Creating Personas Will Help Your Content and Your Marketing

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Amanda McCarthy, director of marketing for Bates Creative—an agency in the Washington, D.C. area that is soon changing its name to Beyond Definition—wanted to get across the importance of personas so she gave us an example.

She came up with the American Association of Carnivals, whose members would be amusement companies and providers, carnival staff, ride safety officials, food vendors and performers. The industry challenge is a decline in popularity. The organizational challenge is a decline in membership.

The lesson came during a recent conference here called AM&P 360 and the session was titled They Get Me: How to Sharpen Your Publishing Strategy. Bates has a 5-step Persona Development Plan.

Here is Bates' 5-step persona plan:

1. Define your purpose. This will help determine if you’re profiling current or prospective members.
2. Conduct audience research.
3. Extract themes from data.
4. Build out the persona profiles.
5. Put your personas into action.

For the carnival association, number one means refreshing their publishing efforts. Is a monthly magazine and weekly newsletter enough anymore? Should they be putting out something daily? Do they need to be more digital? These people are not sitting at desks.

For number two, audience research, they need to track the developments in the carnival field and what the new job titles are. What stage of career are most people at? “It’s psycho-graphics,” said McCarthy. “It’s trying to get into the head of your audience." In this case, 70% are male and 55% are from the Midwest.

Then it’s about extracting themes from the data and creating connections for employment and new membership. How can the organization help to draw more families to carnivals? Do they have to reassure them about safety precautions being taken? They need to do a better job of shaping the public perception of carnivals.

Then you start building out the profiles. The who - background, key demographics. The what – goals, primary, secondary. The why – common objections. Why wouldn’t they renew? And the how – how should you position the value of your company and through which channels?

“You’re going to start to see where those people fall into place,” McCarthy said. “Typically you’ll get 3-5 personas. Then you want to select which primary persona you are targeting. You want to have that one key one in mind that will help produce the content that you’re aiming for.”

“What can I deliver to them that will help meet a challenge?” asked co-presenter Danielle Moore, a content strategist at Bates. “Look how people are engaging with you. What am I going to do with all of this to create a persona? Of course you want to analyze who your target audience is, but why won’t the others be good targets as well?”

Number 5, McCarthy said, “Use them! Craft your content, publishing and marketing strategies. Share them with other departments and vendors and partners! Evolve them! – don’t leave them sitting there. The industry is evolving. Your organization is evolving, And so are your personas as you get more information.”

“Do an editorial audit of your publications,” Moore added. “Maybe some of your content is no longer relevant. It can be your baby but sometimes you need to let it go.”

One more tip: Address issues of the people who will be in the industry for a while like the executives or performers. So that might mean topics like insurance, safety, innovation and successful case studies. “You don’t want to address those people who come and go,” McCarthy said.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…