Dust off those buyer personas and actually use them, says Albee

No longer (hopefully) are B2B buyer personas stuck – unused and forgotten – in basement file cabinets across the country 

B2B Marketing USA’s Tequia Burt chats with Marketing Interactions’ Ardath Albee about how B2B persona marketing has evolved in the past few years and how buyer personas are being used today.

Q: Do B2B marketers still need buyer personas? What are the benefits? How are they helpful in driving sales?

Albee: Yes, absolutely. The problem with most B2B personas is that they’re not designed to inform content marketing strategy and messaging. They’re simplified and too high-level to add any value that will help B2B companies differentiate and attain higher relevance with target audiences.

The benefits of buyer personas are many, including:

  • Helping marketers adapt tone, style and voice that will help content appeal to a particular segment of a target market;

  • Orienting writers quickly about the perspective, needs and wants of a target segment

  • Revealing needs/wants at each stage of the buying process or customer lifecycle (depending on approach);

  • Augmenting customer journey maps to incorporate a compelling storyline at each step and stage which helps to create momentum toward next steps;

  • Showing a variety of perspectives that provide marketers with a number of ways to approach topics, each of which will resonate (for example, opportunities for a positive approach, problems for more of a fear-of-missing-out approach);

  • Keeping the focus on audience/customers and off products, feeds, and speeds – content marketing is best when focused on the value the products enable, not the products themselves. Personas help marketers to keep this focus; and

  • Helping marketers to help buyers communicate effectively with other members (personas) on the buying committee to help remove conflict and drive consensus.

Personas help drive sales because they help marketers to create content that can become the anchor expertise buyers come to depend upon for solving specific problems that are important to them. Additionally, when used to help enable buying committee conversations, consensus can be reached faster, shortening sales cycles. Personas can also help create consistent and valuable buying experiences because both sales and marketing are empowered to share the same story, as the buyer needs it.

Q: Persona marketing has been around for a long time – what are some of the new trends? How have creating and using them changed in the past few years?

Albee: B2B persona marketing may have been around for a while, but there are a couple of big changes.

First, marketers are actually starting to use them, rather than check the box and leave them languishing in a file folder. They are also realizing that gathering the team around a pizza at lunch and brainstorming personas with only internal assumptions and data does not reveal new insights that can help to improve the effectiveness of their marketing.

In addition, companies are starting to realize that personas can be helpful across the enterprise for customer experience, customer support, marketing, sales, product development – just about everywhere that the customer may come into play.

Personas are not just for buyers; they are also for customers, users, partners, advocates, influencers, employees and more. Any segment of people your company needs to share a story with to influence an outcome will be better told when based on personas.

Q: How has the introduction of new kinds of marketing technologies changed persona marketing?

Albee: Persona software, such as the smart persona platform from Cintell (disclosure, I’m an advisor) and Akoonu are helping to operationalize personas. But additionally, marketing automation can segment by personas, showing marketers just how engaged each persona is, as well as the progress they’re making toward a buying decision. Social listening tools can also mine sentiment about personas. There are many possibilities with technology for marketers to actually gauge the impact of using personas, as well as to refine them on the fly as they shift and evolve along with the industries they work within.

Q: How can B2B marketers ensure their buyer personas are effective?

Albee: By using them! I know, it sounds obvious, but many marketers go through the steps to create them and then forget about them, reverting to the way they’ve always marketed. That’s a mistake. It’s one thing to expend the effort to create a persona. It’s another to use it to inform content marketing strategies, customer experience development and engagement strategies over the customer lifecycle. There needs to be more education in this area of application.

Q: Final words?

Albee: I don’t understand how marketers will create effective marketing programs if they don’t know their audiences really well. The same goes for customer service and support, as well as customer experience design. We just need to get better at it. While it does take a lot of effort, the payback will speak for itself.