In today’s digital environment, there is an endless number of ways to create and share content. From social media to blog posts to email to video (to name just a few), it’s clear that content really is king.
Marketers know how important it is for businesses to regularly create effective content assets. But doing so isn’t always easy. Case in point: a 2018 survey showed that although 91 percent of B2B businesses are using content marketing, just 24 percent rate their marketing efforts as “very” or “extremely” successful.
Great content requires research and insights into what users want. Tools from the world of UX, such as buyer personas, can offer a greater understanding of the target audience’s needs.
The Importance of User-Focused Thinking
So, why should we bother using UX personas in our marketing? Before delving into the specifics of creating a persona, let’s talk a bit about why user-focused thinking is such a key part of content development.
When planning an editorial calendar for a blog, a topic for a white paper, or a publishing schedule for video assets, marketers need to generate ideas that will capture attention. Unfortunately, even the most original and exciting content can fail to generate results if it does not address user needs.
Focusing on Users Helps Us Avoid Weak Content
No one wants to create weak content—and yet, sometimes even ideas that we think are great can fall just short of the mark.
One common trap that businesses fall into is developing content that is focused mainly on their own products or services. Inward-looking content that sounds too much like an advertisement is less likely to engage readers than content that tells a compelling story or solves a tricky problem.
Another mistake is creating content that is overly technical. Although we may spend all day immersed in our industry, it is important to remember that our users may not necessarily be as knowledgeable about it as we are. Good content should be tailored to the user’s reading level and free of unnecessary jargon.
Putting ourselves in our persona’s “shoes” and using empathy to try to understand their thinking can help steer us away from these pitfalls.
Balancing User Needs With Search Engine Optimization
A common reason for creating content is as part of a search engine optimization plan. While there is debate about exactly which kind of content is likely to rank higher on search engine results pages, it is generally acknowledged that written content should contain relevant keywords. Past research suggested that long-form content performed better than short-form content—a 2016 study found that the average length of a Google first-page result was nearly 1,900 words.
However, there are good reasons to be wary of creating keyword-stuffed or poor-quality “fluffy” content just to meet search engine targets. Google first introduced an algorithm update known as “Panda” in 2011, putting increasing emphasis on content quality as a ranking factor. The search engine has continued to regularly update and strengthen Panda year after year until, in 2016, it finally became a part of its core ranking algorithm.
What this means in practical terms is that content quality is more important than ever—even for search engine crawlers. Therefore, it makes sense to prioritize quality and user needs during the content production process. Once we’ve created a quality piece of content, it can be “enhanced” using best-practice SEO techniques such as keyword optimization, headings, and metadata.
Now that we’ve discussed the need for a user-focused mindset, let’s turn our attention to personas.
What Is a Buyer Persona?
A buyer persona is a mockup of a hypothetical client, complete with details like name, age, gender, hobbies and more.
What Are the Advantages of Creating a Persona?
You might wonder why you should draft up a fake client when you already know so much about your user base.
Imagine your company is selling a new type of bicycle accessory. You might know, for example, that the main users of your product are men and women ages 25-34, living in urban areas, with an interest in cycling.
However, having a general knowledge about your demographics from statistics, charts, and graphs is different than putting a real “face” on your customer.
For example, when seeing the words “interest in cycling” you might initially think of creating a piece of content about the top 10 cyclists of all time. But after creating a persona of Tom from Seattle, you realize that, although Tom may possibly be interested in reading that post, it wouldn’t be the most urgent type of content for him. What he really cares about is the top 10 places to bike in Seattle. (We’ll return to Tom later.)
The Role of Personas in UX
UX specialists use buyer personas to make decisions during the UX design process. These could include which features of a product to prioritize or which design features need to be changed. Personas also help ensure that the entire team working on the product has the same understanding of the end user.
With job titles such as “UX copywriter” becoming ever more common, it is clear that content marketing departments are increasingly expected to work hand-in-hand with UX departments. While content marketers may not work directly on product design, their goal of speaking to the concerns of the customers overlaps significantly with UX’s mission.
Creating the Perfect Content Marketing Persona
So, how do you create a persona that will help you accomplish your content marketing goals?
In its most basic form, creating a content marketing persona can be as simple as writing down the name of your fictional customer, along with a few facts:
…but of course, a great persona is much more sophisticated than that.
Some of the many UX software packages available may include a tool for creating personas automatically. But you can easily create them on your own, using a simple graphic template.
A truly comprehensive persona should include your theoretical user’s personal details, including his or her:
- marital status
- geographic location
These facts are the bare minimum you will need to get a realistic picture of your character.
Now, it’s time to go deeper. Try doing the following:
Describe Your User With Adjectives
Think of a few positive and negative adjectives that explain what your buyer persona is all about.
- friendly, clever, helpful, kind, empathetic?
- stubborn, fearful, anxious, easily frustrated?
The positive character traits can help you predict how your persona might act in certain situations, while the negative ones speak to his or her pain points.
Specifically Address What Drives Your User
What motivates your user to take action: fear, power, achievement, growth, social approval? What are his/her goals and frustrations in life?
In the above example featuring Tom the cyclist from Seattle, perhaps Tom is motivated by social approval—so he doesn’t want any equipment that will look too “dorky” on his bike.
His goals include living an eco-friendly lifestyle, biking a certain number of miles per day, and having a positive impact on the world.
On the other hand, his frustrations include seeing bulky bike helmets that offer dubious protection and expensive equipment that is out of his budget as a freelance graphic designer.
Define Your User’s Personality With Testing
You’ve already come up with a few general adjectives to define your character. Now it’s time to get specific using personality testing.
The popular Myers-Briggs Personality Test splits personalities up into 16 distinct types, based on four categories of traits: introversion/extroversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. Each personality type is defined by a four-letter acronym (for example, ENTJ or ISTP).
While obviously you can’t actually have your character take the Myers-Briggs test, trying to define a personality type can be a source of in-depth insight into his or her psychology.
Write a Short Biography
Once you have gathered all the previous information, you should be able to write a concise biography for your content marketing persona, in paragraph form.
For Tom, we’ll write something like this:
Tom lives with his girlfriend in an apartment in Seattle. He is an avid cyclist who cares a lot about the environment. While Tom has enough money to comfortably live a middle-class lifestyle, his unstable income as a freelancer means that he is wary of spending too much money on large purchases. Tom has an active social life and often spends time with his friends on the weekends.
Add Extra Information
Now that we’ve established who your user is, let’s talk about what he or she does.
This section should include information about your persona’s hobbies and consumer tendencies. You can write down the types of technology (phone, computer, tablet) and communication (email, social media, texting) that your character uses, as well as the frequency of use. You could also list some brands that he or she likes to buy and activities that he or she does regularly.
You should now be well-equipped to incorporate UX personas into your content strategy. We have discussed why they’re necessary, how they fit into content marketing, and how to create one that’s sufficiently detailed.
But personas are just one of the many strategies content marketers can learn from UX professionals. User experience is an incredibly versatile skill set, applicable to almost every specialization in the world of tech. For content strategists, in particular, knowing about UX is becoming more and more important, as the two fields become increasingly aligned.
If you are interested in exploring personas, design thinking, and more, check out Springboard’s UX Design Course. It’s a self-paced, mentor-led bootcamp that will take you from beginner to building your first UX portfolio.