After working at an acquired startup, I decided to write some notes and thoughts on what worked and what didn't. These next blog posts are reminders to myself of those things.
This one assumes content marketing is a key growth activity.
Defining your audience persona
This is not the same as your buyer persona. Defining an audience persona is more about writing for people who want to consume what you write and maybe care enough to share it.
While it's important to keep your buyer in mind, if making money from your content is something you want to do, focus on the person who will read what you're writing and how you can help them.
Writing a reader overview
Demographics like where they live, which language they speak (same as you probably), how old they are, income levels, etc. are easy to start with. You should include this, but these aren't the most important parts.
What motivates your readers?
What keeps your readers going? What lights a fire under their ass and makes them get out of bed each day?
Write down the goals and motivations that your readers are likely to have in common.
For example, in my conversation with Benjamin Kitzinger, Director of Marketing Design at Altium, I learned a new way of thinking about personas that connects an audience together. Benjamin shared with me how his company's audience is mostly engineers.
That seems pretty straightforward. They're all engineers and that's enough in common right there... unless you dig deeper.
Beyond their job and their title, Benjamin found that what excites engineers to be engineers is their love of learning how things work, taking things apart and putting them back together again to learn how things work and how to make them better.
This underlying connection is what Benjamin and his team use as their content driver. Speak to your audience's true passions, goals and missions and you're going to be in good shape.
What gets in their way is your content gold mine
Now that you understand who your audience is and what makes them tick you can start to uncover what keeps them from reaching their goals.
What obstacles or roadblocks get in their way when they're doing their job or trying to accomplish something new?
Make a list of these things. This list will be the backbone of your content calendar.
What makes them say no to you?
Another gold mine of content is to list and address the common objections people have to buying your stuff.
Write down all the reasons why people haven't bought from you. Maybe the timing isn't right or the cost is too high or someone else offers something that's close enough or a buyer decided to do nothing.
The objections you write down may not be the real reasons people don't buy. But it's a good start to figuring out what the real problems are. Once you have a list of those objections, brainstorm all the reasons why you heard each one.
Think back to the specific person who told you each one and dig into the real reason they said no to you. List those reasons as topics on your content plan.
People are afraid. Write about that.
I always wonder after making a big purchase if I made the right decision. The last time we bought a car, I literally paced around the thing at night looking at it wondering if it was what we needed. Our neighbors probably thought I was proud of the truck. Maybe a little, but I was actually scared I'd made a bad decision.
Have you ever second guessed a purchase? So have your customers and it's your job to help them see why their decision was a good one. Your content can do that before they buy and it can be there for them after their purchase too.
Write down the fears and questions people might ask after buying your service or product. Write them down as statements like "I'm afraid that..." or "What else could I have spent this money on?"
Each question or statement of fear is a topic worth writing about. You can publish this content and you can use it during sales conversations. Share it with your team so they also know who they're selling to.
They're not thinking about you on the weekend
Your customers probably aren't thinking about you when they're skiing or out for a surf. If they are, God bless you! You've got one hell of a product and you probably don't need content marketing to help you sell it.
It's ok if your product doesn't make it into your customers' dreams or into their weekend plans. It doesn't have to, but there is still an opportunity to put your brand into their lives in a meaningful and helpful way by learning your customers' hobbies and activities they do when not using your product.
Write down the hobbies, social activities, weekend plans that your audience is likely to have in common. You can write about these things if there's any connection to your brand, products, or services.
This might not apply to B2B brands as much. For example, it might be creepy to talk about little league baseball if you sell an enterprise time reporting product.
How to learn more about your customers
If you're not sure who your audience is or you don't know enough about them, go talk to them. Leave your desk and find them.
NB: Maybe this isn't a great idea during a pandemic. But the idea still stands up. Instead of leaving your house or your office to meet someone in person, change the room you're sitting in and pick up the phone. Call people who you haven't spoken to in a while. Change things up a bit and you'll see your people and their problems in a new light.
Another NB: For a primer on how to talk to potential customers and learn more about what people actually want and need and are willing to pay for, read The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick.
Another way to get to know your audience is to survey existing customers or audience groups.
Do you have a database of customers who you could reach out to? Reflect on the questions you'd love answers to and build a simple online survey using a tool like Survey Monkey.
Keep your survey forms simple and maybe even a bit ugly. Anything too pretty and with too much flourish turns people off.
Interview people you know and some you haven't met yet
If you can talk to current or past customers to learn why those chose you and your product, great! Do that and be sure to dig deep into their experiences leading up to and immediately after they became your customers.
It's better if you can talk to people who recently became your customer because they'll remember the process better and have more insights for you.
But you also want to talk to people who you don't know. Why? Because strangers in your target audience are more likely to be unbiased towards one solution or another. Speaking with strangers is a chance to learn about their problems and how they think about solutions.
Your team knows your customers better than you do
Don't forget to look inside your company for great insights.
Your sales team will know which objections to look out for. They'll have heard it all. They'll also know why people speak to them in the first place. Talk to you sales team about their recent sales experiences and you'll learn heaps.
Talk to your support team. If you're a small company and everyone does support, interview your whole team about their support experience. What are customers writing in about? What issues are they having with the product? Are there any features that regularly confuse people?
Support teams usually only hear problems, so this is a perfect place to look for ideas that you can write about. And when you do write about the common problems your customers face, you're providing them with a self-service opportunity to solve their own problem without having to connect with you. A lot of people love that.
Why you have to write this down
Write down and record everything you learn from these exercises. Make sure everyone on your team can see your content topics and ask them to help you come up with more ideas. Your teammates can help uncover additional content ideas and how to address the topics you already have.
How many personas should you have?
I've never found a rule for this that works every time, so I think the best way to approach the question is to start by writing down all the different kinds of people you think you want to speak with.
Then walk away from the list for a while. Take a break. Go have lunch. Come back to it tomorrow. Your brain goo needs time to process this stuff without you really thinking about it.
When you come back to your list with fresh eyes, look for overlapping interests, common problems, and other similarities between the different personas. Chances are you can group them into fewer personas than you first thought.
Why you must write down their goals
Your goals are important, yes. But it's not your goals that count. It's your audience's goals that matter.
I want to make sure this sinks in:
You must write down your audience's goals so you can refer back to them again and again when it comes time to write.
There's a story about how Jeff Bezos leaves an empty chair at the table at Amazon board meetings to represent the Amazon customer. Before Jeff decided to leave that chair open, I bet he had a good understanding of what that person's goals are.
I suggest you write down your audience's goals in a document that is easy to find and easy to pull up when you sit down to write. If you get writer's block or you lose your way while writing a piece (happens to me all the time), look at that document and get centered on why you're writing: to help your audience achieve a goal.