When Personas Go Wrong or, The Search for Fluffy

The woman on stage proudly told the conference audience how her team had spent three days to find just the right kitten for Emily.

Emily was a single working mother in her early 30s who lived with her 4-year-old daughter in a two-bedroom apartment. She was on a limited budget and often pressed for time. She also loved cats. Hence the search for the perfect kitten. The thing was, Emily didn’t exist. Emily was a persona dreamed up by the marketing team. The aim of the team was to create a series of recipes that used the company’s products — a series of recipes just for Emily. And they spent (wasted) three days looking for a photo of a kitten to accompany a made-up person.

I’ll be honest. I have a few problems with Emily — and others just like her.

Personas with too narrow a focus

By focusing on an individual as a persona you can narrow your focus too much and miss a large percentage of the customers and prospects who might benefit from your message. By creating messages “just for Emily,” the team was ignoring a wider need for anyone who wanted to create quick, nutritious meals on a limited budget. Personas should be focused on addressing customer needs, not on developing fictional characters.

It’s a marketing point of view

Often, as with Emily, personas are developed by the marketing team with little or no interaction with actual customers. Marketing teams are often organizationally isolated from everyday interaction with customers, which can lead to personas that reflect what the marketing team thinks customers are looking for, rather than what customers actually need and how they go about finding information. It is essential that your marketing team take into account real-life customer experiences and needs.

Customers are changing

I have seen many personas documented along the lines of “Emily goes to the website to do initial research, checks reviews on mobile, and uses the app to purchase.”

The customer experience evolves rapidly. I know my digital behavior patterns have changed over the last 12 months. You need to keep up with these changes. How often do you review personas to ensure that they keep up with new technologies and changes in how customers interact with your brand?

Still part of the “Sell and Forget” model

Historically, personas have focused on the buying behavior of a given set of potential customers. They are designed to drive people along the traditional sales funnel from awareness to lead to prospect to sale. But that only represents a small part of a customer’s overall interaction with a company.

How do personas fit with the continuous customer journey?

Once prospects become customers they shouldn’t be forgotten and neither should the relevant personas. How do your personas interact with your brand from delivery of the product through owning, operating, and getting support? Do you understand the full customer life-cycle of your personas and how their journey across every interaction with your company is connected and mapped?

Get that right and the satisfied customer persona can be your best advocate to generate even more business.

Was the kitten really necessary?

When you are developing needs-driven personas to help you understand customer behavior, your process needs to be systematic, efficient, and based on data. Building an emotional backstory for a character is all well and good if you are working on your latest novel, but it can be a time-consuming misdirection in developing effective customer-driven personas. How many customer interviews could that marketing team have done during the time it took to find the perfect photo of Fluffy?

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Is Your Website a Reflection of You or Your Customers?

lego-customers-780x405

Hey Dad, did you have any feedback?” That text from my daughter was part of an ongoing discussion around the website that she was designing for a new business venture that she and a partner were launching. It was the third iteration of the site, and this was the first version that was fully mobile friendly.

My feedback was that with just a few minor tweaks, this iteration was very close to where they needed to be for the launch. It told a good story and provided the basic information their customers would be looking for.

It wasn’t always the case. Early in the process of them developing a business case I asked my daughter and her business partner what they wanted the website to communicate.

The immediate response was “We want it to let people know what we do.”

A logical answer, but my response was something along the lines of “That’s great, but other people do what you do. What makes you special?”

We are focused on people with a particular problem area.”

Great. So think about the people who need help solving that problem. What are they going to be looking for?

As these sort of discussions continued, the website design and prototypes evolved from their description of what the new company did, to a series of short articles that addressed the potential customer’s problems, and how my daughter and her partner can help.

They also looked at the list of services they were offering and decided to focus on the three where they have had the most interest. Now instead of a webpage with a shopping list of things to pick from, each solution article has information about the relevant service, with pricing and contact information.

But it’s not only small businesses or start-ups that need to be switching their thinking from a website that, no matter how slick it’s presented, is little more than a digital brochure. Often these sort of “inside-out” websites end up being a reflection of the corporate structure accompanied by a list of products. Switching the mind set to a customer driven “outside-in” view can pay dividends, not only in an improved experience that can help customer’s solve their problems, but they can also have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line.

