Purchasing behaviour is often affected by a mixture of rational and irrational factors, adding an element of mystery to how to influence it. Unfortunately in communications it’s not always affordable or logistically possible to run focus groups to profile potential/current customers but a neat trick is to develop characters or personas for important sections of your target market. By visualising exactly who they’re talking to, organisation can vastly improve messaging and strategic focus through building an extra level of intelligence into their communications campaigns.
This is not a new technique. There are many useful “how to” guides online. Drawn from years of experience and days spent reading case studies from the best of the rest in the business, TopLine’s method has proved to work time and again. It starts by actually getting out there and meeting people. A couple of hours at tradeshows here and there or attending industry workshops, it all helps. After all, if you’ve never actually met anyone even remotely like the personas you want to develop then it’s just a shot in the dark – and that’s kind of behaviour we want our personas to help us avoid in the first place.
If you can’t get out, read trade press, forums and social media. You don’t need expensive focus groups because even a little knowledge about professional anxieties, motivations and pain points can go an awfully long way. To that end, talk to your sales people, customer service guys and marketing teams in order to identify the five key things we need to know about customers: what they consider important, what professional success looks like, what stops them doing their job or slows them down, how they buy something and what their decision criteria are based on.
It’s best to keep things focussed with a maximum of three personas and it also helps to assign them names and a picture, Don’t try to be all things to all people or you’ll end up being nothing to no-one. And, with B2B personas, you’re not trying to profile a demographic of the population. A person’s profession, not their social life or family situation provides the focus. Age plays a part – younger people might be more open to SaaS solutions than others – but it would be a mistake to let an assumption like that hold anything but a marginal influence over persona development.
Instead, consider what they read or watch and how, or where they go for advice. Doctors, for example, typically place more faith in recommendations from other doctors, so are you sure those glossy adverts in the trades are the right approach? And have you noticed how many tradesmen spend all day working with the radio on? With that said, avoid the temptation to base a persona on a single real customer and, on a related note, don’t be afraid to assign them some negative traits (this is actually the fun bit!).
So, once you’ve developed your personas and tested them on the team to see if they recognise them, how do you build them into your communications strategy?
My personal favourite is to play on people’s professional anxieties. I don’t mean torture people with their insecurities (though we can do that if you want), but almost everyone is at some point affected by a nagging feeling that maybe others are doing something better than them. And they might be right – I mean, if they’re not using your solution but their competition is, then they’re at a disadvantage aren’t they? Exactly! A softer approach might be to use the knowledge you’ve gathered about their professional challenges to construct a communications campaign that makes them feel “hey, these guys know exactly how I feel”.
Successful novel writers often say that having developed their characters they enjoy putting them into testing situations to see how they respond. You don’t have to become John Grisham but the point is that developing personas for your target audience will give you a feel for how they might respond to what you plan to do. Engineering an apparently serendipitous encounter with a life changing brand or solution is the communications Holy Grail, and it all starts with developing personas.
The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog is managed by b2b pr specialist Heather Baker, founder TopLine Comms, an inbound marketing and B2B content marketing agency and takes contribution from anyone sensible in the industry with something intelligent to say. Follow Heather on Twitter @TopLineFounder or contact her via email on [email protected].
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