Content is the fuel that powers every inbound marketing campaign, but in order to attract interest, convert website visitors into leads and drive sales, it’s got to resonate with your target audience. Of course, before you can create high-value content that your prospects won’t be able to live without, you need to find out what makes them tick. That’s why, as a content marketer, the more time you spend understanding the needs, challenges, goals and pain points of your ideal customers, the more successful your campaign will be.
BioStrata’s very own Paul Avery was recently interviewed on the Life Science Marketing Radio podcast about the strategies successful marketers should adopt when creating buyer personas that get to the hearts of their ideal customers. Here's a summary of some of his responses to host Chris Conner’s questions. You can also listen to the podcast right here (and if you are not subscribed yet, we highly recommend it!).
What are buyer personas and why are they important?
Paul Avery (PA): Many of us will have used buyer personas to some extent in our marketing efforts. However, with the advent of content marketing, which works by putting the customer at the centre of everything we do, they’ve become even more important.
At BioStrata, we see buyer personas as idealized representations of the customer segments we’re targeting as part of our marketing and sales efforts. We use buyer personas to ensure we’re talking about the things our customers care about, while working in the things that we care about as marketers. Trying to find that overlap between their passions and interests and our products and services can be challenging, but by having clearly defined buyer personas, it makes it much easier to produce content that truly resonates.
How many personas do you need, and who will they be?
PA: This is a very important question. Let’s say you’re targeting a certain type of scientist. There will be things that are important to all scientists, but a scientist working within industry is going to have different goals, challenges and pain points to one within, say, academia. The messages we’re sending out and the stories we’re telling are going to be much more effective if we speak to those two groups independently. And if you take an academic scientist for example, you can even break that down further into subgroups like PhD student, postdoc, principal investigator, lab manager, lab technician and so on. Their roles are different, and they therefore will have different priorities and interests—so if we can tailor our message accordingly, then our content is going to be even more effective.
Of course, we need to balance that with practicality. If we create 30 individual buyer personas, we’re going to kill our content marketing program before we start, because we’ll be overwhelmed by the amount of content we’ll need to create. But equally, it’s no good having one or two personas that are too general, meaning we can’t say anything interesting to them because it’s not really going to resonate. So it’s about getting that balance right.
How do you manage the complexity of mapping content to each stage of the buyer journey when you’ve got multiple buyer personas?
PA: What tends to happen when you start putting your buyer personas together is that you see common goals, challenges, and frustrations emerge. While you may have five or six buyer personas, you’ll probably find there are some recurring themes.
You can leverage those commonalities quite simply and cost-effectively by producing, for example, eBooks or blog posts focused on a single core topic that’s important to all of your buyer personas, but which will talk to each of them individually. So let’s say you produce an eBook titled 'How PhD students can publish in high-impact journals'. You might choose to create another one called 'How postdocs can publish in high impact journals'. It’s going to be a very similar eBook, with lots of overlapping content that you’ll only have to produce once, but it’ll have a different title and a different introduction, and it will feel customized for those two audiences.
As you move down through the 'consideration' and 'decision' stages of the funnel, things get even easier. As we’re starting to introduce our solution to the buyer, we’re probably going to do that in a similar way for the postdocs, PhDs and other relevant buyer personas. What that means is your content funnel looks a lot like your sales funnel, in that you’ll have quite a lot of customized content at the top, but you’ll have less content as you move further down because your 'consideration' stage offers will work across a broader range of customers.
How do you distil information about a whole group of customers into a single representative buyer persona?
PA: At BioStrata, we’ve systemized this process to make it easier for us to collect this information, and we break it down into four key areas.
We focus on the 'who' part first, where we try to get under the skin of who these people are. This might include information like their job title and role within their organization, as well as their career path, whether they come from a scientific or business background, and whether they’re a business person adapting themselves to the life science sector, or an ex-scientist moving into more of a commercial role. We also consider their communication preferences; are they likely to be happy to receive sales calls? Are they the type of person who’s going to look for information online? What types of trade magazines do they read? And are they active on certain social media channels?
