In the ever-evolving marketing landscape, understanding your customers has never been more critical. Marketing Strategist Ardath Albee teaches us the importance of knowing our buyer personas, and how this powerful tool can transform your marketing campaigns, allowing you to connect with your audience on a more personal level and achieve remarkable results.
- Ardath Albee, a sought-after persona expert, discusses the importance of personas in marketing. She explained that personas are composite sketches of a segment of buyers, allowing marketers to understand their commonalities and create relevant content that addresses their specific needs and challenges.
- The limitations of persona worksheets and tools, highlighting their high-level nature and lack of depth. Comparison of the criteria for B2C and B2B personas, emphasizing the different considerations and complexities involved in B2B decision-making processes.
- Ardath’s process for creating robust personas, including gathering insights from the sales team, conducting interviews with customers, and conducting research to develop a comprehensive understanding of the target audience. She emphasized the importance of aligning the personas with the resources available and using the gathered information to create a compelling storyline for marketing and content strategies.
- Ardath and Rich discuss the process of developing personas for clients by conducting interviews with their customers. Ardath shared that she would ask customers about their job responsibilities, buying process, and implementation experience to gather insights for creating effective personas.
- The benefits of giving personas names and how it helps in creating personalized content. Using personas to answer specific questions and tailor content formats based on the preferences of the target audience.
- The importance of understanding buyer personas and tailoring content to their preferences, and the need to regularly update personas based on industry changes and customer feedback.
- Ardath and Rich discuss the challenges and successes of implementing persona-based marketing strategies for both large enterprises and smaller companies. They also explored the minimum viable approach to creating personas with limited resources and the potential value and limitations of using AI tools for persona creation.
- The challenges and concerns with using AI language models like ChatGPT for marketing purposes, including doubts about the accuracy and trustworthiness of the information generated by the models, as well as the potential risks of plagiarism and model collapse.
- Content creation and personas, and insights on the importance of research, asking the right questions, and creating personas to effectively engage buyers.
Full Buyer Personas Episode Transcript
Rich: My guest today is a B2B marketing strategist and CEO of Marketing Interactions, where she creates personas and persona driven content marketing and buyer enablement strategies for her clients with complex sales.
She’s written two books, Digital Relevance and eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, and is often found speaking at industry events, leading workshops, and on the list of the top B2B industry experts to follow.
Today, we’re going to be talking about personas with Ardath Albee. Ardath, welcome to the podcast.
Ardath: Thanks so much, Rich. It’s nice to be here.
Rich: I’m so excited, as you and I have been chatting all along about some of the things that are going on in personas. And I was never a persona guy. I never really paid that much attention to them. And then you and I met through Andy Crestodina, who had a presentation where he talked about how to use AI to generate personas, and included a slide from you where you poked a little bit of holes in some of those assumptions, which I thought was brilliant. And I was like, I have to speak with her. She just, she seems to know everything about it. So with that mini-introduction, how did you find yourself becoming a sought-after persona expert?
Ardath: It’s interesting. My first career was running hospitality places, hotels, country clubs, et cetera. And then I went to work in technology. My sister built a platform and asked me to come run the company for her, and this is back in the year 2000. And it was a platform that allowed you to think first iteration of marketing automation that also supports your website.
And back in 2000, companies were building their websites and basically they were taking their brochures and putting them online. And so companies would buy our software and say, “Nothing changes for us. It’s not that big a deal.” And so I started looking at what they were putting on their websites. And as the only non techie in the company, I was like, this is awful. It’s terrible. So I started helping them rewrite their content, learning about their customers.
And what’s behind all of this is I have a degree in English literature, and I love to write fiction and create characters and research and do all that kind of stuff. So I just started applying all of that to understanding business buyers and that kind of thing. And eventually it turned into a methodology, and companies saw dramatic change in what was happening with their online presence.
And in 2007, I jumped with a whole roster of clients that wanted more work for me to help them become relevant. And I just kept going.
