Listen Before You Speak: Buyer Persona Boot Camp for Content Marketers

Graphic Design by Lynn Langmade

How to Create Marketing Personas that Will Insulate You From Content Shock

Buyer Persona Boot Camp

Okay, let's start at the beginning--your buyer persona. Or almost at the beginning. You might think the beginning is your product or business, but the truth is that the very first step is your audience. Without an audience base, your business cannot thrive. In fact, today's entrepreneurs are figuring out how to position their business before they even have a product. Neil Patel of Kissmetrics and Quick Sprout fame has talked extensively about finding your audience and THEN building a product the audience is asking for, rather than the traditional model. Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing Institute essentially makes the same claim in Epic Content Marketing. The beauty of finding your audience before developing your product is that your audience is in the rare position of being able to tell you exactly what they want or need. If you already know the audience wants your product, they’re not only a much easier sell, but you’ve also already got the marketing channels and tools to pitch the product at the right time and place. Why would your audience turn down an offer they essentially asked for? And only by developing marketing personas thoughtfully will you be able to create a strategic audience segmentation, which is essential to your content marketing strategy.

Why You Need To Listen Before You Speak

I'm not telling you to scratch your whole business model. What I am suggesting is that running a business these days is a lot like writing. No really. I’m being quite serious here. You need to always understand who your audience is before you can even begin writing and moreover, you need to know who they are so that you can write effectively. So too with building your business. These days, the audience is your first step. They are that important. I have actually argued that audience has now become king, dethroning content itself.

content marketers should listen before they speak

Whether you have a current functioning business or are just doing the initial steps, reaching the right people is your key to marketing success. But it's not just about reaching them, it's about designing content that speaks to them on a personal level. To do that, to speak to someone personally, you have to know who they are. And to know who they are, as Adele Revella explains in her phenomenal work on Buyer Personas (2015), you have to listen before you can start speaking. In my 2016 Summer Speed Reading List, I highlighted Revella’s work as critical for developing buyer personas. In the digital marketing universe, now more than ever, marketers need to hone their listening skills. The more in tune with their customers and prospects they are, the better they will be able to create content that provides value for them.

I'd equate it to sending out a letter of introduction or a resume. If you're professional, you want to address your cover letter or LOI to a specific person. If you're really on your game, you not only know the person's contact name, but you've done some research on them personally and their company. When a business contact gets an email with their name and specifics that tell them about their own company, their own position, what's phenomenal about their company, and what the letter writer can do for them -- well, that's not something that automatically gets sent to delete. If you approach your content marketing strategy this way, you’ll be at the very top percent of those doing “content marketing” and are more likely to get engagement from your audience.

What Is Content Shock & How Can Buyer Personas Protect You From It?

While this analogy is true for all aspects of marketing, it is particularly important for those in content marketing. We have now entered the marketing epoch pundit Mark Schaeffer refers to as “content shock.”

The Definition of Content Shock

I have touched on the problem of content shock previously in a post about why organic reach is disappearing on Social. In a nutshell, we’re all being inundated with mostly irrelevant ads and content that cause us to develop “banner blindness” and content fatigue. Think of it this way. Your audience is used to a million ads. Things pop into their email box that they don't even remember signing up for. Half the time, the don't even open these things. They see ads on their social media feeds, ads in their mailbox, and a million different ways that marketers are trying to sell to them. The thing that all of these nameless, faceless advertisements have in common--they're not directed at the individual. They're directed at everyone. It's a, "Let's throw it all against the wall and see what sticks" approach. This approach will garner some results, but it’s not as likely to create engagement as speaking directly to your audience. Going back to the example of your resume--if you sent out 100 resumes with no personal information in the cover letter, you'd probably get few if any responses. How many would you get if each of your cover letters was tailored to the hiring manager and/or company?

This is where creating your buyer persona comes in. A buyer persona isn't just a quick demographic sketch of who *might* be interested in your products. These are detailed, fully-rendered pictures. Think of them as character sketches or short biographies. Your personas tell you about the audience seeing your content in an exceptionally specific manner. They don’t just tell you general information like age, income, marital status. They tell you very specific things about your buyer that makes them unique. How many kids does your Jane Working Mom have? How often does Dave CEO go on vacation? When does Stella College Student need to update her wardrobe for her internship?

Your buyer persona will help you:

  • Target Your Content--Having the individual persona in mind makes it far easier to create content that speaks to them.

  • Increase Engagement--With more highly-targeted content, you'll see increased engagement.

  • Improve Your Product-- Knowing who your customer is will help you create opportunities to sell your product or improve your services. Knowing each audience member means that you're more in tune with what they need.

  • Increase ROI-- This is really the only metric that counts. You'll deal with engagement and shareability and all sorts of goals that your marketing plan wants to hit, but all of them are really aiming for a return on your investment. You need conversion and a targeted campaign will reap better rewards than a generic message.

