From My Inbox

August 28, 2019

inboxI thought rather than do a deep dive into a specific topic, I would take this opportunity to answer some questions that you’ve sent in recently. Useful marketing information but served up snack-sized!

We’d like to have a much larger email list. Should we buy a list and start from there?

While there are few absolutes in marketing, buying an email list is rarely a smart strategy. The CAN-SPAM Act makes it pretty difficult to blindly market to someone who has not requested it or given you permission to send them something.

Even if CAN-SPAM wasn’t around, it’s still not a very effective way to build an audience. Think about how many unsolicited emails you receive every day. How many do you ever glance at, let alone actually read?

Everyone’s inbox is so crowded with junk, the SPAM filters are so much better and we’re all pretty good at triaging our emails at the speed of light – so the odds of you breaking through and actually making a meaningful connection are pretty slim.

Ideally, you’d grow your list by being interesting and offering value. If you’re helpful enough – you’ll draw a crowd. But if you absolutely need to jump-start your email list – do it with direct mail.

Yes, direct mail. The hottest “new” media around. With everyone shifting to digital communications, our mailboxes are much less crowded. A well-designed piece with a grabber of a headline can really work wonders. In your direct mail, offer the recipient something of value that they can download off your website. Require an email address and voila – your list is growing!

We’ve been doing an e-newsletter for about a year and we don’t seem to be gaining any traction. Can you look at a sample and give us your feedback?

Drew’s note: You don’t need to see the sample for these suggestions to be meaningful.

Here are some suggestions I would make to increase your e-newsletter’s effectiveness.

Actually publish it consistently, rather than hit or miss: Either do it or don’t do it. Inconsistency demonstrates your own opinion about the content and the value it provides. It should never be an optional activity. Remember, this is a tool for earning the trust of your potential customers. If you can’t honor your own deadlines, why would they think you’d honor theirs?

Less about you: On average, 80% of your content was about you. Your projects, your awards, your specials, and your people. Honestly – your audience doesn’t care that much about you. Create content that is useful to them in their lives and if you must talk about yourself – no more than 10-15% of any e-newsletter. And you should never be the lead story!

It’s not a novella: People aren’t going to read the equivalent of three pages of articles at one sitting. Cut back to 3-4 stories and don’t let any of them run longer than 500 words. Even that is too much, but it would be an improvement.

Be kind to their eyes: Remember, your audience is reading this on their computer, tablet or phone, so be gentle. Give them plenty of white space and make the copy concise. Use bullet points and visuals to make it easier to read.

Let me know if these tips were helpful to you and keep writing!


Don’t forget your media mix

August 21, 2019

media mixBack in the good old days, you could advertise in the daily paper, an outdoor board, on one of the local radio stations or one of three TV channels – a media mix.

Today, of course, we don’t have the luxury of that simplicity. Instead of three TV channels, there are over 300. Radio and print have undergone a similar explosion with niche publications, satellite radio and of course, there’s the whole internet and mobile world as well.

It seems like every time something new comes around, the inclination is to abandon the old. It would be much easier if that were really the wise course of action, but just because we have more options doesn’t mean the old ones don’t add value.

I was reviewing numbers from a recent Nielsen study that looked at our electronic media usage. (So print and outdoor were not included). One of the elements of the study was to look at how consumers spent their media time.

First – we are consumed by the media we consume. The average American spends 11 hours a day with electronic media. We’re only awake about 16-18 hours a day, so that’s a staggering number.

It may surprise you that television remains on top – by a three to one margin over smartphones/tablets or the internet. But as you might expect, the TV number is dropping and the smartphone/tablet number continues to rise. Interestingly, watching something off your DVR or what has been dubbed “time-shifted TV” is also on the rise.

Live TV viewers are watching less, but it could be argued that they’re really just watching it differently, as more and more households are streaming and that is influencing how/when they watch. As smartphone/tablet usage goes up, using the internet on a computer has declined. Again, it’s not that people aren’t accessing the internet as much; they are just doing it differently.

