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The theme of this issue — “Work Hard, Play Hard” — got me thinking about the implications for marketers. It’s common for marketers to spend time during the marketing process thinking about their target audience. In fact, it’s critical that they do so.

Too often, though, marketers may fail to spend enough time at this step and may not define their target audience narrowly enough to generate the results they’re looking for.

The importance of thorough audience analysis

Thorough audience analysis is important for two major reasons. If you do a good job here, you’ll be better able to:

Identify the communication channels that are most likely to help you connect with your target audience at a point when they’ll be amenable to your message.

Create key messages and, ultimately, content that will work to connect with your audience in a meaningful way and compel them to some desired action — an inquiry or purchase, for instance.

Not taking enough time to think about your target audience, including taking time to conduct primary and secondary research in some cases, may result in missed opportunities or the use of channels or messages that just fail to connect.

The “Work Hard, Play Hard” theme struck me because, particularly in business-to-business (B2B) marketing, we may often forget to consider our prospects in a well-rounded manner. We may be so focused on appealing to “vice presidents of HR” that we are singularly focused on the attributes or characteristics of vice presidents of HR in a business setting — and not on the attributes or characteristics that may help to further define them.

Creating buyer personas

None of us are one-dimensional. We all have a variety of factors that serve to create our characters, personalities, values and preferences. Just like the business people highlighted in this issue, we all have lives outside the office where we may engage in a wide range of expected — and unexpected — activities.

On the flip side, when engaged in business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing, we should also consider the professional lives of our target audience members. Not taking the time to gain this multi-dimensional view may hinder our efforts.

How to do this? The creation of buyer personas can help immensely. In advertising courses that I’ve taught at UW-Eau Claire, I would have students create buyer personas before diving into the development of their creative materials. It was always extremely interesting for me to observe the differences in the final products created by those students, or student teams, that took the time to really delve deeply into the persona (or personality) of their target audience.

Many just glossed over the process and provided very basic, surface-level details. Others, though, went quite bit further to really “get into the heads” of their target audience. In a real-world setting this process would generally involve research, since it’s not about “guessing” what your audience’s activities, interests and opinions (AIOs) are. You need to know. And then you need to convert what you know into a description (or buyer persona) that can help you best engage with that audience in meaningful ways to drive desired actions.

In class, we would work with actual “clients” from the community who would review what students/teams came up with and select the “agency” that they thought did the best job. Students in class would also evaluate each other. One semester, one team was selected for three of the four projects created. Why? Because in my opinion they did an exceptional job in creating specific, relevant and research-driven personas for their target audiences.

From plain vanilla to fifty shades

Typically, the target audience definition will be something like: “Our target audience is females between the ages of 25-30, with an income level of X, an educational background of Y and living within 50 miles of Z.” These are demographic details that are important, but need to be expanded upon and augmented with psychographic characteristics that help us get a better feel for the personality, lifestyle or values of our targets. So we might add something like: “These are working women who have school-age children and enjoy doing volunteer work, but they’re often overwhelmed by the many demands they have upon their time.”

Pretty basic stuff.

But my student team went beyond these dry details and turned the perspective around so that they were speaking from the point of view of their target audience. They presented their personas in the first person. They would say something like:

“I’m a 26-year-old single woman, living in a condominium in Minneapolis, that I share with my cat. I work as a dental hygienist for a small dental practice that has been in business for 30-plus years. My boss is getting ready for retirement and considering options for either closing or selling the business. That’s been very stressful for me.

“Because of the small size of our practice, and aside from our patients, I don’t have much opportunity to meet other people so I’ve been thinking about experimenting with some of the online dating sites like Match.com, but haven’t done that yet. I’m pretty active on social media, primarily with Snapchat and Instagram. I rely heavily on review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. I actually do quite a bit of traveling and eat out frequently. In my spare time I also really enjoy physical activities like biking, hiking, kayaking and camping. I like country music, but also listen to alternative music.”

We could further develop this but, hopefully, you get the idea.

Putting personas to work

Consider how useful this level of detail might be to marketers who are promoting any number of different types of products or services. For instance:

  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Health care services
  • Vacation deals
  • Cars
  • Etc., etc., etc.

The whole process often seems a little foreign, and maybe even a little silly, but personas are a tool that have been used for a long time by some of the biggest agencies and organizations in the world. HubSpot, a good source of information about both traditional and digital marketing, offers additional detail and some free templates outlining the persona development process on its website.

Best Buy is often used as an example of a company that has relied on personas to help it target its offerings more precisely; their activities were covered by The Washington Post, as long ago as 2005.

As you think about the interesting profiles of some seemingly staid business people in our community, think about how a more well-rounded view of these people — and others — could help you fine-tune your marketing efforts and do a better job of engaging your target audience.

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Linda Pophal of Chippewa Falls is a marketing communication consultant, business journalist and the owner of Strategic Communications in Chippewa Falls. She is the author of “The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement.” Contact her at linda@stratcommunications.com or 715-723-2395.

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