Before taking on your first persona interview, it’s necessary to understand not only the top-line questions to which you need answers but also how to reach the answers appropriately. In this blog, we’ll break down the five top-line questions you can’t build your personas without, including demographics, goals, challenges, research habits, and values.
You’ll come away with a complete understanding as to why we ask these questions, as well as tangible “sub-questions” you can ask verbatim in your interview that will deliver powerful and honest responses.
Demographic information like gender, age, income, marital status, number of children, location, etc. are not only important to visualizing the buildout of your personas, but they are also key indicators for campaign planning in their own ways.
For example, if you find your target persona skews younger, single, and without children, it’s likely that this customer profile will be more active on social media and less attracted to traditional media advertising and marketing. Obviously, these are assumptions and will require testing, but demographic information paints a quick picture you can use to accelerate your ideation process and begin experimenting with creative ideas.
Similarly, if you discover your persona typically lives with their family in the suburbs and has an extensive commute into a city for work, it may be worthwhile to test longer-form podcasts as a means of communication to this audience.
At the end of the day, demographic information is probably the easiest on this list to collect, but also the most necessary. Without demographics, you don’t have the foundation to efficiently ideate marketing recommendations that will resonate.
If you hadn’t set out goals like increasing qualified leads to your business, improving connection to your customers, or increasing revenue, would you be conducting persona research in the first place? It’s goals like these that for your business necessitated some of the very work we’re doing now.
Every action we take in business (and in life) is motivated by a certain goal we have, challenge we are facing, or a combination of the two. Now, the key to narrowing in on your customers’ goals is to not frame a question like, “If you were to use our product/service, what would your intended outcome be?”
Remember to frame your questions in an open-ended way that allows an interviewee to speak freely. Let them answer the question in their own way, because only then will you get to the root of what really makes your target audience tick.
Some simple questions to discover their goals through interviews can be:
- “What are your goals in your role?”
- “What’s important to you at work?”
- “How is your success measured in your role?”
- “What would set you apart from your peers?”
At first, asking questions in such a way could deliver answers that seem irrelevant to what your business could address. It’s much more comforting to frame a conversation around your own business rather than the interviewee’s personal experience. Understandable.
However, if you’re able to identify a trend in the goals responses that fall in line with what one of your products could help achieve, without asking leading questions, you give yourself the confidence needed to pursue extremely targeted campaigns aimed at meeting that specific goal.
Additionally, by collecting data on goals that may at first seem out-of-step with what you’re capable of offering, you’re forced to consider positioning your products in different ways. For example, can an industrial fan producer targeting car washes reposition their fans when they discover one of their persona’s goals is to increase their local Yelp score? They could choose a campaign focused on the following benefits:
- Dry more efficiently and effectively
- Increase speed and throughput
- Free-up manpower to focus on the finer details of the wash
- Gain a competitive edge
Only one of those benefits listed is directly related to the product’s performance. The others are ancillary advantages realized through the implementation of the product. Had this company not done persona research, their messaging could have centered around benefits that don’t resonate with the goal of “increasing a Yelp score” at all, thus distancing their campaign from the persona’s true objectives.
As was engrained into my 18-year-old lizard brain in Marketing 101 as a college freshman, marketing should aim to address the challenges or pain points being experienced by the customer.
This concept, basic as it may be, is arguably the most crucial aspect of your persona research to get right. Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s important again to never ask leading questions related to, “what challenges does/would our product or service help you achieve?”
Instead, ask broad questions like:
- What are your biggest challenges?
- You could do your job better if you didn’t have to deal with what?
- What makes your job/life difficult?
- What problems are you most passionate about solving?
Asking questions in this way ensures you tailor your marketing to the data, not the other way around.
Understanding the challenges faced by your target customer is so important, inbound marketing theory practically mandates it be the sole focus of your “awareness content,” and for good reason.
If you owned a car wash and started researching online for new fan systems for the first time, would you search something like, “SpeedForce XRB2900 Fans?” No, you obviously wouldn’t. You would most likely search something like, “Car wash fans low noise.” Searches like this will turn-up search results for educational resources that inform how modern industrial fans achieve lower noise output, data to support how much quieter they are, and what benefits they’ve shown to have.
Similarly, a typical search could look like, “How to lower the energy bill in my car wash.” Google would not logically rank a product page for “SpeedForce XRB2900 Fans” above an educational video or post from one of SpeedForce’s competitors detailing different ways this car wash can lower their energy output. This competitor, the smart inbound-wizard they are, will also lay out how a modern fan system can make a huge difference when the time comes to pay your utility bill.
Content marketing is all about building trust with a visitor. SpeedForce may have a great product, but if they don’t have any content in which they attempt to empathize with and address a buyer’s root problem, they’re going to lose to their “content-wizard” competitor every time.
Research Habits & Information Consumption
You wouldn’t serve steak to a vegetarian, so why would you create a campaign based around text-heavy white papers and guides directed at a target audience who’s only chunk of “free time” is their hour-long commute to and from work?
Dietary analogies aside, the point is, by understanding exactly how your target buyer persona prefers to consume information, you’re able to narrow in on where to physically place your content.
Get Your Persona Questionnaire
Here’s a fact: some of the marketing world’s best content was never consumed because the brand didn’t understand how their target audience sought out solutions to their problems. In an online world where millions of content pieces are being produced each day, it’s no longer enough to simply write an article and trust that your audience will find it because of its powerful messaging.
Some questions to help you pull out concrete answers about research habits include:
- How do you research a problem at work? At home?
- How do you like to consume information in general?
- What social media channels, if any, do you use to consume information?
- Do you enjoy video/audio educational content?
- Do you prefer text-based content to video/audio when conducting research or vice versa?
The other top-line questions we’ve discussed up until this point all give us a great gauge as to the “what” for our content. “What” content do we need to produce? When you’re asking questions about consumption habits, you’re narrowing in on the “where.”
Now that you have the “what” and the “where” of your content plan, it’s time to start focusing on the “how.”
“How do we create content that connects?”
This giant question is where everything comes together. You know what content you need to create and where it will live, but by understanding what a buyer persona values in a brand partner or company, you develop a better picture of how to make that content stick.
Asking questions like, “What makes you trust a brand or company?” will give you insight into the types of big-picture attributes that are important to that audience. You can use these insights to craft your messaging and positioning to mirror their preferences.
Say you are targeting nonprofit organizations as a startup online donation software platform. By asking interviewees questions about why they follow, like, and trust a brand, you may find that it’s very important to your audience their partners have a mission-driven purpose or operate as a social enterprise. In this scenario, emphasize in your marketing campaigns how your company, “was founded on the idea of giving back.” Elaborate that you, “match 2 percent of all donations collected across your client base to donate to a certain nonprofit.”
In the “values” section of your questionnaire, your personas tell you how they would like to be spoken to. If they value companies that can prove their technological superiority quickly and are willing to purchase online without speaking to a sales rep, for example, that will certainly influence the way you plan content. Compared to a persona who values a slow introduction to a brand and prefers to build a relationship with a sales representative in order to feel comfortable about making a purchase.
Putting it All Together
At Beacons Point, we are lucky enough to have the ability to conduct persona research often with our client’s customers, as well as our own. We’re able to have open, honest conversations with people from all walks of life about their aspirations, their fears, and the way they move through life and work. We don’t take that privilege lightly. Because of these five top-line questions — Demographics, Goals, Challenges, Research Habits, and Values — content-marketing wizards (or wizards-in-training) can be confident they’ve asked all the right questions in the correct ways. From there, they can confidently build a content strategy that will resonate.