Maybe what will surprise you even more than TV being on top is that radio is #2 in terms of hours spent. The study didn’t differentiate between local/satellite, so I can’t help you there. This number is declining like TV usage, but it’s definitely a more popular media than our phones, tablets or the internet at the time of this study.

What does this mean to you? It means a few things:

What you do isn’t necessarily what the rest of the world does: One of the most dangerous assumptions business owners and leaders make is that because they personally do or don’t do something – that’s the norm for the rest of the world. Unless you are utterly average in every way – that simply isn’t true. Don’t let your bias get in the way of good decision making.

Every medium might be the right choice: There isn’t a media out there today that isn’t still a viable choice in terms of reaching the audience you want to talk to. There may be other factors (price versus value, the kind of message you want to deliver, the need for interactivity, etc.) but don’t dismiss any media with a “no one uses/watches/reads XYZ” because it simply isn’t accurate.

Your best bet is a media mix: If you can afford it, spreading your media investment over more than one media is always going to be your best bet. You need to make sure you don’t spread yourself too thin and jeopardize frequency, but your media budget needs to be adequate enough to buy more than one outlet.

Media buying is both art and science. Just remember to consider all the options in your media mix before heading to the latest trend or fad. You absolutely can’t ignore the digital world when it comes to advertising today. But don’t think it’s the only choice to consider.


Low Tech but Effective

August 14, 2019

low techLooking for new customers?

In today’s 24/7 plugged-in world, we tend to focus on the digital marketing tactics that are all the rage. Social media, SEO, and content marketing seem to get top billing of late but don’t let all the hype distract you from some of the simpler, low tech tactics that have worked for decades.

Long before there was any mass media, advertising venues or even town criers – people relied on people they knew to steer them to the best establishments and buying experiences.

Word of mouth and referrals are as old as time and they’re as influential today as they were back then. In fact, as consumers are bombarded by more and more ads, the raves of a friend or colleague seem even more compelling.

Every business, even if you’re running at capacity right now, needs to have an active program to cultivate and earn new clients. No matter how good you are, a certain percentage of customers will always come and go, even if you’re doing an incredible job. So, you must always be adding new prospects to the sales funnel. While I have covered how to leverage your website to feed the funnel in the past, I’d like you to consider a more low tech option as well.

I want to suggest a weekly activity that should go on every business owner/leader’s To-Do list.

I want to warn you. You might read this and think, “well duh, Drew. Is that your big idea? Of course, we should be doing this.” But before you dismiss it as incredibly obvious or so basic that it’s stupid – ask yourself if you’re actually doing it. My guess is, the answer will be no. Which is why I’m writing about it.

Put together two lists. The first list should include all of your current clients that you actually like working with and would gladly welcome another client like them. The second list should be every past client (over the last five years) that you actually miss doing business with.

Starting with your current client list – start scheduling a breakfast, coffee, lunch, drink, etc. with each of them…so you have one meeting each week. Ideally, between the two lists (over time) you could fill a year’s worth of weekly appointments.

At this weekly meeting, your goal is two-fold. First, you want to genuinely let this person know that you and your team appreciate them and enjoy working with them. In the case of past clients, let them know that you miss working with them. Be sure you tell them specifically what makes them such a good client for your company. After all, you want them to help you find someone else with the same traits.

Your second goal is to ask for a referral. Tell your client/previous client that you’d like another client just like them and ask for their help. It’s amazing to me how eager our clients are to help us grow our business when we take the time to ask.

If you’re successful at booking a weekly meeting at least 40 weeks out of the year and if 25% those people can connect you to a new prospect or two, and you land half of them – that’s five new clients and 40 renewed and rejuvenated relationships.

Here are the upsides of this tactic:

  • New clients who match the profile of your best clients
  • Your existing clients will feel appreciated and some of them will buy more
  • Some of your previous customers will probably come back

Low tech, low risk, and huge rewards. Why wouldn’t you start your lists today?


