Understand Your Customers - EFFECTIVE CONTENT STRATEGY: PEOPLE, PROCESS, AND TECHNOLOGY - The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web (2014)

The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web (2014)



My daughters, who are eight and ten, like to tease me with riddles. They posed the following question: Imagine you’re trapped in a black box, underground, with no tools and no way to get out. What do you do? I was stumped, until the eight-year-old grinned and said, “Stop imagining!”

After Parts 1 and 2, you are no longer in your black box of content nightmares. You can see your way out because you have a firm grasp of the philosophy of content. Now that you think about content differently, you can approach it differently from within your organization.

You’ve learned who you are by exploring branding (Chapter 1). You know how to say what you want to say by exploring the three parts of content: information, structure, and substance (Chapters 3 and 4). We’ve discussed how to distribute content effectively (Chapter 5).

In Part 3, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and explore the “devil is in the details” stages of how to create content that drives the sales process. You are going to learn about the tools that you need to manage your content in a productive, streamlined workflow.

Gerry McGovern, a well-known thought leader on content, says, “Content thinking and technology thinking are classic organization-centric approaches. People don’t want a ‘book a flight’ tool. They want to get to Dublin from London. People don’t want the installation manual. They want to install the product. For most people, content or technology is not the end, not the point” (McGovern, 2012).

Content lies at the intersection of people, process, and technology. What it takes to make great content needs to happen without our audiences knowing, as McGovern notes. They don’t care how we get it done—they just want to get it done. In Part 3, we’re going to learn how to interpret and communicate your business strategy so you create meaningful, valuable content.

In Chapter 6, we’ll talk about creating tools you can use to represent different potential customers. When you create personas and decision journey maps, you suddenly realize that you know whom you want to talk to, which makes your content vibrant and real.

In Chapter 7, we’ll talk about identity pillars, messaging architectures, and voice and tone. Knowing what your brand represents matters more than ever online. Because if you don’t know who you are, how can you possibly engage in a great conversation?

In Chapter 8, we’ll learn about different tools you can use to create an online publishing strategy for your content that works for your organization: people, process, and technologies.

Finally, in Rule #5, we’ll talk about how to create consistent content experiences across all the different channels you use to talk to your customers.


1. McGovern, G. (2012). Content is an enabler. Retrieved from http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/new-thinking/content-enabler.

Chapter 6. Understand Your Customers


Creating great content begins with knowing your audience, and knowing your audience requires you to create personas that your content team can think about and relate to as real customers. It’s vital to know where and how your audience looks for content. It’s also vital that the team always keep in mind the company’s business achievement goals as they create and use personas. Creating personas can be a great team activity, or personas can be created using data and analytics. No matter how you create them, and no matter what types you end up using, you should continue to refer to audience personas by name to ensure that everyone is on the same page as the content grows.


personas; audience research; decision journey persona; seeker persona; sales; marketing; content strategy; content development

Are you ready to define who your audience is? To sell/convince/influence/impress our audience, we need to know who they are so we can speak to their interests and in their language. Content is a conversation. We don’t want to come across as narcissists, focused only on our own needs and what we want to say. Nobody likes someone who is always talking about herself. It’s boring and makes for no interchange; if the other person is always talking, how can there be any exchange of information?

When speaking to your audience, you need to be clear that your content is there to provide the information they need and want. The more we know about our audience, the more effective our content will be. That’s why there are a variety of tools you can use to:

• Understand your customers better (personas)

• Sketch how they make decisions and what information they need to do so (decision journey maps)

• Plot what they are doing when they interact with your content (interactive scenarios)

The more we know about our audience, the more effective our content will be.

Together we are going to learn how to create and use these tools, which are part of customer identity profiles. These profiles will help you mine and examine your customers in depth, communicate who they are within and among your internal teams, and help align your content with every stage of your audiences’ decision-making process.

About Personas

Personas are tools we use to create composite characters so we have an idea of who is at the other end of the conversation. Personas answer the critical question: To whom are we talking and what should we say to capture their attention?

