The tide of persona-based marketing (in B2B)

There’s been talk for a while now in B2B marketing about personas and the drive to engage the customer. The magazines, blogs and experts talk about persona based marketing, but it can take time to adapt the marketing machine to this kind of change.

As an agency marketer, I’ve always had a disconnect with the focus of businesses selling to other businesses. It stems from my time as a B2C marketer. I was heavily influenced by the smart planners I worked with and how they crafted my creative briefs.

They’d rip the target audience section to shreds and push hard for insights into the ‘why’ behind consumer behaviour so that the creative message could tap into an insight.

Back in my consumer marketing days, it was all about consumer insight and behaviour – that’s what great campaigns were made of.

In my B2B world now, sales tend to rule. The focus is less on the person, and more on the sale. It’s all about the product and what it can do for the business, the individual rarely counts. But recently, there’s been a change.

Whilst we’ve always looked at buyer personas and profiles, the level and depth that clients want to go into now is changing. It means the insights that lay the foundation of great campaigns and messages can be applied within B2B – and I’m excited.

So what do I mean by this?

I’m not talking marketing personas. I personally think they’re quite light and not particularly useful. I’m yet to see a set of personas that I’ve been given by another agency or internal client team that provide any real substance (I’m working on that though).

I’m talking big shifts.

Pure persona based marketing

One of our clients is making the shift across all their marketing to be directed, first and foremost, by the person buying the product, the issues they have and how they work. They also recognise the buying team and they’re creating documented evidence, based on qualitative interviews, for every type of buyer.

The impact on their marketing processes is significant. Instead of being led by products, they’re now led by people and issues. This impacts their content strategy, content creation, demand gen focus, targeting principles, and most significantly, the setup of the marketing automation platform.

These guys run Eloqua and have a complicated, global set-up. Dozens of programmes run simultaneously across different products with multiple nurture tracks and content geared towards products. To change this so that they lead with the customer focus is a heck of a lot of work – and a huge shift in their business.

The opportunity is being able to speak directly to the customer, being more relevant and more engaging – and ultimately having better conversations and converting more. What’s nice is that it allows marketing to lead the prospect gently to sales, rather than it being sales led where they’re dragged into the process.

Insight led, customer driven marketing

Another enterprise client is looking at deeply understanding only one buyer profile. They already have excellent insights across the rest of the buying team, but this one profile keeps cropping up and has the potential to be a significant champion within the buying process.

The job role is particularly complex and rare – there are only 400 people in the world that do this job, so to develop profiles or personas on these individuals is hard.

You can’t make assumptions, it’s difficult to understand their day-to-day job because it’s not a run-of-the-mill IT role. Assumptions will kill truths, and with such a small audience, you’ve got to get it right.

The effort they’re taking to ensure that the output is correct is more dedicated than anything I saw in my B2C days. What’s more, they’re taking the time to validate every single insight and will only create marketing when an insight has been noted several times.

It’s fascinating to see these changes and a privilege to be involved in these projects. I love understanding audiences and using that insight to develop campaigns that resonate. What’s more, I know how powerful those campaigns can be.

What are you doing to strengthen the understanding of your customers and your buyers? Tweet me at @N1colaRay and share your experiences.

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