Rich: Excellent. And props to a fellow English major. Good to know that we’re putting our diplomas towards something. So for people who may be less familiar with this idea, what is a persona and what is its role in marketing?
Ardath: Okay, first of all, think of marketing as one too many, right? Our job is to build the brand, to engage audiences of potential buyers. And so with that in mind, what we really need to do is understand those buyers. And so if you think about a persona as a composite sketch of a segment, not all of them, a segment of buyers who have commonalities, a lot of times people think our persona is the director of IT. Maybe so, maybe not. What size company? Hierarchies change, right? What do they care about? You need to understand all these things. And what a lot of people say is we understand our buyers, they want to increase revenue or reduce costs. Great. Drill down into that. What does that mean? What does it look like in their day to day? What do they care about? What problems do they face? Understanding all those things helps you increase your relevance and write about what they care about.
And so a persona is really an attempt to understand the commonalities across that swath or that segment of buyers. And the reason why commonalities are important, and this is where people make fun of personas and say they’re fictional characters and what have you, but the reason commonalities are important is because you see a lot of things where she’s 27, she lives in the suburb, she has a dog, and she drives a Volvo. What are you going to do with that? And B2B, really what are you going to do with that? Who cares?
Instead, what you need to know is primarily this particular group of people has probably spent about 15 years in their career. They’re good enough to know what they’re doing. They’re still ambitious climbing the ladder. They tend to work in this, if we’re focused on a particular size of company, this is what the hierarchy looks like. This is the kind of team they might have, etc. And these are the problems they are facing given that ICP structure, ideal customer profile structure, that you’re applying the persona to.
So therefore you can drill down and create content that speaks to them, and they can see themselves in it and say yes, I deal with that problem every day, what else can they tell me about it. So it’s this effort to not just push a piece of content out, but really to tell a story to a persona that has them continue on this journey from being interested to actually buying.
Rich: Alright. Now I shared with you a persona worksheet that I had received, and you responded that it gave personas a bad name. And then just yesterday I fired you off another, a new AI tool that promised to do the same. And I think we both agreed that it was just so rudimentary to be backwards. And you also stated on the first one that it might work more for B2C to B2B.
So two questions I have for you. First, what’s wrong with most of these persona worksheets or tools that we see out there? And second, what is the different criteria between a B2C persona versus a B2B persona, in your opinion?
Ardath: Okay, so first of all the reason templates are just terrible to me is because they’re just too high level. It’s like okay, this persona wants to increase revenue and they want to advance in their job, and their biggest problem is that they don’t have the right technology. Okay, you can write about this any way to Sunday but not necessarily be relevant. And so I think people just don’t understand the depth.
And so I’ve sat in many conference rooms over the years where marketers get together and they have a lunch meeting and they say, “Okay, let’s talk about our buyers.” And they make all these assumptions based on what they think they know, but they never actually talk to any of them. And it’s eye opening when you talk to them.
But the problems really are that high-level stuff. Like that AI tool you sent me yesterday, where I looked at there was, you can read the whole thing. And first of all, it was wrong. And some of the things that said. And second of all, it didn’t allow you to enter enough definition to actually make sure that it was giving you information about a specific segment, right? A specific persona was just overly broad. And I just, you can do whatever you want with that information, but it’s not going to help you be more relevant because everybody else is saying the same stuff.
So here’s the difference. Everybody knows all this high-level stuff. And if we’re all using that to write content, we’re all saying basically the same stuff, right? We may take it in different directions, but we never get to the nitty gritty. If you have personas that you’ve developed by talking to your customers, nuanced thing about their perspectives and what they’re thinking. And I generally do enough interviews to the point where I start hearing the same stuff again and again, so I know that it’s a “commonality” that a majority of the segment is probably dealing with.
And those are the issues where I just saw a survey recently where, okay, there was finally a research report that emphasized the disconnect between the answers marketers give in the survey and what their intentions are. So it was like, engaging our buyers was this really high priority, but their self-rated effectiveness at it was down here, like 89% importance, 57% effectiveness or whatever, or even worse. I can’t remember off the top of my head.
