B2B Video Marketing: A Strategy for Lead Generation

Video marketing is booming. It’s no longer news. Cisco predicts that, globally, video traffic will be more than 80% of all web traffic by 2022 (up from a prediction of 75% made in 2017). Other recent reports claim a 17% leap in video content usage in 2018, with the average person watching more than 90 […]

The post B2B Video Marketing: A Strategy for Lead Generation appeared first on CXL.

Video marketing is booming. It’s no longer news. Cisco predicts that, globally, video traffic will be more than 80% of all web traffic by 2022 (up from a prediction of 75% made in 2017).

Other recent reports claim a 17% leap in video content usage in 2018, with the average person watching more than 90 minutes of online video every day. In the same report, 85% of surveyed consumers said they would like to see more videos from brands.

However, simply creating videos isn’t enough. Content marketing in general—and video marketing in particular—needs strategic planning to work.

For B2B marketing, the primary goal of content, video included, is often lead generation. That’s why, when it comes to B2B video marketing, a great strategy weaves individual videos into a “hub”—a long-term asset that can attract and nurture leads.

Let me explain…

From “videos” to “asset”: Planning your B2B video marketing strategy

When it comes to B2B video content, two potential long-term assets make sense:

  1. On-site knowledge base. Possibly gated, since the focus is lead generation.
  2. On-site and/or off-site video course. Your own video-on-demand channel for potential customers to join and stay engaged with.

Of course, there’s nothing preventing you from creating both. For example, Yoast offers a free gated knowledge base on their site as well as a repackaged version as a free video course on Udemy:

example of yoast knowledge base and video course.

Planning your video marketing strategy around a lead-generating asset has two main benefits:

  1. It allows you (and your whole company) to understand how video creation efforts should come together.
  2. It helps create content for both the top and middle of your sales funnel, turning your site into a destination. People find videos more memorable and more useful than text content or pictures (e.g., infographics slideshows), which makes video a perfect fit for the purpose.

A video hub can attract traffic through search (if you come up with a searchable topic) and create new traffic via third-party sources. If you put a free course on LinkedIn Learning or Udemy, for example, you tap into those platforms’ user bases, discoverable through their internal search function.

Further, all sources are lead-nurturing mediums to engage with students or email subscribers on a regular basis—and get them closer to the final conversion:

  • With a video course, you can engage your students by providing updates, hosting Q&A sessions, sending out a survey, etc.
  • With an on-site knowledge base, email automation can reach out to leads to invite them to access new videos, provide feedback, etc.
diagram showing how three videos fit together into a course to attract and nurture leads.

Let’s look at the component parts of this overarching asset—individual video types that generate leads. 

Choosing video types for lead generation

The first step is to come up with the “final asset” topic, which, ideally, combines all of the following criteria:

  • Be based on a popular search query to rank and generate traffic on its own. Selecting keywords for your content is a huge topic that deserves a separate article, but you can refer to my detailed keyword research guide here as well as this quick exercise to see the process in action.
  • Complement the products or services you sell. Videos should cover problems your product or service solves.
  • Not be too specific. You’ll want to add fresh videos on a regular basis to re-engage your current viewers or email subscribers. A super-specific topic is a hub without spokes.
  • Be on brand. Yes, determining what’s “on brand’ is a huge and complex topic. This thread from Wistia’s Phil Nottingham is an excellent summary (and justification) for creating videos for “brand affinity” not just “brand awareness.”

Moz has repackaged their popular Whiteboard Friday videos into a free standalone course on Udemy that ranks third on Google for “SEO training.” The course walks you through SEO basics—while also mentioning Moz’s tools as solutions to solve common SEO issues.

Plus, the topic of “SEO training” is broad enough to give limitless possibilities to add new videos as they’re created.

example of how to repurpose videos into a course to engage with students via Q&A and announcements.

Once you have an idea of the topic for your video hub, create a video editorial calendar to align with it. You can mix and match video types to diversify your content:

  1. Influencer-driven videos (e.g., live videos, webinars, etc.);
  2. Demos and product walk-throughs;
  3. Customer-generated videos (e.g., live Q&A, video reviews, etc.).
example of video types within a video course.

All of these video types can address (and solve) relevant problems while suggesting your product as the solution. Let’s look at some examples of each.

1. Influencer-driven videos

To see a brand-owned, webinar-driven channel in action, check out SEMrush. They continue to grow their library of on-demand webinars featuring industry experts. You don’t have to opt in to watch a webinar, but you can put your questions or comments through a lead-generation form.

example of b2b company with large group of webinars.
Take note of that “Discover SEMrush” label on the right. Some influencer-driven webinars mention the platform as solution to the discussed problem, funneling participants into trying the platform.

The beauty of collaborating with influencers for creating videos is that you can use their authority and existing community to generate leads before and after the webinar or live-video session:

Webinar marketing is multifaceted: Webinars educate, engage, automate, and convert, and each process supports the other in a cycle. That makes webinars a perfect medium for building a long-term video marketing strategy.

ClickMeeting refers to this strategy as the Webinar Flywheel,” showing how you can use webinar marketing at every stage of the sales funnel and—at the same time—how it transforms the idea of the linear funnel into a cycle:

flywheel marketing concept applied to webinars.

There’s no beginning or end here: Every part supports the other, similar to Hubspot’s Flywheel and, earlier, Jeff Bezos’s “virtuous cycle.”

As you’ll see later, the concept of “the whole drives the parts, and every part supports others as well as builds the whole” is exactly what a lead-generating video content marketing strategy should be.

2. Demos and product walk-throughs

If you’re selling a SaaS product, you’re likely doing product demos on a regular basis. There’s no reason why you can’t reuse some of those demo recordings to give your audience a glimpse inside your platform.

