From Research To Results: Using Buyer Personas To Drive Advocate Engagement

“Buyer personas” aren’t just a buzzword in boardroom bingo—they should also be a crucial part of your advocate marketing strategy. In their 2016 Advocamp AMP Talk, Mark Emond, Founder and President of Demand Spring, and Mary-Leslie Davis, Director of Field Marketing and Customer Engagement at Staples Advantage, explain how they create and transform buyer personas into advocate personas to drive customer engagement.

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We’re going to talk about buyer persona analysis and the impact it can have on driving engagement in your advocate marketing programs.

We’re faced with so much noise in our lives. In our in-boxes, in our social media channels, seeing billboards as we’re driving down the highway. How do you break through as marketers? With relevancy and knowing who you’re talking to and delivering hyper-targeted relevant messages, content and offers to them. That’s what buyer persona analysis enables you to do. Buyer persona is a very popular term. You get extra points in buzzword bingo for using it in meetings. Everybody is talking about it.

What’s a persona, first of all? It’s a role inside a company. It gives you the key attributes of your target customers, which is really what you’re studying. It’s profiling and blueprinting. Your key buyer persona is a Customer Marketing Manager, a Senior IT Leader, or a Sales Operations Leader. You’re trying to understand and blueprint, who are these people? What are their thoughts, motivators, and actions as they go through their customer life cycle?

It is foundational to driving the understanding that creates hyper-targeted, relevant engagement as well as strategies and tactics in your marketing programs and your advocate marketing programs.

One of the services we offer is buyer persona analysis. When we do a buyer persona, we think of it as a blueprint to developing a marketing plan based on the reality of how your customers want to engage with you throughout their lifecycle. We start by looking at these six things.

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The six key elements of buyer personas

1. Demographics, psychographics, and firmographics.

These are the typical things that most buyer persona analysis tend to focus on. Who are these people? We really want to get to know their demographics, their thoughts, their motivators, their actions, their beliefs, their values. We want to get to know more about their company. As a persona segment, who are these people? This enables us to drive a marketing plan that helps you connect with them technically, rationally and emotionally.

2. Job responsibilities.

We want to know what they’re responsible for. This enables us to craft messaging that is highly targeted and highly relevant.

3. Thinking, feeling, and doing.

What are they thinking, feeling, and doing throughout their buying process and throughout their customer life cycle? What are their industry and operational pressures? What are the digital and physical touch points they engage in?

4. Content and channels.

To me, this is the heart of a pragmatic buyer persona blueprint. It’s also where I see a lot of buyer persona analysis failing. There is more focus put on demographics, firmographics, and psychographics and less put on how to engage with these people.

That’s the pragmatic part. That is when you’re looking at how to drive engagement in your advocate marketing programs. How do you get from 30% engagement to 50% to 75%? It’s understanding the preferred information sources and types of content that different personas want to engage with. How do they learn? We know different segments, an IT individual versus a marketing individual for example, like to engage and research and educate themselves in a very different way.

5. Unmet needs.

What are the unmet needs of your customers? Is it same-day shipping? Is it a product recommendation engine that would drive greater loyalty, retention in advocacy?

6. Buying characteristics.

What’s important to them as customers in an ongoing transactional or purchase relationship with you? Is it price, is it service, is it innovation?

How to identify these characteristics

These six key elements form the basis for a buyer persona blueprint that enables you to engage and drive relevant, targeted actions amongst your advocates… but how do you get this information?

I think a lot of us in past lives have been guilty of sitting around the corporate headquarters boardroom table and making it up, thinking about it and hypothesizing. We all have instincts, we all have experience, and we all have skills as marketers that are very valuable.

However, where we really see organizations drive huge improvements in their engagement with customers is when they do this using primary research through focus groups, through face-to-face interviews, through telephone interviews, and through online surveys. Not hypothesizing, not using tertiary research, but engaging in primary research.

