The Persona Problem: Why Marketers Keep Creating Content Without Doing Persona Research First, and Why These Efforts Fail to Make an Impact

I’m back from Owners Summit in beautiful Charleston, and processing everything I learned. As always, some of the best takeaways from the conference weren’t from talks and workshops (although those were great) but from talking to people. One of the distinct differences I noticed was in the way companies are approaching content creation. Some have totally bought into the idea of creating personas to inform their content, while others are still unsure why this is a step they need to take. Of course, these people are seeing different results and varying degrees of success.

For me personally, I didn’t believe in how powerful personas could be until I tried them, and since implementing them, I haven’t looked back. Yes, they may seem like a waste of time, but once you start working with them you’ll see for yourself how much easier it is to come up with content with them in place. Personas don’t just help you decide what to write about, they break down where to promote content to reach specific prospects, and the kinds of topics each prospect is likely to be interested in. Once you have personas completed, you can figure out the best ways to automate parts of the content creation process, and what marketer doesn’t love automating parts of their job?

Why Do Marketers Resist Persona Creation?

I think there are a few main reasons that digital marketers, content creators and strategists resist coming up with personas:

  • They think its unnecessary. No matter how many times they hear that persona creation has to be the first step of content strategy, they just don’t buy it. The truth is that you can guess at some of the pieces you need to create a content strategy. For example, let’s say you a selling a B2C product designed for working moms, and your target is people who have grade school aged kids. You can guess that they will be interested in content related to going back to school starting in August and through September. So you have your writers create a piece about how to get ready for back to school, with a title like Everything You Need to Get Ready For Back to School. The thing is, most moms who have kids in second grade or higher already know what back to school entails, so they aren’t likely to be interested in content that breaks down the basics of what to expect. They might be more interested in a piece with a title like 10 Ways To Make Your First Week Back to School Smoother Than Last Year, that addresses a pain point of theirs. Here the pain point is that the first week back to school is a tough transition for any family.
  • They can’t find the time. From an agency standpoint, it takes hours to research and put a persona together, especially if it’s going to be accurate. You have to spend time looking at analytics, research and content from other sources to get the data you need to put a persona together. Clients may not want to pay for that time, and hours you can’t bill are as rare as gold dust in the average digital agency.
  • They don’t know how. Where do you find the information and how do you gain insights from it? It can be hard the first time you try to put a persona together, especially if you try to use one of the giant charts that Hubspot offers. I tried to use these templates to make personas when I was newly certified, and I quit after about 20 minutes. It’s okay to make your own, much simpler template in an Excel sheet and use that to put down as much as you know about each persona.

How Do Personas Make The Job Easier?

As the saying goes, good marketers steal, and with your personas in place, you can borrow ideas from leading publishers and bloggers in any space to make your job easier. Some of the ways I like to do this include:

  • Find the top blogs, Facebook groups and news site that your personas are likely to follow. Follow them and look for the topics they post about that generate the most interest or engagement.
  • Another thing to take note of: what hashtags are these people using? Use them on your posts to get your content in front of the same readers.
  • Sign up for monthly newsletters from influencers in the space. Ideas you can use as inspiration now come right to your inbox once a month. You know that the newsletter includes the pieces that have performed the best over the last month, or the pieces the author thinks are most likely to drive clicks. Those topics can work just as well for you.

Still struggling with persona creation? Tweet me your questions @contentnmore or send me an email at contentmarketingandmore@gmail.com.

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