Product demos make great content assets. For example, Salesforce uses demos as gated content. And Coschedule uses them for blog content, even ranking some for pretty generic (i.e. high-volume) terms:

example of product demo video that ranks well for high-volume search term.

You can use your webinar solution to create product demos, or any of the many tools out there.

3. Customer-generated videos

Encourage (satisfied) customers to create video reviews of your tool. It can even be a contest to reward the best video creators. Depending on what you’re selling, you could also set up regular live video meetings with brand advocates to address audience questions.

It can be as simple as inviting your customers to ask questions through a branded hashtag for you to respond to in a (live) video. Google’s #AskGoogleWebmasters video series is a good example of this tactic in action. 

Or, it can be a more advanced approach: Invite customers to make a video for you or join you in the video. For example, back when it was called “Google Hangouts,” we invited our community brand advocates to join a monthly video chat to discuss the best ways to use our platform.

Later, over at Viral Content Bee, we invited our current users to submit video tutorials of how they use the platform to include in our official Udemy course:

example of udemy course based on user-generated content.

Seeing how established users use the platform helps our new or soon-to-be leads better understand all the possibilities. It also adds credibility—it’s not just us claiming what can be done; it’s real users showing how they’re getting value from it. 

4 ways to repackage video content

One video may take plenty of time to create and edit. There’s no reason to use it only once. The beauty of video marketing is that it’s highly repackagable: You can come up with lots of alternative formats to use across channels:

1. Use the full video on your blog. Wistia offers custom branding as well as clickable calls to action and even opt-in forms inside the video—you could generate leads right from inside your video. Read about other video platforms here, or review this guide on how to embed videos on your site.

2. Create a text summary or put together a full transcript. This makes great content to go on your blog together with the video. You can also re-use screenshots or other images from the video to make the content more useful for people who choose not to watch the video.

This makes your page search-friendlier and more accessible to people with visual or hearing disabilities. Obviously, use best SEO practices as well as structured markup to ensure visibility in organic search.

Other options:

  • Convert each article into a PDF and offer it as a bonus download through your course or knowledge base as an alternative way to review the content.
  • Collect all those articles and combine them into an ebook. This one can also be a free download for your students/subscribers.

3. Create annotated video takeaways to publish on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. for brand visibility. Releasing shorter versions of your video using third-party platforms prompts users to look for the full videos, which can be found only on your site.

Tools like Placeit help you put together annotated videos and slideshows in seconds. Link everywhere you can to your blog post to try and build some traffic:

  • YouTube: Link from the video description and (possibly) pinned comment.
  • Facebook and LinkedIn: Link from the update or comment.
  • Instagram: Link from Instagram stories.

4. Extract audio from your video, especially if it’s an interview or Q&A, and upload it to SoundCloud and iTunes. You could end up getting known as a podcaster if you do it regularly enough.

  • The audio files can then be turned into an audiobook and offered as a bonus download through your course or knowledge base as an alternative way to consume the content (e.g., while driving).

To give you a better picture, this is what your final strategy may look like:

diagram of how all pieces of a b2b video marketing strategy fit together.

That’s exactly what I did when putting together my own video courses, including one on reputation management:

  • Each chapter was based on a public article.
  • Each chapter offers downloadable materials (ebook, audio version, and sometimes cheatsheet).
  • Each audio file was reused as a podcast chapter on Soundcloud and iTunes.
  • I market the ebook on my site as well as Slideshare.
how to create bonus materials as resources within a video course.

This strategy generates multiple, complementary assets that increase brand awareness, generate traffic, and bring in leads:

the components of a b2b video marketing strategy that act as top-of-funnel content.
I didn’t visualize the strategy as a cycle, but you can see how it works like one: You use the idea of a whole—what you’re working toward—to drive the creation and marketing of all the parts, and each part helps create and promote the whole.

When your course or knowledge base is live (i.e. fully formed), you can use all those channels to promote it, too.

Promote your asset via collaboration

To plan the whole strategy more effectively, use an editorial calendar like ContentCal. With ContentCal, you can:

  • Schedule content campaigns and create content briefs.
  • Add your whole team and manage permissions.
  • Get your whole team working on promotional assets to support each channel effectively.
example of how contentcal tool helps manage content publication.

Finally, the influencers you included when creating videos (via interviews or webinars) can help you promote your video course or knowledge base. All you need is to ask!

  • Email them with pre-made tweets to make it easier for them to share.
  • Create custom images for your participating influencers to use when promoting your content.
  • Tag them in tweets and Instagram updates whenever you share their video, or even the whole course.

You can also reach out to their friends by creating a follower targeting ad on Twitter or via Facebook remarketing.

Conclusion

B2B video marketing can be much more effective if you focus on creating a long-term asset that consolidates all your video creation and promotion efforts.

Embracing this approach also grows the number of channels that can increase brand visibility, providing new avenues to acquire and nurture your leads.

The post B2B Video Marketing: A Strategy for Lead Generation appeared first on CXL.

Webinar Emails: A Start-to-Finish Promotion Process

Webinars can establish a relationship with leads and teach them how your product can improve their lives. Some 75% of marketing and sales leaders say webinars are one of the most effective methods to generate high-quality brand awareness. But not every webinar is a success—78% of webinars have 50 or fewer attendees. A major reason? […]

The post Webinar Emails: A Start-to-Finish Promotion Process appeared first on CXL.

Webinars can establish a relationship with leads and teach them how your product can improve their lives. Some 75% of marketing and sales leaders say webinars are one of the most effective methods to generate high-quality brand awareness.

But not every webinar is a success—78% of webinars have 50 or fewer attendees. A major reason? Poor promotion. If you can promote your webinar the right way, you can gobble up more viewers and increase conversions. 

