This article was originally published on Sales Hacker on October 31st, 2018.
At least 69 percent of businesses invest significant time and money into email marketing, according to a recent survey by business news website The Manifest. But without an engaging, persona-based approach, many of them might just be spinning their wheels on lead generation. Crafting and targeting emails to personas boosts click-through and conversion rates more than 10 percent and drives 18 times more revenue than broadcast-style emails. In short, it’s important that marketers stay on target.
The need to create personalized marketing messages isn’t new; it grew as a natural extension of the dot-com boom. The more time people spent online, the more crucial it was for advertisers to directly serve ads relevant to them. Before the boom, buyer personas were defined as researched and modeled representations of who buyers are, including their goals and how those goals drive their buying decisions. In other words, what do they want?
After more consumers started buying everything online, that definition evolved and expanded to include how they think and react and how their behavior influences those buying decisions. In other words, why do they want what they want?
Before long, there were enough users with internet access that innovators started focusing on user demographics and spinning them into personas. Naturally, marketers began customizing their regularly scheduled programming according to their users’ habits. But unlike the advertising channels that came before it, the internet was a much better platform for having direct conversations with buyers.
Internet marketers didn’t have to wait for commercials to speak to their buyers — they had their “addresses.” Instead of sending paper materials destined for the trashcan, marketers had a direct channel to buyers who could instantly respond if they liked an ad enough.
Even in the internet sphere, fundamental marketing rules always apply: The better your message, the more engaged your audience. Fundamental sales rules apply, too: The more context you provide about the problems your product solves, the more likely your audience will buy it.
Making Persona-Based Marketing Feel Fresh
In some ways, it feels like persona-based emails are still relatively new. Prospect data is becoming ubiquitous, and as it does, organizations get smarter about personalizing their messages for lead generation.
In other ways, the approach has already started to go stale. So many organizations use simple customizations these days that it’s become less of a differentiator. Consumers get it: You know how to put their first names in an email subject line.
Now, buyers recognize these simple tactics and run. But innovative marketers are starting to refine persona-based tactics with the help of machine learning and AI. Using natural language processing and generation, they can create more engaging and personalized email subject lines than most humans can.
But it isn’t the technology that sets them apart so much as how companies focus it — by creating engaging content, intelligently consolidating and creatively using prospect data (the more granular, the better), and leveraging data science to measure campaign performance.
Instead of guessing what made the last campaign work or fail, sticking to these factors makes personalized messaging a completely data-driven cycle. Constantly testing, iterating, refining, and learning means the next campaign always performs better than the last.
Maximizing Buyer Personas to Grow the Conversation
To successfully speak to your buyers’ personas, the most important first step is to segment your audience using highly limited variables. Even if your buyers all have similar problems, they don’t share the same needs and preferences. Segmenting your buyers allows you to speak in a context that reaches each one more personally.
For example, your email to a veteran IT director with 30 years of experience in the manufacturing field shouldn’t sound the same as the one you send to an up-and-coming software developer. Avoid defaulting to a vague list of bullet points. Instead, speak to each prospect as though he or she were sitting in front of you. Start by using these strategies:
1. Invest in great content.
The volume of email content exported by marketers increased 18 percent between 2016 and 2017, raising the total emails to 30 billion in 2017 alone. Consumers receive more emails than ever before, so to attract positive customer attention, you must create top-notch email content. Therefore:
- DO: Hire a skilled writer. It might seem expensive on the front end, but content is the backbone of your persona-based campaign. Therefore, great content pays dividends. Find skilled writing talent who can combine several writing strategies and can appeal to several personas. It can be tough to master one, much less several, so what seems like a high initial cost is actually one of your most important investments.
- DON’T: Get too personal in emails. Personalize the content with more than just the buyer’s name — but don’t get too personal, or the email might seem creepy. You won’t get the kind of attention you want if the consumer suspects you’re spying on her. To wit, 15 percent of online customers find too much personalization in marketers’ emails annoying. Be authentic and intentional, but use personal details sparingly.
2. Get to know your audience.
To influence your customers’ buying decisions, you have to first understand how they make those decisions. To engage them, you have to first understand their fears, desires, goals, and motivators, and then you must make them feel valued. Therefore:
- DO: Research personas thoroughly. Invest as much in qualitative research on buyer personas as you do in content generation. Qualitative research into the opinions and behaviors of buyers helped 82 percent of companies exceed their revenue goals in 2016. Nearly 70 percent of companies that came up short neglected such research, according to Cintell’s 2016 B2B benchmark study.
- DON’T: Overdo it. Knowing your buyers personally is essential to creating in-depth, personalized messages, but don’t overpersonalize the message in obvious ways. As I mentioned, buyers know that you know their first names, so using it four times in one email won’t make them feel any more valued. Get creative in how you use data, and use it intentionally.
3. Use data to your advantage.
Today’s marketplace runs on data, and much of it can help your business succeed if used properly. By A/B testing and analyzing data on your past email marketing campaigns, you can empower yourself to constantly improve. Therefore:
- DO: Always measure and test your results. Tracking results seems like a no-brainer, but it’s actually common for organizations to measure everything and then fail to test benchmarks against each other. In fact, in Litmus’ 2018 State of Email poll, marketers named a lack of data integration and low visibility into email performance among their biggest challenges. Your audience is changing, and you should, too — but only when open and reply rates show that something is worth scaling or eliminating.
- DON’T: Take on too much at once. Always be testing and measuring, but don’t try to focus on 10 variables at once. You’ll benefit more by mastering one variable at a time. Start with the subject line, then the preview text, then the call to action, and so on until you get the hang of it. Once you perfect these, each variable will work together to create a message much greater than the sum of its parts.
While the concept of persona-based marketing isn’t exactly new, the technology, media, and entire landscape of consumerism is constantly evolving. As they change, adopting these lead generation strategies and avoiding the pitfalls will help you maintain conversations and relationships with your customers. Simply engaging in email marketing isn’t enough; to reach email’s full potential, you have to take a persona-based approach.
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