The first thing you should do when developing your content strategy is to first define who your target audience is going to be, to understand what their needs and wants are. This is virtually synonymous with product or service development in itself, because that is ultimately the goal: serving the good of the customer. In order to do that, one must jump inside of their mind, and understand how the general idea of the product or service that you plan to present to the market will bring value to their lives. You solidify the reasoning for this with market research, and develop your content strategy the same exact way.
You could even go so far as to think that each article you write, or each graphic you produce, etc. is merely a small sample of the actual product that you’re selling. If your content is aligned well enough to your product or service, how the netizens that you target react to the content you produce is a telltale sign of how well your product is going to be received by the market, since the content reflects the product.
Amateur strategists, or entrepreneurs who haven’t taken the time to study the field in general, tend to just put content out there as per how they feel. Sometimes, this works; most other times, with most people, it doesn’t. This is why there are so many blogs on the Internet, yet so few people actually making legitimate money from their blogs. It’s not about what you want to produce; it’s about what your target customer wants you to produce.
The Internet entrepreneurs who just put content out there with no strategy and just so happen to become successful coincidentally want what the majority of their market wants, which is why it works for them, but that doesn’t mean that such an approach will actually work for everyone. In fact, it rarely works for anyone.
What Is A Customer Persona?
A customer persona is a brainstormed fictitious draft of your ideal customer, based on real information and even given a face and a name. In this draft, every relevant (and even seemingly irrelevant) detail about your target audience and their life is listed, including but not limited to what books they read, what food they eat, where they work, how much money they make, what emotionally motivates them in life, and even what may psychologically pain them about their family or their environment.
This is done so that an understanding of why they’d buy your product to begin with is attained by the marketer, along with expected reasons for why they opt not to buy your product, giving the marketer an organized map to work with that can greatly help with copywriting, content writing, and what they use as a UVP (unique value proposition) during the decision stage of the buyer’s journey.
The Two Methods Of Utilizing Customer Personas In Your Content Marketing Strategy
There are two ways of putting your content out there that I follow; I personally call them the crystalized approach and the fluid prototyping approach.
The crystalized approach consists of doing extensive market research and working really hard to grind out customer personas that you’ll use as targeting information to fire off your ads with, or even haphazardly just coming up with the best hypothetical customer you can from your imagination.
The other method that you could start off with is a general idea of whom you wish to target, but then narrow that down into a more specific and clear idea with brainstorming sessions over time in the same way that you would narrow down your keyword list in a Google AdWords campaign, based upon the data that comes back as you calibrate your ads to be progressively more effective over time.
I’ve used both methods, but I personally prefer the latter. The reason why is that no matter how much market research you do in the construction of your ideal customer persona, what matters most is how people respond and engage with your content, because those are going to be the people that end up becoming your most loyal audience, and it may not always be who you initially imagined they were going to be. I prefer this method because this style of doing it isn’t about trying to predict the market so much as it is simply responding to the market, which is far easier. It costs a little bit of money at first, but this is a surefire way of nailing exactly the audience you want most for the highest amount of ROI.
On the other hand, you could spend hours, weeks, or even months performing a ton of research that not only takes time but also money, and still not come up with the most effective answer you thought it was going to be. Though, I acknowledge that there are marketers out there who would debate that, I’d rather spend a total of $50 throughout a week’s time to hit what I call the “home run” audience like a baseball player would calibrate his swing to a pitcher, than I would doing so much of formal education would instruct us to do.
Testing Your Content Marketing As You Calibrate Your Swing To Hit The Home Run Audience
To use real anecdotal experience to elaborate, I’ll refer to using the PPM ads that I used to launch this very series of articles. StrataGem Internet Marketing is obviously a company that seeks to target aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners like yourself. You are literally our target audience.
What we did was start off with a vague idea of whom we wanted to write for, and thus attract to our business. Then, we published a post. Then we did a/b split testing with LinkedIn and Facebook PPM ads to see how our audience would take to our content on either of those platforms. LinkedIn has better targeting since that entire website is basically for business professionals, but the price per mille was exponentially higher than what we’d have to pay for Facebook. Yet we were sure that our audience would also have Facebook accounts, so it’s not like we couldn’t reach them on Facebook, even though Facebook is more often for B2C (business to consumer) marketing, rather than B2B (business to business).
At that stage, we only knew a sparse few things for certain about our audience: that they were English-speaking, and that they were either already small business owners, or aspiring entrepreneurs that could use advice, and that their budgets were likely to be very small to work with.