Email is the primary promotion channel for most webinars—not just for initial sign-up but for pre- and post-webinar reminders, and everything in between. 

This article shows you the step-by-step process to promote your webinar via email. First, of course, you must set your goals.

Set goals for your webinar

Webinars can work throughout the customer journey, gauging how qualified your prospects are and nurturing them throughout the buying process.

That wide-ranging potential risks broad goal-setting (or none at all). Before you start promoting your webinar—or even choosing a topic—decide if you want to:

  • Build your email list;
  • Be seen as a thought leader in your niche;
  • Gain customer feedback;
  • Boost sales from existing customers;
  • Increase your customer base;
  • Build stronger relationships with your customers;
  • Create how-to tutorials;
  • Launch a product or service.

That decision, in turn, defines how you measure success: the number of registrants, attendees, views, post-webinar sales, etc.

Once you know your goal, you can figure out which type of webinar will best help you achieve it.

4 types of webinars for any stage in the funnel

Webinars can work at all stages of the funnel. All you have to do is adjust your webinar topic to match the buying stage of your prospects.

From initial discovery and education to conversion and retention, you can build a stronger relationship with your audience.

1. The educational webinar (discovery stage) 

In the discovery stage, you’ve got just one goal in mind: to educate your audience. What you educate them about depends on your product or service.

Potential topics for educational webinars include:

  • Best practices;
  • Industry trends;
  • Expert panels;
  • Interviews with single experts.

Whatever topic you choose, focus on value—how can you share your deepest expertise? Some 88% of technology buyers said thought leadership was important or critical to short list vendors.

2. The nurturing webinar (consideration stage) 

A nurturing webinar begins to bridge the gap between industry-relevant content and product-relevant content.

Think of things like workshop webinars that address a real-life problem of your prospects. Focus on solutions—and the consequences of not addressing the problem that your product solves.

Case studies work well. They show your prospects how a customer just like them used your product to solve a problem.

Another option is a one-on-one, personalized webinar. This approach, of course, doesn’t scale well—and shouldn’t used as a way to sucker unsuspecting prospects into a sales pitch—but it does have potential for account-based marketing strategies.

3. The onboarding webinar (conversion stage) 

Customer onboarding sets new users up for success. A better onboarding experience can double trial conversion rates

A customer onboarding webinar helps shorten the time between when a user signs up and when they receive value from your product. It demonstrates features and shows your product’s use cases.

webinar promotion email for onboarding.

Keep in mind, however, that lectures on product features can come off as overly promotional. As Val Geisler points out:

If you must talk features, do it from a value-based perspective. What benefit will the customer get from using this feature? Make it about them and their goals.

4. The upcoming releases webinar (retention stage) 

Some 40–60% of free-trial users will use your product once and never come back. 

“Upcoming releases” webinars can keep paying customers excited and encourage free-trial users to jump back in. 

As mentioned at the outset, choosing a goal and webinar type is often the easiest work. The quality of promotion ultimately affects the success—or failure—of your webinar.  

The six-part email series to promote your webinar successfully 

Why email? Email drives 57% of webinar registrations, nearly four times that of any other channel:

This section walks through a series of emails that cover the promotion process, from initial awareness to registration to building excitement and post-webinar follow-up. It also offers templates—starting points, not endpoints—for your webinar email series.  

If you want to supplement these ideas and templates with those of other (really smart) people, check out:

The email series begins with the webinar invitation email.

Note: If you’re running the webinar on your own, you’ll send it to your email list. If you partner with another organization, you may get to send it to their list, too. That can mean exponential audience growth.

1. The webinar invitation email 

You don’t need to include much information. A compelling subject line, the date and time of the webinar, and a few short sentences or paragraphs about the benefits will do.

Skubana kept things simple with bullet points and direct language: 

initial webinar invitation email.

They also include photos of the hosts and finish with a strong call to action

There are, of course, other routes. Tarzan Kays told a story to her subscribers to motivate them to take action (i.e. register for the event):

Her copy is narrative, full of paragraph breaks, and generally a breeze to read. So which route is better? One way may be obviously on (or off) brand. If either might work, you’ll have to test to find out.

As you consider what to include (or exclude) in your invitation email, here are some options to keep in mind:

  • Social proof. If past webinars were a hit (and you have the comments to prove it), use that social proof in your webinar invitation email.
  • Magnetic headline. If your headline doesn’t stand out, your email won’t get read. Find tips on creating a strong headline here.
  • Conversational tone. Your body copy needs to be engaging, light, and personable. Speak to your prospects as though you’re already hosting the webinar. Include a photo of the host(s). 
  • Storytelling. Stories are emotional, and emotions are persuasive. The stories you tell should lead your readers to your call of action. Joanna Wiebe, the original conversion copywriter, explains how:
Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe:

Narrative-style, rather literal storytelling in emails…a great story (joined at the exact-right moment) can be a fantastic hook for emails.

If you can drop your reader into the middle of the story and move them swiftly from there to the point of action, storytelling can be very useful in emails!”

  • Urgency. Phrases like “last chance” and “one time only” trigger fear. If authentic, create a sense of urgency in your initial email.

To expedite, you can riff off this template:

SEND TO: Everyone

SUBJECT: you’re [concern your webinar will solve], so I’m holding a masterclass about it

BODY:

Hey [subscriber first name],

You want your [topic of webinar] to perform better.

If you don’t, your [topic of webinar] may [concern of target market] over time…

Even if it is meeting your goals right now, you know it can do better…

Tomorrow’s free, live masterclass is for you. You’ll walk away with everything I know about how to [solve pain point webinar is addressing]. Not just the basics, but a masterclass on how to [topic of what webinar will be teaching].

