Andrew Barks

28-year-old, single white male who enjoys snowshoeing, Kenny Chesney, casual LARPing and barefoot morning jogs along the lakefront.

Is that the opening line to your ChristianMingle profile, bruh? Oh no, that’s my targeted buyer persona – he goes to a lot of renaissance fairs.

As almost anyone producing content or navigating the digital marketing space is acutely aware, audience personas have become hyper specific, right down to your target’s favorite foods, movies, Spotify stations and preferred plots of body for their tattoos.

Is it getting weird? You bet it is.

But the need to hone in so hard on your reader’s exact traits is a function of an evolving, wisening landscape. With the caveat that your reader is not necessarily your buyer, the approach still must presume that ideally, some of the former are also the latter.

Meanwhile, content creation has necessarily become more narrowly pinpointed, because the targets are more discerning. That means purveyors of said content have become more adept at not only poring over data that leads them to these conclusions, but also elaborating – right down to their shoe size – on who exactly those people are likely to be.

Humans, they err

It’s an important point to bear in mind – that is, that these targets are people.

Sometimes we get lost in the minefield of page views, click-through rate and buyer journey data, losing sight of the fact that the “leads” we crave are actually humans. Fickle, easily swayed humans.

That means Kevin McHumphrey, 31-year-old real estate broker with a short attention span and an affinity for old-school Tony Hawk Playstation games, might respond with some harsh comments about your “3 Tips for Staging a Home” blog despite the fact that he is, to a tee, your target, simply because his buddy Shook works at Redfin and wrote a similar post that he thinks is “killer.” He’s going to then email you that link, run-on sentences, stock images and all, telling you to use it as a template for your next post with a note about how “this is what’s really real.”

Why? Because that’s what Kev reads, and that’s what Kev believes.

As the Content Marketing Institute’s buyer persona breakdown notes, in addition to understanding an audience member’s problems and objectives, it’s also essential to grasp their preferences, engagement habits and, foremost, how they spend their days. That sort of insight ranges from the extraneous – how many pit bulls Mr. McHumphrey has fostered – to the immediately useful (i.e., what other sorts of content he consumes).

Learning how to leverage this information to your advantage is as important as identifying who Kevin is.

Audience perceptions, for better or worse, are guided by familiarity and comfort. The same way you might lean on CNN and The Atlantic to inform your political stances, alternative angles be damned, the vast majority of B2B content consumers want to have their pre-established narratives reinforced.

Does that make crafting insightful, provocative, yet reader-satisfying content more challenging? Certainly.

But it also means that as a content marketer of any sort, no matter the medium, there’s a key question you need to ask any time you have the opportunity to communicate with one of your audience members directly: What else are you reading (or watching, or perusing, or scrolling through, or sharing because homegirl shared it and you wanted to be next to do so, just on a different social channel)?

Reconciling disparate persona pieces

Let’s run with the real estate industry example as a case study.

Kev, who’s on the come-up as a SoCal mogul-in-the-making, is one persona, and we know he sources Redfin and Trulia’s blogs, as well as LinkedIn to see what competitors are discussing, and maybe the occasional Forbes piece that he shares on Facebook to keep it 100 with the intellectual finance crowd. But he’s a big piece in your audience puzzle.

If you’re accounting for the swath of industry professionals who may be digesting your site’s content, you’ll also need to consider:

  • Rose, a discerning 40-year-old who’s expanded her property holdings portfolio to the extent that she’s abandoned her corporate role and formed her own management LLC with her retired father, now working as her handyman.
  • There’s Andre, 53-year-old local market guru who only needs 15-20 sales per year because he focuses on specific buyers and his skills lie in the art of the negotiation.
  • And don’t forget Lydia, former-agent-turned-house-flipper, whose greatest attribute is an uncanny knack for finding that “next” neighborhood or property.

They all prefer their industry information from different places.

  • Rose absorbs straight data from the MLS or government reports.
  • Andre favors The Wall Street Journal.
  • Lydia watches one-minute video blogs on Zillow when she has the time.

Complicating things further, they’re all entrenched in the biases formed by their own professional experiences, so they’re keen to anything they read that whiffs of fluff or generalization. They’re all subject matter experts, if you will.

Credibility is the only foolproof way to combat these collective biases, so your facts must always be on point – up to date, corroborated and, if possible, with one or more of their trusted sources sprinkled in. Establishing that sort of trust will allow you to maintain the attention of such a broad audience while occasionally challenging their viewpoints – without turning them off.

If trust is the cornerstone of loyalty, and loyal viewers or readers are frequently the ones who provide referrals (if not direct business), then that should be the crux of your rapport with all site visitors.

That connection can then guide the messaging that’s consistently delivered thanks to your now-second-nature knowledge of the reader – habits, hangups, quirks and all – and keep them coming back.

In the end, if that rapport results in more page views, form fills, demo requests or whatever metric you’re most concerned with, then you’ve effectively leveraged those insights into who your audience members are.

You’ve tapped into what they know and don’t know, and what they crave out of their content. You might even say you’ve used their own knowledge against them.