Therefore, we launched our initial boosted content to a very large vague audience with a budget of $7, and waited for that $7 to be spent. After it was spent, we observed the metrics that Facebook Analytics graphed, listed, and charted for us in the feedback report.
We had a goal of a certain price per engagement, which we wanted to be above 3%. This means that for every 1,000 ads launched (mille), we wanted a minimum of 30 people to engage with the boosted post. If we were paying a price of roughly a dollar or two per mille, then that’s basically the equivalent of a $0.03 to $0.06 per click if it was a CPC (cost per click) campaign.
We failed to reach that goal the first time around, but that was expected. If memory serves correctly, I believe the first round of ads only got about a 1.2% engagement rate. But what we gained back for the price of the $7 was analytics about who responded the most to the content. So, initially, we sent out our boosted content to both males and females between the ages of 18 and 65+ (basically everybody that exists within the entirety of America using social media with any interest at all in entrepreneurship, an audience of millions and millions of people scattered all over the country).
What the report showed is that males between the ages of 22 and 35 responded the most with our content. As a result, we created a new campaign boosting the same blog post. Only this time, we targeted only an audience of males between the ages of 22 and 35 accordingly. That’s not to say that we don’t want women reading our content (of course we do! The more the merrier), but understand that we’re a small business ourselves, bootstrapping with a budget that’s not that large. We are, in a way, our own target audience, and are simply recommending what we ourselves use for ourselves, which is the best advice I think anyone can give to anyone in any conceivable subject. This lowered our target audience into the several hundred thousand range.
Considering a higher budget to work with in the future, we’d absolutely focus on women if that’s what our reports lead us to do. It’s just that when you’re first starting as a small business, you need to maximize the ROI of every dollar; you’ve got to make every penny count as much as possible, which means only focusing on the highest responders until you’re able to gain the resources needed to expand further.
Once we shot out those ads for another $7, however, we got back another report with more data that we could use to refine our ad targeting even further. Entrepreneurship is a scary business; lots of people dream about it, but few people actually do it. Therefore, out of the 22- to 35-year old males that responded the most to our content based on their interest in entrepreneurship, we wondered how many of them were actually serious about starting their own business or already do.
What’s a good way to segment people by how serious they are about it? The books they read.
We then considered the books that we ourselves read in the past as we tried to better our entrepreneurship skills, since people who are really serious about starting and launching their own business will definitely take the time to read about it. Our articles are usually at a minimum of 1,000 words each; this one is over 2,000 words on its own. So we want entrepreneurs who will actually read our content, making them the most likely to convert into paying clients. Because if they’re willing to devote their time and energy into reading posts as long as ours, then that’s a strong indicator that they’ve got what it takes; they’re willing to take the time out of their day to really learn and listen to what we have to say.
Thus we refined our targeting even more by a few key entrepreneurship books that would most likely only be read by people who are already in the mix of managing or launching their own business, such as (but not limited to): The Art of the Start 2.0 buy Guy Kawasaki.
So how many entrepreneurs are there in America who are in the midst of starting and/or managing their own business who read this specific list of books? Only a few tens of thousands.
Then, we decided to narrow it down even further: how many male entrepreneurs are there between the ages of 22 and 35 who read the specific list of books that we’re targeting them by that live in only New Jersey, for instance? Only about 2,000.
We then launched the ads during the hours of the day that most people would be online, and voila. Engagement rates of over 3% for a very small price. Once we feel that we’ve attracted everyone we can from that geographic location, we set the target ads for a different one, until we’ve covered the entire country in its entirety.
The reason why you don’t want to just target the entire country right off the bat is because you have to think about how competition works that affects the price per mille. There are plenty of companies that are bigger than us marketing to the same or similar audience with their ads, who have more resources than we do, competing at the national level. Few of them compete at the state or city level with their ads, which makes for less competition, which makes for lower costs for us.
Repeat process for every state or major city, and voila.
The Major Flaw With Customer Prototyping
The biggest flaw with this approach is that we’re undoubtedly leaving out potential readers/customers who are indeed serious about entrepreneurship and want to better their strategic Internet marketing skills and would be willing to pay for custom advice/consultations of ours to help them grow their business, but to reach them would be a data scientific shot in the dark if they haven’t listed that they “like” the books we target them by on their social media accounts, which is resources we didn’t have to take the risk of burning at the time.
By sticking with what we know is willfully listed about and by our audience, we’re guaranteed to hit some kind of a mark with a far higher percentage of success in the same way that one would be with card counting in Blackjack, rather than just blind gambling with a larger audience that would yield lower ROI.