The Answers You Need

You must be able to answer these four critical questions if you want to create fantastic content for your brand:

1. Who is our audience?

2. What do they care about?

3. Where do they spend their time?

4. How do we get them the information they need?

Back in Rule #1, we talked about a framework you can use to discover and define your audience. Your tools and criteria for defining your audience should include:

1. Customer personas

2. Audience research

3. Understanding how customers access content

We discussed the data you need to create personas in Rule #1. In this chapter, we are going to dive deeper and learn:

• What a persona is

• Why personas should be used

• How to create personas

• Types of personas

• The challenges of using personas in large organizations

• Aligning content development with the largest persona group

Then we’ll touch on other tools you can use to learn more about your customers and actually put yourself in their shoes as they make decisions based on your content.

J.C. Penney—We Didn’t Understand Our Customers

J.C. Penney, the huge department store chain, hired a new CEO who decided it was time to make the store more hip and modern. Ron Johnson’s ambitious changes included getting rid of most sales and bringing in new, hip brands. Some of the other changes he made involved eliminating maternity clothing and some of the larger sizes that Penney’s carried. Instead, he introduced slimmer, “skinny jeans” types of clothing in an effort to attract younger, wealthier shoppers. In a bid to reinvent the stodgy retailer, he alienated Penney’s loyal customers and caused sales to plummet (Anderson, 2013).

After the retailer fired Johnson, they proceeded to run a campaign to let their customers know they had made some terrible mistakes. One of their ads acknowledges the missteps and asks customers to return to its stores: “Come back to J.C. Penney. We heard you, now we’d love to see you,” the voice-over states.

“It’s no secret, recently J.C. Penney changed,” the ad goes. “Some changes you liked, and some you didn’t. But what matters with mistakes is what we learn.”

The narrator continues: “We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you, to hear what you need, to make your life beautiful. Come back to J.C. Penney. We heard you. Now we’d love to see you.”

What’s even worse (cue the sad music for the C-suite), was that Moody’s Investors Service downgraded J.C. Penney’s rating in the wake of this error (Hsu, 2013).

The lesson is clear: Understand your customers. Know who they are. Don’t pretend they are someone else. Because if you abandon them, as Penney’s learned, they’ll abandon you, too.

What Is a Persona?

A persona is a full profile of your customer—everything relevant you could possibly want to know about him or her. A persona is not a real person or someone you know. When you create personas, you want to imagine who these people are, what they care about, and questions they have when they encounter your content.

Personas are shared tools to create composites of the real people who interact with our content on a daily basis.

User experience (UX) professionals use personas to understand how to design, write, and develop interactive applications for people. UX professionals include usability experts, human factor designers, information architects, content strategists, and user interface designers, among others. These professionals need to understand their audience so they can build better digital content and designs.

Marketers also use personas to identify target audiences to understand how to better connect to their customers. When audience engagement teams discover how customers consume content, use interactive applications, and engage with the digital world, they enrich their understanding of the audience they need to reach.

When audience engagement teams discover how customers consume content, use interactive applications, and engage with the digital world, they enrich their understanding of the audience they need to reach.

Of course, there is never just one persona—after all, we are trying to reach a world full of people of all shapes, sizes, races, religions, interests, and so on. Particularly in a large global organization, the challenge of creating personas may feel overwhelming. However, it can, should, and must, be done. We’ll talk about how to face those challenges at the end of the chapter.

Personas Represent Your People

According to UX Magazine, “A persona represents a cluster of users who exhibit similar behavioral patterns in their purchasing decisions, use of technology or products, customer service preferences, lifestyle choices, and the like. Behaviors, attitudes, and motivations are common to a ‘type’ regardless of age, gender, education, and other typical demographics. In fact, personas vastly span demographics” (O’Connor, 2011).

In other words, a grandma who loves computers could be represented by the same persona as a teen who is addicted to texting. This is a critical point because when we tend to think about target audiences, we start falling into classic demographic measurements: age, race, geographical location, income, and so on. However, you may be responsible for content that spans a broad variety of people—so much so that it is impossible to categorize them according to those typical measurements.

Instead, you want to look at how they behave and their motivations, rather than surface identifying characteristics. Your audience could have hundreds of different personal characteristics: What unites them makes them one persona, or archetype, even though they may share no other demographic identifiers.

We use personas to create relevant content, according to the authors of Content Rules: “A buyer persona essentially represents a type of buyer you think will be interested in your product or service, and the idea behind creating buyer personas is to understand customers’ specific needs and wants. Knowing your audience is particularly important for creating content and buyer personas can help shape your content to make it more relevant to your prospective buyers, especially if you are using words and phrases your potential customers use” (Handley & Chapman, 2011).

