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Marketing 'personas' to target a precise audience

With the ability to become more and more selective about how you target your marketing and advertising, especially on digital platforms, it is more important than ever to know exactly who you want to reach with your messaging.

Targeting to general demographics just won't give you the precision you need to create campaigns that cut through the clutter and noise in today's environment.

No doubt you and your teams have strong ideas about the characteristics of the people in the market segments you are trying to reach.

But you may be surprised to learn – as many business leaders have been when they conduct a “persona” exercise – your team's target audience assumptions can be all over the map. That's a dangerous place to be.

So just what are marketing personas, and how can they help you market and advertise profitably?

Personas are fictional individuals that represent customers or potential customers or clients, with each representing key categories or market segments.

The work of creating personas to match your market segments is valuable in itself as a learning and “getting everyone on the same page” exercise. But the end product of complete named personas – and yes, you should name them – is a powerful and lasting tool for multiple departments of your business.

A good example of a persona is provided by the people at HubSpot, (a digital marketing platform), via the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

IHI's persona of potential buyer “Diane Director, BSN, MHA, director of critical care,” includes demographics, such as age, salary, college degrees, family and work experience, but that's just the start. Diane's persona also includes:

• Her values and goals (strong advocate for work-life balance).

• Experience she seeks in products and services.

• Problems that she faces.

• Her role and level of seniority in detail (responsibilities for a 32-bed unit).

• Samples from a day in her life (has to be “on call”).

• Her main information sources and hangouts.

• Her most common objections to your company's products and services, if any.

That's an impressive portrait. To make personas even more effective, consider including special persona categories that are unique to customers and potential customers in your field.

Other persona attributes to consider include: buying process, types of services that will solve his or her work problems, key barriers or pain points, Internet usage patterns and conferences he or she attends.

To create personas for your business, decide how many personas you need and then create a template for their attributes. Your team likely will be able to agree on most attributes (expect a spirited discussion).

Don't hesitate to conduct research, including interviews, website analytics data and keyword research, and other stats and fact-checking to complete attributes of which you are uncertain.

Avoid becoming overly cute with persona names, or derogatory in any way. Your personas should be crafted so that they wouldn't be harmful to your business if leaked outside of your company.

Marketing personas have been in use for quite a while, but they are gaining renewed importance as businesses gain new and more powerful targeting tools to reach the customer profiles they seek.

Fred Zahradnik is president and owner of NetCrafter Solutions (www.netcraftersolutions.com) of Macungie, which provides digital marketing services. He can be reached at fred@netcrafter.net.

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