Intent MarketingMarketing Strategies

The Customer Persona Is Dead. Long Live Customer Intent!

By Ilana Hart
Thursday, December 19, 2019

I know you’ve already heard it about 1,300 times before:

The customer experience is all about personalization. 

Potential buyers want to feel like you are speaking directly to them. They want to know that you understand their needs and that you can provide a product or service that addresses their specific pain points.

Don’t we all?

In past years, we marketers believed that persona-based marketing would help us do just that. We were sure that by identifying the ideal customer—or several ideal customer prototypes—we could deliver highly personalized and targeted campaigns that would lead to conversions.

The problem is—and what many marketers now realize—is that in today’s online economy, consumers cannot be boxed into just one persona category. Our needs as customers are continuously changing, and what motivates us to buy one day may not be the same motivator the next day.

I’m certain that you too have days when you’re all about scrolling down endless coupon sites in the hopes of finding that coveted 20% off. Then there are days when you drop $185 on a Prada paperclip.  

So how can we cater to an ever-changing buyer persona, and offer the right content just at the right time?

This is where intent marketing comes into play. 

So let’s bid the persona farewell and learn how to focus on uncovering what motivates customers to take action:

What Is a Customer Persona and Why It’s Time to Move On 

Let’s first take a look at how customer personas are created.

In 2018, Hootsuite published a simple guide on how to pinpoint your target market and create personas in 5 easy steps:

  • Research your current buyers (how they behave on social, what they type in search engines, and how the competition approaches them)
  • Identify your customers’ main challenges
  • Figure out what your customers wish to achieve
  • Develop a clear value proposition for your brand
  • Group together buyer characteristic to create your personas

But, is this approach still relevant today? 

Many marketing strategists are shouting from the rooftops that it’s not.

According to Georgia Antill, a CX and business strategy consultant, a static, pre-defined customer persona is redundant. It doesn’t take into consideration the chaotic nature of today’s customers. People today don’t have just one area of interest or one specific need. 

Georgia Antill customer persona natural intelligence
People today don’t have just one area of interest or one specific need. Georgia Antill

We marketers can’t just box them into one customer persona category. Plus, sometimes people are searching for a particular product as a one-off (like buying a new sofa or helping a friend find a dog sitter). Once they’ve found what they need, there’s no point flooding them with ads about sofas and pets—it has become irrelevant for that specific buyer.

Antill suggests that “occasion-based marketing” can be a much better way of targeting customers. We have to base our targeting on what it is that’s motivating user behavior at any particular time. 

Following this approach, each potential customer may actually fit under several different personas. 

The conclusion? Deliver marketing content that addresses people’s motivators and not personalities.

A New Approach: Customer Intent 

You must recognize that today’s customers cannot be grouped into just one customer persona.

One customer journey spans throughout many touchpoints and contexts. 

The good news: your brand’s reach is probably much more extensive than you’d think. 

The not-so-good news: you have to shake the habit of “personifying” and work hard to strategize the way you target across different contexts. 

How?

Ask yourself the 3 “why” questions:

  • Why are potential buyers behaving in a certain way?
  • Why are they using certain search keywords?
  • Why are they reading specific webpages?

The point is, that once you’re able to really get inside a customer’s head and identify high-intent users, you can create targeted marketing campaigns that lead to conversions. 

So it doesn’t matter whether a specific prospect is a homeowner or not. If they search for “best mortgage lenders in Florida,” it means that they just need that final nudge to help them decide.

if they search for “best mortgage lenders in Florida,” it means that they just need that final nudge to help them decide.

They want good content that will help them compare rates and conditions; they want to read reviews from other mortgage seekers. And they want to be able to find this content at the top of the Google SERP.

Intent-based marketing looks beyond Sheila, the 40-year-old cosmetician from Florida who loves shoes, dogs, and investing in real estate.

Heck, maybe Sheila woke up today with the resolution to start expanding her ventures into eastern Europe. You won’t be doing her any favors if you harass her with a flashy display ad that screams: “Your New Home in Orlando is Awaiting! Starting from $989K.”

By focusing on intent, you can drive Sheila to the appropriate content to help her make a purchasing decision.

Tools to Help You Uncover Intent 

Google is already doing it.