Shaping your content to make it more relevant to your customers is exactly the point of this book. Imagine starting a conversation with someone and having no idea who the person is—nothing about them—not their age, interests, passions, fears—nothing. How would you even begin?

Why Use Personas?

If you are creating content, you need to create personas to reinforce that you are talking to people with real concerns. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of talking about your products and services rather than focusing on the needs of your customers. Remember the story of Brian, from Chapter 1? He was the salesman who focused on the customers, until in training he learned about products. Then he focused on the products and stopped focusing on people’s needs. He was not able to sell effectively until he learned to combine his approach: First, focus on your customer’s needs, then find the product or service that is best for her.

There are three important reasons to create, use, and regularly update your organization’s personas.


1. Identify and target your audience: Personas help you to identify your audience so you can create compelling content that keeps them coming back for more.
Personas breathe real life into your audience so you don’t fall into the trap of depersonalizing your customers by thinking of them as users rather than considering them real flesh-and-blood people. Personas help all content creators focus on the customers, putting their needs, worries, and responsibilities foremost, rather than our own.

2. Put the team on the same page: Personas help create alignment among your content creation team. If everyone knows that your audience consists of Avery, Peyton, and Bristol (more modern-day names for Tom, Dick, and Harry), then they will be able to better plan for content and to edit each other’s work.

3. Keep you out of the danger zone: Without personas, companies often tend to forget who is consuming the content on the other end. This leads to what I call the “Danger Zone”, which causes customers to zone out because the content is either way too vanilla or lacks any competitive differentiation on the web.

Personas breathe real life into your audience so you don’t fall into the trap of depersonalizing your customers by thinking of them as users rather than considering them real flesh-and-blood people.

How to Create Personas

There are many useful resources you can reference when creating your personas. Jared Spool has several articles at User Interface Engineering (www.uie.com). Ginny Redish has excellent information in her book, Letting Go of the Words, Second Edition: Writing Web Content that Works. Her directions and highlights include:

1. Gather information about your site visitors: Include customer service inquiries, web feedback, reviews, recommendations, social media, web analytics, blog comments, online questionnaires, and usability testing. You can also consider offline research activities to find out more about your audience by conducting interviews, focus groups, and other types of market research.

2. List groups of site visitors: Ask how your audience self-identifies, how you identify them, and what they need to know to help you create better content for them.

3. List major characteristics for each group: Think about the vocabulary they use, their emotions when interfacing with your content, their values, and the technologies they might be using (Redish, 2012).

Personas Workshop

My favorite way to create personas is to hold a workshop with your digital and/or client team. This, of course, comes after you’ve spent time with your stakeholders so you can get their view of the target audiences. Or, (even better) invite the primary stakeholders to the workshop.

Creating personas using workshops is helpful for a few reasons:

1. Contribution: Everyone gets to contribute, which goes far in ensuring that you’re not missing a major audience segment or fact that makes a difference in the final personas.

2. Connection: By using a workshop format, people connect to the development of the personas; it feels like a team effort. Therefore, your team is far more likely to use the end product personas. In addition, people from different departments hear each other’s viewpoints and connect to each other, thus creating a vibrant team environment and team ownership of the personas.

3. Challenge: By challenging each other’s assumptions, you ensure the personas are solid and will help drive the entire strategy effort by clearly defining your audience

Questions That Will Get You Started

Think about persona creation as that game you played as a child, called Twenty Questions. A review of the rules: one player thinks of a person, then the second player tries to guess who it is and each person gets a turn to try to guess before the 20 questions run out.

During persona development, unlike the game, you are not limited—you can ask as many questions as you want. And of course, your sets of questions will change depending on the type of product or service you sell. If you sell auto parts, you are not going to ask how your personas look up healthcare information. If you provide air duct cleaning, you may want to consider how people access information about asthma, air quality, and how it affects their overall health. It’s all about putting yourself in the minds of your audiences and thinking as they do. Here is a sample of some questions you should be asking:

• How old are our customers?

• Where do they live?

• Where did they grow up?

• What is their level of education?

• How much money do they earn?

• What types of professions do they have?

• With whom do they spend their time?