Just some of what you’ll take away:

● [takeaway #1]

● [takeaway #2]

● [takeaway #3]

● [takeaway #4] 

The masterclass will kick off on [Date] at [Time].

Save your spot: [insert link to webinar registration]

Speak soon,

[Your name]

P.S I’ll also be hanging around after to answer your questions.

2. The confirmation email 

The primary purpose of the confirmation email is to:

  • Thank prospects for signing up;
  • Remind them of the date and time of the webinar;
  • Reiterate the benefits they’ll get by joining the webinar;
  • Link to any supporting resources.

It should also include a link to the webinar and, perhaps, a call to action to add it to their Google Calendar.

User Testing created a stellar, no-nonsense confirmation email:

webinar thank you for registering email.

Here’s a template to get you started:

SEND TO: Everyone that registers

SUBJECT: You’re in! Just one more step

BODY:

Hey [subscriber first name],

Thanks for saving your seat for [name of webinar].

Here are the details of the live masterclass you registered for:

Date: [insert date]

Time: [insert multiple time zones]

Link: Click here to join using your personal masterclass link [insert link]

And one last thing: Be sure to add this date and time to your calendar.

You’re going to learn how to solve:

● [problem #1]

● [problem #2] 

● [problem #3]

● [problem #4]

The goal? To help YOU ACHIEVE [POSITIVE RESULT].

I’m also going to send you a reminder before the masterclass starts.

Speak soon,

[Your name]

P.S: We are going to cover A LOT of information. Download our worksheet to take notes during the webinar. [link to worksheet]

3.  The reminder email 

There are a couple of types of reminder emails based on previous behavior of recipients.

The first webinar reminder emails go to anyone on your email list who hasn’t registered and didn’t open the first email. This email should remind your subscribers of your previous email and use the pending webinar to up the urgency. 

Take a look at how Foundr did this below. They reminded the prospect of their earlier email, outlined the benefits of their webinar, then tapped into FOMO:

webinar second invitation email

The email doubles down on the call to action to register and includes another link to the webinar. 

Template for you to adapt:

SEND TO: Send to subscribers who didn’t open the first email

SUBJECT: [target market’s biggest pain point]

BODY:

Hey [subscriber first name],

Ever wish you could ignore the whole [topic of the webinar] thing?

If you’re not 100% happy about the results from the time you’ve spent on [topic of webinar], you are not alone.

The biggest struggle I see [target market] obsessing over is always related to the details of [pain point webinar will address].

This is why I’ve set aside [X hours] to work with you LIVE and focus on ONE THING: [pain point webinar will solve]. 

During this time, you’ll find out everything I’ve learned over the past [X years] about [topic of webinar]. It doesn’t matter if:

[3–5 core objections your target audience may feel is holding them back from registering] 

You WILL come away from this masterclass armed with the skills to resolve [pain point].

Speak soon,

[Your name]

You can send a different email to subscribers who opened the first one but didn’t register. For this email, you can assume that the prospect has some baseline awareness of the webinar. That, in turn, lets you reduce the copy and focus on getting them to register.

CoSchedule reiterates the benefits with bullet points, adds two links to the webinar registration page, reminds prospects of their problem, and finishes with a lovely picture of the host:

Template to get you started:

SEND TO: Send to subscribers who opened the first email but didn’t register.

SUBJECT: I never thought it was possible

BODY:

Hey [subscriber first name],

There was a time when I endured bad [topic of webinar] many times. I wasted time trying to fix [problem webinar will solve] until I felt completely lost.

[subscriber first name], I don’t want you to waste your time like I did trying to solve [pain point your webinar will address].

You don’t have to struggle to [goal prospects want to achieve related to the webinar] and [second goal].

I’ve been putting together an amazing masterclass about [topic of webinar] for the past 6 weeks for [target audience] just like you.

I will share my exact X step [topic of webinar] strategy that I have been using to [grow/increase/etc.] my [topic of webinar].

But you will not get it if you don’t register. 

Click this link to register now and save your seat: [insert link][Your name]

4. The “It’s happening now!” email 

Registrants will forget that they registered for your webinar. The super-simple “It’s happening now!” email can save the day. 

Take a look at how Mindvalley lays out this email. They keep the email short and use a familiar cue—a play button overlaying an image—to encourage recipients to watch.

(They also include a regular link for recipients whose browsers may block images by default.)

Template for you:

SEND TO: Everyone

SUBJECT: It’s happening—time to grab your seat.

BODY:

Hey [subscriber first name],

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and start producing [desired results they will achieve after attending webinar].

Time: Right now!

Link: [insert webinar link]

See you there,

[Your name]

5. The post-webinar email 

After the webinar, there’s still work to be done. The post-webinar email is your chance to

  • Catch the attention of prospects who missed the webinar (by offering a replay).
  • Thank those who showed up.
  • Solicit feedback from attendees.

Here’s what Lianna Patch of Punchline Copy did:

post-webinar email offering a replay of the webinar.

Template for you to use:

SEND TO: Everyone

SUBJECT: [REPLAY] time sensitive

BODY:

Hey [subscriber first name],

Thanks so much for hanging out with me at the masterclass [webinar name].

The [length of webinar] webinar was chocked full of practical, proven tactics and strategies for ramping up your [pain point webinar addresses], and I hope you enjoyed it.

I wanted to hook you up with the temporary replay. Here’s the link: [insert link to webinar replay]

I’m adding a cool new bonus. For the next X hours only, we’ll offer [insert promotion/offer] of our [product/service]. 

Click this link to gain access to the [your offer].

Speak soon,

[Your name]

P.S. Remember, this offer is available only until [insert time and date]. This special deal will not be repeated.

6. The “X hours left” email

Okay, so you’ve already reached out to prospects who missed the webinar. You’ve offered a link to the replay. There’s one last thing to do—send them an “X hours left” email to remind them that the replay won’t be available much longer.

