The Lean Startup Guide to Writing Actionable Personas

Some Background On "Lean"

A lean approach refers to a business that is based on the principles of lean production, originally a manufacturing methodology that values a business' ability to change quickly. Eric Ries popularized the approach to product development with his book The Lean Startup.

This blog post is about applying these concepts to your content strategy and marketing, specifically, your persona and audience interests documents. These documents together, should provide a comprehensive description of a specific population. Yet, not every company needs to write a 30-page opus, followed by every customer interest imaginable nor will it be necessary in every case. If you are a startup or small business, most likely you will just need to focus your research efforts on key insight areas that yield the most actionable results. This is what I am referring to as a “lean strategy.”

 

How Will My Team Use a Lean Strategy?

The ultimate goal is to create a marketing blueprint for identifying the target audience’s specific challenges and then position your business as uniquely qualified to solve. The lean persona is the starting point for all your outreach marketing and social media. Plus, it needs to be understood and actionable for your teammates.

You have a hazy idea of who your target audience is, right? You’ve started on a persona, that’s in some file on your computer somewhere, right? Well, it’s time to dig a little deeper and get to know your peeps even better.

Queue client response when I ask if they’ve written any personas:

In our Social Media Style Guide blog post, we discuss how content teams should have a style guide in place before posting anything to social media channels. Like a persona, a style guide is unique to your company and helps you communicate with readers in a consistent, relatable way. In this document, you establish binding rules for all collateral. Create a company style guide before starting a blog, newsletter, or writing landing page content for you or your clients and simultaneously work on a persona so the two docs are in sync as part of an overall content strategy.

 

You Need A Content Strategy

One misconception about creating a content strategy is that you need to have a huge budget and a staff of researchers. If you represent a large company with stakeholders demanding multiple rounds of iteration and a lot of quantitative data, the resources you need may already be there. If not, a lean persona will do the trick. Here is the ultimate scenario for applying lean methodology to your strategy:

1.  A small budget.

2.  A rapid product development cycle.

3.  Stakeholders who want stuff done yesterday.

4.  Stakeholders that trust you to make decisions and act on them.

Does this sound like you? Then what are you waiting for? Download the templates, and get to work!

 

What Goes In My Lean Persona Document?

It should start as a composite sketch of what your audience looks like, with a focus on qualitative data:

  • Key personal interests
  • Job title
  • Income range
  • Challenges at work
  • Who they follow online / Professional thought leaders


Last year, when I lead content marketing for an innovation consulting firm in the Bay Area, we developed a b2b persona template that we used to further develop a social media style guide, a content marketing interests guide, and an editorial calendar. The template laid the groundwork for which to build on our content strategy. After you download them here, walk through the steps below on how to develop these templates to be your company's’ unique persona.

 

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Step 1. Describe Your Audience

Start by sketching out some real-life characteristics. Are you describing an individual who works at a startup or a Fortune 500? The reason this is important is that a marketing manager at a startup will have different concerns than one at a Fortune 500. These distinctions are crucial when you launch a campaign and need to understand the nuances.

You also describe your audience by compiling a list of influencers, publications, and categories of interest to discuss in relevant groups or communities.  Aim discuss how you will solve their problems with what you do in these communities and you’ll begin to tie your strategy in with your products and services.

What to include when describing your audience for a B2B lean persona:

Job title — What title might she have in her organization? Head of Marketing, Marketing Director etc., For example, Taylor, Head of Marketing

What size organization does she work at? Start-up, Fortune 500 etc.

Job role — What is Taylor’s job role and describe what  Taylor needs to do her job well.

Challenges — What are the unique challenges of Taylor’s  role (i.e not enough technical support, too many meetings, undefined workflows)?

 

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Step 2: Interview Early Adopters To Fill In Gaps

Collect as much early customer data as you can. Data may come in the form of telephone or email interviews, surveys, or tracking user buying habits if you are selling a product.  

When interviewing clients, ask open-ended questions (i.e., questions that require explanation, not just a “Yes” or “No” answer). Their answers will help you create a sketch of your audience based on personal and social beliefs, household income, financial status, hobbies, where they get news, what type of entertainment they like, and more.

Here are additional ideas from hubspot. As you begin to fill in the gaps, you will be able to make informed assumptions about your base.

Continue to expand your persona as live data comes in.

 

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Step 3. Conduct Market Research

Google searches, public documents and information, online periodicals, survey questionnaires, educational institutions, Google analytics, financial institutions, etc. are valuable sources for finding key insights on behaviors, demographic information, job titles and descriptions, and much more.

From customer data, market research data, and your educated assumptions, you should track patterns in behaviors and purchasing motivations so that you can continue expanding the persona and identifying even more unique traits.

 

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Step 4. Research Your Organic Competitors on Social Media

First, you need to know who your organic competitors are. Your organic search competitors are businesses that are nearest to you in search results (not who you think they are from a business perspective). You also want to get a handle on who ranks in the top 3 positions in a Google search as these are the top players in your industry.

A good way to get insight on your competitors is by seeing who they follow on social media and identifying influencers in their industry. The audience you are targeting will likely be following these people as well.

Once you’ve identified your competitors, use SimilarWeb to research their websites.

Put on your spy hat and nose around to see who they’re attracting on social media, then follow those same people and engage with them as well. You can learn a lot from watching your competitors — wins and fails, hits and misses, successes and stagnation. They are saving you the trouble of trial and error.

 

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Step 5. Build Your Personas & Interests Documents

Here is the lean outline we use to organize our research, its’ the same as what you just downloaded above:

  1. Primary Buyer Personas (This is your primary target).

  2. Secondary Personas (This is an important target but not as crucial to develop as your primary persona at the start).

And this is additional info we include in our personas and our content marketing & interest document:

  1. What are their online interests?

  2. Who do they follow on social media (Thought-Leaders)?

  3. What content topics fall under each interest?

  4. Which online resources/publications fall under each interest?

  5. What events do they attend to learn about and pursue each interest, i.e. conferences?

For example, if one interest of your target audience is tech innovation culture, here are some possible topics:

  • Bitcoin
  • Venture capital
  • IoT

Resources for these topics are publications like “Medium, “ “VentureBeat” and “TechCrunch.” Some events could include tech conferences like SXSW or An Event Apart.

 

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Step 6. Target Your Audience In Marketing

Use the Content Marketing and Interests document you downloaded to keep track of your audience online and engage with and follow things they care about on social media channels they are active on.

As you become part of a community that shares interests and habits with your target audience, you can use this intel to get to know your audience better and build products and services around them.

You can also mine these communities for content topics for your blog and newsletter.

Final Thoughts...

B2B Persona vs. B2C Persona

Keep in mind that a B2B persona is different than a B2C persona. A B2B persona focuses on an individual’s job and role in the business. A B2C persona focuses on personal interests, social beliefs, and buying habits for an entire population. 

A B2B lean strategy consists of meaningful living documents with actionable insights. By actionable, I mean your colleagues can open the doc and identify an audience pain point that your product/service solves and get to creating content that addresses these pain points.

The lean strategy helps you construct messaging on all of your channels -your website, emails, and social channels around audience interests and challenges.

Update your persona and content interest document as you uncover more information about your population.  If you’re not making the type of progress you were hoping for, go back and conduct more market research and refine your templates.

Good luck!

Need Some Assistance? Got Questions About How To Use These Documents?

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