• Do they have significant others or families?

• Where do they shop?

• What types of stores do they frequent?

• What do they eat?

• Who prepares their food?

• What types of cars do they drive? Do they use public transportation?

• What types of technology do they use?

• Do they access content from a desktop computer or a mobile device?

• Do they have a smartphone or a tablet?

Spend time answering these questions with your team. You can create persona projects in a day. But you’ll then need other types of research to back up your assumptions. So make sure you triangulate your research; meaning, find other sources of data to back up your creations. We talked about different types of research in Rule 1. These included customer research, interactive data, ethnographic studies, focus groups, surveys, and consumer trend research.

My suggestion is to do the workshop for half of a workday. Bring everyone in the conference room with pictures from magazines. Let people cut and paste pictures that represent who they think the personas are to their heart’s content. Then they can present their composites to the entire team.

I know you may be skeptical, but trust me—teams really enjoy this activity: It spurs their creativity. By sharing with each other, they are able to find gaps in their knowledge about the target audiences and if any messages are scrambled. Speaking of eggs, don’t forget to serve breakfast, lunch, or good snacks. Meetings over food take on a different tone, making everyone feel comfortable enough to confirm or critique others’ persona presentations.

Backing Personas Up with Data

No matter how you create your personas, you must ensure you reinforce them with data. As Paul Bryan, a user experience professional, points out, “When a team formulates personas on the basis of real customer data rather than just making them up, personas accurately represent the needs, wants and cross-channel interactive behavior of large segments of customers.” He recommends the following hybrid approach to persona development:

1. Use data: Use analytics and all available customer data to generate a set of characteristics and behaviors.

2. Do a deep-dive on developing personas: Interviewing customers in their homes, conducting video-diary exercises and shop-a-longs.

3. Connect the dots: Wire those archetypes to analytics, figuring out the distinguishing behaviors that match the specific attributes (Bryan, 2013).

By using this process, you ensure that you are using all different types of customer data to verify that your personas are appropriate for your brand.

What Should Our Personas Look Like?

In the beginning, while you are engaging in the workshop, you can use large pieces of poster board to create your personas with your team. Once you are finished, you will put them in charts within your style guide or brand guidelines. For now, you just want to create a rough outline of the personas.

It’s important that your team, to feel personally connected to the personas, relate to them as real people. To that end, give them names and find an “image” of him or her; someone that your team can truly connect with. It’s not too far-fetched to post these “customer images” on the wall of your main conference room and refer to them by name. I typically recommend no more than five personas per organization, but for those that have different products or service lines, it may make sense to create umbrella personas. The detailed personas may only exist for segmented parts of the organization.

Let me introduce Lisa (Figure 6.1) and Marcus, two rough personas that I use here as examples.


FIGURE 6.1 Persona example—Lisa.

Now remember what we said earlier—try to ignore the usual characteristics of audience that we all tend to focus on—gender and age. So, with that in mind, let’s say that Lisa is studying and likes to party but that doesn’t mean that she is in her twenties and at a fancy, expensive college. Marcus (in Figure 6.2) just got married but that doesn’t mean he is under age thirty.


FIGURE 6.2 Persona example—Marcus.

If we are to be successful in developing content to reach as many people as possible, we need to free our minds of the usual characteristic-based constrictions.

So, what do we know about Lisa? She:

• Studies at college

• Likes to party, but also takes school seriously

• Interacts with her friends via her iPhone, using various forms of social media and chat

We can add other things about Lisa to the mix, depending on who we are as a company. If you sell shoes, then Lisa may be a target customer. Does she like shoes? When does she shop for them? Online or with her friends in retail stores? How many pairs of shoes does Lisa have? How many would she like to have? Does she pay for shoes herself or do her parents still let her use their credit cards? Does Lisa have a job to pay for her shoes? The questions are endless and by answering them you nail down the details you need to know about Lisa so you can better shape your content for her.

What do we know about Marcus? He:

• Lives in NYC and does not own a car. Therefore, he uses the subway to get around

• Works as a stockbroker on Wall Street

• Is a runner

• Got married in the past year

What product do you want to sell to Marcus? Car oil? He doesn’t own a car, so he’s not a good example of a persona that suits your company. Life insurance? Well, now you can add in relevant details that help shape your content around life insurance.

