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If your marketing personas are merely based on conventional wisdom, your content will not reach its potential with the intended audience.

Every good communicator follows the cardinal rule: know your audience.

On the surface, creating audience personas for your employer or B2B brand seems like a great idea. Creating specific profiles of your audience so you can find ways to better connect with them makes sense. And if you know what you are doing, it is an effective exercise to help develop compelling and relevant content.

So why does most content miss the mark in connecting with their audience? We have to take a deeper look at the current way we are creating our personas. A persona (also called a candidate persona in employer branding) is a semi-fictional representation of your customer usually based on different types of research. A persona includes characteristics like demographics, behaviors and motivations.

This is all well and good, except for one issue. How do you know if it is accurate? Develop a persona based on assumptions with the wrong combination of characteristics and you’ve essentially created a persona non grata, a person who is unwelcome. Or in marketing terms, one that your target audience will not connect with.

Lack of proper, holistic research is the culprit

One of the biggest problems with audience personas is in the lack of proper research. An accurate portrayal of a persona requires some level of one-on-one qualitative research, which just does not happen in most organizations. Marketers, especially in the employer branding space, do not have the time or resources to properly interview an appropriate sample of their target audience. What happens more often than not is the content marketer will develop their personas based on their own knowledge and assumptions of their audience, and this is a huge error that almost always goes unnoticed. Whether we like it or not, we all tend to group people within stereotypes that grossly lack any unique human insight. I remember one meeting where we were developing a persona for a salesperson, and one of the participants exclaimed, “It’s simple: girls and fast cars.” Most of the time our biases are unconscious, but the ways we perceive and project our audience almost never contain any deep insights that will resonate with said audience. The power of any message is found in shared emotions or values, also referred to as human truth. So how do we arrive at human truth?

The current process of creating content is flawed

In a recent survey of 330 self-identified content marketers who work for U.S. companies, some 88% of respondents said their team generates content ideas in regular group meetings, and 76% said their ideas were developed during dedicated brainstorming sessions; while 60% of respondents said content ideas are generated by individual staff members. Guess what? Only 28% of respondents say content ideas come from research. Does this surprise you? Based on this information, I am willing to bet that their personas were developed in a similar manner.

Content marketing is a complex animal. There are other aspects involved such as distribution strategies and amplification opportunities that play a huge role in the ultimate success of a piece of content. And of course, the quality of writing and idea generation makes a huge difference. But before any of that comes into play, I believe you must have a message that is rooted in accurate human insights. If you do not, the message is easily misinterpreted or it simply falls flat. Successful messaging is hard work. There are no shortcuts, but thankfully there are resources.

Human insights are out there, go find them

As a content marketing professional, I realized that I needed to be proactive in finding real insights into my personas beyond what I knew from my conventional wisdom and survey data. I started conducting my own qualitative research by inviting customers for coffee or asking my recruiting partners to fit in a few questions at the end of their calls. Qualitative research doesn’t need to feel like a one-way interview. Create an objective and then engage in a dialog with your customers that will also benefit them.

For those companies that do not have time or a budget to conduct their own primary research, there are free resources like PeerCulture that offer qualitative interviews with professionals from different industries. By reading through the day-to-day stories of your audience, you begin to understand their mindset and learn what is important to them. Another amazing resource to help you build out your personas is the Content Marketing Institute. They have several resources that give you a step-by-step guide to help generate audience personas.

This knowledge can be invaluable when developing personas — personas that will be rooted in actual insights that come directly from your audience and not from a brainstorming session in a conference room.

About the author: Jonas Fischer is co-founder of PeerCulture, a place where exceptional employees share their stories to help employers learn and evolve.


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