Aligning Your Content Strategy With Your Customer Personas And Sales Pipeline

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It’s no secret that there are a lot of brands still struggling to make content marketing work for them. Despite all the ideas, all of the online advice guides and all of the talks at various conferences, content marketers still face huge challenges in making sure their content is seen, their brand is noticed and their sales grow.

This guide provides a framework for content and marketing strategists to audit their existing business capabilities and structures, allowing them to rethink and develop a strategy for content marketing, and to define meaningful metrics for effective measurement.

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Defining your buying cycle

It’s important to understand how your consumers discover and purchase your product or service. At a basic level, your audiences are likely to go through three key stages:

  • Awareness: The prospect gets acquainted with your brand.
  • Consideration: The prospect will seek to rationalise their purchase, using case studies, reviews and testimonials.
  • Decision: The prospect is comfortable to commit to a purchase.
  • Action: The prospect completes the desired action

By defining your buying process, and how your consumers behave, you can effectively determine different types of content for each stage.

Plugging the gaps

It’s likely that your organisation is already producing some quantity of content. For some brands, this is because they have been told that they “need content” by their digital agency whilst for others, content may have been a key part of their e-commerce strategy.

A key part of this process is to perform an audit and gap analysis of that content, and establish how your audiences engage with this content. This will help you to:

  • Understand what content exists within the business.
  • Understand how effective the content is.
  • Identify which area of the business is content marketing going to support.
  • Define what specific gaps and/or issues the content is going to fix.

This step includes a thorough gap analysis, a clear definition of your buying cycle, the creation of audience or customer personas for your core target markets, and then the matching of content to these personas at different stages of the purchasing cycle.

The problem with personas

Not that long ago, getting branded content to an audience was a relatively straightforward process. You simply had to craft your message, make it somewhat memorable, and then interrupt whatever audience you wanted to reach. More often than not, the best way to do that was to buy their attention through ads.

But the world has moved on since the ‘Mad Men’ days, and targeting audiences with your content has content has become a lot more difficult.

New channels, new devices, new platforms and new mediums have made it much easier for consumers to gravitate to the content that they do want and the content that is delivered in a format that they want, and to ignore the messages that they don’t want to be subjected to.

But as more and more branded content is produced, more and more of it becomes ambient, ignored and ineffective. That’s a huge amount of resource and investment that is going to waste. This problem stems from brands lacking any meaningful insight about their audiences and how they behave online. Few brands genuinely understand how their target audiences and consumers engage with the web and, without this critical understanding, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the right content, the right medium and the right tone to attract the attention of those target markets.

Many organisations rely on their audience personas to overcome this problem, but do these tell the full picture about your target markets, where they are and how they consume content?

Getting the full picture

When marketers, particularly those that tend to focus on traditional channels rather than digital platforms, talk about marketing personas, they typically talk in very broad terms about their “average customer”. That could, in very broad terms, take the form statements like:

Our audience is a single or co-habiting professional 25-35 year old male, living in a rented flat in London, with a household income of £40k

In a world where it was easy to interrupt your target audience, largely by knowing what magazines they read, or what TV shows they were likely to be watching, this sort of profile usually would suffice. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to give you the insight and the direction that you need in order to succeed with your content marketing strategy in an increasingly connected consumer environment. Knowing the content types your audiences like, and the mediums that your audiences use is important, but alone it doesn’t give you enough to ensure that your content makes an impression.

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Digitally empowered audiences

Digital has enabled and empowered consumers to behave very differently online to how they would offline, and this is reflected in the way they consume content, engage with brands and make a purchase.

We can see clear examples of how these more digital forms of communication and engagement are starting to overtake more traditional communications channels for brand-consumer interactions. Email and social media have started to supersede call centres as a customer service channel, review sites have become central to word of mouth (WOM) marketing and mobile has transformed the way in which consumers can access on demand services – everything from music to taxi cabs.

It means that your audience personas have to become much more than just a demographic profile. Instead, your profiles have to become a reflection of the evolving and capricious behaviour that your target audiences display across multiple platforms and multiple devices.

Essentially, this comes down to understanding three key elements of behaviour; what motivates an audience, where they are located digitally, and how they participate in the consumer-brand dialogue.


When we discuss ‘location’ in this context, we aren’t approaching it from a geographic perspective. Instead, this is about understanding where your audiences are digitally active. You need to know which media they consume, what they read, which social networks they use and at what times. You also need to understand what devices they are using, and ensure that your content is being delivered in a way that is accessible on that device.


Different consumers are motivated by different things. Some value quality, others value customer service, whilst many are driven by a desire for a bargain. The same is true of your content. Do your audiences need reassurance, or do they need something that makes them laugh? Are they looking to be convinced, or entertained? Finding this motivation will ultimately drive the direction of your content.


Different audience groups interact with content, and interact with brands, in different ways and for different purposes. You need to understand not only what content your audience consumes, but how they consume it, how they engage with it and how they respond to it. This is ultimately about tempering your message and tone for each audience group depending on their current need and buying stage.

Relevant, targeted content

Understanding these three core pillars of audience profiling is what will ultimately allow you to create relevant, targeted content that appeals to the wants and needs of your audience. This dramatically increases the effectiveness of your content.

The most notable changes to Google in recent years have focused on protecting search results from manipulation from external sources, and preventing any one organisation or individual from influencing search results to their benefit and the detriment of users.

Information Needs

This covers the types of information that an audience would seek, both from a purchasing perspective and from a general audience consumption perspective. If, for example, your target audience is young mothers, the areas of interest are likely to include:

  • Baby nutrition
  • Health and well-being.
  • Early learning.
  • Breast feeding.
  • Parenting advice.
  • Self-help and lifestyle.