You must have noticed that every time you begin typing a query, auto-fill options complete your string. That’s because Google is using a machine-learning engine that understands the intent behind various keywords and populates the SERP based on these intent-based algorithms.

But how can you uncover user intent?

Well, by implementing machine-learning technology of your own, or at the least, advanced data analytics. The bottom line is—you need to take a deep dive into who your existing customers are and what steps led them to make a purchase. 

You can then use this data to extrapolate to your potential buyers, working backward to figure out how to generate high-intent leads. 

What sort of data will be useful?

  • Search terms – Which keywords are they using? Is the search branded or unbranded? What are the conversion rates for various keywords?
  • Website activity – How are customers interacting with your site? What type of content are they engaging with? 
  • Buying behaviors – Which content are customers engaging with before they make a purchase decision? What other factors influence buying behavior (e.g., seasonality)?

How to Refresh Your Persona-Centric Content Strategy to Target Intent 

In the persona-centric content era, marketers were eager to build their websites in a way that addressed the individual persona or that answered the question: “What’s in it for me?”

This was the kind of content that marketers believed would offer the potential buyer a consistent and personalized customer experience.

Today we know that this was a shot in the dark because your site’s visitors don’t necessarily fit your client persona. Just think of a poor 67-year-old woman that stumbles across Playstation’s homepage while looking for a Christmas present for her grandson.

It’s time to rewrite your content strategy. 

It’s less about who the buyer is, and more about what they actually need. Like, right now. 

Your content strategy must focus on delivering relevant information, statistics, comparisons, and reviews that will enable your consumer to make an informed decision. This type of content is still highly personalized. But instead of dwelling on “What’s in it for me?” it answers the question, “What’s the best product for me, based on my specific needs at this specific moment in time?”

Focus on delivering relevant information, statistics, comparisons, and reviews that will enable your consumer to make an informed decision.

This doesn’t just give users the warm and fuzzies for your offering, or generate brand awareness, it puts customers in charge of their own journey. 

It empowers them to achieve what they want—when they want it.

An intent-based content strategy is especially important for today’s generation of mobile users. On mobile, you can both consume information and purchase products with a few swipes on your device.

Is It Really the End for the Customer Persona?

The simple answer is: no.

If you’ve already made a dedicated investment in personas, you don’t have to toss these elaborate PowerPoint presentations to the recycle bin just yet.

It’s a good thing you’ve got an idea who your superfans are, and you can still use this information to create:

  • Relevant social media content
  • Website copy
  • PPC ads

It can even help you lay down a product-development strategy.

But, if you rely only on persona-based marketing, you’re missing the bigger picture and giving up on larger market potential. What we at Natural Intelligence like to call: leaving money on the table. 

Vincenzo de Simone, a member of Adobe’s strategic services team, says, “People change their ideas about products and brands almost daily. There is no way a brand can accurately define the breadth of people who will care about their message, and this is where they are missing out.”

“People change their ideas about products and brands almost daily.” Vincenzo De Simone

So, where does persona-based marketing and intent marketing collide?

Think of it as a multi-layered approach, where you have the customer persona, customer profile, and customer intent. This will create a much more holistic picture of who your potential buyer is.

For instance, personas can help you visualize who you are speaking to when you create content. 

This will enhance your content, make it more colorful, and add that touch of personalization that really pulls in readers. 

But intent marketing should be the driving force behind your broader content marketing strategy. It should inform your SEO tactics, keyword usage, PPC strategy, and marketing funnels. 

Once you’re able to target high-intent users, you can attract them to your site, engage with them, and convert them into buyers and even recurring customers.

A (Not so Final) Eulogy for the Customer Persona

Across the board, there is a clear consensus that customer personas are a thing of the past.

The good news is that you probably have a much broader market reach than you always thought. 

In order to properly identify and define your target market, it’s time to dig deeper into customer intent and understand what motivates people to buy. 

Once you have that insight, you can:

  • Deliver the right content at the right time
  • Help people make a purchase decision based on their specific needs
  • Establish yourself as a brand.

Natural Intelligence is a global leader in intent marketing. We operate +200 comparison websites for multiple industries across the globe. For more lessons on intent marketing, contact our marketing specialists today!

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