How to Do Your Buyer Personas Right

Reach Out To Everyone Who Touches the Customer

However, many people assume that you can develop your buyer persona in a vacuum or through research alone. The truth is that you can’t. You can’t just send out a survey or look on the web. You actually need to do the work of having real conversations with everyone in your company who touches the customer, such as Sales, Customer Success or Customer Support. Even more importantly, you actually need to talk to your customers and prospects.

However, most content marketers stop there. But you can and should contact others who are outside your company.

Who Should You Reach Out To?

You’ll want to leverage your sales database or CRM to find buyers to interview. This database should have the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of most of the people you will want to interview. There are a few occasions when you’ll want to use other resources to find some of the buyers you’ll want to interview and not rely on your sales database, especially when you know that the data is no longer clean. One obvious resource is “qualitative research recruiters” who will help set up interviews for a fee. One of the best reasons to use an external vendor to find buyers is that they can help you find those buyers who have never considered your solution.

Generally, you’ll want to reach out to all of the following profiles:

  1. People who considered you and chose you (customers)

  2. People who considered you but chose a competitor

  3. People who considered you but decided to keep things as they were to maintain status quo

  4. People who never considered you and chose another

If you are working in a B2B marketing environment with large “buying committees” you should reach out as well to multiple buying “influencers” on the buying committee, not just the economic stakeholder

What Questions Should You Ask?

Take a few moments to develop a list of questions to ask your customers and prospects and then reach out to them via email or phone and simply ask them if they would agree to a quick 30-min interview with you? Most of your prospects and customers will be flattered that you care enough about what they think that they will immediately say yes.

New content marketers are always stumped at how many interviews you should conduct. It truly depends on the size of your company and the amount of solutions/products you’re offering, but generally 8-10 are ideal. However, I would recommend starting with 3-5 in-depth interviews. You can gather enough insight with just 3-5 interviews to inform your content marketing strategy.

Your detailed buyer persona will include all of the following information:

Demographic information: attributes of people, such as gender, race, age, income, etc.

Firmographic information: attributes of companies, such as size, industry etc.

Geographic information: attributes about where a person lives ranging from

But more important than these categories are the following:

Psychographic information: attributes of personality, values, opinions, interests, and lifestyle

Behavioral information: information about what a customer needs and how they react to those needs

Sample Buyer Persona Profile

Fresh Food Felix Is a Great Example of a Fleshed Out Buyer Persona

This sample buyer persona profile was created for a “healthy” fast food chain. What you’ll notice about this buyer persona profile is that the buyer not only has demographics, challenges and key goals, it also includes a “name.” Each buyer persona profile you create should have a name--Felix, Mary, Sally whatever. Yeah, I know that sounds over the top, but here’s why giving your buyer persona a name matters. Giving them a name helps you to always think about who they are as individuals and to clearly separate them from other buyer personas you’re developing so that you can always target the content you develop effectively. You want to always separate Sally from Jim not just in your content strategy but in the day-to-day production of each content asset create. I honestly recommend creating cool little profile cards like this one and pinning them up like baseball cards. Profiles like this one will help you stay incredibly focused as you write so that you can deliver quality content that will provide value for each buyer persona.

Sample Buyer Persona Interview Questions 


How old are you?

What is your gender?

What is your race or ethnicity?

What is your annual income?


What is your job title?

How long have you been with your company?

How many years have you been in this role?

Company (If Applicable):

What industry is your company in?

Is your company startup, small business, midsize business or enterprise?

Is your company B2B or B2C

How many employees?

What are your company's primary competitors?

You mentioned many people who are involved in buying decision. Who exactly will be involved in the buying decision?


What is your favorite color?

What are your hobbies?

What do you like to do in your free time?

Where do you hang out online? Are you on social media? If so, which networks?

How do you primarily consume content? Web? Social Media? Podcast? Video? Other?

Did marketing content you consumed influence your choice of vendors?


What are your needs?

When did you first become aware that a solution was needed --as opposed to when they first considered your product

If there were one problem our solution could solve, what would it be?

What is your biggest pain point?

What is keeping up a night?

Do you use our product/solution regularly? If so how many times a week or month?


While this blog post isn’t an exhaustive resource on how to craft your buyer personas, it is my hope that it provides you with enough information to get you motivated to start taking your buyer personas seriously, as well as serving as a basic framework so you can start developing your personas immediately. I highly recommend reviewing more in depth works like Revella’s Buyer Personas to flesh out all that I’ve highlighted here.

Content shock is real. It’s not a joke. Content marketers are going to continue to see diminishing returns on their investment in content marketing unless they take the time to do the work on their buyer personas to help them cut through the noise with highly relevant, targeted content that provides real value to their specific buyers. Content marketers who fail to heed this lesson will pay a huge price. I hope you’re not going to be one of them :)

Have you created buyer personas? Write a comment below and tell me about your success developing buyer personas and how it helped drive results in your content marketing efforts.

Want to learn more insider tips for making the most out of your content? Sign up for blog updates from Lynn Langmade Content Marketing below to stay on target!