Buyer personas are often created on instinct instead of data. And let’s be honest, that doesn’t improve the customer experience.
In some cases, buyer personas limit you to targeting one or two types of people, ignoring the different stages of the buyer cycle entirely.
In fact, 60-70% of B2B marketers admit they don’t understand their buyers, which is exactly what buyer personas are designed to do. However, 48% of buyers say they are more likely to consider businesses that address their specific issues, catering to them personally.
Buyer personas are old news. It’s why companies like HubSpot are ditching them for more intensive audience targeting and customer journey mapping: it provides a better experience from start to finish.
Instead, try these deep audience research methods to uncover who your audience truly is and what they want. Only then can you give users the experiences they crave.
Dig into social demographics
Come on, demographics are obvious, aren’t they? They are.
You already know that demographics, like age, gender, income, and education, help you understand who your audience is so you can speak their language.
In addition, changes in your audience demographic foreshadow changes in your market or shift in your target audience.
The best place to easily find this information is social media. Why? Because these people are already interacting with your brand.
Here is how to do it.
Twitter’s built in-analytics program provides demographics such as your audience’s top interests, language, household income, and consumer behavior.
Here is how to find this data:
- Log in to Twitter.
- Go to Twitter Analytics.
- Click on “Audiences” in the top nav bar.
- Choose to view Overview, Demographics, Mobile Footprint, and more.
This gives you a high-level, 30,000-foot overview of your audience.
Is it specific enough to really sell hard? Not yet. But it’s a fantastic start to help to narrow down your audience and getting specific with intent and messaging. Now, let’s move on to Instagram.
If you are using an Instagram tool, you may have access to demographic data there.
Otherwise, you can use Instagram’s built-in analytics.
Here is how:
- Go to your Instagram profile (You’ll need an Instagram business account for this).
- Tap the hamburger menu (the three bars in the right corner).
- Select “Insights.”
- Choose “Audience.”
This is what you will have access to:
Again, while it’s nothing concrete or detailed about the specific intentions of buyers just yet, it’s insightful. Age demographics paired with location targeting can work wonders for localized campaigns and personalized offers.
While B2B continues to adapt and figure out ways to leverage Instagram, the platform has become the go-to network for social commerce with 60% of people saying they discover new products on Instagram.
This one is pretty simple. Go to your business page, click “Insights” in the top navigation bar, and select “People” from the left sidebar.
You can choose to view the demographics of fans, followers, people reached, or people engaged.
Once you pull data from all three platforms, import it into a spreadsheet and track once a quarter. Now, you will have real-time information about who your audience is, instead of a vague buyer persona. And, more importantly, you notice changes in your demographics before your sales tank.
Now what? Use this information to tailor your messaging to who your audience is. Are they older? You probably don’t wanna use memes in your advertising. You get the point.
Using a tool like Grammarly, you can start to adjust the context of your messaging/copy based on how much the audience knows, what their intent is, and how emotionally charged a topic might be for them.
Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s dig a little deeper.
Take a fresh look at LinkedIn
Think LinkedIn is just for looking for a job? Think again. LinkedIn is also a fantastic source for developing new relationships, researching your audience, and lead prospecting.
Pratima Aravabhoomi of Craft Street Design Co was able to scale a startup from zero clients to corporate level accounts using LinkedIn audience data. How? By tapping into interests, finding companies, and exploring their employee profiles:
Combine that with Sponsored InMail and you’ve got a direct link to audience targets and specific details about their wants and needs.
Results? She generated a 50% conversion rate on new sales.
Here is how you can put her strategy to work for you:
Head to Google and search from companies who might be interested in your product. For example, say you sell customizable office supplies. Start by searching for the top companies in your area.
For Chicago, Boeing is one of the top companies that come up.
Now, head over LinkedIn to find people who work for Boeing.
Keep in mind: you want to target people who have the time to respond to your email. So you might look for HR reps, executive assistants or, at Boeing for example, the Chief of Staff.
You can use “Filters” to search for specific job titles like HR:
Once you have a contact, develop a personalized pitch template.
Make sure you explain why you are reaching out, who you are, and how your product will benefit them. It is important to focus on the value you offer, not what they can do for you.
Now you are ready to reach out through LinkedIn Mail, which Pratima had great success with. Or, you can look for their email address and send your personalized message that way. Contact Out is a Chrome extension pairs with LinkedIn to provide phone numbers, emails, and social accounts of LinkedIn users. Other tools for finding email addresses include VoilaNorbert or Hunter.io.
By doing your research and focusing on the value you offer, you are far more likely to get a positive response.
Do a competitive content marketing analysis
It’s incredibly hard to stand out when there are over 4-million blog posts published daily. Or is it?
You don’t need a $4,000 content promotion budget to stand out (though that is useful), you just need to be different. Being different means you need to stay ahead of your competition by creating content that is more valuable than the other 4 million blog posts out there.
Start by auditing your blog content. Next, look at what your competitors are doing, then create content that is more in depth or has a unique spin. Then build a promotion plan.
Here is how to do a competitive content analysis:
- Research the key terms your brand targets. You can do a Google search or you can use a tool like SEMRush to see who else is ranking for that term.
