If your organization has spent the time and effort to build B2B marketing buyer personas, shouldn’t you be using them? This guest post from Ardath Albee of TDA Group partner Marketing Interactions shares best practices on what your buyer personas should include—and highlights ways you can use them to improve your content.

Buyer personas, built well, take a concerted effort to produce. While only 44 percent of B2B marketers say they have buyer personas, 83 percent of these marketers say they are only slightly or somewhat effective at using them.

What a colossal waste of time, effort, and investment.

The whole point of creating buyer personas is to use them, not just to check the box. Buyer personas identify the “who” your content should be designed to engage. Tossing them in a desk drawer or server archive means that the “who” can get fuzzy. In a world where buyers are in control of the purchasing process, a lack of clarity and relevance can be devastating to content marketing performance.

Research conducted by ITSMA found this question that may explain why:

“We don’t know what to use them for … we spent a lot of time on them, but how do we apply the knowledge?”

I would pose the hypothesis that if personas are built well, how to use them is obvious. The other thing to consider if you have personas but aren’t using them is that you will tend to slip back into inside-out marketing content because you know your products so well. To sustain relevance with buyers across the entirety of their buying decision process, you need to get to know your audience better than you know your products, including how emotion and logic jointly play into their purchase decisions. You must learn to use and rely on your personas as a standard practice.

A well-built persona should include the following:

  • A day-in-the-life scenario of the persona to help marketers understand what their environment is like and how their priorities line up, as well as how they relate to others who may be involved in the buying decision.
  • Objectives they are responsible for accomplishing. You may call these priorities or goals.
  • Orientation in their careers and about their professional demeanor.
  • Obstacles that could stall momentum at each stage of the process.
  • Problems that are the flip side of objectives, or reasons why they haven’t been able to achieve them yet.
  • Questions your persona will ask and need answered at each step of the buying decision process.
  • Engagement scenarios that simulate what the interactions with the persona could look like across channels and how the dots must connect to create forward momentum.
  • Keywords and phrases they use when talking about their objectives and problems, as well as what they will use to search for relevant information. Think long-tail and short-tail keywords.
  • Channels they favor and use most frequently, including social media platforms; websites; and industry, association, and analyst sites.
  • Content preferences, whether long- or short-form and visual, audio, or text-based.

Each of these components of a well-built persona can inform your content strategy and content creation.

How to Use Personas in B2B Content Marketing

Personas include a wealth of information to help companies become more relevant to buyers. Here are some examples: 

A day-in-the-life scenario is a great refresher if you haven’t developed content for this persona in a while. It will also help orient freelance writers quickly by helping them step into the world of the persona the content is intended to engage. In addition, when a day-in-the-life scenario includes relationships with others, this can be indicative of the potential to create content that will help the persona better communicate about the opportunity for change—which will achieve an objective or solve a problem to help them gain consensus.

Orientation information such as how long the persona has been in their position or career can help you better relate to their perspective. As you discover common traits across people representative of the persona, this information will help you understand the tone and style of content that will resonate. For example, if the persona is “detail-oriented,” then content designed to engage them should be thorough and deep, not high level with broad assumptions.

Questions are pivotal to content ideation. If, for example, one of the persona’s questions is, “What type of disruption to our workflows will be caused by replacing our legacy system?”, answering that question with content that speaks to the disruption your customers have planned for and dealt with in this situation can position your company as a valuable partner, not just a solutions vendor.

Even better, questions have a way of creating a flow that works. For example, your persona will not be asking about who can help them solve their problem if they haven’t answered the initial questions to learn what they need to know about why it’s a good move to solve the problem in the first place. Every time a question is answered to the buyer’s satisfaction, space is opened for new questions to be asked and answered.

Channel preferences will help you design your engagement scenarios as well as create your distribution plans.

Content preferences will pinpoint what type of content your buyers will engage with. For example, videos may be a hot topic for content right now, but if your persona doesn’t favor them, why create them? If what they really want are research briefs, give them those instead.

Keywords and phrases that your persona uses should be incorporated into your content for discoverability, as well as relevance. Every industry and role has terms and phrases they use. Incorporating them will help show that your company understands what your buyers care about, as well as their business.

Save Guess Who for Parlor Games

Actively using personas should keep you from playing “guess who” with your content. Personas contain the information to ensure consistency in voice, tone, style, and topic that has the best opportunity to engage your buyers and help them choose to work with your company. Without that alignment, your content marketing programs have less of a chance to achieve the high performance that marketers are being tasked to prove. It’s telling that research by Aberdeen finds that while 50 percent of best-in-class companies have a process to align marketing content with buyer personas, only 35 percent of industry-average companies do so.

The B2B buying process can take many months to several years. Maintaining consistency across the longer term requires a compass that will keep you on track. Without a compass, your content will veer one way and then another, usually based on whatever topic is trending.

That’s how “guess who” content tends to take root in your content marketing programs, making them less effective due to a lack of relevance related to what your buyers care about. However, if you make personas your compass, you’ll always know who your content is designed to engage.

This article originally appeared in the Marketing Interactions blog.

Want to find out how content can help you make the most of your personas? Let’s talk.