I love the term “data-driven marketer.” It emphasizes the shift in technologies and techniques away from guessing what might resonate with our leads and customers to using the huge amounts of data our systems generate to drive the conversations we as marketers strive to create.
However, the data is just an indicator of what is really happening as we attempt to guide a prospect along the buyer’s journey from awareness to client. Despite all of the algorithms, models, and frameworks, we are still in the business of communicating an idea to an individual.
At the top of the funnel, the key tool for defining the point of view of the prospect is the buyer persona. Since a persona is a proxy for the prospect, using it to put marketers in prospects’ shoes is a vital tool to make the communication more relevant. I’m not going into the elements of a persona in this post, but there is plenty of information on the DemandGen site if you’re interested in learning more.
At first, marketing interacts with an incomplete view of the prospect, but is still able to craft relevant messages based on the defined buyer persona. This view becomes more and more specific as the prospect moves through the funnel as marketing gathers digital body language and sales has conversations with the prospect, until ultimately it is a completely unique view of that individual prospect’s concerns, pain points, and challenges.
So how do personas help make campaigns so much more effective?
The first reason is that when you have a well-defined persona, messaging and content can be aligned between the asset and the persona. This may seem like Marketing 101 – and it is – but all too often I see messaging that talks about a product’s features or the company instead of actually speaking to the prospect.
A good example of this is when one of our clients ran what was essentially the same campaign — with some slight modifications — to two different audiences. One campaign had a more general enterprise message, and the other was targeted toward a specific persona. Even though the products and messages presented were very similar, the results were eye-opening. The more general campaign saw a 1% click-through rate, and the more targeted campaign that was aligned with a persona saw a 35% click-through rate.
Another client had gone through a pretty rigorous buyer persona exercise, but their personas were more about buying behavior than concrete data about them. Each persona also contained multiple titles and functions, meaning a prospect in their database could match up to two more of their established buyer personas. This lack of insight made it virtually impossible to tailor their messaging or to prevent the same prospect from receiving multiple communications meant for different personas within a single campaign. As you can imagine, they did not see significant improvements in their campaign results.
Making sense of the data
The second reason is that having a well-defined persona means you can rapidly review campaign and messaging effectiveness with all of the data available and then modify your campaign to be even more impactful.
Another one of our clients sent out an email that received an impressive open rate, but a very low click-through rate. Because we understood the persona, we were able to identify a misalignment between the persona and the offer. A quick examination of the email showed that the subject line was very well targeted to the desired persona, but the call to action and offer were completely inconsistent with the subject line — which is what convinced people to open the email in the first place.
In this case, a quick “gut check” of the email against the targeted persona would have shown this inconsistency before it was sent out. If the persona hadn’t been well-defined, we’d be guessing as to why our prospects weren’t engaging. Was it the offer? Was it the design? The persona gives you a tool to evaluate and diagnose any sort of issues you might see and to interpret your results.
A word of caution to not let our own biases get in the way. I have seen clients convinced that a certain design, asset, or CTA was best for a prospect despite data to the contrary. Sometimes, marketers can get so used to doing things a certain way, or have such specific ideas about what constitutes an effective email campaign, that they ignore what the data is telling them.
Where art and science come together
A persona is a very human thing, but your MA and CRM systems need cold, hard data. The best results I have seen with my clients combine an understanding of the prospect with dispassionate data analysis. They then modify and iterate their campaigns to increase response and ultimately drive leads through the funnel.
Being the best data-driven marketer comes when remembering that we are, underneath all of the technology, still communicating to an individual, and using data to do that better.
Ryan Johnson develops and implements marketing automation strategies for DemandGen clients. As a DemandGen Consultant, he has helped clients across a wide range of industries to streamline and optimize their marketing and sales processes to drive measurable success and ROI.