Planting your brand’s seeds

August 7, 2019

Branding. What is it and how do you define it? In most cases, people mistake the word branding to mean one of two things. A logo or a tagline. Both are tools you use to communicate your brand but neither is your actual brand.

Brand has been described in many ways. Advertising icon David Ogilvy said a brand is “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” Here’s how we think about brand at MMG – your brand is the feeling that is evoked when someone hears your company’s name.

The way we help bring that to life for clients is by helping them define their #1 promise to everyone in their world (customers, prospects, employees, vendors, etc.). It is the thing that will help them stand apart from their competitors in a way that is genuinely meaningful to the audience and is already part of the organization’s DNA. It is a sword they would be willing to fall on.

So how do you figure out exactly what your brand is?

There are three ways to guarantee that your branding efforts will fade away, leaving you feeling as though you made a lot of noise but no one was listening.

Trying to do it yourself: You know a brand is built on a wobbly foundation when 3-5 people sit in a room and decide what it should be. That begs for a superficial brand that’s mostly fluff and little substance. When you are figuratively inside of a jar, you can’t possibly read the jar’s label. That’s what doing your own branding is like.

The truth is – you can’t see your company from an objective point of view. And you can’t really see it from the world’s point of view. So you need to have an outside team lead you through a process that truly helps you discover what your brand is. And here’s a little insight into that process. It’s much like sculpting. It’s more about what’s not necessary than it is about adding anything.

Your brand already exists inside your organization. The process will help you find it, clean it up and remove the barriers that get in its way.

Letting someone else tell you what your brand should be: As vital as the outside help is, be very wary of anyone who tells you that they’re going to meet with you for a few hours, talk to a couple of your customers and then voila – come back and present you with a list of possible brand positions.

That would be like me having coffee with you, talking to a few of your friends and then dictating what your core values should be. It’s ludicrous. Find someone who will guide you through a process that will allow you and your team to recognize and decide on your organization’s true north.

Restricting it to your marketing department: You must recognize that your brand is not just a marketing thing. It’s a holistic company thing. It has to be just as true and meaningful to the accounting department as it is to the sales department. It has to be something you deliver to your employees with the same level of conviction as you do to your best customers.

So the discovery process needs to involve representation from all the key departments of your company. Yes, the leadership needs to be there but you also need some of the front line team members, who actually talk to your customers on a daily basis.


What audiences want — experiences across both digital & physical channels

August 1, 2019

It’s official – Physical and digital engagement is paramount for effective customer engagement. No matter what age, gender or location, consumers around the world agree that when it comes to brand interactions, personal, trusted and reliable omnichannel engagement is THE preferred option and choice. 

Over 85 percent of 2,000 global consumers surveyed by the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, in partnership with Pitney Bowes, reveal that a blend of both digital and physical channel experiences is the preferred way of interfacing with brands. Yet, only 13 percent of consumers believe that brands are fully meeting this expectation and delivering across both physical and digital channels.  (download the executive summary here)

Bucking the assumption that younger generations are digital-only, 87 percent of Millennials (born between 1981-1996) and GenZ (born after 1997) say they prefer an omnichannel choice of communications. Across all generations, key omnichannel touchpoints are an expectation, not an option. These include access to email, phone, web, in-person engagements, video, social media and printed mail.  The overwhelming majority of consumers – 91 percent – suggest that omnichannel experiences are either important or critical, with 29 percent suggesting that companies should be “where I want, when I want, ready to share and communicate how I expect.”