How much money does Marcus make? Does he have life insurance through his job? Does his wife carry life insurance? Marcus is young—what would make him think about life insurance? Are there financial benefits for him in the different types of life insurance he might choose to buy? As a stockbroker, Marcus is probably savvier than most customers about finances—or is he? Does he pay attention to his personal finances? These are all important questions to answer about Marcus.

Developing customer personas like this help you to identify with your audience. During a meeting, you may have talked about the wealthy professional in his early thirties who is part of your target audience. Now that Marcus has a name and a face, your team will undoubtedly do a better job of creating directed content for him.

A word of caution: I have seen all types of personas—incredibly detailed down to what a person eats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I have also seen very loose personas that don’t answer all the questions you need to know about your target audience. My advice? Make them as detailed as they need to be, but targeted toward the product or service you are selling. For example, if you’re a government agency who regulates financial securities, you don’t need to know what your personas are eating at each meal. If you’re a government agency who is trying to get information to people about nutrition—then yes!—you need those descriptions.

Some content experts argue that your personas should be as specific as possible and others say that you don’t need to obsess over your personas—some bullet points can suffice (Halvorson & Rach, 2012). I think the types of personas you choose to create, and how detailed they are, depend on your organization, business objectives, and most importantly, what you are trying to sell or achieve.

When personas get too concrete, they lose their power. Your team needs a starting point that feels very solid to them, but they don’t need unnecessary details clouding their perception of the person. Remember, personas are representative of a member of your target audience. Keep the details centered on your organization’s business objectives. You’re not Dr. Frankenstein; meaning, you’re not trying to create a real person out of cardboard, magazines, and glue.

Each organization needs to pick the right number of personas to use in a way that shapes an artful conversation. Don’t pick too many—more than five and it will get too confusing. The goal of personas is to become familiar with them so that they feel like real people that are, by extension, a part of your team. When you talk about them, they feel real and it makes talking to them—and therefore crafting content for them—easier.

Just like brands evolve and change, so too, personas will evolve and change. Ensure you’re looking at your customer personas at least once a year to keep them fresh, relevant, and aligned with business objectives. What’s most important to identify about a persona is their mindset, or where they are in the decision-making process. This brings us to the different types of journey maps you can create and which ones are best suited to your organization’s content.

Knowing Your Audience

It’s not too difficult to understand that Neiman Marcus and Wal-Mart are targeting two very different audiences and that the personas to which they direct their content vary greatly. Take these two Valentine’s Day web ads—Neiman Marcus doesn’t even mention Valentine’s Day in theirs, just shows photos of a few items framed in pink and leaves the audience to figure it out. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, is catering to a different group. By using a wordier approach, with many more choices to buy for your sweetheart, they are fulfilling their brand promise of the widest variety of products at the lowest price (Figures 6.3 and 6.4).


FIGURE 6.3 Neiman Marcus ad.


FIGURE 6.4 Wal-Mart ad.

Three Categories of Journey Maps

Once you create up to five major personas, you may want to create journey maps detailing how they access content and change their content consumption process as they gather information. There are three categories of maps and scenarios to guide you:

Seeker Maps
These are customers looking for information—a phone number, a coupon code, the name of a contact person.

Decision Journey Maps
These people want to add to their knowledge base so they can make a decision. They might want to buy a product, choose a health professional, pick a hotel for a vacation, or buy a household appliance. They need information so they can complete a very specific task.

Interactive Scenario Maps
These tells you what your customers are doing while they access your content. Consider the following: You use a video to demonstrate to customers why they should buy your product. But in a mobile situation, it may take too long for your video to download. So it’s important to know what your customers are doing when they interact with your content so you can help support them as they try to get a piece of information or complete a task.

A useful way to think about how to use these different types of maps would be:

If You Think People Are Interacting with Your Content Because:

You Would Want This Type of Map:

They need information →


They want to buy something or make a decision →

Decision Journey

They are in a situation where all of your content is not accessible to them at that moment →

Interactive Scenario

We’ll talk more about some of these types of maps in Chapter 11.

Seeker Maps

When you create a seeker map, you sketch a profile of the path an audience member will take while they look for a piece of information embedded in one of your types of content. It could be something like a phone number, or what types of fruits are illegal to bring back into the United States after an overseas journey. Seeker maps might also detail a person looking for news or a piece of trivia. They may also be in search of health information to use later when they come to the decision-making process of their journey.