Then we focus on the 'what' part: what are our personas’ goals and challenges, and what can we do to help? This involves understanding what they’re trying to achieve within their role and aligning that with the types of services and products we offer. Then we can reflect those goals into challenges: what is it that’s fundamentally holding these people back? We also look at their 'nitty-gritty' frustrations, because although these people have big-picture goals and challenges, quite often it’s the everyday frustrations that motivate people to change.
Section three is the 'how' part. Once we know what our personas are trying to achieve and what’s holding them back, we need to then think about how we’re going to position our solution. In other words, how can we best serve them? Here we often look at the product or service’s unique selling points that fit against those goals and challenges, and we really think about how we’re going to align them.
Finally, we look at the sales objections and questions prospects commonly have. If we can address those in our content before customers speak to sales teams, it’s going to be much easier for them to close those deals, and the length of the sales cycle will probably also drop.
How do you ensure your buyer personas reflect reality?
PA: This is key! We can come up with the coolest content in the world, but if our personas don’t reflect reality then we’re not going to get results. Fundamentally, this comes down to how much time and resources a team has to invest in developing their personas. In reality, we’d love to conduct a deep and thorough market research project that captures primary data from the market through interviews and surveys, but that is not always possible.
A fast but less accurate method is to get a group of your customer-facing staff together—this might be your sales or customer service teams—and then 'workshop' it to answer some of the questions highlighted earlier. That’s going to give you a reasonable feel for the marketplace. However, you should tread carefully as it can be easy to bias this with your internal perceptions of what your customers care about.
Ideally, we’d want to collect at least some of this information from the customers and prospects themselves, and we often do that through one-to-one interviews. We find that between six to twelve interviews for a reasonably specific market segment is enough to see common themes appear, so you don’t necessarily need to worry about interviewing dozens of people. However, if you see a wide range of variability in the responses you receive, you’ll need to conduct further interviews until common themes reveal themselves.
Most of our clients fall somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum (in terms of needing to balance budget and timelines with the insights we can infuse into the buyer personas). Often, we conduct a few interviews, mostly with internal people and a few customers. If you’re not able to do primary research during the persona development phase (i.e. actually interview your customers and prospects), then you can at least reality check them afterwards by asking a friendly customer or two to review them and make sure you're heading in the right direction.
You should also do some social media research: look at what people are blogging about or writing about on LinkedIn and Twitter to see if people are actually talking about the things you’ve identified in your buyer personas. If it’s a real challenge that your prospects are facing, you’d expect some of them to be talking about it online.
How can businesses maximize the value of buyer personas?
PA: Our buyer personas become strategic messaging documents that can be used to get everyone in a company aligned on who we are selling to, what they care about and how we can best serve their needs. This includes aligning marketing and sales teams around key messages and even extends right through to tactical execution. For example, they are an excellent tool when we are briefing our team of science writers as a way of clearly stipulating the audience they need to have in mind when creating content. Ideally your buyer personas should infuse throughout your whole marketing strategy; it shouldn’t just be in your content marketing, it should play a key role on your website build too. Essentially, your buyer personas' pain points should be front and centre in your internal and external communications, so that everybody in the organization knows who you’re trying to provide value to, and how you’re going to provide that value.
It’s also important to use buyer personas within your sales team so that when sales are interacting with prospects, they’re speaking the same language that you’ve been using on your website and in your content marketing efforts. With small marketing and sales teams that’s easier to achieve, but with big organizations that have teams working in different areas across the globe, it can be more challenging. You know when you’ve really succeeded when people buy into this buyer persona-driven mindset and start referring to them in everything they do.
Thanks to Chris Connor and Life Science Marketing Radio
A quick note to say thanks to Chris Connor of Life Science Marketing Radio for inviting BioStrata to appear on the podcast—subscribe here to get frequent insights from experts across the life science industry and beyond.
To find out how better buyer personas could enhance the impact of your content marketing efforts, improve lead quality and generate more sales for your business, get in touch.