But the other thing that made me laugh out loud was when they were talking about there were questions they answered where they agreed they were proud of the content they were producing. And 56% of them said, hey, we’d read our own content. Well, unless you’re the persona, who cares whether you’d read it or not. I write content every day that I wouldn’t read because it’s not what I’m interested in. So it’s, have we missed the point here?
But in B2B and B2C personas, which you asked about, the things I shove away from B2B personas because you can’t use it are the things like, “lives in the suburbs”, “has a dog”, “drives a Volvo”, whatever, their age, salary range, can they afford what you’re selling? With their age, are they probably interested or not interested given their stage of life? There’s a lot of different things you would look at from a B2C perspective that just make no sense in a B2B persona, because that person is at work, they’re working for a company. It’s not like they’re just deciding to go out and buy a dress, they’re buying a million dollar technology solution in many of the projects I work on, and there’s a group of people that they have to get in consensus with and decide this. So what are the implications of that? Totally different.
The closest I can get to that in a B2C is perhaps a family buying a house, or some big purchase like that where the kids need to agree, the husband needs to agree, the wife needs to agree, whatever. But it’s totally different situations.
Rich: Ardith, can you walk us through your process for creating a robust persona? What kind of research and data goes into developing this persona that truly reflect our customer segments?
Ardath: Yeah, so the first thing I always do is start with the sales team, and I want to know who they’re talking to what they hear, who they want to talk to. Because if we go out and create personas and target people they’re not interested in speaking to or aren’t qualified to speak to. Everybody wants to go after the C-level. Great. Is your sales team at peer level with C-level? Will they be able to have that conversation? And is that really true?
So when you talk to sales, what you find out a lot of times is they go in much lower and work their way up. They build champions and do so understanding the sales process is really important, understanding their perspective, getting a feel for the kinds of conversations they have. Because marketing has to support those two. And then talking to the product people and the marketers themselves to figure out where they’re at, what’s coming, and how they’re going to market already.
And then I asked for a database pull of the segment we’re talking about for a persona, and I go through and look at who they have. Because if we go out and create personas and we don’t have those people in our database, we either have to have a plan for where to get them from or what have you. But I want to know who are they attracting with the content and their marketing efforts now. Who’s downloading their stuff and getting in their database?
And so I look at that and then I say, okay, based on these parameters from what I’m seeing, give me 15 customers to talk to. And I’ll set up interviews. And one of the things I do is I invite the marketing team I’m working with to sit in on the interviews. Not on camera, and they’re on mute, but I want them to hear what their customers say. And so it’s eye opening for them.
And I’ll never forget, in one instance a VP of Marketing was sitting in and she had forgotten to mute herself and she gasped when a customer said something. Because they’ll tell me stuff they wouldn’t tell the people at the company, and they had no idea really what their customers thought of their buying process and what they needed or wanted.
And I have a series of questions I’ve developed over time, because what I’ve learned is getting customers to accept a call, you’ve got to keep it tight, short, and on point. So if I can get 30 minutes, I’m lucky. And so I’ve developed this series of questions that I ask, and I modify it based on whoever I’m talking to. But it helps me get answers to the things that I need to fill out the persona that’s going to give enough depth for the marketing team to then build content strategy based on that.
And so I do all these interviews and sometimes I do more than 15. If I’m still hearing a bunch of different stuff, I’ll say, give me 10 more, whatever. The interviews arguably take the longest time in this whole process because of scheduling and cancellations, rescheduling, or needing to do even more interviews.
And then what I do is a highlight document where I pull out key points and share that with the team and say, okay, based on what we’ve learned, I agree we should develop this persona and that persona, but maybe not this other one, so I’m not seeing it or what have you. Because here’s the thing, you only want to develop enough personas for the resource you can throw against it. So if you develop five and you have resource to build out content for two, you just wasted your time because those personas are going to change in six months, so you’re going to have to do them over. So why build them if you can’t use them.