Seekers are gatherers of information—either a piece or pieces of information—to satisfy a need. Creating maps for seekers has a lot to do with the type of content you produce and why you produce it. For example, if you run a huge news site like CNN, you probably have broad maps, because CNN covers many types of news. If you’re a celebrity gossip site like US Weekly, you may have more specific maps, because you know the members of your audience are people who like celebrity gossip. Your maps might get specific, based on TV shows, movie stars, and fashion.

Decision Journey Maps

Decision journey maps describe people who are in search of information to help them make a buying decision. They are perfect for the customer loop we described in Chapter 2.

Buying decisions usually require gathering information, which is why your map should begin at the top of your customer loop as a broader sketch; the few bullet points we referenced before—who are they, where do they spend their time, and so on. As they make their way through the customer loop, clarify what happens as they sharpen their decision based on information. That way you can develop, build, and create content that is relevant for them depending on what content they may seek at that step.

For example, the website AJ Madison (www.ajmadison.com) sells kitchen appliances. If you use a search engine for a particular model or appliance, you can usually end up on their screen that shows that appliance. But if you start on their home page and select one of their top menu items you will find an appliance sorter which allows you to refine by price, color, brand, and size (Figure 6.5).


FIGURE 6.5 AJ Madison refrigerator sorter.

When you hit the content page, you can read about the content, and can even dig deeper, finding a photo, pricing, description, and appliance specs to help in kitchen design.

Layering this content gives your audiences the different pieces of information they need to make the purchase decision. Providing different formats of content at each step helps them to make those decisions.

Therefore, seeker personas may start at the top of your customer loop but as they move their way down the stages of the loop their questions change. This means you have to create content for them wherever they are in their decision-making process.

Sales Lead Stage


Persona Stage


Gathering information



Narrowing the decision

Comparing products


Reading reviews

Ready to purchase




A very rough sketch of a decision journey map for AJ Madison might look like this (Figures 6.66.8).


FIGURE 6.6 Decision journey map: The text in blue signifies the point at which the customer uses an interactive feature to narrow her decision.


FIGURE 6.7 Job seeker persona. Here’s an example of a person who is described by their decision journey (Credit: EPAM | Empathy Lab). In Figure 6.8, you can see the journey mapped.


FIGURE 6.8 The job seeker’s decision journey. In this map, Empathy Labs mapped the provisional workflow for applying for a job. This gives them important information about the interactive touchpoints for the persona. (Credit: EPAM | Empathy Lab).

Interactive Scenarios

Another map you can use in persona development is an interactive scenario. Interactive scenarios describe what your customers are doing when they access your content.

User [persona] scenarios anticipate the needs of a user in a mobile situation, when his or her information needs might be different than in a standard desktop situation (and by that I mean a situation where a user has a full interface and is not pressed for time). A typical interactive scenario would look like this:

Customer A is at one of our physical stores. He wants to know how much the camera that he is holding in his hand would cost online. Can he save money by buying the camera or any of the accessories online? Is it possible to use the online price in the store to negotiate for a better deal?

(Leibtag, 2011)

Interactive scenarios are critical because today at least a third of the world’s population is consuming content on a mobile device. This means that not only is your audience important, but the way in which they access your content is also critical (UX professionals call this context). You want to make sure you are delivering content they can access, or that will influence them, no matter the device or format.

Here is an example of Lisa and Marcus’ interactive scenarios (Figures 6.96.10):

• Lisa works as an intern, which means she has access to her iPhone the entire day.

• She uses the iPhone to check on flights back home for spring break.

• She also uses it to shop for her favorite shoes.

• Lisa travels around her college campus on foot and uses the ATM located near her dorm to get cash (Figure 6.10).

• Marcus accesses content to read The Wall Street Journal and view other financial news-related sites.

• He and his wife eat out often, so he may use a restaurant app to make reservations.

• As an outdoor runner, Marcus likes to use his phone to check the weather.

• He wants to buy his wife a diamond pendant for their first-year anniversary, but he doesn’t want her to see it on their home computer. So he buys it from his phone.


FIGURE 6.9 Lisa’s customer scenario.


FIGURE 6.10 Marcus’ interactive scenario.