Among the key generational shifts identified by the study:

  • When it comes to channels consumers can’t live without, all but GenZ reached for their phones. For GenZ, they simply cannot part with social, which they are likely accessing on their phone.
  • Social emerges as a key channel of discovery and influence for Millennials and GenZ, while GenX (born between 1965-1980), Boomers (born between 1946-1964) and the Silent Generation (born between 1928-1945) rely on websites to discover new products, and they admit that web is also the biggest influence on buying decisions.
  • Think ONLY GenZ is an open book? Think again. Across all generations, the majority of consumers are comfortable sharing some data with brands, especially consumers in Europe who have been well-educated about data and its uses and benefits. In exchange, consumers expect to understand what is collected and how it is used. Specifically, Millennials are slightly more inclined to share more data in exchange for better personalization.
  •  Everyone gets frustrated when asked to re-start conversations with a brand after they shift to a new channel. But Boomers hold a grudge, as 78 percent – the highest across all ages – say that this frustration has led them to question why they do business with the brand at all.

“It is easy to assume that a single generation will embrace or reject a single channel as we see individual adoption rates soar or plummet year over year,” noted Liz Miller, SVP of Marketing with the CMO Council.  

“But we also live in an age where we are seeing incredible creativity being applied across both digital and physical channels – where digitally native brands like Google, Casper and Harry’s Shave Club are looking to disrupt consumer behavior and consideration patterns with beautiful printed pieces pulled from a mail box and extend the reach and impact of email, mobile and in-store experiences. We can’t afford to ignore or discount physical experiences by assuming digital is the only channel of engagement. Consumers are not focused on channel. They are focused on their own needs, requirements and preferences. The call to action is to meet them in their moments and not in ours,” she adds.

One example of how channels are evolving to increase influence and disrupt behaviors can be seen in consumer reaction and reliance on video. Consumers indicate that control, personalization and the ability to “build-their-own-adventure” were all ways to their hearts and wallets. Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) said they want to engage with videos that reflected specific products and services they own or are interested in. Another 43 percent stated they would like video to be more interactive, allowing them to decide what information they can view and when. 

“It’s incredible to note how even the newest and most exciting of digital channels continue to evolve as consumer preference fully embraces the omnichannel opportunity,” noted Jeff Winter, VP of Marketing & Communications, Pitney Bowes. “Whether by traditional means of communication, or more modern means like video and chatbot, one constant remains: everyone wants to be treated as an individual and it is up to us to deliver on that promise. The amount of data and emerging technologies available today make this an attainable goal for our industry. But it’s those brands who embrace these capabilities that will stand out as leaders in the future.”


The name of the game

July 31, 2019

A new business opened up around the corner and I couldn’t help but notice the name. It is A-1 Iowa Plumbing and they’ve hung a big banner announcing that they’re open and ready for new customers.

The name is a good reminder of several common naming mistakes that I thought were worth sharing. Whether you are starting a new business or contemplating a name change for your existing business, your company’s name gives you an opportunity to begin to create a familiarity with your brand.

Starting your name with an A: Back in the good old days, when people relied on the yellow pages to find new vendors, starting your business with an A had some merit. It meant you were at the top of the listings. But, today it’s really not that relevant. When was the last time you reached for the phone book? Exactly.

Even though there are still people who use the yellow pages – it’s not the first place most people look. The truth is, most people ask their friends (either in person or on Facebook) or Google it. Others might turn to a tool like Angie’s List. But in all of those cases – a business with a name that starts with an A has no advantage.

Letting the map define your name: It’s not that there is anything wrong with showing your civic pride but it doesn’t help differentiate you from any other provider. If I look at ten plumbing companies online, via my friends’ recommendations, on Angie’s List, or even in the phone book – they’re all going to be from Iowa. Adding Hawkeye, Cyclone, Iowa or any other variation that tells me you’re based in Iowa is not new information.

If you work locally or regionally, then I already know you’re proud to be an Iowan. If you work nationally, then adding Iowa only makes you look like a local company that I might dismiss as not being big enough for my needs. Either way, it’s not really helping.