I once worked on a project for a large company whose website was a perfect reflection of their corporate and business unit structure. You had to know what part of the company was responsible for a particular product to be able to find it; even the employees had a hard time figuring out where to find information. But a customer focused analysis showed that 80% of the traffic went to the website for just four things: to look up product specifications, pricing, buy spare parts, or get support. Once we rebuilt the website around making those tasks as easy as possible, traffic, leads, and online parts sales revenue all increased, and support costs decreased.

Improving the customer experience is now regularly cited as a top strategic imperative for many companies, and the website is the always-on global showcase for that. Delivering a customer-driven web experience means not only changing the mind-set and the content, but also delivering a more engaging relevant and engaging experience that delivers value to the individual customer. It can rapidly become a complex process and needs the right sort of management tools to enable and support an effective web presence.

This Song ISN’T About You

“Marketing is about TELLING the world you are a rock star; Content Marketing is about SHOWING the world you are.”

The above is a quote from my friend Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute and it’s easily the most repeated phrase I use when introducing the concepts of Content Marketing – In fact I like that quote so much that I had a slide made up and with it on and have it hanging in my office.

RockQuote

It appeals to me on several levels, not least of which is that I’m a rock music fan and occasional historian with a particular interest in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll.

Robert’s right in that traditional advertising and marketing has been about putting on a glitzy show, in the hope that our potential customers will notice us. We have built a whole industry and profession around shouting “Look at me!” – We’ve been singing songs that have been about us.

When everyone is singing the same song to different tunes it becomes a cacophony, and the louder they sing it becomes a raucous din in which everyone’s message is lost.

The only way for you as marketers to cut through that noise is to stop singing about yourselves. It’s time to start singing about the things that help our customers achieve their dreams.

I developed a Mission Statement for how we want to deliver marketing content at Caterpillar that hangs on my office wall right next to Robert’s quote, it reads:

We will provide ENGAGING, RELEVANT, ACTIONABLE content that provides VALUE to our customers, enabling them to be successful in reaching their business goals.

Our aim is to make sure that the song we are singing shows our customers that we understand their business goals and needs.

A Gift of Ten Content Tips from Anon.

When I returned to my office after the holiday break I was surprised to discover one of those inter-office routing envelopes sitting waiting for me on my desk. You know, the type that used to be for delivering paper memos and documents (remember those) but whose primary use these days seems to be for the circulation of various greetings cards and office collections.

envelopes

I didn’t know of any impending birthdays births, or retirements so was a little confused as to why it would be there. There was no note clipped to the front, and not signature on the envelope to indicate where it had come from.

Intrigued I opened the seal and tipped the envelope up and a single piece of white card fluttered slowly down to rest on my desk. The card had a note attached which simply read “For Alan.” – No signature.

What had anonymous sent to me? I flipped it over and read the following:

Top 10 Tips For Creating Compelling Content

  1. Less about you
  2. Be authentic
  3. Focus on pain points
  4. Participate in conversations
  5. Bring best of your brand to the table with a differentiated POV
  6. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
  7. Think “human-to-human” (not B2B or B2C)
  8. Match content to the channel
  9. Go out on a limb
  10. Loosen the grip

I’ve read a lot of these sort of Top 10 lists over the years, even created a few similar ones myself, but there was something about this one that resonated with me. I’ve kept this card sitting on my desk at the side of my laptop in the intervening three weeks since its arrival, and found myself referencing it several times in conversations, and not always in relation to content creation. – I believe there as some very valid ideas that relate to the way we do business in the digital age in that list.

So over the next few weeks I’m planning on taking a deeper look at these Top Ten items and examine what they mean to me.

Tracy Island Blindfold – Finding Your Place on the Content Marketing Maturity Model.

I never played Pin The Tail On The Donkey at birthday parties when I was a kid. But there’s no need to feel sorry for me, because we played a much better version of the game – we played Tracy Island.  TracyIsland

Tracy Island, of course, being the secret island headquarters of International Rescue, the team at the center of the classic Thunderbirds TV show. It was Thunderbirds, and its companion shows, that sparked my interest in machines – in fact seeing some of the amazing machines we produce at Caterpillar makes me sometimes feel like I’m walking into the Thunderbirds set. So back to Tracy Island and boyhood birthday parties; instead of the paper drawing of a donkey we would paste up a map of Tracy Island and the goal for the blindfolded child was to see if they could find the secret launch pad of one of the International Rescue vehicles. This meant that instead of one place to aim for there were three.

