Personas are a key technique to getting serious about “centric” content for stakeholders. In the rush of creating personas we often overlook what matters most…

I recently worked with a company that asked me to set the table for content marketing. What was interesting and made me think and rethink some aspects of how I would approach such a workshop was that the person who asked me to do this with his team wasn’t speaking of “content marketing” but rather “centric marketing”. It’s an interesting nuance and I end up thinking that I might even prefer “centric marketing” to “content marketing” (more on this thought here).

In the end it does not matter what we call it, ass long as we agree on a common understanding: businesses can’t afford, not to be interesting anymore. People don’t care about “content”. They care about the substance.

Centric starts with empathy

I thought quite a bit of possible nuances or differences between the two terms and what the person I spoke with meant and came to the conclusion that we were talking about the same thing: changing the perspective from product-centric to customer-centric. In my experience this shift is the single most difficult and most important factor. Once you’ve planted that seed, a lot of what we need to derive from it comes naturally.

[Tweet “People don’t care about “content”. They care about what’s in there.”]

The persona technique is a good starting point when trying to change the perspective. I’ve been lucky to work with many big and small businesses over the past years and in my experience, personas are not being used in a way that enables businesses to change their perspective on communication. Why?

  • Because in many cases “personas” are thought of or handled like the good old target audiences that we’ve given a name to put a face on the paper.
  • Because personas are often created and then forgotten, trapped in a PDF and stored on a server where they collect dust.
  •  Because creating personas is thinking of groups of people differently (and it’s not easy!)
  • Because many people look for templates when creating personas. Those templates might not ask the right questions in relation to your context.

Good personas are when we’ve asked the right questions

A while back I discovered a video on Facebook that was meant to be an ad for a Danish TV channel. However it instantly made me think of personas and I used this video in the aforementioned workshop to prove my point.

Just have a look [VIEW ON YOUTUBE, embed disabled]

We put people in boxes and that’s normal, it’s the way we think. That’s what we’ve been doing in marketing as well by thinking of target audiences on things we can easily find out: demographics (age, location, gender, income and education level, occupation etc.) and build in our own bias of our company-centric way of thinking into it. But maybe we should redefine what matters most for our “boxes” if we want to become interesting to those we want to reach.

That video was the breakthrough we needed through the epiphany moment it provided in the aforementioned workshop. I thus went on to ask questions that reshaped those “boxes”. I created a mindmap from this and started moving them around until we had created different groups based on what people are interested in (and were still related to what the company does obviously). They ended up being quite (not completely) different from the segmentation they had done.

TV2 – “all that we share” (pic on creapills.com)

From this we thought about one specific person and started with the following questions:

  • A few demographics if they are clear and established and relate to the way we would address him / her
  • Pain points: What parts of his job annoy him / her the most? When are the moments in the day where he / she gets bothered and why?
  • Gain points (often overlooked!): Why does he / she get up in the morning to go to work? What’s the most rewarding part of the job? In which moments does he think “That’s why I love my job!”?
  • What does he / she do all day? What are his / her responsibilities?
  • What topics are interesting to him and why? (Broader view)
  • Where does he / she spend his time to get information? For what type of information? Why?

If you’ve already worked or implemented personas, these might seem like duh-questions. These questions are a starting to point to redefining how we can add value with each communication we want to initiate.

Personas are not done and dead – be “agile” about it!

I am not a fan of locking yourself up in a room and spending weeks or months until the perfect persona is created. Because the perfect persona doesn’t exist… Be “agile” about the development of personas. Consult sources regularly and always try to relate insights you get to your persona. Is that something that we considered for our persona? Or should we add a perticular insight to this group of people? A team working with personas should look out for:

  • Insights from search engines: what are people searching in relation to particular topics?
  • Insights from social media: what questions are people asking and what / how is it being discussed?
  • Have a look at topics that are being discussed at conferences, discussion groups, roundtables, etc.
  • Involve product managers, sales, customer service, services (if relevant) that are being sold in relation to the product, etc.
  • Do some reasearch, there most certainly are magazines / blogs / specialized publications that deliver insights into topics and pain points through published material e.g. checklists, how-to articles, studies or polls… etc.

Personas should NOT be dead documents you do once and then forget. They should be at the center of what you do in communication so that you can always ask the right questions: does that help him or her at the right time? Should we ask another question to refine our persona? Did we ask and answer questions that don’t matter and just add noise to our persona instead of clarifying?

[Tweet “Personas are not done and dead – be “agile” about it!”]

Good personas are about asking the right questions that we might not have asked before and enable us to change our perspective on the way we communicate. Don’t just brainstorm, back it up with data and insights from the field. Put your personas at the center of what you do, prioritize (if it’s for everyone, it’s for no one) and keep asking the right questions.