Knowing about your target audiences’ daily behaviors helps you put their content consumption into context. This will help you as you continue to build and grow your content programs.

Remember: this doesn’t change what we said in Chapter 4. You need to be ready for multichannel publishing and have your content available on any device. But knowing if your customers are likely to purchase your products from a mobile device, or if there is something about the way you’re presenting the information that makes them abandon your mobile site, is powerful information you must have.

In the end, your audience engagement team may end up creating a variety of different personas that mix all of these elements together. For example, most of my persona workshops end up with a persona characteristic that describes how people access content—either through a tablet, PC, smartphone, or combination.

Another example of how you can mix personas and maps is talking about a customer who requests a phone number or directions using a mobile device. Ensuring that the content is mobile-ready and that all they have to do is click on the link to the phone number to have their smartphone make the call, is an important hallmark of organizations that make the customer the focus of their digital efforts.

The Challenges of Using Personas in Large Organizations

When I introduce the idea of personas in large organizations, many digital strategy teams begin to feel overwhelmed. “We have so many different types of customers,” they say, or “How detailed should we get?” If you are thinking about hanging five poster boards in the conference room with different names and pictures to describe your different customers, and think this will feel too hokey for your team, then do not do it. I want you to find success with personas, scenarios and maps, not have it muck up your process.

So think about doing what Ginny Redish advises—creating what she calls mini-personas. “You may also want to have scenarios for a few secondary personas. For example, if your main personas are frequent shoppers and casual shoppers but you also have investors and reporters coming to the site, you may want to do ‘mini-personas’ for them along with their scenarios” (Redish, 2012). We talked about that earlier: In large organizations, it may be helpful to have enterprise customer personas and have specific personas for different departments or product lines.

The most important thing you can do when you create personas, scenarios, and maps in a large organization is publicize them and let others know to use them. Even if they are mini-personas or a few bullets, they will not make a bit of difference if the teams creating content do not know whom they are. For this you need training, consistency in editing content, and a centralized style guide, which we’ll talk about in Rule 5.

Align Content Development with the Largest Persona Group

Another important issue to discuss in persona development is what percentage of business a particular persona brings to your organization. In the case of a university, most of their content is geared toward attracting prospective students. However, alumni give money to the school and keep school spirit and strong reputations alive. Universities always want to receive research funding from governments or other institutions, so it’s important for the university to publicize its successful research outputs.

In this case, the university needs to look at what the business objectives are for the organization in the next few years. They probably want some combination of growing the student population, growing alumni engagement and support, and increasing chances for government or other funding. Senior management has to decide how to rank those priorities. Based on that, you know how to focus your content development. Let’s imagine that the university administration decides on these priorities by percentage (Figure 6.11).


FIGURE 6.11 University business priorities.

The university’s content team needs to spend 50% of their content development time on creating and managing content for prospective students, 30% on grants, and 20% on alumni participation. There will, of course, be other personas to develop and manage content for as well, such as faculty and current students. So, the team directs 80% of their time toward the three main personas. Then, they divide the remaining 20% equally between faculty and current students.

In this way, content development efforts are structured toward business objectives, making it easier for teams to know where they should be spending their time. By knowing which of the personas bring the most business, teams can focus their efforts effectively.


You cannot create valuable content until you know your customers. And, you cannot know your customers without doing some hard work and conducting real research. Remember, your audience interacts with your brand because they are hopeful that you will provide knowledge, news, or data they can use. They interact with your digital properties—your website, blog, and social media channels—because they are hungry for information. Sometimes your audience will convert to customers; sometimes they won’t. But you have a better chance of making that conversion happen if you know who they are and what really matters to them.

Your customers’ identities are your starting point and serve as the building blocks of your digital strategy. Now you know how to create personas, scenarios, and customer maps to define them. Once you’ve done that, you need to be able to tie your content back to your company’s business objectives, so your C-suite can appreciate why it is so important.

Don’t underestimate how powerful personas are for aligning your digital strategy teams. When done properly, your teams will begin to refer to “Avery and Peyton,” making it seem as though they are in the room when you are talking about creating content. And when Avery and Peyton are in the room when content is created, you’re invariably going to have better conversations with them.

In creating personas, you now know who your audience is. Now you need to learn how to define who you are. Let’s find out how to do that in Chapter 7.


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