Audience Persona: the Marketer’s Imaginary Friend!

Audience Profiling | A Targeting Masterclass

Many marketers these days have an imaginary friend! A “persona”. Marketers often find it helpful to visualise their target audience in terms of a fictional person. This can help to create a better understanding of the needs, wants and habits of that target audience.

So, for example, you may want to target young professional women in the 25-30 age group, some of whom will be aiming to combine careers with motherhood, others who will be totally career-minded, yet others who may wish to take time out to pursue other interests – and some who are an undecided combination of them all!

So to help you target this audience effectively, you create an audience persona: a fictional woman in this bracket. You may even think of her as a specific named individual in order to get inside her head. Let’s stick with our example of young professional women and call her Sophie. The more you understand Sophie, the more accurate your digital marketing strategy will become.

Multi channel marketing is marketing over more than one channel and cross channel marketing takes that one stage further by building up insight around your audience and personalising the adverts / messaging independent of which channel your audience is on. This insight is one of the main ways that marketers can get to know their audience persona – in our case Sophie.

Knowing Your Audience

Getting to know Sophie is really important because she can behave unpredictably. You think you know her but are then likely to find her behaving very differently from what you expect. This is particularly the case online.

There is a fascinating piece of research by Ofcom in 2013 that examined people’s internet use in different contexts and across different levels of digital literacy. The study provided detail on the different attitudes and behaviours people have towards various topics including internet security, e-commerce and privacy online.

The research found that people’s attitudes towards going online generally tended to be heavily influenced by their experience of online shopping. Medium and high digital literacy users have become adept at commercial transactions and said they were comfortable identifying good deals from trustworthy sources.

Three Pillars of Audience Profiling

This confidence in shopping digitally extends to general online behaviour. People may behave more boldly online than they do in reality. In the case of Sophie, this is somewhat akin to her online behaviour being like that of a rather tipsy friend. Not out of character but perhaps a rather more colourful character than we would normally expect to see.

This has enormous implications for how we pitch content to our online audiences. As we have just seen with Sophie, she will behave a little differently and therefore we need to take that into account when we communicate with her. In particular there are three key elements of online behaviour that we need to take into consideration when creating content:

In the case of Sophie:

  • What motivates her? What does she need from the content you are putting before her? Reassurance, humour, persuasion or entertainment? Understand what Sophie wants and make sure Sophie gets!
  • Where is she located digitally? Which is her favourite media? What does she use and when – and what for? What are her preferred devices? You need the complete picture in order to reflect back to her what she would like to see!
  • How is she participating in the consumer-brand dialogue? What is her current need and how can you meet it? There is no point trying to persuade her to buy the latest designer paint for her flat if she is currently considering taking a year out to travel the world.

If we can understand these three core pillars of audience profiling we will then be able to create relevant, targeted content that appeals to the wants and needs of our audience – therefore dramatically increasing the effectiveness of that content.

Creating Effective Content

To be able to create effective content it is not simply enough to acknowledge the above three pillars but we need to have at the forefront of our mind at all times:

  • The type of information our audience would actively seek, whether they are at the stage of buying or are just interested in finding out more. What would Sophie be genuinely interested in reading rather than just feel she “has to”? Bearing in mind that if she does feels she has to then she probably won’t!
  • For every piece of content what is the likely preferred media for that content? This will constantly evolve and differ. It is where we really do need to keep in the head of our imaginary friend!
  • What other brands does Sophie like? This can give invaluable insight into understanding exactly what she values and what motivates her as a consumer.

Using all the above data, we can make intelligent decisions as to whether our intended content will not only address a relevant topic but also address it in the right depth and the right tone. Not all content needs to be a direct sales pitch – in fact this can at times be counter-productive. Sometimes it needs to have the sole objective of reaching and engaging your intended audience.

By using the above guidelines we can learn more about what really works for our audience. This will help us to create increasingly relevant and valuable content. It will make us without a doubt Sophie’s Choice!