This will give you a clear indication of the types of content that an audience group actively looks for, indicating where this group has an affinity for particular information, content delivery styles and formats.

Information Sources

Where looking at information needs provide you with topics of interest to your audience, it only provides you with a brief snapshot of where or how they prefer to consume this content. Looking at the preferred sources of this information provides you with three key pieces of insight:

  • The types of media that the audience trusts. Does your audience place a lot of trust in respected and established media, or do they favour lesser-known blogs and user generated content?
  • The format that the audiences prefers to consume content in. Does your audience use video or image-based platforms on a regular basis? This could indicate a preference to that content format.
  • Their preferred media platforms. Does your audience use social media as an information source, where they could lean towards more viral content, or do they actively seek out content through specific apps or platforms?

This analysis not only tells you where you can access these audiences, but also the manner in which you can access them.

Brand Engagement

Gaining an insight into the brands that your audiences have an affinity with is extremely useful in understanding exactly what they value and what motivates them as a consumer.

If your audiences have an affinity to a lot of budget or discounted brands, then it indicates an audience that is extremely price sensitive or conscious about value for money.

Conversely, those that align to premium brands may favour product quality or service, rather than price. You may also find that an audience aligns to more established brands, rather than newer start-up or disrupter brands, indicating that they value reputation very highly.

There is a lot of insight that you can gather from the brands that your audiences align with, even if they are not brands that would typically apply to your particular industry.

The audience spectrum

Using this insight, brand marketers can essentially build a spectrum for their target audiences. This spectrum is set based on the values, the needs and behaviours demonstrated by your audience groups, and is used to specifically target the right format, the right tone and the right delivery for your content.

Using our example of a ‘young / expectant mother’ audience from earlier, we can build a sample content spectrum based on insight on their brand engagement, information sources and information needs. In this example, our research may highlight that:

This audience group values information about health, safety and learning, and they seek this information from multiple but trusted sources.

Insights from their information sources indicates that whilst they value content from reputable and established sources, they respect the content from prominent parenting blogs, which may present relatable issues in a quirky and humorous way.

That this audience group has a strong affinity to well-established brands, irrespective of their price point. This trust of established and prominent brands, both mass and premium market, suggests that this group values trust, safety and reliability.

Using this data, we can build a spectrum that reflects these needs and these audience behaviour traits. This spectrum provides a framework upon which a brand can set its content’s agenda. It ensures that content addresses a relevant topic and, importantly, addresses that topic at the right level and at the right tone.

The brand filter

Once you have your content spectrum, it is important to clearly determine any content areas that are either prime areas that your brand needs to address, as well as areas or subjects that may not be appropriate for your brand to discuss. We call this process the ‘brand filter’.

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There are a number of reasons why it may not be appropriate for your brand to discuss a particular topic or subject matter, even if it is relevant to your industry. It may be that a topic is particularly sensitive for your audience or brand, or that there are regulatory restrictions regarding the discussion of certain subjects.

For other brands, there will also be reputational influences that may influence whether or not a topic is appropriate to discuss. A number of brands have been publicly criticised for a various issues, for example, their environmental record or their corporate taxation arrangements. If there are reputational issues such as this affecting your brand, think carefully about how you approach these and potentially related topics.

Importantly, applying this brand filter to the spectrum minimises the potential risk that can often arise from creative forms of marketing. It provides a clear framework for dictating which issues should be avoided by your brand, which should be addressed and how you should address those issues, in terms of tone and delivery.

Creating content that drives your business ambitions

It is often claimed that audiences don’t actively seek branded content and, whilst there may be an element of truth in that suggestion, it is often rooted in the fact that so much branded content fails to address the actual needs of the audiences they are trying to attract.

Many brands feel that content needs to be a direct sales exercise, rather than a way of simply reaching a core audience.

But by following this process to understand how your audience behaves, what they value and where they consume content, beyond the typical “audience personas” that so many brands rely on, you can create content that your audience will love, build that brand affinity and drive stronger returns on investment from content marketing.

Matching your personas to the buying cycle

When you understand how your target audience engages with your brand and makes their purchase decision, you can match content to each stage of the purchasing process.

Different content and media are more appropriate and effective at different stages of the buying process, and the types of content that are most effective at each stage will differ from market to market. In general, audiences at the start of the purchasing process prefer short, impactful content, seeking out more detailed informative content as they commit to a purchasing decision.

How you create this content, and the channels you use to distribute it, will be dictated by how your customers move through the buying process.

Awareness Stage

This is when the consumer first becomes aware either of your brand, or their need (ie a problem or desire that needs to be addressed). At this point, they will most likely seek top-level information about the options available to them, rather than meaningful detail.

Here, short-form content typically is the most appropriate – especially for B2C. The consumer simply wants to find a solution so immediate, easy-to-consume content that grabs the audience’s attention and makes it easy to purchase will be the most effective.

In B2B environments, where purchases tend to be more considered, more detailed information is necessary to attract interest and generate leads, although this content is likely to have a relatively minimal direct sales focus.

Consideration Stage

Next, the consumer moves on to the consideration stage. At this point, the consumer is likely to be familiar with the options available to them and the brands that can provide the desired solution. They are now in the process of short listing potential suppliers.

At this stage, case studies, reviews and testimonials become incredibly important, as does the quality of your sales copy.

Decision Stage

Finally, the consumer is ready to commit to the purchase. They probably have a strong idea which product and supplier they are going for, and are looking for reassurance they are making the right choice. At this point, your more detailed content becomes critical.

The onus is on you to demonstrate your experience, expertise and specialism in your chosen area, so the consumer can be completely confident making their purchase.

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