Personas – a third dimension brings buyers to life!

A while ago I ran a marketing program for a disaster recovery solution provider. These are the people who ensure your servers are up and running and your data remains secure. It was a multi-channel marketing strategy launched with a publication and promotion of an ebook.

We had set a target of 150 downloads of the ebook within the first week. So, imagine our surprise when we started seeing downloads double, triple and quadruple that number! After a quick celebration and high fives with the team, it started to dawn on us that it wasn’t just the ebook that had generated the unexpected level of interest – something else was going on.

Like most marketers, we use personas to shape the messaging and approach to our audience. Personas are a widely used tool to ensure the information we share is relevant and interesting.  They are abstractions of target buyers built from research and in-depth inquiry and include a number of dimensions such as: demographics, interests, goals, challenges, professional background and a whole lot more.

I’ve been building personas for years, but what happened with the ebook led me to believe that standard personas need another dimension – a third dimension. Let me explain.

Most personas are two-dimensional. The first dimension is the persona itself – the demographics, goals, challenges, ambitions and other buyer characteristics. The second dimension is time – this is represented by the buyer’s journey and features the kind of information buyers need at each step of the journey.  Most people build personas around these two dimensions.

But, when we published the ebook something happened that we didn’t plan for, and it was outside the construction of the persona and the map of the buyer’s journey. It was the audience’s reaction to an event that took place independent of our marketing messages. The day we published the ebook followed an evening of severe storms in New England; storms that knocked out a slew of data centers and brought many businesses to a standstill.

The storms prompted untold numbers of data center managers (at least those with power and internet connection) to research disaster recovery solutions – we just happened to publish an ebook on that subject that very day.

The high conversion rate was more luck than judgement. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Since that day, we’ve always included the third dimension in our persona builds – and that is the stimulus likely to motivate the audience.  Buyers are not passive recipients of information such that we give them the right content and they will act a certain way. They are agents – or actors – who interpret and respond to the world about them. A blog or a video may go completely ignored one day only to be read by hundreds the next. A well-publicized and high-profile security breach may have chief information security officers swarming to your website if you have information they need to secure their systems. It’s hard to predict these things – but it’s easy to prepare.

On a recent project for a client that delivers cloud-based supply chain solutions we asked the question: what events or stimuli are likely to make your target buyers sit up and pay attention?  We then converted these “motivational” events into keyword search terms such as: “disruption in international trade”, “China trade talks”, “commodity prices”, “currency fluctuations” and “economic uncertainty”.

We fed these terms into our newsfeed and once a newsworthy event occurred we published a prebuilt content piece in response to the news – just-in-time; agile marketing tailored to your audience and the changing world in which they live. Now, we’re not saying that you have to always tailor your campaigns to events. Go ahead and run programs as you always have, but save a few silver bullets for when the timing is just right – and start to view personas as active beings responding to events that impact them.

Viewing your buyer as an active “actor” rather than a passive “persona” is the foundation of agile marketing and highly relevant content delivered just in time.

Find the buyer actor an interesting concept? Then take a look at “Building Great Digital Marketing Content – A Lesson from The Revenant”.