Remind prospects of the knowledge they’ll miss out on. Include a bit of social proof if you already have some feedback from attendees. Highlight the burning questions your host answered. (And if the webinar included a special offer, you can tease that benefit, too.)

Here’s what teachable did:

Template for you to use:

SEND TO: Everyone

SUBJECT: there’s still time…

BODY:

Hey [subscriber first name],

As someone who works with a lot of people in [target audience field of expertise], I know how challenging it can be to make progress on [pain point webinar addresses].

It’s easy to get discouraged and frustrated. 

That’s why I want to ask you…did you find the masterclass helpful?

If you did, then stop what you’re doing and grab [your offer]. Don’t wait—it’s not going to be up for long.

When the masterclass replay is gone, the opportunity to get [your offer] will be gone for good.

Here’s your link: [insert link]

If you didn’t find the masterclass helpful, let me know why. I read every response.

Speak soon,

[Your name]

Conclusion 

Templates are templates. You’ll need to test copy, design, etc., to figure out what works for your audience.

Measure the results after a campaign is over. Did you achieve your goals? If not, where did you struggle? Signups? Attendance? Offer acceptance? Triage which emails in the series you should review first.

Also, remember that email can catalyze other marketing campaigns for your webinar. An initial open can grow a list for an email remarketing campaign on Facebook, for example. It’s one more way to promote your webinar.

Iterate on this outline to get more sign-ups, more show-ups, and a higher ROI for your efforts.

The post Webinar Emails: A Start-to-Finish Promotion Process appeared first on CXL.

How to Build Robust User Personas in Under a Month

Customer personas are often talked about in marketing and product design, but they’re almost never done well. [This post contains video, click to play] There are certainly companies doing them well, but not a lot of detail goes into instruction, and the blog posts out there on how to build personas are generally pretty bad. […]

The post How to Build Robust User Personas in Under a Month appeared first on CXL.

Customer personas are often talked about in marketing and product design, but they’re almost never done well.

[This post contains video, click to play]

There are certainly companies doing them well, but not a lot of detail goes into instruction, and the blog posts out there on how to build personas are generally pretty bad.

I recently created robust user personas for CXL Institute (on inspiration from a course in our CRO certification program taught by Stefania Mereu and Eric Taylor), and it went well.

This post will outline the entire process, giving code examples, data analysis examples, survey questions—the whole thing. You should be able to replicate this process after reading it (or at least follow the resources in the article to learn more about specific parts).

Table of contents

A quick primer on user personas

What’s a user persona? A research-based archetypal representative of your customer based on various attributes, attitudes, and characteristics.

One of the best definitions I’ve found, which expounds a bit more, comes from Tony Zambito circa 2002:

tony

Tony Zambito:

“Buyer personas are research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions. (Today, I now include where they buy as well as when buyers decide to buy.)”

The first mention of personas was in Alan Cooper’s 1991 book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Cooper framed personas as a way of avoiding designing for an “elastic” user, and thus cementing some sort of common properties across segments to aid cohesive design strategy. The alternative, an “elastic user,” would be a design target that stretches to the whims of the design team.

They’re also known as buyer personas, customer personas, customer profiles, or just personas depending who is selling the idea to you. They all mean the same thing, though.

Personas are essentially fictional representations of segments of buyers based on real data reflecting their behaviors. You use them to make better marketing, product, and business decisions and to keep your customer top-of-mind when doing so.

They can be utilized across teams—UX, CRO, social media, SEM, SEO, etc., can all benefit from a better idea of the customer.

Where marketers tend to go wrong with user personas

Not everyone believes user personas to be valuable.

They launched to much applause, but a few trends wore down their appeal with time. The first, according to Dr. David Travis at UserFocus, was agile development:

david

Dr. David Travis:

“‘Development’ teams morphed into ‘design’ teams. Engaging with users became more of a norm and less of an exception. This is good for user experience, but it’s bad news for ‘traditional’ personas.

Traditional personas began to look too finished, too final. Teams were savvy enough to know that fully formed, completed descriptions of users are an impossibility at the early stages of design. Instead, they wanted conversation starters.

To use the agile terminology, design teams wanted to get a ‘shared understanding’ of their users and they were suspicious of any attempt to set requirements in concrete.”

Another reason is a common one: marketers ruined it for everyone. Essentially, personas were largely a parody of themselves, with made up data (or irrelevant data like the eye color of a persona). They took on cheesy stock photos and cringey names like Big Spender Billy.

Alex as a cheesy persona example.
Artistic and Aspirational Alex…?

In addition, the adoption of personas by marketers led to distrust in the validity of the methodology by designers and developers. As Dr. David Travis put it:

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Dr. David Travis:

“Marketing teams created versions of personas to represent market segments. Because they used the magic term ‘personas,‘ development teams were discouraged from developing their own, not realising that a market segment might contain multiple personas.

More cynically, the purpose of marketing personas is primarily to sell more stuff, whereas design personas need to reveal the user behaviours relevant for a product. Development teams couldn’t use marketing personas to make design decisions, so they decided personas weren’t that useful.

(It wasn’t helped by the fact that marketers seem fond of giving their personas silly names, such as “Social Butterfly Brenda” or “Value Hunter Valerie,” that attempt to collapse nuanced research into a single concept. This trivializes the research, resulting in designers rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.)”

The power of user personas fades when people don’t trust them or they aren’t based in reality. Generally, the big mistake marketers make with personas is treating them as a subjective projection of values on some useless canvas. More specifically, that tends to fall within five categories of mistakes:

  • Making up data;
  • Using too much irrelevant data;
  • Using only qualitative data;
  • Using only quantitative data;
  • Believing your personas to be perfectly representative of reality, or that they never change.

