October 2, 2019

What is Persona-Based Marketing?

Buyer Personas are semi-fictional representations of your company’s ideal buyers. Developed through a combination of market research and customer interviews, personas help marketers target and reach high-fit prospects. 

Conducting research to craft your buyer personas will bring to light aspects of your prospects’ challenges that you might not have previously considered. The more you understand who you’re trying to communicate with, the better you can hone your messaging to resonate with them. 

“It forces you to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes when you’re doing your marketing — and for that matter, sales activities,” says Guido Bartolacci, New Breed’s Head of Demand Generation. “That way, you’re focusing on the buyer, what they care about, what their day to day looks like and how you help them, rather than focusing and starting the conversation with your company, your features and benefits, your product and service or whatever else that focuses on you.”

Companies typically have multiple personas in order to encompass all of the types of prospects their solution can help. These personas shouldn’t represent merely ideal buyers, but rather ideal buyers who will become ideal customers. 

Each persona consists of a combination of demographic and firmographic information that helps your company understand the challenges they face in their role on a daily basis. That understanding can inform your marketing.

“The way people buy now has completely changed,” Guido says. “People don’t want to be sold to; they want to find information on their own. Using a persona-based approach helps you meet them where they’re at.”

How to Use Persona-Based Marketing

The pain points and challenges defined in your buyer personas should feed into your content production and promotion strategies. 

“I go and do research about those challenges on my own to try to figure out what keywords exist in their space, how people are thinking about that challenge today and how that relates to the product or service that we’re providing,” Guido says.

Once you attract your personas to your website by utilizing your knowledge of their pain points and online behavior, you need to provide them with valuable content that guides them through the buyer’s journey. So, your promotional strategy should aim to place content where your prospects can find it when they need it, and your content strategy should aim to nurture prospects from where they are toward the next step you want them to take.

Top-of-the-funnel (ToFu) content should be easily accessible online through search, social media and partner networks. The goal of ToFu content is to get discovered through those channels and help educate your prospects on their challenges. 

Middle-of-the-funnel (MoFu) content will get found through internal links, emails and calls-to-actions. It should help prospects connect their high-level challenges with the more specific solutions that you can provide.

Bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu) content is promoted in a similar manner as MoFu content, but it’s not presented until later in the buyer’s journey. BoFu content helps prospects decide that your solution will benefit them more than their other options. But, presenting BoFu content too early can spook prospects. You need to wait until a prospects’ behavior indicates they’re interested in moving into the sales process before offering a demo, assessment or meeting. 

Your personas inform what information you’re serving and how you deliver it to your audience at every stage of the buyer’s journey. At each stage, the nuances of your prospects’ challenges fluctuate, but you can predict their different needs if you understand the day-to-day demands of their role. Then, if you know their needs, you can have content ready to address any objections or questions that’ll arise.

Download our Field Guide to Buyer Personas to start crafting accurate personas  for your business.

How Persona-Based Marketing Differs from Other Strategies

Persona-based vs. account-based marketing (ABM)

Persona-based marketing starts with generating interest in a group of people and then narrowing that group down based on fit. Account-based marketing (ABM) starts with companies you know are a good fit and focuses on generating interest from them.

“In my mind, it’s basically the difference between something that’s a little more generalized, theoretical, versus something that’s very specific,” Guido says. “If you’re taking an account-based approach, those accounts would meet the qualifications or criteria that you’d set for a buyer persona. It just happens to be a specific company within that set, rather than going broad.”

The content created for both approaches should be very similar, with the primary difference being the level of personalization in your presentation of that content. When you target specific companies, you can customize your communications to them specifically from the start. However with a persona-based approach, your initial communications are for a general audience.

While their initial starting points differ, persona-based marketing and ABM aren’t mutually exclusive.

“I think those two strategies can, and sometimes should, be used in tandem,” Guido says. “It’s just a matter of how much you balance those two things.”

A primarily account-based approach works well for companies that target enterprise-level companies or niche industries that have a small selection of qualified companies that require a lot of energy to successfully reach and convert. This approach also works well when you’re trying to move up or down market and are seeking initial traction for your updated positioning. However, if you have a large prospective buyer base, the personalized approach of ABM can limit who your marketing resonates with or require more resources than your team can invest.

Product-led vs. persona-based marketing

As its name implies, product-led marketing starts with a product and has a greater focus on the technology adoption curve. Instead of creating your strategy around your buyer personas, you focus your efforts around a need in the market. Then you create a product that addresses that need.

You’ll initially test your product with beta groups and rely on word-of-mouth and virality to help it gain traction with innovators. At that point, you’ll know what pain points your product solves, but you may not be sure who the best-fit buyer is.

Once your product has found product-market fit and you’ve had time to see how your product is being leveraged, then you can develop and incorporate a persona-based approach into your marketing strategy to reach your early adopters and the early majority. 

While both persona-based and product-led marketing target a need or pain point, the way they address that challenge is different. Persona-based marketing communicates how a company’s offerings can solve a problem for people in a particular role. Product-led marketing targets a more general audience by focusing on how a company’s product solves for a need — which is more effective when a product is for general use or its ideal buyers and users are unknown. 

The Takeaway

Persona-based marketing is used across a wide range of verticals — though it might be referred to by different names.

“Persona-based marketing is a way to come up with the type of people you want to sell to,” Guido says. “You might call it different things, whether that’s market research or developing a target market, but there’s only slight differences between those things.”

Persona-based marketing is at the heart of the inbound methodology. But the foundational principles that inbound is built upon can apply to many forms of marketing. Product-led and account-based marketing strategies can both benefit from the core tenants of inbound. 

To learn more about how buyer personas and the inbound methodology can contribute to your marketing efforts, download our Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing.

Download the Field Guide to Buyer Personas

Quinn Kanner

Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.


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