Startups and product designers know how important it is to validate a product idea before building it out. You must find out if your assumptions are accurate. Basing a product strategy on guesswork is a recipe for a failed launch. It’s just as important to validate your personas for the same reason — if you’re simply guessing, you’ll end up wasting a significant amount of resources. You’ll need to revamp your strategy and rework your content assets when you discover your assumptions missed the mark.
To prevent this disaster, you should do the research to prove or disprove your hypotheses about your personas. In this article, we’ll look at why validated personas are so foundational to effective content strategy and how to build personas that accurately reflect the characteristics, needs, and motivations of your target prospects.
Why validated personas are foundational
The data you have on your personas forms the foundation of your content strategy. By definition, a content strategy covers the questions your personas ask and the topics they care about at each stage in the buyer’s journey, the content formats they regularly use, and where they hang out online (so you know where to distribute the content). If you’ve made inaccurate assumptions about your personas, you’re likely to get all of these key pieces wrong.
5 steps to validate your personas
I know research isn’t a favorite task for most idea-driven marketers. Fortunately, you don’t need to spend months on the process. If you structure your work and use the following process, you’ll probably find validating your personas to be painless!
1. Identify your personas
The first step is to separate your prospects into market segments based on pain points and preferences. Demographic characteristics may affect where you distribute the content, but pain points and preferences are what really differentiate each market segment. When your personas are based on pain points and preferences, you’ll be able to better determine what topics to cover and what formats of content to create. Aim for no more than five. The more personas you have, the more challenging it will be to keep everything organized when you’re building out your content plan. That said, if you serve a broad variety of market segments, then you’ll need more personas. In this case, it’s smart to create broad categories (based on industry, for example), with up to five personas in each category.
2. Create a list of data you need
Before you start your research, get clear on the information you need to gather. Beware of trying to gather too much information or getting impatient and not gathering enough — both extremes will end up wasting time. Here’s a list of the information that’s most helpful to have:
- Job titles and primary responsibilities
- Demographics (age, education, etc.)
- Role in the buying process
3. Create a list of questions
It would be great if you could simply share the bullet-pointed list above and ask people to fill in the information. But you won’t get very valuable insight that way. To generate validated personas, create a list of questions that get people thinking about the specifics. Here are some ideas.
- Describe your age and gender.
- What is your educational background? What level of education did you complete, and what did you study?
- Share your career path. How did you come to be where you are today?
- What is your job title and what role do you have in your company?
- What’s the size of your company?
- What industry does your company work in?
- What does a typical day look like for you?
- How is your performance measured?
- What’s most important to you in a vendor relationship?
- What does the buying process look like? Who’s involved? What steps do you typically go through? How do you come to a decision?
- What are your biggest challenges when it comes to x?
- Can you share what happened the last time you experienced those challenges?
- What was frustrating about the situation, specifically?
- What impact has the problem had on your work life?
- Have you already tried to solve the problem? If so, how?
- How have the solutions you’ve tried been deficient?
Goals & Aspirations
- What goals are you working toward in your career?
- Where do you hope to be in two years?
- Who do you admire who’s in a similar role? Why do you admire them?
- How do you find information?
- When considering a buying decision, who do you talk to?
- What publications or blogs do you read?
- Which associations are you a member of?
- What social networks are you on?
- Who do you follow on social media?
- What types of content do you tend to use the most (select all that apply:
- Blog posts
- In-depth articles
- Downloadable e-guides or white papers
- Short downloadables like checklists or tip sheets
- Case studies
3. Outline your plan of approach
Armed with your questions, it’s time to plan your approach so you stay organized and sail through the process smoothly.
First, decide how you’ll organize the data. There are software solutions available for this purpose, but you can easily use a system of folders on your Google Drive — one folder for each persona. Within each folder, you can collect survey responses in spreadsheets and transcripts of interviews.
Be sure you’re looking at people who fit within your ideal customer profile for each persona. You’ll want to research a representative group of people for each persona to be sure you have the insights you need for each. Where can you find these people? Here are some ideas:
- Customers — existing customers that fit the ideal profiles
- Prospects — people in your CRM who fit the ideal profiles
- Social networks — people who fit your ideal profiles and are on LinkedIn
- Industry organizations or clubs — members of these groups who fit your ideal profiles
There are four methods that are most likely to deliver valuable insights. I recommend using a mix of these.
- Conversations with the sales and customer service teams — Your sales team has a front row seat to see what matters most to prospects and what questions they’re asking. Your customer service team also has insights, since they work with customers closely.
- Surveys — Surveys allow you to quickly collect data points from a lot of people. They’re great for collecting quantitative data but not qualitative.
- One-on-one interviews — One-one-one interviews are ideal for digging into the why behind answers people are giving. You have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions and explore.
- Group interviews — Group interviews provide similar benefits as one-on-one interviews, and they also allow you to see how people interact with one another and respond to what others are saying.
4. Look for patterns
At this point in the process, you’ll have a spreadsheet of information, survey responses, and interview transcripts. If you’ve organized your research by persona, go through each folder and begin looking for overlap in the survey responses and transcripts. I like to use a selection of highlight colors to tag responses and sections in the transcripts, grouping all the items that relate to a particular insight or piece of information.
Once you have your data tagged by topic, you can then start looking for overlap. What do you keep hearing over and over? Where are the similarities? Repeat this process for each persona folder.
5. Build your personas
Now you’re ready to start the process of building out your validated personas. It’s helpful to have two elements to your personas: the persona card and a data sheet. The persona cards will feature the most salient information and serve as a reminder to your team as you’re working on campaigns. The data sheets will include other important insights you gained, which you can refer to anytime you need a refresher.
Here’s the information you’ll want to feature on your persona cards:
- Fictitious name
- Quote that sums up what’s most important to that persona
- Background narrative
- Pain Points
- Personality profile (optional)
And here’s an example of a persona card.
Validated personas = a strong foundation
Congratulations! You now have validated personas that will provide a strong foundation for your content strategy. You can have confidence that you’re basing your decisions on facts rather than guesswork. And as a result, your content is significantly more likely to resonate with your target audience(s) and generate a response.
Schedule a call to share what’s holding you back from better marketing content, and I’ll let you know if I can help and how. If I can’t help, I’ll recommend someone who can.