Inbound marketing is difficult. You've got to get visitors to come to your website, look at your content, and keep coming back for future content. Hopefully, some of those people sign up for offers you promote, move down your funnel and become customers.
Personas are an essential component of inbound marketing. Personas define the prospects you're trying to reach, their challenges, goals, even the keywords they use to find products and services. The information gathered about personas is used to guide content creation.
We found the many personas, either because of how they're created, or how they're used, come up short. They're often good at informing and guiding top-of-funnel (TOFU) content. However, they do a poorer job informing middle-of-funnel (MOFU), and bottom-of-funnel (BOFU) content. MOFU and BOFU content, and content offers are critical to turning leads in to opportunities and opportunities into customers. In this article, we'll explain how funnel stage personas can help you create the right content, for each stage of your inbound sales funnel.
We've talked about the differences between content marketing and inbound marketing. Personas are a critical component of any inbound marketing campaign. They describe the people you're targeting. The people who will visit your website, and, hopefully, enter your sales funnel. Personas contain lots of information such as:
Roles they serve in their organization
Goals, including task based, personal career goals, and organizational goals.
Challenges that make their role more difficult or impedes them from reaching their goals.
Demographics so that you can understand how to speak to these prospects, and what social networks they use.
Common stories to bring everything together including their role, tasks, challenges, and goals.
Marketing related information such as the keywords personas use to find products and services you offer.
The common way personas are used to inform a content plan is to use challenges to generate a topic list. Then use specific specific pain points to build compelling titles. Create content that educates about the challenges. As prospects move down the funnel, turn them into leads by explaining how your solutions solve the problems. Eventually, compel leads to connect so that you can explore their needs, and become customers.
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Understanding your sales funnel is critical to inbound marketing
The sales funnel matters because you're trying to sell products and services. You need to attract people to your website, get them to see and digest your value proposition, and decide to select your products and services to help solve their problems. Some funnel fundamentals are in order at this point:
There are different stages of the funnel, and each maps to different types of content:
Top-of-Funnel (TOFU). Content at this stage educates users about problems (those challenges faced by your personas) and solutions. In this awareness stage, prospects are doing research and looking for answers and insights.
Middle-of-funnel (MOFU). Content at this stage needs to explain your unique value proposition. How your service solves your persona's problem, and why your solution is the better than your competitors. At this stage, your leads are evaluating solutions to figure out which is the best for them.
Bottom-of-funnel (BOFU). Content at this stage is more interactive and may not event be content. It may be a coupon, a demo, or a free consultation. At this stage, your opportunities are making the decision to buy services.
There are lots of great articles on the types of content that work well for each stage of the funnel. Hubspot's Andrew Raso wrote and excellent article with examples of different types of content used by major brands for different stages of the funnel. Juan Mendez wrote a good article on how to create video content for each stage of the funnel. Barry Feldman also wrote a good article on the types of content that work well as lead magnets (content offers) as part of an inbound marketing process.
The bottom line is, the content you create has to map to what your persona's are looking for at each stage or their buyers journey. That's where we find traditional personas and how they're typically used, fall short.
Messaging is key for MOFU and BOFU content
Personas can fail to properly guide middle and bottom of stage content due to a number of reasons. One common reason we've found, is that personas contain a lot of information about content that will attract visitors to your website, such as challenges and pain points. There's often less about criteria prospects use to evaluate products and services, when they're trying to determine which solution is best. Frequently, there's still less information about what compels them to buy. This means your content will be great at attracting prospects but not so great at turning them into leads, opportunities, and customers. Sometimes the information is there, but it's not properly broken out.
Let's be clear, messaging is the key to creating middle and bottom of funnel content that compels leads to become opportunities, and opportunities to become customers. For example, if your persona evaluates solutions based on price, and sees price as a barrier to buying the services, that information needs to be included in the persona. It needs to be included in such a way that your content team recognizes it as a critical piece of information for middle-of-funnel offers. In the case of the cost conscious consumer, if your services are on the lower end of the pricing spectrum compared to competitors, providing "bang for the buck" messaging might keep your services in contention for an eventual purchase. If your services are on the higher end of the pricing spectrum, your content had better make the argument as to why paying more now, provides better value and ROI later.
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Funnel Stage Personas
One way to address this issue is to create what we call Funnel Stage Personas. They are similar to the standard type of personas described above, with three important differences:
We take the time to research additional information about what's important to each persona in the evaluation (MOFU), and decision making (BOFU) stages.
We break out the information within the persona, to make it clear what key issues content must address at each stage.
We also validate content against persona stage information to make sure it's meeting those key issues prior to release.
To do this you have to research and understand your persona's entire buyers journey. In the persona information targeting marketing services to a CIO it might look like this:
Awareness: Challenges include goals not being set, doing social media for the sake of social media. Activities aren't tracked, measured or reported. Activities are not aligned with other marketing or sales activities. Unsure of correct audience, platform, persona usage. Wants to have better rich media content. Needs help with content curation and content ideas.
Evaluation: Needs to be educated in the difference between content creation and an inbound marketing process. Has to justify the budget, so any solution must show good value. It helps if ROI can be mapped to head-count, and improved capability to reach common goals such as lead generation.
Decision: Evidence is key for this buyer to move. Case studies and testimonials can compel action. Mapping concerns such as initial cost or retainer based services to reduced costs and better performance overall can help compel action.
With this information broken out, we find it's much easier to create content that's a better target to different stages of the buyer's journey. It's also easier to have more informed and focused discussion about each piece of content with our client's reviewers and key stakeholders. We're bringing the nuance to the forefront, and know what each piece of content is supposed to do.
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Where to do the additional research
How do you find out about what persona's are thinking when they're evaluating different solutions, or deciding which solution to buy? There are lots of places. Start by interviewing your current clients and asking them how they evaluated your products and services to other vendors, and why you won. Then ask them what made them actually decide to buy. Focus groups with people who match your personas are another great way to get information on the buyer's journey. Beyond that, we've found that discussions in LinkedIn and Facebook groups are informational, as well as published case studies.
A fundamental goal of your social media marketing efforts beyond attracting visitors should be to keep leads moving down your funnel. To do that, you have to fine-tune content to match the different stages of your prospects buyer's journey. Funnel stage personas break out key information, by stage, can help your content team produce content with messages the speak to needs while educating at the awareness stage, address barriers and concerns in the evaluation stage, and compel action in the decision stage.