Where Fiction and Content Marketing Meet: Creative Personas

Having been involved in both fiction writing and content marketing I’ve learned that these fields of work ultimately have the same goal: making a personal connection. A well-developed fictional character makes a story more believable and increases its ability to resonate with a reader. By the same token, a highly targeted marketing campaign is significantly more likely to be successful when the audience can recognize their own needs in the positioning.

Of course, achieving this level of connection and resonance with your target audience requires gaining a deep and thorough understanding of who they are, and it’s something that many marketers struggle with. Enter: creative personas.

Why You Need Creative Personas

The concept of creative personas is nothing new, but many businesses still aren’t using it in their marketing strategy. In fact, a 2014 online survey from ITSMA found that only 44 percent of B2B marketers use personas to develop their strategy. Yet, according to research from HubSpot, having marketing personas makes websites two to five times more effective and easier to use, as well as improves email click-through rates by 14 percent. An email that is targeted and personalized drives 18 times more revenue than your basic broadcast email.

So, why are so many marketers still shying away from developing creative personas? Well, just like writing a strong character for a novel, crafting personas isn’t always easy. It requires time, resources, research. But, if content marketers want to gain useful insights on how to deliver the right content to the right audience at the right time, they’re going to have to put on their fiction-writing caps and get thinking.

Do your research—then get creative

Collecting research on your customers is a crucial first step to buyer persona development. The more accurate data and analytics you can gather to create a clear picture of who your customers are and what motivates them, the better. However, once you’ve done the work of establishing a detailed research foundation, using your imagination can help bring your personas to life.

While being imaginative might seem obvious to the creation of fictional characters, it can also be a helpful tool to determine the specific situations, backgrounds and motivations that make up your creative personas—and is the kind of attention to detail that can serve you well when developing your content strategy. By combining your research with your creativity, you can begin asking the necessary questions to develop full, detailed personas. Think about their typical day. What’s the first thing they do when they wake up in the morning? How do they spend their downtime? Give them a name, create a backstory and use the research you’ve collected to inform your creativity. That way, you can make them as real as any potential customer who could walk into a storefront.

Consider scenarios and behavioral responses

One exercise I always do when developing new characters is to write them into various scenarios—and these scenes very rarely make it into a finished piece. Rather than contributing to plot, these exercises are instead informing my complete understanding of what drives my character.

The same practice can work for persona development. Take what you know about a particular persona and think of various scenarios along the sales cycle that could impact that persona’s behavior—often referred to as “engagement scenarios.” Ask yourself how certain contributing factors are likely to be perceived by this persona and how their actions might follow suit. The ability to anticipate and understand how your audience may respond to a scenario is a powerful skill for brands both big and small to have when determining ways to best meet customer needs.

Above all, empathize

Different from sympathizing, having empathy for your target audience means you can truly put yourself in their shoes and feel how they feel. With empathy, their plight becomes your plight, which means your offers or solutions are likely to be perceived as more genuine options. In fact, empathy can even be considered part of your content marketing strategy to be applied across your entire team. By empathizing with your customers in the same way a writer would embody their characters, your company won’t just be trying to sell them something for its own benefit; instead, you’ll have a deeper understanding of why each targeted persona has a need for your product or service.

It’s All Storytelling

At the end of the day, creating great content should be about telling a story. In fiction, we’re telling stories with characters, and in content marketing we’re telling them to personas, but it all comes down to the same principles of engagement. The overall goal is to relate to the audience and make them feel connected to both your story and your brand. So, one way or another, it’s all storytelling.