The more I thought about how would you position yourself on the Content Marketing Maturity Map I presented in my last post, the more I realized that there was no single point on the map that would adequately convey a company’s place on the Content Marketing journey.

The truth is that you probably span a range of points across the model. If you take the manufacturing industry as a whole, which is where I spend my time these days, it is an industry that is traditionally focused on the features and functions of a product – and I’m sure every company would think of themselves as a thought leader, yet most of the product content online is SEO driven rather than value message driven. What value messaging there is tends to be at the Brand level rather than at the customer evangelist.

So the map for a traditional manufacturing company may look something like this:

ManufacturingCMMM

On the other hand, the software industry, where I spent half my career to date, is less about the brand (Apple being the obvious exception) and more about the value of the solution to the customer than the product features. Therefore the map for a software company may look something like this:

SoftwareCMMM

There is no one size fits all methodology for finding your place on your journey, you have to take an honest look at different aspects of your business and how you use content in the related marketing efforts.

But even if you find yourself all over the island, then like the craft of International Rescue on their way to an incident, you should all be pointed in the same direction and getting there as fast as you can.

Beer is Content … and so is Bacon.

“Beer is Content”  – I saw that quote pop up on my Twitter stream a while back (apologies that I’ve forgotten who exactly posted it), and it made me smile. While it seemed like a cute saying, I couldn’t figure out any relevant context, except maybe as a t-shirt slogan.

Until yesterday morning at Dallas Fort-Worth airport. As I was walking from the nearest Starbucks back to my gate I passed the usual line up of airport eateries including representative samples from various chains. As it was mid-morning most were quiet and the various hosts and hostesses were leaning against the doors looking suitably bored.

All except the host from the branch of TGI Friday’s. He had stepped out into the flow of passengers walking by and was politely trying to engage a few in conversation. As I got closer I saw him zero in on a group of about five guys in their mid-twenties.

Hey are you guys hungry?” he asked, “Maybe in need of a cold beer?

They stopped. He had very quickly engaged his potential customers by offering them a solution to their immediate need. Once he had their attention he started to talk to them about various items on the menu.

menuHe was multichannel publishing the content he had to hand. Content that had been originally developed for print was now being used as audio. He was supplementing it by adding a few value statements and pointing out photos of particular items – adding a little graphical content to the mix.

Once he got to the Bacon Burger, he had his new customers hooked, and happily showed them into the restaurant and to a waiting table.

Watching all this it suddenly struck me that in this instance the food and drink, how they were presented, looked, and the promise of how they could solve an immediate need, were as much a part of the content marketing mix as the words on the menu.

Maybe in this case “Beer is content” … and the bacon too.

Do you consider the products you make, or the services you offer, as part of the content mix? How is product design integrated into your Content Strategy (if at all)?

If you’ll pardon the pun – it’s all food for thought.

 

Capturing User Content – Inspired by a CAT moment at Harley

bike

During the last week of 2012 I took my Harley-Davidson motorcycle into the local dealership for a regularly scheduled service. While checking the bike in I started chatting with the Service Manager, and in the course of the conversation he asks where I work.

For the first time I get to say “Caterpillar.

Caterpillar

And I get a reaction I tend to associate more with my other life as a comic book and pop-culture writer than with a business exchange, I can only describe it as he went “all fanboy” and started waxing lyrically about Caterpillar products and his experiences using them. Turns out he used to be in the construction business and is happy to list every piece of CAT equipment he has ever operated. He even has a wish-list of the ones he still wants to try.

As I’m heading out of the service bay he says: “I’ve used all sorts of equipment (and lists a bunch of other makes), but nothing does what a CAT does.

My marketing brain kicks in and thinks, “what an awesome soundbite.” Then I start thinking we need a way of capturing that, and others like it. And that will certainly be a conversation I will have as I ramp up my new role at CAT – maybe they already have a way of doing it that I’m not currently aware of – in which case, great. But I’ll certainly be looking at how we can leverage this sort of interaction from a Content Marketing perspective.

As I’ve been looking at various content marketing examples of customer interactions, from a variety of companies in all sorts of industries, over the intervening period, that exchange keeps coming back to me. It struck me that the vast majority of the customer endorsements and sound bytes in a business-to-business environment come from the customer’s executives and buyers, but very few come from the people who actually use the product everyday to do their job.