You can also create too many personas (three or four is the recommended amount), but I don’t see that problem often. What I see more often is a persona created with no attempt to fit that model to reality, or no use case in actual business decisions.

Remember: your personas are only as good as the research behind them.

A better way to build data-driven personas

So how do we move past those mistakes and create trustworthy and actionable user personas?

There are many methodologies out there. I want to note now that the way I did it is not the only valid way. It might not even be (and probably isn’t) the most sophisticated way. But it’s fast, effective, and data-backed.

Even better, anyone can do it—and usually in under four weeks. That allows us to move quickly and maintain an agile product design strategy as well as an agile marketing strategy. We’re not rendered complacent by too much research.

It’s based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative data, of exploration and analysis. You’ll walk away with personas you can use for marketing decisions, as well as data to further explore for copy ideas, design guidance, and marketing experiments.

Step 1: Outline your goals and plan your approach

What do you want to know? Plan your audience in this step. Who will you survey and how will you reach them?

This also presupposes that you have a certain level of user knowledge, i.e. you’re not starting totally from scratch.

We did an analysis quite a long time before in Excel to find our most valuable customer segments, and we use Intercom to trace their common behaviors. We never did a full structured analysis on behavioral correlations (e.g., running regression analyses against success metrics), but we knew what our “ideal customer profile” looked like for the most part, and we knew which customer profiles were worth the most money to us generally.

Step 2: Write your survey and send it to your audience

Writing the survey was one of the hardest parts for me. It involved thinking about what my goals were with the project and tying those into questions that would produce actionable answers. Not only that, I wanted to remove bias from the questions and also keep the survey short enough that people would actually take it.

If I could go back, I’d actually improve my survey questions a bit. That’s where the data comes from, it’s the part you should focus on most. Measure twice, cut once here, and get your team involved if you can.

We used Typeform to send the survey. Here’s a section of the actual questions:

Some were categorical questions like “Which best describes your company?”

Others were scale questions like “When purchasing digital marketing training, how important are the following factors?” followed by a series of factors like “cost,” “reputation of instructors,” and “interactivity.”

And we also asked a few open-ended questions like “What’s the most challenging skill used in your job?” and “What blogs do you read regularly?” These ended up being the most valuable, in my opinion, for actionable marketing campaign ideas.

Small note on incentivization: We also wanted to incentivize people to take it, and did so by offering a free gift. Our specific play ended up being a logistical headache, so long story short, do what you can to get people take it without a one-for-one gift. The data is valuable, though, so find a way to get quality data.

Step 3: Explore the data (Part 1: EDA in R)

Let the data roll in.

Once you get about 300 responses, you can think about analyzing the data. You did plan ahead on your sample size, though, so that’s arbitrary. Again, 300-1,000 respondents makes for good data. You can do it with 150, probably. There’s no magic number here, as there are many moving pieces (survey quality, audience targeting, your own data analysis skills) that matter more than pure sample size.

You data will look something like this when it all comes in:

Screenshot of what your survey data will look like.

It needs to be organized the right way, with columns as survey variables and rows as responses (or observations) to analyze correctly. You can’t have blank cells (NA values). There are ways to remove or fill these cells within Excel or in R, or whatever statistical tool you use.

For this part, we’ll break into exploratory data analysis in R. If you use a different statistical programming tool, that’s fine. If you don’t use any of these, you’ll miss out on this level of analysis, but you can still use the data you’ve collected to build pretty accurate personas (more accurate than most companies build).

Note: the following gets into the weeds a bit. Everything I’m about to discuss is done in R and is for the purpose of analyzing the data and hopefully breaking it into “chunks” that help to find distinct personas. PCA and factor analysis do this by analyzing variables/columns, and clustering does this by analyzing rows (or responses). It’s not possible to go over these subjects in depth in one article, but I’ve provided links if you want to learn more about them.

First thing we’ll do is exploratory factor analysis. The goal here is to identify the underlying relationships between variables (specifically, columns/survey questions). Basically, can we find factors that predict how people will answer certain questions?

There are many ways to do this in R, most commonly the out-the-box factanal() function. Another popular way is “psych” package, as outlined in this blog post.

I didn’t get much out of factor analysis, but I did find some patterns in three factors, though they didn’t explain much of the data’s variance. So I explored principal component analysis, which is similar and often confused with factor analysis but conceptually different.

I wanted to see if plotting it would clear things up. Here’s the code in R for that (where x is your data frame):

pcanalysis <- prcomp(x, scale = TRUE, center = TRUE)
plot(pcanalysis)

Graph of pcanalysis.

What this means is there’s one component that explains a decent amount of the variance in the data but it sort of fizzles out after that.

There’s more to talk about with PCA (and factor analysis), but I’ll keep it concise for the practical purposes of this post. Here’s a good explanation article if you want to read more.

After this, I went into clustering, which is like PCA or factoring but attempts to group data according to observations (the survey responses, or rows in your spreadsheet). This is the bread and butter for us when we want to find distinct user personas, as it separates our respondents into chunks based on how they answer things.

First thing’s first, make sure you scale and center your data if you have certain variables that are much larger than others (we have answers on a scale of one to five, but also employee counts that go into 50,000+). Here’s basically how I created scaled and centered data and did hierarchical clustering:

scaledpersonas <- scale(personas123, scale = TRUE, center = TRUE)
d <-dist(scaledpersonas)
c <- hclust(d)
plot(c)

This produces a dendrogram, which is a tree diagram used to illustrate the arrangement of the clusters produced by hierarchical clustering.

Cluster dendrogram.

This was pretty messy, though it showed a few high level clusters, and one a few levels down that had many common values.