Creative Spelling: Unless you have a very large advertising budget, many locations with great signage or you own a lot of real estate that you can clearly mark as your own — – don’t purposefully misspell words in your name. Kwik Trip can make it work but odds are you’re working with a smaller marketing budget, so don’t create more work for yourself.

No matter how you market your business, you’ll spend valuable time and money making sure you have helped your audience spell your business name correctly.

Tell me how you’re different: If you can, use your name to differentiate yourself. Use it to tell me what you stand for or a promise you make to your customers. The local business Service Legends is a heating and cooling business. But where they stake their claim is in how they treat their customers. Their name makes us a promise – that their service will be legendary. That’s a name you’d notice.

Not being willing to change: For an existing business, it’s a delicate balancing act. Do you have so much equity built into your original name that you can’t afford to change it or would the change give you the fresh start and clarifying vision you need?

Walking away from a name that you’ve used for a while is a complicated decision, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it outright. If your business has undergone some significant changes, serves new audiences or is re-inventing itself, it might be worth the risk.

Your company’s name is a potential client’s first peek at what it will be like to do business with you. So choose every word with care.


Community Building

July 24, 2019

CommunityMost recently, we looked at the idea that content marketing efforts often stop short of actually building a community and by doing so, brands miss out on the incredible benefits of that strategy. The phrase “build a community” is nebulous so I wanted to give you a concrete example to spark ideas as you look forward to building out your 2020 marketing plan.

One of the most effective ways to build community is to bring your audience together to learn, discuss shared challenges, and to encourage them to be both the student and the teacher. One of our clients hosts an annual event that yields incredible results. Their annual one-day event focuses on sharing best practices and trends for the industry they serve.

They only invite clients and key prospects. Every invitee covers their own travel expenses but after that, it’s all on the brand. They host a full day of speakers, panels, and small group discussions. Everyone walks away with new connections, ideas, and renewed energy for tackling their shared concerns.

For their clients, it’s a perk of working with this company. For their prospects, it’s an opportunity to learn while learning more about their potential partner. But look at it from the brand’s perspective. Their best, happiest clients are mingling with their biggest prospects. What do they have in common to talk about? Two things. Their industry and the company that is hosting the event.

They bring in some big name outside speakers but most of the presentations are done by members of the host company’s team. This positions them as subject matter experts and they use case studies and other successes as examples as they teach. Imagine people flying to you, so you can walk them through your case studies of how you solved your customer’s problems.

When we do the ROI report for this event, the numbers are impressive. For a hard cost of around $40,000, our client will generate $300,000+ annually in new opportunities from both existing clients and prospects who become clients. In addition, the retention rate on the clients who attend is three times better than those that they can’t convince to come.

They keep that audience connected and give them additional opportunities to be both teacher and student throughout the year so that when they come back together at the next event, the ties are even stronger.

One of the aspects of this event that I really love but may seem counter-intuitive is that if a client is no longer working with the host, they’re still invited to the event. This is a bold move that’s aligned with the company’s values around relationships. In many cases, those former clients become clients again and even if they don’t, they become a referral source.

For some of you, this may be out of reach, at the scale they do it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create community by bringing your customers together. If most of your clients are local, host quarterly breakfasts that spotlight a specific challenge. If your clients are scattered all over the globe, leverage technology and create learning groups. Host the meetings on a platform like Zoom so everyone can still see each other as they learn together.

The key elements are that it has to be educational, not promotional. You need participants who are willing to share what they know as well as learn from others and it can’t be a one-time thing. No one forms a lasting bond after one encounter. Be mindful and realistic in terms of what you can sustain, quarter over quarter or year over year.

This isn’t a quick win but the gains can be substantial, both from a revenue point of view but equally important, from a relationship, referral, and retention point of view.



Content Marketing – a two-way connection

July 17, 2019

content marketingWhen you hear the phrase content marketing what does it mean to you? If you’re like most B2B marketers, you may be associating that term with a combination of email campaigns and educational content. Most brands use gated (you have to trade your email address to access the content) content to build their email list and then deploy an email drip campaign to stay connected with the prospect until they are ready to buy.