- Evaluate your top 3 to 5 competitors. How long are the articles? What questions do they answer?
- Analyze this information. How can you create a better resource?
- Look into their page length and word count. Can you develop a long-form blog strategy that better matches user intent?
Another tool for competitive research is Alexa from Amazon, designed to help you find competitors and keep an eye on what they are doing.
Stop assuming; start asking your audience
A major issue with the buyer or customer persona is it gets built based on who you want your audience to be instead of who is actually buying your product or service. It is time to stop assuming who your audience is and what they care about and ask them.
Start by sending a simple email to your list subscribers, and ask: “What is your biggest challenge in (your industry)?”
This will give you insight into where your audience is struggling.
Next, use those answers to dive deeper into an in-depth audience survey through an online survey tool. Here are a few suggestions for questions to ask, though you will want to customize your questions based on their struggles, your industry, and your product.
- What type of content do you find the most useful?
- Where do you go for resources about X?
- If an (industry) genie granted you one wish, what would you wish for?
- What topics do you struggle to find information about?
- What annoys you the most about industry news sites?
Here is the thing though, you can’t just ask your audience to spend their valuable time giving you information for free. Make it worth their time by offering an Amazon gift card giveaway or an awesome download of premium content.
Pay attention to the language your customers use in their answers. Or better yet, actually converse with your customers. I know, crazy, right? Using chatbots or live-chat tools, you can instantly connect with your audience and learn just about anything and everything about them:
Look at what people hate
The things people hate are, arguably, more important than things they hate. Why? For starters, angry customers are up to three times more likely to post a bad review than a happy customer.
And those bad reviews have an impact; 68% of consumers say they trust opinions online, and 85% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as an in-person recommendation.
The truth is, people are more likely to share what they dislike about a brand or an industry. The good news? That information can be a gold mine.
Where do you find this information? Start by looking at internal complaint data, if you have it. Check email boxes, dig into your customer relationship manager, and look at social media, and ask your salespeople. By streamlining your sales process, you can save time and increase your close rate by 28%.
Then, look at your competitor’s reviews. See where they are failing.
Check out Quora. For example, an SEO tool might search “SEO struggles.”
Look for information like:
- What do people misunderstand about your product?
- What do customers dislike the most about your industry?
- What causes the most frustration in your industry?
- What level of technical knowledge do most customers have?
- What do your customers want to learn how to do?
Once you gather this data, build a website experience or piece of content that addresses your customer’s struggle by providing direct, tangible value.
Start with your home page. Take this example from Lyfe Accounting. You may find that your users don’t find it easy to contact you, so include multiple calls to action (CTAs) to make contacting you easier.
FreshDesk creates software designed to help businesses solve customer problems faster–meaning a good portion of their audience is in customer service.
What issue do customers service reps often have? Industry turnover rate is very high, often as much as 35-40%. Which means there’s a lot of reps looking for work on a regular basis.
The solution? Create an in-depth piece of content helps customer service reps find better jobs by creating a kick-ass resume. Edit a fantastic PDF meant to deliver a good user experience.
Now that’s better audience targeting, research, and content to match.
Don’t forget secondary research
Secondary research, or looking at studies that have already been done, is one of the most cost effective ways to learn about your customers. No surveys, no ad spend, just data.
There is a ton of data out there already and it would be a huge mistake to dismiss it. For starters, secondary research is cheaper. You don’t have to spend your resources; all the hard work has been done.
Secondary research can also be a fantastic place to find inspiration for your own research.
Finally, you often find a wider range of data from studies that have already been done. For example, studies conducted over decades or with much larger sample sizes than you have access to.
Here are a few places to start looking for secondary research:
- Pew Research
- US Census Bureau
- Google Scholar
- The DMA (Data and Marketing Analytics)
So, what do you do with this data? Well, that depends on what you uncover, but here are a few examples of how to put secondary data to use:
Identify the best way to reach your target audience. What do they do between 6 pm and 10 pm? Maybe you assume they are on their phones when in reality they are watching streaming TV.
Align your branding with topics they care about. For example, if eco-friendly options are important to your customers, can you highlight your efforts to cut waste?
But wait, there’s more. In addition to helping you understand your audience, secondary research can also help you drive more qualified leads.
This guide to lead generation from Venngage shows you how to wrap up all that juicy secondary research into lead magnets that drive the right customers into your beautifully crafted sales funnel.
You wouldn’t talk to your boss’ boss the way you talk to your buddies over drinks. In the same way, you can’t talk to a customer who is ready to buy the same way you do to a customer who has just learned about your business.
These deep research techniques will help you speak to your audience no matter who they are or where they are in your funnel.
A final note: Don’t research once and assume you are done. Audience research needs to be an ongoing learning process. In fact, a study by Convince and Convert found successful marketers are 242% more likely to conduct audience research at least four times a year.
So, here’s the question: Do you really know who your audience is?
How much better could your solutions be if you truly understood who they are and what they need?
About the guest author
Levi Olmstead is a community manager at G2 Crowd.
Levi Olmstead is the community manager at G2 Crowd, the leading B2B software and services review platform with over 385,000 verified, real-user reviews. Learn more about G2 Crowd and follow Levi on Twitter at @levi_olmstead.