I’m on a mission. Just a small one, so hear me out.
I want us all to start creating content for people. “Errr.. Ruth, we already make content for people, who do you think reads our stuff? Kittens?”
Ok I hear you. But who are these people? Really? Do you know? As marketers we usually label them wonderfully rich and descriptive things like ABC1 or C2DE, DINKS or WHOPS (That’s ‘dual income no kids’ and ‘wealthy healthy older people’ for you at the back there) whilst bloggers’ media packs will frequently reference the wonderfully specific 50:50 split male/ female in the U.K and US aged 18-65 who like adventure travel.
Does this help us? Well sure it narrows the field a little but when it comes to creating content plans can we really create content that resonates to such a mass homogeneous people-mountain? I would like to raise my hand and say… no.
Imagine this, a news broadcast interrupts your scheduled programming to announce a man hunt is underway, the suspect is possibly male or female, middle class and possibly interested in adventure travel, people fitting this description should be reported to police without hesitation.
“We need more information!” You scream at the telly box. “Who is this person?!” “How do we identify them?”
It’s laughable isn’t it? That a person can be described in such a way that really tells us nothing about them at all, and that, we so frequently as marketeers so readily accept this mass audience as enough direction to proceed.
Well, enough is enough. Let’s start thinking about people; real squishy qualitative people with challenges and struggles and interesting lives and thoughts and worries and hopes and dreams. For many large brands with years of data heritage piecing this puzzle together can often be a simple data driven exercise.
But what if you’re a blogger or a brand that is new to content publishing (or just one that is fighting to be heard in a crowded market) where do you begin to turn your audience demographic into people? Or as us agency folk like to call them “personas”
Here are my four top tips for developing audience personas to ensure your content calendar is built for real people, drives real traffic, engagement and loyalty, followed by four top tips to keep you on track.
Step one: Divide and conquer
ABC1, C2DE or C3PO, it doesn’t matter, when it comes to planning content you need to delve into who these people really are and what they care about.
Start by dividing your people-mountain into sub-groubs.
Say the audience you seek is females aged 25-35 who like adventure travel, what does their life look like? How can you subdivide this audience to be more specific?
By travel habits? For example those travelling solo, with a partner or with a family?
Perhaps by income bracket?
Maybe by travel frequency “once a year holiday makers” vs. “travellers”
Start out with around five clear personas.
Solo travellers on the road
Solo travellers seeking a ‘holiday’
Couples on a budget
Families who can afford to be ‘experience focused’
…and so on until you have 3-6 different personas you’re happy with.
Step two: Passion vs. pain
Now you have your sub-sets, personify them; picture an individual person in your mind for each group and develop colourful, meaningful attributes around their lives, wants and needs.
Take each one and consider:
- What are their pain points? Financing travel? Time off work? Concerns about safety? Seeing enough of the world before they ‘settle down’? Traveling with a child? Finding ways to still see the world once they have “settled down”? Finding sources of income on the road to continue their long-term trip? Cash rich and time poor?
- What are they passionate about? What else might they be interested in? Food, fashion, architecture, art, theatre, music, the travel industry, health and fitness?
Step three: Tone up.
Now you’ve started to build a more intimate understanding of their needs, ask yourself, how should you alter your tone and content format for each persona? Do family travellers need more of an empathetic reassuring tone and solo travellers an informal sense of fun (excuse my stereotyping in the name of making a point).
Step four: Bring it to the table
Write up each audience persona outlining who they are, what they care about and how you should speak to them in order to draw clear conclusions on the content they seek.
These resulting content themes…*drum roll please* are your ‘content pillars’ and the framework to which you can begin to plan your content.
I’m a table gal myself, the below is a very simple format example that could provide a basic content planning framework
Work through each audience persona in the same way and you may be surprised at the diversity of content you have planned and the characters you start to see emerging.
So now you’ve got your audience personas and your initial content plan, where do you go from here? These are my four simple content rules to live by.
- Mind the content Gap.
It’s a fact, the gap between what you want to say and what your audience want to hear is often, well chasmic, and until you close it you’re never going to get the traction that you’re looking for.
When adding new content to your content calendar run each item past your audience pain/ passion points/ planning matrix outlined above. Does it fit? If it doesn’t, likelihood is, it’s going to fall on deaf ears, so send it back to the drawing board before you lose your credibility. Can you give the story another twist? How can you give it the hook that fulfils their content need and move it from “what you want to say” into “what they want to read”
This is a particularly poignant one for press trip invitations – if you can’t find an angle that makes it fit your audience personas then you should probably decline. As much as you’d love to go that spa in Bora Bora… *weep*
- *Whisper it* you don’t have to write about just travel
Your audience persona work is likely to have thrown up a number of different pain points and passion points that aren’t directly related to reading about a destination or travel experience. Use them! This is your opportunity to build a connection, empathy and trust with the reader in their lives between travel and thinking about travel. Build your content plan to reflect the full lifestyle of your audience personas, whether that’s recipes from the road, pre-holiday fitness tips or fashion tips from Paris, you can relate to your readers everyday if you understand them beyond “liking adventure travel”
- Test, learn, test repeat.
Your initial audience personas and related content pillars are, at best, a hypothesis. Tag each post you write within your analytics with the content pillar they fit under and the persona you wrote them for, you’ll soon see which content themes are most popular and which personas are responding best. After your first month, re-evaluate your content plan, optimising towards the content types and audience pain/ passion points that worked best; try again and review after another month. Practice makes perfect.
- I shall call you “Dilbert”
Name your personas, it will help bring them to life and give them a real sense of personality; you’ll be surprised how quickly you start looking at stories or content ideas and thinking.. Blimey Jessica will love that! People may initially look at you like you’re as mad as a box of frogs with a team of invisible friends, but with your rich, engaging content plan that has your audience enthralled, the last laugh will probably be yours.