Or the flip of that, they may offer educational content to their email list that they don’t make available to anyone not in their inner circle. These tactics are highly successful for many companies. But, there’s more to consider.

If you remember, we’ve been talking about three key takeaways from the content marketing trends report from Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and today we will unpack the third takeaway:

  • Well-researched personas can help teams create successful content; however, too few content marketers (42%) are actually talking with customers to understand their needs.
  • Nearly all of the successful B2B content marketers (90%) prioritize the audience’s informational needs over their sales/promotional message, compared with the 56% of the least successful.
  • B2B content marketers primarily use email (87%) and educational content (77%) to nurture their audience and may be missing other opportunities (e.g., only 23% are using community building/audience participation to bring new voices to the table.)

One of the biggest challenges with content marketing is that all too often, we treat it like traditional marketing. We think of it as a monologue. We send out broadcast emails. We produce a blog and turn off the comments. We create an ebook. All effective but not for encouraging conversation. We have an opportunity to actually use our marketing to connect with a prospect or customer who is willing to actually engage with us.

This doesn’t require us to abandon our current monologue efforts. We just have to adapt them.

This blog is a perfect example. Some of the most popular posts are in response to emails I get from readers who ask a question that I can answer in an upcoming post. But I haven’t been consistent in reminding you that you’re welcome to reach out and pose a question or suggest a topic. That’s true for most marketing tactics that appear to be a one-way conversation. They’re capable of being more but we don’t always take advantage of the opportunity.

Audience participation content is the simplest way to have that two-way connection. Building a community is another model but it’s going to take more time, effort and, in many cases, money. The effort yields you huge credibility and currency by positioning you as the brand that is a connector. If your clients are wrestling with some of the same challenges, why not create a place for them to come together to share hacks, best practices, and have the opportunity to learn from each other?

You could create an online forum for a niche audience or put on a conference. On a smaller scale, you could create a Facebook group or plan a quarterly meet up. What’s great about these tactics is that you don’t have to produce all of the content. The audience and their connections and conversations are the content.

A community can also be built around a shared cause or concern. I’m not talking about putting your logo on the back of a t-shirt here but really having a robust program that not only changes the world but changes your relationship with your customer.

We’ll dig into this idea of how to build a community next time because I believe it’s worthy of more attention and consideration.


Stop selling, start helping

July 10, 2019

sellingA while back, we explored some of the key takeaways from a content marketing trends report produced by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), and I identified some trends worthy of more in-depth exploration. They included:

  • Well-researched personas can help teams create successful content; however, too few content marketers (42%) are actually talking with customers to understand their needs.
  • Nearly all of the successful B2B content marketers (90%) prioritize the audience’s informational needs over their sales/promotional message, compared with the 56% of the least successful.
  • B2 content marketers primarily use email (87%) and educational content (77%) to nurture their audience and may be missing other opportunities (e.g., only 23% are using community building/audience participation to bring new voices to the table.)

Most recently, we talked about the importance and power of personas when they are done well, with actual data to augment your own customer knowledge and insights. Today, we’re going to tackle the second bullet, which is all about understanding what kinds of content are useful in the selling process.

What this study is emphasizing and we’ve certainly seen this with our clients – is that the more you sell in your content, the less it sells. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it’s much less likely that sales or promotional content will be found in the first place. Odds are, your audience finds your content through search. The search engines work hard to respond to the query with quality content that answers the question posed. Helpful, informational content is almost always going to rank higher than promotional copy.

The second reason why salesy content doesn’t sell as well is because it’s a sales pitch and as consumers, we don’t respond well to sales pitches, especially when we are in the exploration stage of the buying journey. We might not even be in the market to buy anything. But when a brand consistently helps us learn more, make better decisions, or do some DIY activities that serve our family or our business, we are indebted to them. We value their good counsel or how easy they made it for us to get some answers.

