3 Side Effects of Persona-Based Content Marketing

problems with buyer personasDon’t get me wrong – developing buyer personas and creating content based on these role-based identities is crucial in marketing.

Creating personas by definition, however, pigeon-holes large groups of people. And whenever we do this, we can suffer from unintended results – unless we’re aware of such effects and ways to counteract them.

The following three persona-based content side effects often hamper our content marketing performance:

1. Assuming similar interests due to similar job roles

If you lined my job functions up beside those of my friend and colleague Triniti Burton, you’d see how marketing organizations could easily put us into the same persona. Yet, we completely disagree on the types of content we each find engaging.

I lean toward the stodgy, bare-bones content (basic white papers and such). Triniti prefers to consume her content in the form of “How-To” lists displayed in neon lights on the side of a Vegas casino (infographics, interactive content, etc.).

Neither preference is right nor wrong. But our disagreement is telling. The brands that create content in numerous formats, using various voices and vehicles of distribution are far more likely to engage our organization.

But few do this. Triniti and I jokingly collect MarTech brand preferences like baseball cards – and our collections couldn’t be more different…except for a few companies that are doing it right.

How to hit both ends of your persona spectrum

The brands that enjoy my and Triniti’s attention hit the persona pain points from multiple angles. For each point, they use:

  • Different types of content – white papers, ebooks, infographics, check lists, interactive, etc.
  • Various voices – from academic to almost comically colloquial (in my opinion)
  • A range of distribution channels and tactics – via social, email, content syndication repositories, etc.

Triniti and I may be in the same persona group, but our interest couldn’t be more different. The brands that cater to these differences by repurposing their content in differing ways far out perform the competition.

2. Suffering from “broken-record syndrome”

This is based on the logical fallacy that if something works well once, it’ll always work. In seventh grade, I loved Pearl Jam’s chart-topping song Jeremy, which was played pretty much every eight minutes on MTV.

By the eighth grade, I wanted to kill the entire band and myself whenever I heard that song. (I currently have a similar reaction these days whenever I read marketing content espousing “best practices,” but that’s beside the point.)

When we build personas, it’s easy to forget that we’re dealing with people. People don’t want to read the same thing over and over – no matter how relevant it is to their job.

But this creates a conundrum, because some targeted individuals have read our previous content and some haven’t. So we have to keep our content fresh without evolving messaging too rapidly.

How to keep your content fresh

This isn’t any easy task, but one method I’ve found to be very helpful is having a few different writers work in cycles on individual topics. It works best if each writer is always working on a different stage than the others. Stages can vary between content types, buying phase (e.g., top-funnel or bottom-funnel), etc.

This also helps to hit the entire persona spectrum from numerous voices (as discussed above), since the writers almost always have differing writing styles, which should be encouraged. At the end of a cycle, each of us goes back into research mode with existing customer personas and starts the next topic.

Structured in this way, it’s easy to stay fresh with ideas, voice, content types and distribution methods, without ever disrupting product positioning or strategic messaging.

3. Neglecting the evolving needs and interests of our audience

It’s very easy to forget that personas are dynamic, and just like the people that comprise them, their needs, concerns and roles are constantly in flux.

This is good news and bad news. Bad news first: We must continuously refine our personas. It’s good news because, if we stay up-to-date, we’re far less likely to suffer from broken record syndrome.

How to remain up-to-date with evolving personas

At the risk of ironically sounding like a broken record (because I’ve probably written about this 50 times), marketers need to personally engage with the customer – and often.

This requires a very close, amiable relationship with sales and customer support roles too. Not only will these individuals get you into meetings and on calls with customers and prospects, but they’re a great repository for added perspective – sometimes what prospects think they need and what they actually need changes throughout the buying process. We marketers need to understand both.

While developing buyer personas is a must for any marketing organization these days, it’s important to remember the drawback of this approach – it creates rigidity that can undermine the resonance of our content.

Combating content rigidity isn’t impossible – it isn’t even that difficult – but we must always keep in mind that our audience’s personal identities and interests are very fluid. And we must continually hit the listed persona “needs and concerns” from fresh, engaging angles.

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