Marketing online to specific customer personas pays off

February 12, 2010
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Most company leaders know their business needs to have an online presence, but when asked why, they often are stumped.

“If you were to ask every company what is the purpose of having a Web site, the majority of the people, if completely honest, (would say), ‘Because everyone else has one,’” said Pete Brand, co-founder of Mindscape at Hanon McKendry, a Web development and marketing firm.

“Typically, people see that the Internet is no longer a fad and something they need to embrace, but they don’t really think through the purpose. They don’t really think about what that Web site is meant to do: Is it meant to bring commerce? Is it meant to streamline processes?

“What a company really needs to do, even if they have a Web site, is step back and ask, ‘Does this have a purpose? If it does, what is that purpose?’”

Brand recently held a two-day seminar at the GVSU Eberhard Center that included social media tips, online marketing and an explanation of the Mindscape process. Once a company has decided on the purpose of its Web site, Brand said, it should organize its customer base or target audience, clarifying where, when and how to communicate with those groups.

“Every company has certain ‘personas’ they end up marketing to or are trying to attract into their business,” he said. “If they really took a long hard look at it, they could almost create buckets and put every customer they have, within five seconds of thinking about it, into one of those buckets.”

Brand gave the example of breaking down a group of 500 customers into five such personas.

“In essence, you would have five different groups of a hundred customers that are … interested in the same types of things — they would need to have the same types of questions answered in order to make a sale,” said Brand. “Once you’ve done that, literally, whenever you’re doing any type of marketing online, you’re really just marketing to five people.”

Brand said Mindscape can find out how certain groups spend their time online and what their interests and concerns are.

“Everybody is on the Web, whether they’re reading blogs, buying books off amazon.com, participating in forum discussions, reading industry publications — whatever it happens to be,” he said. “We actually have the ability to go to those places where those individual personas are hanging out and gain a huge amount of intelligence.”

For instance: “If I were to go to amazon.com and I’m trying to reach a particular persona that happens to be in the technology world, I would do a search for books that particular persona is probably going to read in the technology sector. So I find a book that has a pretty big circulation, and I look at the chapter titles. The information that gives me as a marketer is, I’ll say, ‘Alright, this book is written specifically for the persona that I want to reach, and the chapter titles are typically about a problem that persona is trying to solve.

“Then I look at the user reviews and I can gain a lot of intelligence there, because the people who are writing the reviews are the exact people that I’m trying to reach. If I find that 10 people have submitted a user review on the book, and seven of those have addressed the same problem, then I know that’s a pretty prominent issue amongst that persona type that I absolutely need to focus on in my Web site, because I provide that particular solution.

“Even more importantly than that, they’ve stated that problem that the book helped them solve in their own language, which is going to help me when I’m looking to position myself in front of them when they are doing a search online.”

Another aspect Brand said companies need to understand when marketing online is that their competition for online recognition is not who they think it is.

“The majority of the companies we talk to, we ask, ‘Who are your competitors?’ and they rattle off seven or eight different names. Then we’ll do the research, and usually one of those names they mentioned will come up, because at this point in the Internet marketing game, not every company is … embracing Internet marketing.”

Brand said that some larger companies may be slow to adopt such Internet marketing techniques, allowing for smaller companies to gain a stronger online presence than its larger industry cohorts.

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