Who are we creating for?
It’s the question that smart marketers ask before beginning almost anything—from strategy development to website redesigns.
And while Buyer Personas are more commonplace now as a tool marketers use in answering this question, nowadays, the answer is a bit more complex than it used to be.
We know the B2B buying committee is increasing in size every year. As CEB/Gartner often point out, the average size of the B2B buying committee has grown from 5.4 to over 6.8 in just the last few years.
Beyond that, we know that more and more of the sales process is unfolding on the web: B2B buyers are almost universally beginning their buying journey online while making it over halfway down the sales funnel before ever actually raising their hands and engaging a salesperson.
The web—and engaging leads online—is more important now than ever. Vitally important. Meaning your website and its content is similarly more important now than ever. Simply put, the game has changed and now there’s more at stake.
These converging pressures really compound the “Who are we creating for?” question. While marketers rightly feel pressure to be comprehensive in their approach and address every imaginable Buyer Persona, the fact is, creating Buyer Personas is an art of writing checks that your content and digital strategy have to cash.
And, as marketers, we can only cash so many checks. Let’s look at some of the pitfalls of trying to market to too many Personas, and examine some ways to narrow focus and prioritize.
For most brands, it’s safe to assume that you’re seeking to use your website as a core, central vehicle for marketing to all of your chosen Buyer Personas. With that in mind, there are some built-in barriers to expanding your Persona focus too far.
When someone lands on your homepage, you have two primary tools at your disposal to help stream different Personas into different experiences: homepage content and navigation.
While you can certainly deploy a long form homepage that addresses multiple Personas, there comes a time (and length) when it becomes somewhat unwieldy and impractical. Looking further at your options via the site’s top-level navigation, the best practice of restricting top-level navigation choices to 7 or under also serves to limit your options.
From a design and user experience perspective, things start to get challenging in a website design as the number of Personas exceeds 5ish. That’s not to say it becomes impossible at this number—but it does mean that you’ll almost certainly be making some significant design compromises in trying to make it all work.
As you dive further into the multiple Persona challenge, it is also important to consider multiple funnel stages for each Persona and the content requirements associated with each. The quick math looks something like this: Want to market to 7 Personas? At minimum, you’re looking at creating some level of conversion content for at least 3 funnel stages (top, middle and bottom), for a total of 21 different pieces of content. Include additional site content, some targeted blog posts, and ongoing refinement and iteration, and all of a sudden that “21 pieces of content” turns into 75 or more. As the volume of required content grows, so too does the cost and complexity of producing and maintaining it—costs that are more often than not underestimated by marketers.
So where should you start when it’s time to narrow your focus and target a tighter group of Buyer Personas?
Can you ignore the C-Suite?
For a good number of marketers, narrowing Buyer Persona focus can start at the top. It sounds crazy, I know, but hear me out. To be fair, sometimes the real buyers are sitting in the C-Suite and you should build for them. But more often than not, the people making the buying recommendations are in mid- to senior-level management roles. And the people researching the buying options are, if not the managers themselves, working in support of those managers. Then the CEO signs off at the end of it all. And the fact is, for almost all of your marketing efforts, “at the end of it all” is far too late for marketing to be engaged.
Moreover, it’s important to realize that the CEO knows and understands this dynamic well. CEOs, more than anyone, will know why a website isn’t built to speak directly to them. So while it may not work for every brand, if you’re on a quest to narrow the Buyer Persona focus of your digital efforts, the C-Suite might be your best place to start.
Who you want vs who you get
The nature of Buyer Persona development and, to some extent, the marketers engaged in the craft of developing them, can sometimes lead the exercise to be a bit too speculative and aspirational.
Almost every time I find myself working with a company who is trying to market to too many Buyer Personas, it ends up being a case of marketers having created too many “ideal” customers via Buyer Personas that don’t actually exist in real life. Or, similarly unhelpful, creating a collection of Buyer Personas that the site has no track record of attracting.
All of that to say, sometimes you’re better off building for who is showing up versus who you ideally want, particularly if your Buyer Persona gut-check tells you that you may be aiming a bit high.
If the Buyer Persona list for your website redesign includes someone from Procurement, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions before you invest in creating an online experience for them.
How early does Procurement typically become involved in an average deal? In your category, do Procurement buyers actively research and identify options? Or, alternatively, are they more riding shotgun with a business manager in a buying process?
After they dig into it a bit, marketers often find that the folks in Procurement aren’t the people they should be focusing their attention and marketing dollars on. Simply, while they certainly play a part in the buying process, they aren’t always “active” buyers.
The next time you find yourself asking the “Who are we creating for?” question, I hope you take the opportunity to find focus. Going deeper with fewer Buyer Personas will always trump spreading your marketing dollars—and attention—too thin.