- The first of these 9 steps is to perform research to obtain reliable data (rather than mere hypotheses) about your persona. This research may be based on your own knowledge, on interviews with customers and customer-facing salespeople, or on data sources (including web analytics).
- The remaining 8 steps use this research to segment the audience into individual archetypes, decide on the layout (what the persona will contain), and fill in the details. I’m not going to reproduce all of McCay’s content; you can see all 9 of his steps here.
If you’re someone who thinks that 9 steps is too many steps, perhaps you’ll prefer Louis Grenier’s 4 step process. Although frankly it’s pretty much the same.
- Choose questions for your survey
- Set up a survey on a popular page
- Analyze your data
- Build your persona
OK, the emphasis is slightly different, but in both cases you assemble data (McCay uses multiple sources, Grenier uses a survey), analyze it, and then create the personas.
And I’m sure there are a variety of other methods to create personas. If you want to go down the persona creation route, choose the one that works for you.
But why create personas?
Because marketing research emphasizes that persona creation is better than the alternative.
As every professional marketer knows, the data-driven method of persona creation is necessary to create accurate personas. As McCay states:
It is important to keep in mind that a persona is a collective image of a segment of your target audience (TA). It cannot be the face of the entire TA. Nor can it be just one person. You need somewhat of a golden middle.From https://uxpressia.com/blog/how-to-create-persona-guide-examples
Note that you should never base your target segment on the attributes of a single person. That’s going to skew your data and perhaps overemphasize some quirk of the individual person.
- For example, if your company were marketing to part-time consultants, and chose to market to me rather than a persona created from data, then your company would erroneously conclude that all part-time consultants have prior experience with FriendFeed and an interest in orienteering.
- This is not accurate for other part-time consultants, 99.99999% of whom have never heard of FriendFeed and think that orienteering is some form of Japanese study. (It isn’t.)
If you aspire to be a professional marketer, don’t read this
As professional marketers will tell you, using a real person rather than a constructed persona to define your target audience (or target segment) is an absolutely terrible thing to do.
But be terrible.
For some of you, I recommend that you consider using a real person as a starting point.
Large multi-million dollar businesses can devote the resources to the surveys, interviews, analytics, and other steps necessary for thorough persona creation.
But what if you’re a small business and don’t have the time or resources to do all that?
Don’t tell anyone, but you can cheat.
Don’t read this either: two steps to define a target segment
So you’ve read the warnings above, but you’re ready to ignore them and forgo you chance at a Super Duper Marketing Research award (application fee $899, not counting the cost of the awards dinner).
Without further ado, here are Bredemarket’s two steps to define a target segment.
- Start with a real person.
If you read above, you realize that this method has severe problems, especially if you skip the second step altogether. By starting your focus with a real person, you could inadvertently create marketing text that emphasizes individual eccentricities that are relatively unimportant.
Is your content true north, or magnetic north?
But if you use your smarts to adjust and generalize the original person, you have a quick and dirty way to create your persona.
Rather than collecting extensive survey results and deriving an artificial persona from those results, you start with a real person.
For example, let’s say that my company Bredemarket is targeting local businesses that need content or proposal creation.
I could start with a real local person who could use Bredemarket’s services, and then adjust that real biography and behavioral attributes as necessary to remove the oddities.
Or I could start with a non-local person and adjust as necessary to make the person a local person, filling in biographical and behavioral details as needed.
Either way, the end product is a quick and dirty persona that Bredemarket can use to target local businesses.
But what do professional marketers do in reality?
But are quick and dirty personas too dirty to use? Shouldn’t we stick to professional marketing techniques and create fictitious personas?
For example, when you create your Rosa Cho persona, how do you depict the persona? Do you use an illustration, or do you use an image of a real person?
One response from a content marketing expert:
Personally prefer illustrations…From https://www.designernews.co/stories/69356-ask-dn-do-you-use-real-peoples-photos-for-creating-user-personas-or-you-go-for-illustration-option
Another from another content marketing expert:
I prefer real photos. I think they help people empathize with the persona more than an illustration.From https://www.designernews.co/stories/69356-ask-dn-do-you-use-real-peoples-photos-for-creating-user-personas-or-you-go-for-illustration-option
Obviously both answers are wrong, however. Right?
- A real photo is obviously a terrible thing to use, because it is based on a real individual and ignores all of the research that you performed to create the rest of the persona.
- And illustrations can be fallible, since chances are that they don’t incorporate all of your research either. (Does the median 34 year old freelancer from Seattle really look like the illustration? Or does the illustration more accurately depict a 35 year old from Tacoma?)
Let’s face it: persona creation is not merely a science, but also an art. And sometimes you may take artistic license. This content marketing expert gives you permission to do so.
TL;DR Do what you want
There are valid arguments for a 4 step, 9 step, or 96 step (heh) persona creation process.
And there are valid arguments for just winging it.
The important thing is to target somebody when creating content, or having someone create content for you.
Which is why Bredemarket asks customers who their target audience is in the first place. It’s all in Bredemarket’s most recent e-book; read this post to find out how to download the e-book.