I moved onto a k-means cluster technique, which allows you to pick the number of clusters you’d like before you do the analysis. We wanted to explore what our clusters looked like with three to five personas. Here’s with three:

A three-persona cluster.

Looks pretty decent. Lots of overlap in the middle (due to common responses to what now seem like obvious variables like the importance of the reputation of instructors), but some uniqueness as well. Much better than with four clusters:

A four-persona cluster.

Here’s how I created that data by the way:

kmscaled <- kmeans(scaledpersonas, 4)
km <- kmeans(personas, 3)
kmscaled

And the visualizations:

require(cluster)
clusplot(personas,
kmscaled$cluster,
color = TRUE,
shade = TRUE,
lines = 3,
labels = 2)

Clustering was more fun. There were pretty clear cut clusters, and at the very least I could explore some of the observations individually to see what set them apart (in Excel).

Doing that allowed me to open up a whole new area of data analysis because I knew that the personas were largely segmented based on a couple variables (mainly company revenue, yearly training spend, and the importance of two to three variables when it comes to training). I could throw down some pivot tables to explore the rest and see where clusters differed in terms of the attitudinal questions, and if there were any variables I was missing.

Step 4: Explore the data (Part 2: Pivot tables and Excel)

You know how to work a pivot table, right?

Pivot tables are a stupidly simple yet incredibly powerful feature in Excel, and totally invaluable for data exploration. They’re a bit hard to explain without actually seeing one in action, but they essentially let you interactively explore data from different angles by placing different variables in columns/rows and analyzing averages, standard deviation, sums, etc.

For this project, they were wonderful, because I was able to set up different worksheets with respondents that fell into each cluster from the analysis above, and see how they answered various survey questions.

Screenshot of a pivot table with our research data.

As you can see, then we could compare the means of different variables as a function of things like job title, job experience, company size, or even whether someone has an allotted and planned training budget.

I did this across personas (from clustering) and compared the means of different variables to find key differences. I also explored other factors, such as the those in the top 15% of reported yearly training spend, or those with allotted budgets vs. those without, to find common and different data between them.

It’s hard to really give a step-by-step here because it’s just part of the “insight generation” process. You have an idea of data you’d like to explore, a hunch of where you might find some interesting information, and you explore those factors. As I’d mentioned, we already had a lot to look at with our statistical clusters and a pretty good idea of our current customer makeup (and which ones were the best customers generally), so it wasn’t a hard process of building reports and pivot tables.

In fact, it was fun!

You can also make pivot tables that contain more than one row variable. Here’s one I just made that shows the average rating of how important cost is by 1) type of company and 2) seniority of employee:

A pivot table with our research data that contains two row variables.

Some of them turn out not to be incredibly valuable (the above being an example of that), but there’s not really such thing as wasted time here, especially if you’re just learning. Spend a lot of time exploring the data. Look for surprises, things you didn’t expect. This isn’t a clear “do this in the following order” process, unfortunately.

Step 5: Explore the data (Part 3: Qualitative)

As part of our survey, we also asked some open-ended questions:

  • What blogs do you read?
  • What is the most challenging skill you use at your job?
  • What software do you use on a daily basis?
  • What’s the last training you completed for digital marketing?

These ended up being the most valuable for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the actionability inherent in the questions we asked.

For example, if we can segment by personas and find common blogs that each persona consumes regularly, we know where to guest post, advertise, or build partnerships.

If we know what software they use, we know who to partner with for events, webinars, and content, we know which tool-specific courses to teach, and we can even do some sales development campaigns based on software segmentation.

More than that, what blogs they read and what they consider their most challenging task tells a lot about who they are.

To start with, the data will likely be a mess. People will write “Google Analytics” where others will write “GA” and there will be a lot of discrepancies like this.

So do what you can to clean up this qualitative data. If you’d like to quantify the information, you can codify the answers (Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics both go under “analytics” category, etc.).

There’s a whole body of literature out there on qualitative data analysis. If you’re curious, look into it (we have a course on it in our CRO certificate program). If not, be scrappy and use the data to inform your personas.

We used the same persona segmentations we’d discovered via the last two (quantitative) steps, cleaned up the data (as best as we could), and built word clouds to get a high level view of what people were saying:

Word cloud from our persona segmentations.

This step will help you cement the qualitative differences between your personas. It’s actually not a bad thing if they all read the same blogs, or they all fall under similar job titles, or whatever your open-ended questions produced. But if they’re different, you can infer different information about them.

One of our personas was incredibly interested in CRO blogs like ours, Unbounce, and Optimizely. Another was filled with general marketing content like Fast Company, HubSpot, and Inc. Another was a hybrid of CRO stuff and analytics-focused stuff like Occam’s Razor. Easy for us, these lightly corresponded with the quantitative segmentation we found as well, and sure enough, this information will help us with marketing and advertising in the future.

Step 6: Organize the data into rough but distinct personas

At this point, you know your data like the back of your hand. You go to bed thinking about which pivot tables you can create to pull new insights, and you’ve got an idea of how your personas break down in reality, not just how you wish they would look.

It’s at this point that you start to crystallize them into distinct personas. Find their core values. Maybe you found one persona clusters around survey components that emphasize value (over quality and whatever else), they read X blogs, and they make more money than the average respondent, but spend far less. These details begin to form a distinct persona.

What you have here is almost finished. In fact, if you’re really lazy and don’t want to do one-on-one interviews, you can be finished (you should do one-on-one interviews, though). At this point, you can fully segment your users based on any information you asked for on your survey (see why early I said the survey creation is the most important part of the process?).

We had three pretty clear personas at this point. I won’t go into too much detail, but the loose personas were those who wanted to grow their business and have an edge on the competition, those who were ambitious self-learners and were determined to be top 1% T-shaped marketers, and those who managed teams and wanted structured education (and clear ROI and progress tracking).

