Building your 2021 marketing plan - step two: Who are you talking to?
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
As we enter the final months of 2020, it is time to start planning for 2021. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be taking you step-by-step through building a marketing plan. Feel free to check out the full list of steps we'll be taking.
Creating your audience personas is part of the foundational work of any business plan, but as your customers change over time, they need to be revisited and updated regularly to make sure that they’re still relevant. They can also be called buyer personas, or customer avatars, but they're all essentially the same thing.
Earlier in the year I developed a free online course going over this material if you prefer to listen to/watch something rather than reading.
Why do you need to know your audience?
Knowing your audience is a big part of a strategic business. From a marketing perspective, really knowing your target audience will help you ensure you're prioritizing the right marketing activities and you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck. You shouldn’t be trying to go after and appeal to everyone as that’s not a sustainable business model.
An in-depth understanding of your target audience will help you create a customer-centric business that your customers love, which will help you sell more. You’ll have better customer loyalty and they will have a better experience with you. Hopefully, it’s a no-brainer as to why you need to know your audience.
What is an audience persona?
An audience or buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer to help you understand, serve and market to them better.
Basically, an audience persona is a type of person. They will have individualized characteristics that will be rooted in reality, but they don’t need to be a real person. When you’re putting together an audience persona you’re looking for trends and common threads within groups of people.
If you’re a small business, you’ll want 2-3 personas to get you started. If you’re bigger, that number can go up to 5-10 but no more. If you have 20 different personas, it will be really hard to focus your sales and marketing.
Example audience persona
Here is one of the personas that I developed for my business when I first got going. I'm planning on revisiting my personas before the end of the year and I'm sure Sally will evolve based on how my business has developed this year.
A couple of points about this persona:
Sally is general enough that she will cover a few different people, but also has some characteristics of real people. This is not based on any specific individual - I made Sally up from the trends I was seeing.
I like to add a fun name, just to bring them to life a bit more through that extra detail.
This is a good start to a persona, but they can be longer and more detailed.
I have asked myself lots of questions including lots about her family situation – it might seem like this isn’t so relevant for a business to business relationship, but it gives me an indication of her other priorities and what draws on her time.
When you’re looking at things like media habits, it’s important to think about what your client wants from each of these channels. I am a little addicted to Instagram and enjoy it for the pictures of landscapes, food, and sometimes fashion. But I do NOT want to be sold tax or financial advice on there. Just because your audience is on a platform, doesn't mean they want to hear from you there.
When you’re laying out a persona, think about how to group the information. First, think about what attributes you want to know about them. Start with the basics like name and age and job, but also get really specific about them and their habits.
It’s always worth asking questions that don’t matter in the end, to test yourself, you might come up with surprising answers.
All of this creates a nice full picture, so I can check my marketing tactics and messaging against this persona to see if they will work – but it’s still general enough that it’s not just one person and will hopefully resonate with a few people.
How to create a persona/revisit them
Talk to your customers and prospects
Do your research
Spot the trends
Develop your profiles
Get perspectives from real people
If you have existing customers, try surveying or interviewing some to build up a picture of them. You might think that you know who your personas are going to be, but you might be surprised when you talk to real people.
Talk to as many people as you can. The more you talk to, the more data you’ll have to work with.
Use your employees if you have them, see what they think about your customers, and if there are any trends.
Talk to your prospects as well as part of your sales cycles. Find out as much as possible about them and make sure that information is noted for future reference. It may come in handy for working out which clients went on to work with you and which didn’t.
Do online research
Do some online research if you don’t have customers, and failing that, make educated guesses to start with – buyer personas should evolve over time anyway.
Try a survey, with a prize to find out about demographic trends. There are lots of forums on Facebook where people will answer each others’ surveys for free
Have a look at social media to get a feel about how people interact with different kinds of content
If you’re in Jefferson County, Colorado, the online library system has a rich resource of demographics information. Book a Librarian session to find out more.
Once you've done this work, see what trends actually come up – you might just be validating your guy instincts but you might also be surprised. From here you can start laying out your persona profiles.
What to avoid
There are some pitfalls for audience persona creation that can be easily avoided.
Do not make personas up completely – There is some guesstimate work you can do when starting out, but make them based on fact as much as possible. Try to revisit your personas and find out as many facts as possible. You don’t want to send yourself off in the wrong direction.
Do not assume they will be right forever – People change, circumstances change, behaviors change. Make sure they’re up to date.
Do not assume they are always right – Marketing is a process of constant trial and error and adaptation. If marketing tactics aren’t working, check them against your personas. Is it the marketing that’s not working effectively to reach them, or do the personas need to be updated?
Do not interview the wrong people – Make sure you’re interviewing the people you really want to work for. It can be tempting to work for whoever wants to pay you, but that’s not necessarily who you want to work for. Audience personas are there to help you grow, rather than stay where you are so they should be the image of your ideal customers.
If you’d like to build or refresh the audience personas for your business, here is a handout to help you.
That's it. It might seem like a lot of work, but it's worth doing because you will learn a lot and the more in tune you are with your audience, the better your relationship with them will be.
Last time I went over why your Why matters and reviewing your brand strategy
Next time I'll be going over your business goals and how they should line up with marketing.
If you would like to follow this series, sign up for my blog at the top of this page.