One of the organizations that committed deeply to doing that, prior to starting their AdvocateHub, was Staples Advantage. They worked with us to do persona analysis across eight key personas to really understand the types of individuals that they needed to know more about to engage them.

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Using personas to craft your challenges

Before we started our AdvocateHub, we knew so much about our customers thanks to the persona work. Not only what job role and function they have, but how they think, how they feel about their work and how they like to interact with each other. That was super helpful to me.

At Staples Advantage, we have eight personas that we use on a regular basis throughout the marketing department, but I started our AdvocateHub with four. I didn’t think that I could use all of the personas, so I picked four that I felt the closest to and understood. We customized the experience throughout from the challenges to the rewards to the community board. Everything is up for grabs in terms of customization. We use the 80/20 rule: about 80% of the hub is applicable to everybody and another 20% is customized by persona.

A challenge that’s customized by persona is our mobile app. We wanted to find out how different customers use it, depending on their role in the company. So, we worded the challenge slightly differently for each person, expecting different answers. The insights that we gained from that were invaluable. We never would have seen them if we had given one generic challenge to everybody.

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Another big area of differentiation in our challenges is in our educational content. I am very lucky because we have a marketing communications department that constantly spits out content by persona. Our entire marketing department is focused on personas and we all work in an integrated fashion.

I did want to mention that there is a difference between personalizing a challenge versus customizing it by persona. It is a subtle difference but I think it’s important. Personalizing a challenge has to do with using a specific data point about that advocate, for example using their name. You could also personalize a challenge based on a local event they’re going to.

Customizing a challenge by persona is totally different. It’s thinking about the challenge as a whole. Would they be interested and engaged in that type of challenge to begin with? What is your ask of that advocate within the challenge and would it change depending on which persona you talked to? You need to have that discipline to think about how you want to talk to each individual customer.

Customizing rewards by persona

I think that our rewards section is also pretty interesting, in terms of persona customization. We strive for a mix of professional and personal rewards, as well as charitable donations. For example, if your persona is marketers, you could suggest that they want to have tickets to Advocamp or a trade show that is relevant to them… but if you’re a tech guy who’s interested in cloud services and data security, you’re not going to want to come to Advocamp.

So, we’ve segmented and personalized the professional rewards depending on what your job role is and what industry you are in. The charitable donations are a neat way to customize by persona. That’s where you want to look at all the insights that you got from your research and try to find that one thing that hits people at their heart.

Creating discussions for different personas

The community board is also one of the most exciting places to customize by persona. Every single day we learn something about our customers on there. We still stick to the 80/20 rule—a lot of the community boards are general for everybody, but we have some customized topics in there for each persona. We seed topics in there and try to get a conversation going, but advocates themselves also start community threads. It’s the best place to learn about what’s topical, what’s on your customers’ minds, and how their peers are reacting and what they are saying to each other. We take all of those insights and we bring them back to the rest of the marketing team and to our huge sales force and to our e-commerce team. Everybody can use those insights.

The last thing I want to mention is tone of voice. We actually have names and pictures that we assign to our personas,  so we really know who we’re talking to. Tone of voice is important. You can be formal, you can be informal. We always try to talk in the lingo of the person’s job as well as their vertical or their industry. If you have that picture in your head, you talk to them differently.

Finally, Liz Richardson, our Influitive coach, gave us some benchmarking stats that compared our hub against others of the same size and age. We were thrilled to see that our overall engagement was in the 80 percentile and the engagement on the community board was in the 90th percentile. I credit that 100% to our understanding of personas, what they think, what they feel, and also to our discipline and our attention spent in using those persona insights.

If you’ve already implemented an AdvocateHub, it’s not too late. In fact, you have a rich resource of advocates to draw from to do your buyer persona analysis. Those are probably the people who would be most interested in sharing their insights with you. It’s never too late to do it and further strengthen the segmentation relevancy in your advocate marketing programs.

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