Don't target CMOs: How to aim your content strategies at your real customer

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When I conducted a substantive survey of marketers and asked what their biggest content marketing needs are, two responses tied for first place. The first was measurement, which I’ve written about extensively, both here and in subsequent research.

The other pain point is somewhat less discussed: audience and targeting. In other words, finding the right customers and prospects.

This phase of content strategy is threefold: first, identifying the right audience of products and influencers that are appropriate to the product or service produced by your business. Second and third, creating and publishing the right content in the right channels to reach those defined targets.

Small wonder, then, that audience targeting is one of marketers’ top needs, given it’s a three-part process. If work I’m conducting with clients is any indicator (not to mention the conversations conducted with marketers at conferences worldwide), a primary reason why audience targeting is so difficult is a widespread refusal to take the time to develop personas.

Instead, far too many organisations are targeting not only content, but also advertising and social media messaging, to a single monolithic über-persona who by definition is not a persona (or a person, for that matter) at all.

Just as a for instance, what’s endemic in the marketing technology sector is to take the supposed shortcut of addressing all messaging to “The CMO.” The CMO is not a persona; it is a job title, and not necessarily a relevant one at that, given the CMO is by no means necessarily the buyer any more than is some vague notion of “the customer” in the CPG world.

Far too many organisations are targeting not only content, but also advertising and social media messaging, to a single monolithic über-persona.

As one of my savvier clients put it recently in a discussion of this persistent issue, “The CMO doesn’t want to talk to anyone. They want to set direction and have their VPs and staff take care of the details. They don’t come to my meetings or my roundtables. They sign IOs [insertion orders].”

Moving beyond the CMO

Thinking beyond the monolithic CMO (or “our customer”) is the first and most pressing task in targeting the right audience for content or advertising initiatives by creating personas. Yet it never ceases to amaze me how many marketing organisations believe it’s possible to skip this essential strategic step.

Yes, persona creation is time-consuming. It involves parsing out the many “whos” that comprise a target audience, identifying their job titles, pain points, needs and wants.

The paths toward achieving this are many, but all involve labour, thought and methodology. Sure, speak to sales staff, but it’s more critical that clients and customers be regularly interviewed to learn why they elected to purchase your product or service over the competitions.

Where do you provide value — price, design, ease of use, value-adds? — and how does each factor into the buyers’ differing roles? Are these people influencers in the buying decision? Approvers? Decision-makers? Each has varying needs, wants and roles to play at different stages in the purchase cycle.

Tap into influencers

Audience targeting, however, doesn’t stop with a constellation of buyer personas. Just as critical is adding influencers to the persona mix, which broadens it considerably. Who are influencers? The media. Industry analysts. Bloggers. Academics. Subject matter experts.

These are the voices buyers listen to. They not only can create awareness, but they reverberate up and down the purchase funnel, swaying opinion, sentiment and affirming (or dissenting) when buying decisions are made.

Everything about audience targeting is subtle, nuanced and highly calibrated. It’s hard work even before “what kind of content” and “for what channels” can begin to be addressed.

Audience targeting doesn’t stop with a constellation of buyer personas. Just as critical is adding influencers to the persona mix.

Yet for some reason, perhaps because of its very complexity, marketers shortcut defining the target audience to a hypothetical endgame (“We need to reach CMOs, and they’re on Facebook, or LinkedIn, or reading our company blog.”)

And the culmination of that endgame, the distribution piece that is channel and media selection, can’t succeed if they don’t ladder back to the essential process of carefully crafting personas.

Neither will investment in audience targeting software solutions. If they’re only used to hunt hypothetical or illogical targets, you may as well use them to seek out Bigfoot.

Sometimes there just aren’t any shortcuts. Audience targeting will always be a challenge, though it needn’t be the biggest one. You can make this task manageable with some time, effort and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Rebecca Lieb is the author of Content: The Atomic Particle of Marketing – The definitive guide to content marketing strategy. It is out now, published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99

About Rebecca Lieb

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