When buyer personas are being developed, they’re typically created to answer the questions “who are we trying to attract with our marketing efforts?” and “how do we reach them with content that resonates?” But buyer personas should be informing much more of your marketing strategy than your initial content plans.
Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of a company’s ideal customers. Since most products offer benefits to multiple types of people, companies need to create separate messaging that addresses the unique needs of those different prospects.
A marketing manager will have different challenges than a sales manager, and both of their needs will differ from those of an operations manager. Buyer persona profiles include a mix of demographic and firmographic information that detail day-to-day life, pains and goals, so you can develop a strategy that speaks to each of your personas in detail.
Just as their wants and needs differ, different types of prospects will also vary in the way they engage with your company throughout the buyer’s journey. To ensure that each buyer persona will be able to be nurtured by relevant content as they progress through the lifecycle stages, content marketers create conversion paths.
Conversion paths demonstrate the ways that buyers find out about your company initially, and the ways they continue the conversation by interacting with content that lives further and further down-funnel, until they become a customer. Here is an example of one:
In the path above, the prospect starts with an educational challenge: they don’t understand what demand generation is. They google their question and find a helpful blog post. There’s a call-to-action at the bottom of the blog promoting a more in-depth guide on the topic. The prospect clicks on the CTA, navigates to a landing page, fills out a form and then receives the content offer.
Later, they receive a follow-up email that references their download of the guide and recommends they also check out a video resource that provides actionable information on the subject. The prospect then fills out another form to access the video. After that, they receive another email recommending they request a demand generation assessment, where they can receive personalized tips on how to improve their demand generation efforts and get entered into the sales pipeline.
At each step, the prospect gains more knowledge that addresses their pain, and your company receives more information about the prospect.
“You speak to people with different needs differently,” New Breed’s Client Experience Lead Karin Krisher says. “You can’t create a conversion path based on your content — and you can’t create content for those paths — if you don’t have a sense of what those needs are. That’s what defines the paths: what the needs are.”
Which Comes First, the Content or the Conversion Paths?
Your conversion paths and the content contained in them are separate entities. While you can create conversion paths intended to nurture prospects with specific content assets, ultimately the paths are a documentation of how prospects choose to engage with your content.
“It’s not just Content A, Content B, Content C, that’s your path,” Karin says. “It’s more like, what does the movement look like for that persona? What is the content they need in order to facilitate that movement? And then you can mix and match content around that.”
You can form conversion paths from existing content assets, or you can develop content based on gaps in paths grown from buyer persona pains. Regardless of whether the content is created for the path or the conversion path is structured around the content, as long as there are multiple choices the prospect can make, your paths are not set in stone.
“You could create multiple conversion paths for the same persona using the same content, as long as you switched out one piece,” Karin says.
Using Conversion Paths to Segment Prospects
The content prospects choose to interact with while moving through a conversion path doesn’t just tell you how to follow up with them in a contextually relevant way — it can also help you determine which of your personas they are.
“You can use their implicit actions, which is to say the interests they express, versus the ‘fit’ answers they tell you,” Karin says. “You use the interest expressed to understand the persona. In order to do that, you have to create content specific to each persona.”
If one of your personas is a marketing manager and the other is a marketing specialist, a prospect downloading a high-level, top-of-the-funnel content offer like “The Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing” wouldn’t help you determine which persona they are.
However, if a prospect downloaded a guide about setting their team’s marketing budget, you can extrapolate based on their interest in that topic that they have some sort of leadership role.
If the next asset in the conversion path also addresses a pain only marketing managers would have, then you can be fairly confident that a prospect who downloads both of those offers is a marketing manager as opposed to a marketing specialist.
To be able to use your conversion paths to segment your leads, you need to have content that’s hyper targeted at the unique needs of each persona. When you’re ideating your content offers, you need to ask “what data will I gain from someone choosing to download this?” Sure, you will obtain some data from the prospect filling out a form to access a gated offer, but what does their interest in that content indicate?
The content prospects engage with can confirm their challenges and interests, which can inform the conversations your sales reps initiate when the prospect reaches the bottom of the funnel.
Conversion Paths Don’t Have to End When a Lead is Passed to Sales
When conversion paths are created by marketing for marketing, they often stop when the lead takes an action indicating they’re ready to talk to sales — like requesting a product demo. However, if your personas are built for use by both marketing and sales, then your conversion pathways should really continue until your prospect becomes a customer.
“The MQL-to-SQL step and SQL-to-Opp step are still part of the conversion pathway,” Karin says.
Marketing content doesn’t stop being applicable when a sales rep starts conversing with a prospect. Case studies, product- or service-specific documentation and competitor comparisons can all impact whether or not a sale is successful. Thus, those assets and the conversation sales has should feature in your conversion paths for each persona.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.