Q&A about Buyer Personas with Ardath Albee of Marketing Interactions

We write a lot about buyer personas, and we are very pleased to invite Ardath Albee, CEO of Marketing Interactions and author of Digital Relevance, to discuss the importance of buyer personas in producing an SMB marketing strategy that gets results.

What is a buyer persona-based content marketing strategy? And how can SMB marketers execute on this strategy?

A buyer persona is a composite sketch of a target market/role based on validated commonalities used to inform a content marketing strategy designed to turn prospects into buyers.

In other words it keeps you focused on the customer or buyers instead of your company or products. This is a great post written in review of my session at Intelligent Content Conference earlier this year that explains what goes into a buyer persona.

The easiest way to approach applying buyer personas to content strategy is to start with the questions they would ask at each stage. (See element 6 in the blog post above)

  • Decide how you’ll answer each question based on the objectives and problems your buyer persona faces
  • Then determine what’s next and give them a link or call to action to continue learning more about how to solve the problem.

If you’re unsure of the order, create a content hub that showcases the content a buyer persona will need to decide to solve the problem and watch how they engage with it – what transitions do they make?

The key is that by learning to create content that’s highly relevant to your buyers, you should also be able to tell where they are in their buying process so that you know how to continue to engage them.

Content marketing strategy is always about what comes next to drive momentum toward purchase. If it’s not, then what you have is “drive-by content.” People will read it, but then move on without doing anything further to engage.

What mistakes do most B2B marketers make that are easy to fix?

There are several. The first one I see most often is that B2B marketers assume they know their audience. And you know what they say about assumptions… The point is that assumptions are often wrong because we already know too much about the problems we solve for our customers, as well as how our products work. When we run on assumptions, we get stuck inside the box of what we think we know.

Which leads to the second mistake: thinking that your target market already recognizes they have a problem worth fixing and are looking to do so. Quite often, if we wait until this is true, we’re too late. But the other missing that can be easily fixed is to back up to their situation today and help them understand why it’s untenable and what will improve if they change it. We need to create more content that helps our prospects actually recognize the problem and become a trusted resource from the start.

Finally, the third most common mistake I see is that we can’t stop making our company and products the hero of the story. The easy way to fix this is to ask “So what?” from our audience’s perspective in relation to each piece of content we create.

  • How will it help them?
  • Why will they care?
  • What will they learn?

If you can read your content and answer those questions in line with what your buyer personas tell you, you’ll not only be relevant, but able to address context at each stage of the buying process. And that level of engagement is what results in business growth.

Which company blogs are the best examples of content marketing strategy?

I’m not sure this is the right question. In my opinion, a blog on its own is not a content marketing strategy. Just publishing content to a blog won’t necessarily drive business outcomes, even if the content posted is strategic. Not unless you already have a steady traffic stream of people who are an absolute match to your ideal customer (or persona).

However, a blog is a great vehicle for publishing content that can be effectively used in a content marketing strategy. To do so, there are a few things you need to consider:

  • Categories: make these strategically oriented around problem-to-solution scenarios, rather than topical categories you commonly see on blogs
  • Meta data and keywords should be used to drive discoverability specific to personas and the problem being solved
  • Create links between the posts to guide your prospects through the story of problem to solution as it evolves
  • Focus on evergreen content with depth, thought leadership, and the sharing of expertise that will remain fairly timeless or the blog will cease to deliver the outcomes it should as an execution vehicle for a content marketing strategy

Now – the reason a blog isn’t representative of a content marketing strategy is because you need other components to be successful. And, in my mind you need other content formats that will help to drive a depth of engagement and prospect discovery that a blog usually can’t accomplish on its own.

This includes, at a minimum:

  • A subscription component to build your database and subscriber base
  • An outbound email nurturing program to continue to drive engagement
  • A social media distribution plan to promote your posts where your prospects hang out
  • A method for driving depth of engagement and intent so that you can actively interact with your audience and stimulate buying conversations (think white papers, webinars, reports, etc. that require more intent and motivation than reading a blog post, but also allow you to learn more about your prospects)

The ultimate outcome of a content marketing strategy is business growth – whether net new customers or customer retention and expansion.

Are there any content marketing tools that you can’t live without?

There are a few obvious tools, such as Buyer Personas, Content Marketing Strategy, and Customer Journey Maps. All of those are tools that are critical to B2B marketing effectiveness.

There are technical tools, such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. I use Evernote to capture ideas, Hootsuite to keep up on social media channels and Trello, which I use as an editorial calendar.

And then there are research tools, such as LinkedIn and Crystal that I use to learn more about target markets – both mine and my clients’. I use BuzzSumo to keep an eye on what’s trending. I used the Google Adwords tool to find out what people are searching for in relation to the projects I’m working on.

What’s on your podcast or reading list right now?

For podcasts, one of my favorites is The Business of Story, hosted by Park Howell. And yes, I’ve been a guest. My episode on buyer personas can be found here.

On my reading list is Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions, by Carmen Simon, Ph.D. I heard her speak once and was fascinated!