From there, we found some prototypical customers who very closely resembled the fictional personas we’d created and asked them to spare 15-20 minutes for a one-one-one phone interview.

Step 7: Conduct one-on-one interviews

I’m a marketer, so I’m primarily interested in insights I can use for growth and advertising. However, I had also done a behavioral analysis (in-app) of our customers previous to setting up the user persona research, and I work closely with our product team. They also conduct customer interviews, so I roped them into this to kill two birds with one stone and share data across teams.

We planned a series of questions that could aid both product and marketing. They’re deliberately open-ended and designed to spur emotion and depth:

  • What’s your role at your company? Explain at high level and day to day.
  • Career background?
  • How big is your marketing team? How are they organized and distributed? Who do you work with on a daily basis?
  • How does your company organize training and ongoing education?
  • Is training individually motivated or assigned to you?
  • Who in your company found CXL Institute? How did you find it?
  • What makes you feel successful when using the Institute?
  • What made you sign up?
  • What’s the single biggest challenge at your job?
  • What are you motivated by? What keeps you up at night?
  • Say you have a genie, and you could magically develop one skill in the next few years, what would you wish for?
  • Do you use, or have you ever used, a training tool like the Institute? If so, which ones?
  • IF you have used similar tools, how did they compare in quality and style to the institute?
  • Whose advice do you trust? Who do you follow or ask when you have a challenge?

These questions represent a template. In other words, this isn’t a checklist, it’s a conversation. Take a journalist’s attitude and go into the conversation with a sense of curiosity and exploration. The point is to make it feel unlike an interview and more like a conversation with a close friend.

You don’t want surface level answers, shit you can look up in your product analytics.

You want soul-baring answers about their fears of looking inferior in front of their coworkers, their motivations about growing their business to $100M a year in revenue, or their assertions of the thought leaders they trust and why they think most of the industry is full of hucksters, but not you.

If you do this right—and there’s a whole art to it—it should be one of the most insightful parts of the process. It’s really the ornamentation on the foundation; you’ve already got the basic personas segmented on attitudinal and behavioral data, and now you want to find emotional triggers to help you with messaging strategy, emotional targeting, and design.

This stage should take a few days to a week, depending on how quickly you can organize and conduct these interviews (we did ours in a week). Try to get two to five interviews for each distinct persona.

Step 8: Put it all together and share with your team

That’s it. You’re done. Quick and dirty user personas, in only three to four weeks. And you can actually use them.

Design them and communicate them so they actually get shared with the team and used for decision making. This is where you can get creative (there’s no one way to do this and certainly no prototypical template). Here’s an example template I really like from buyerpersona.com:

I think this example provides the most granularity and actionable information, while also segmenting the information with tabs.

Here’s one from Smart Insights:

I don’t think there’s necessarily a right or wrong way to do it, so long as you concisely include actionable information and communicate it effectively. These things should live on their own and not need further questions from teammates who haven’t seen all the raw persona data

You can also map them out on GE/McKinsey’s Matrix. This shows you how ideal the customer persona is vs. how strong your business case is for them, allowing you to visualize where the best opportunities are for future marketing efforts:

A GE/McKinsey customer persona matrix.

The top left (Persona 3) means they’re our most ideal customer but we are executing the least effectively on selling to them, and the bottom right (Persona 1) means we’re selling to these people the best but they’re not the most ideal for our business. The opportunity then is in Persona 2 and Persona 3.

After this is the fun part: execution. Just because you have a pretty poster on the wall with your hard fought and researched user personas doesn’t mean you’ve actually done anything. All of that research is wasted if you don’t use it. If it doesn’t aid design and product decisions, you’re doing it wrong. If you don’t change a thing about your marketing, you’re doing it wrong.

Important caveats

A few notes:

  • This is not the only way to make user personas. There are tons of ways. There’s also not a lot of research on which method is more effective, but I tend to side with the one with more objectivity, less conjecture, and more rigor/structure. That’s why I like this approach.
  • This approach also still leaves some factors up to subjectivity. In ours, we knew that while persona 3 represented a smaller portion of our current audience, they represent the highest value customer segment. So we wanted to keep them as a persona, regardless of their lower representation in this set of data.
  • Just because you make them doesn’t mean they’ll be effective. You have to first decide your goals in making them. What will this information let you do differently?
  • This is a fluid process. As you learn more about your customers, you can tweak or change your personas. You should. A static persona isn’t just lazy, it’s almost certainly unrepresentative of your customer because 1) you never have all the data you need at one time, and 2) your customer profile changes with time.

I’ve heard it recommended that you should update your personas once every six to eight months or so. We’ll do it once a year. You do what works best for your organization, but keep it evolving and improving.

Conclusion

This is a lot of information, but if you take it step-by-step, building accurate data-driven personas isn’t hard (and it can be accomplished in under a month).

Realistically, you don’t need to do everything I outlined. Especially if you’re just starting out and haven’t really discovered Product/Market Fit, you shouldn’t be investing this much into personas because they won’t mean anything.

We’ve hit a point of traction and have defined customer profiles. Adding user personas that are backed by quantitative and qualitative data helps us produce landing pages, design, and messaging, as well as product development roadmaps and targeting and partnership ideas. It truly adds a level of depth to our marketing and adds value.

Even if you’re at the level where building personas will help your marketing, you can likely skip clustering and PCA if you don’t have an analyst willing to do that. Plus, those methods tend to be less clean than they seem on paper, so you can likely pull easier insights with pivot tables and a few customer interviews.

I realize this article went through a lot of different subjects relatively quickly, so if you still have questions or want help doing your own customer personas, comment below and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.

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