Create Authentic Personas to Drive Compelling Content Strategy

April 5, 2013

whole brain marketing blog author

Posted by Greg Linnemanstons

Women_on_cellphoneIf you're an Inbound Marketer (or aspire to become one) who understands the importance of content and a well constructed content strategy, you've almost certainly done some research or had some conversations about the need to create personas that represent your best targets. The emerging importance of personas in content marketing supports the point of view that content should be written first for your target, and second for search engines, which definitely wasn't the case just a few years ago.

But learning that personas are important doesn't mean you're going to actually doing anything about it, right? From the conversations we have with clients and prospects it seems lots of people stop right there, with the question "OK, I know I need it, but what the heck is a persona and where do I get mine?"


The easiest way to think about a target persona is as an exhaustive description of your ideal customer that is so detailed you can easily imagine the persona as a real person. We've used a similar but far simpler technique when working on brand character projects, where we ask "If the brand were a public figure who would it be?" Sometimes the brand is represented by someone attractive and funny like Alec Baldwin, or strong and principled like Margaret Thatcher, or irreverent and controversial like Dennis Miller. The point here is it's easy to see the differences between these three, and the different directions brand communication would take based on which was chosen.


With a person you're trying to create it from scratch, a fictional amalgamation that captures all the values, fears, attitudes, aspirations, biases and idiosyncrasies that you believe will describe and predict the perfect prospect for your products or services.

Here's our outline for creating target personas:

  1. Professional background: What does their resume or LinkedIn profile look like? Title, functional slant, experience, responsibility, most important job skills. How did they get to the position they're in, what was the path, what kinds of stops along the way?
  2. Personal background: Married, kids, balanced life style? Involved as a volunteer? Live near where they grew up?
  3. Demographics: Gender, age, education, income, race/ethnicity.
  4. Values: Team player or lone ranger? Egotistic, charismatic or servant leader? Scorched Earth capitalist or tree-hugger?
  5. Attitudes: Early adapting risk-taker, or technology laggard? Competes to win, or encourages win-win? 
  6. Personal interests: Golf or NASCAR? NFL or MLB? Sailboating or bass fishing? Snowmobiling or cross country skiing? HBO or PBS?
  7. Professional goals: Growth for growth sake? Take share from biggest competitors? Make piles of money under the radar? Earn industry acclaim for strategic genius? Or make success look effortless!
  8. Professional challenges: What keeps getting in the way of achieving their professional goals? Lack of resources, talent, time, corporate support, understanding, empathy, patience?
  9. Pain points/sources of sleep deprivation: What does your target worry about most? Competitors moving faster. Industry viewed as commodity. Talent leaving the industry. Consistently missing on best opportunities.
  10. What we expect them to say: These are the things they'll say to stall you, to keep the conversation happening without making a decision. Things they'll say to dampen your eagerness without pulling the rug out from under. "I need to be able to demonstrate ROI." "That decision is up to the buying committee." "Keep in mind we've already got relationships with a good group of qualified vendors."
  11. Favorite objections: When you signal you're moving toward a potential close. "I can only work with qualified vendors." "You need to demonstrate your commitment by investing in the selling process." "Buying from you could be very disruptive to our supply chain."
  12. Our promise to them: From your positioning statement, what is the single compelling promise that you can make that you believe, based on everything you think you know, will be enough for them to start forgetting about their objections and thinking about the rewards/gratification/sense of accomplishment you're going to help them enjoy.
  13. Our elevator speech about why they should choose us: In 30 seconds (my time limit on elevator speeches) why your solution/company/you are the decision your target could consider that may make their life better.

I know this might seem exhaustive, but it's a great exercise at really putting meat on the bones of your target(s). In the end you may have 2 or 3 deeply defined characters you're creating content for, which you can use both as a source of inspiration (Does CEO Chuck worry about the effects of the budget sequestration? Should we reference the Final Four or the start of MLB season to CMO Mary?) and a critical filter to evaluate content fit.

And in both cases, whether as inspiration or filter, you've made yourself a much better marketer by getting deep into the inner workings of your target. It's almost not fair to your competition! 

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Topics: Inbound Marketing, Content Marketing

whole brain marketing blog author
Written by Greg Linnemanstons

With 18+ years in senior management roles at Fortune 500® and medium-sized companies, Greg has deep marketing and sales experience with CPGs and manufacturing. He leads strategic initiatives with clients and is involved in developing client inbound marketing plans. Greg holds an M.B.A. from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and a B.A. in Economics from Lawrence University.

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