It’s only natural for as a marketing and sales organization you probably already have contacts with your buyer and probably his boss and executive sponsor too. You can just use that relationship to ask for an endorsement, soundbite, case study, or video interview.

But does that tap in to the people who really love your product and brand, the ones who get to experience it everyday?

Is it time to dig a little further into your customer’s organizations and capture the user stories from the real operators? The user stories that will appeal to, and provide all important peer recommendations, to other potential users.

Time to put the marketing excavators in to action.

 

New Year – New Directions

The on-line world is full of “it’s the end of one year, and I’ll make sure next year is better and different” blog posts. And this is another one – but one that marks a real turning point for both this blog and for me professionally.

The two events being closely related.

On a professional level 2013 will see me joining Caterpillar Inc. as their Content Marketing Manager, leading the team to develop and implement an enterprise-wide Content Marketing Strategy for one of the World’s Top 100 brands. – An amazing opportunity to put into practice many of the ideas, concepts, and methodologies I’ve written and spoken about over the last few years.

The start of a new phase in my career seemed like the perfect opportunity to relaunch this website too. So its been moved over to a new platform, given a new look, and the associated Facebook and Twitter feeds rebranded to consolidate “The Content Pool” brand.

Throughout 2013 I’ll be using this blog as a place to capture notes and observations around what it takes to develop a content marketing strategy for a major corporation. So I hope you will join me on a regular basis as I continue my “adventures in content.”

Have a happy and successful New Year.

A little lesson in Content Packaging thanks to the Fab Four

Earlier today I was alerted to this video from Carlton Books giving what they term a “Sneaky Peek” at their upcoming book celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ first hit record.

As both a Beatles fan and scholar, I knew that this great looking book was destined to join my Fab Four research library (as I’m working on an idea for another Beatles related book proposal).

Then I started thinking about this video from a Publishing and Content Strategy perspective.

Anyone whose heard me speak on digital publishing will know I often repeat the phrase that “pixels and print are not mutually exclusive.” In other words it isn’t an either/or decision between digital and traditional print publishing, in most cases a book can exist equally in both and often help each other. – Which is definitely the case with my own Beatles book where Kindle sales have driven increases in print sales.

However there are some things that each medium does better than the other, and I strongly believe that print will flourish for publishers who figure out how and why print is special. In my view there is one advantage that print has over digital – reading a printed book is a tactile experience that engages the senses of feel and smell as well as sight.

A book like the one in the video above could not be done on a digital platform. Yes the written word and the photos could be reproduced, maybe even the video from the DVD and the sounds  included in a multi-media enhanced eBook – But the way it is packaged and presented is as a interactive tactile experience, and that’s what will make it special. You can only do that in print.

The packaging of the book is also a great example of re-purposing existing content to be consumed and experienced new ways. Instead of a photograph of a concert poster or ticket, why not recreate them? Move interaction with the content from a passive one to an interactive one.

As well as the book itself and its refreshing content packaging, there is also the smart way that the content, and the idea of the book, is being promoted via the use of other media such as video and social networks.

Smart move Carlton Books – you’ve got my $$ already – and I just helped you spread awareness a little further.

How a Great Story Can Help Your Brand

Yesterday evening I spent a couple of hours interacting with other local business people and entrepreneurs at this month’s Network In Austin event. As usual it was an excellent opportunity to meet and learn about a whole new bunch of local businesses.

In the space of two hours I must have heard about at least a dozen new businesses, what they did, and what they were called. That’s a lot of information to take in in a short time.

As I drove home I did a quick mental review to see if I could recall the salient points from each conversation. I managed to recall something about everyone, but what struck me was that the first two businesses that came to mind were the two that had stories attached, and one in particular that had a story attached to the brand name.

The lady who ran the company had told a fun short story of how the company name came from an expression her father used to use a lot.

Brand names with a story behind them stick.

Several years ago I used to write a regular marketing newsletter that included the stories and histories behind some of the most well known brand names. That section was always the most popular part of the newsletter. It gave me the idea of maybe writing a book on the subject – but then I found out that someone had already done it…


And Evan Morris’ fun book “From Altoids to Zima” is now one of the most thumbed books on my marketing bookshelf.

There is a story behind most company and brand names. I’ve worked for companies named after bags of chips, science fiction villains, a historical event, and even one that got it’s name from a typo.

Discover your story – work it in to your pitch, put it on the website, and people will remember it, and they will remember you.