When we are further along in the buying journey or when someone asks for a referral, the brand that offered helpful, informative content and didn’t make us feel rushed or pitched, is going to be in our consideration set, if not our sole choice.

What does helpful and informative content look like?

  • How-to videos with demos
  • Downloadable documents with step-by-step instructions
  • Detailed answers to questions you get asked every day
  • Hacks that a novice might not know to have a better experience
  • Best practice metrics or guidelines
  • Questions to ask before you XY or Z (Do not slant these to make your product or service the only choice or option)
  • Webinars that teach
  • Podcasts with guests who illuminate, inspire or educate (or all three!)

The best helpful and informative content may not mention your specific product or service at all, but it speaks right to the needs of the people who would most likely value your product or service.

I get it. It’s so tempting to toss in a little sales message. Resist the urge. Fight to have your altruistic intentions remain pure. Don’t give in to the temptation. Be patient. Remember how you feel when a salesperson rushes at you. You want to flee.

Your whole goal is to make your audience want to come back again and again because you are so helpful. When they get to the right spot on the buying journey, I promise you, the results will speak for themselves. They will seek you out.

But you have to let them get there through discovery.


The power of personas

July 3, 2019

personasPreviously, we noted that content marketing is hardly a new methodology. Its origins trace back to the late 1800s, but it certainly has evolved as technology and access have made it possible for just about anyone to claim and prove authority and expertise. But it takes well-researched personas to create successful content.

In looking at the content marketing trends report produced by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), I identified some trends worthy of more in-depth exploration. They included:

  • Well-researched personas can help teams create successful content; however, too few content marketers (42%) are actually talking with customers to understand their needs.
  • Nearly all of the successful B2B content marketers (90%) prioritize the audience’s informational needs over their sales/promotional message, compared with the 56% of the least successful.
  • B2B content marketers primarily use email (87%) and educational content (77%) to nurture their audience and may be missing other opportunities (e.g., only 23% are using community building/audience participation to bring new voices to the table.)

Today we’re going to invest some time to talk about persona best practices. A persona is a fictional composite created by looking at a set of your prospects or customers that would react to your product or service similarly. Think of this “person” as a fictional character that makes it easier to craft your marketing because you can envision yourself talking to them, rather than addressing a static set of demographics or statistics. Creating personas helps a brand create more effective messaging, create emotional connections with the intended audience, and anticipate that audience’s questions, needs, and barriers to the sale.

The danger in creating personas is that if you get it wrong, you can take your marketing in a direction that ranges from ineffective to downright damaging to your brand. You know the adage about what happens when we assume. Well, that’s the inherent risk of using personas if you don’t base those personas on research. Going back to the CMI trend report, the key takeaway from their findings is that well-researched personas can help teams create successful content. The study also found that most marketers were skipping that crucial step. If you don’t conduct the research, your personas are based on bias, assumptions, and guesses. Not the stable foundation you need.

You will want to do both formal and informal research as you develop your personas. Along with audience segmentation studies, you might consider focus groups, customer intercepts or interviewing your front-line staff, salespeople and call center reps. The more angles and viewpoints you can include, the better.

Once you’ve used the data to define your personas, you’ll want to go into a testing phase. The trick is to assume nothing. Test everything. What messages resonate with each persona? What triggers an action or reaction? It could be anything from a specific word in a headline to the color of a button on your website. The more you test, the more you can narrow down the choices, so you are left with only the most effective options.

As you’re expanding your data set for each persona, be sure that you’re working off a template to help you gather the same information and insights for each persona. Then begin to build out the customer journey maps. Each persona will have their own, so don’t stop at one. As you create the journey maps, you’re going to find they’re a blend of the facts, stories and personality traits you uncovered during your research.

One of the most significant benefits of properly creating your personas is that as you go through the effort, the marketing opportunities and messages will become very clear. The more you get to know them, the easier it is to communicate effectively with them.