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Persona power: How to make marketing automation customer-centric

30th Oct 2013
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'If-then logic' is one of the most powerful concepts in computer programming, and it's the foundation of most marketing automation software. But sometimes if-then logic fails to understand what is most essential about people and the way they choose to communicate.  All too often, this kind of marketing automation is triggered by link-clicks and small actions rather than looking at all of the data-points that make up a person and their decision process. 

As marketers, we ought to challenge ourselves to bring a customer-centric approach to marketing automation.  It should be about the total known attributes of a person and what they need at that moment in their decision process. 

Start with a persona

Since a single click doesn't approximate a complete view into the interests and motivations of a given lead, let's start by focusing on what does.









Personas are constructs to help encapsulate the interests and experiences of their core audience. A persona helps you to keep your customers at the center of your marketing and your product.  For example, at HubSpot, we make marketing software for three main personas.  Enterprise Erin, Marketing Mary, and Owner Ollie. These representations encapsulates things like job title and industry, motivations and typical concerns. 

Even though a person's industry and role are central to their interests, that information alone doesn't make for a complete persona, nor does it tell you what content they'll find most useful. To get at that, you have to pair professional information with a running history of their interactions on your site and with your company.

I say a running history, because themes take time to emerge, and judging on single actions can be misleading. A true persona takes into account who a person is (e.g., a marketer at a midsize technology company) and what they express interest in (e.g., predominately reads materials on ROI measurement).

Once you understand the persona, look to their customer lifecycle

Understanding the buyer persona is good. Knowing where that persona is in his or her decision process is even better.  Each person will go through a number of different stages when considering whether or not to purchase your product or service.  Try to map out those decision stages, their indicators, and the content that is most useful at each.

Prospective customers will give you signs to indicate when they’ve moved from one stage to the next.  We call these lifecycle stage indicators.  They’re different for each company, but here are some of the indicators we look for

  • A shift in content consumption: They started by reading your blog but have progressed to looking at more product-centered content like your pricing page.
  • Contact made: They reached out to your sales team or requested a call.
  • Ramped up activity: The visit patterns to a site increase and the lead has downloaded an increasing amount of content.

Consider two clear personas that we know are interested in different content because we've looked at their contact data, pageviews, and download behavior. As their decision process progresses, each persona goes down a different track to consume more advanced content geared toward their specific interests. You start by offering them educational, informative content, and then move to more product/service-focused content when the lead is further down the sales funnel and ready to evaluate your company.

Think outside of the Inbox

Putting people at the center of your marketing automation strategy means understanding that they use more than just email to research products and make decisions.

Too many marketing automation programs rely exclusively on email for their targeted communications. Email is a great channel, but it's just a fraction of the total experience that a lead or customer has with your company.

In addition to email, make sure your marketing automation helps you provide a more personalized experience throughout your communication channels:

  • Website content: Someone who is brand new to your company shouldn’t see the same homepage as someone who has been talking to your sales team for months. Use marketing automation workflows to dynamically change website content based on who is looking at it.
  • Offers: Use marketing automation to direct website visitors more quickly to content that meets their persona characteristics and reflects what they need at their individual lifecycle stage.
  • Sales calls: Send your sales team notifications when a lead's actions indicate that he's moving to a new stage in his decision process. Make sure your sales team can see each lead's history of interactions with your company.
  • Help desks: Webhooks enable some marketing automation systems to send notifications to different systems, such as your helpdesk software.
  • Social: Though it's not possible to send automated messages via social media (and that’s a good thing), incorporating the social media activity of your leads and customers into your understanding of their interests and lifecycle stages can help your team market to them better. 

The bottom line is: Before you get too carried away with your branching logic and marketing automation strategy, think about what matters to the customer:  1) Their personal interests and 2) Where they are in the decision process.  Use those two levers to develop a marketing strategy that aids rather than convolutes. Marketing automation should make potential customers' lives easier. It should remove irrelevant clutter and rise to meet needs.  We can do better.  

Meghan Keaney Anderson is product marketing manager at Hubspot

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