But anyways, then once I’ve completed all of the interviews, we’ve agreed on which personas, I go out and do a bunch of research. I find analyst reports, other research, interviews some of the people representative of the personas may have given, or podcasts they’ve spoken on, webinars they’ve been on, whatever. I attend webinars, actually, that people like them would go to. And what I’m waiting to hear really are the questions at the end. What are they asking given the subject matter, right?
And so I do all that research and then I sit down and sift through everything and collate it and put them all together. And what the result is, is a slide deck that is pretty intensive. In fact, when we want to share personas with sales, I pull out just the pertinent parts for sales and make a one slide that sales will actually use.
But the biggest thing for me is figuring out what are the 10 or 12 questions that a persona needs to get answered along their journey. So looking at all of it and pulling it all together, what’s the stuff they had to learn, what was it they had to find out, and enough to build their confidence so that they could make a decision.
And when I’m looking at the personas, I’m also looking at how do we tie their stories together? A lot of times we do a nurture program for a director of IT, but they have to also coordinate with these two other personas. But we never relate what we’re sharing back and forth so they can understand what’s the director of HR struggling with? How can I help her get on my page, or whatever. And so we have to build this crossover.
And so with those questions, figuring out how you would answer them actually helps marketers create their storyline for how they’re going to represent this in content and education and building momentum in the pipe and all of those things as they take that story to market.
So that all comes out of a persona. Which is one of the reasons why I say, how are you doing content without having a persona? You need that skeleton framework, strategic story, that builds momentum over time.
Rich: That sounds very in depth. And without giving away all your trade secrets, and I’m sure it changes from client to client, but what are some of the typical questions you would ask the client’s customers when you’re doing that research piece?
Ardath: Sure. So one of the things I start with is tell me about your job. What are you responsible for? What do you do every day? What do you love about it? What areas cause you angst? That kind of thing. And then I move into, what happened that made you start searching for a solution to the problem, how what did the problem look like? Why was it important for you to solve it? What was it keeping you from achieving? I really want to understand what they were wrestling with.
And then I started asking about their buying process. So what did you do? How’d you find out? And quite often what I hear is a member of our team had used this solution at their last job so they wanted us to look at that one. Or, I talked to a peer on LinkedIn or whatever. I went to a review site. And so you start finding out when did you do that? What made a difference? Are there particular resources that were helpful to you? And sometimes we talk to our analyst at Gartner. Or, I attended this webinar. Or, I went to this conference and I heard this person speak from this vendor, and then I went to their booth, and it seemed real interesting butI only had five minutes, so then when I came back, I wanted to, blah, blah, blah, whatever. But they tell you all kinds of things.
And then the thing that isn’t really important here is, what made you want to talk to them, how did you get involved with the salesperson? And how was that process for you, what’d you learn? So I walk through the whole , and I asked them about their team and how many people work for them and what their roles are, and just general stuff like that. But I also want to know, what’s the objective you had in mind when you set out to solve this problem, and did you get that.
So usually what I’m asking to interview customers that have a recent within 18 months, so that they still have some memory of the buying process. It’s better if it’s earlier than that. But what I want to know is how did the implementation go as well, how long did it take? When did you start seeing value from it? Those kinds of things. Because quite often what happens is with my engagements, I can also provide information that helps the other teams, the customer success team or the product marketing team or whatever. But it’s also this idea that marketers now need to start extending across the entire customer journey.
And then a lot of the companies I work for who the original buyer is not the same as the user or the renewal purchaser, and so your personas will change. So then what changes? How do you shift that story now that they’re a customer? Now, what do they need to know? And so you’d have to learn about that as well.
Rich: No, it sounds like the work you’ve done, a lot of it is with clients who already have a decent sized customer base. What about a company that’s just coming to market or maybe getting into a new space where they have no customers to speak of? What kind of work needs to be done there to maybe develop some personas, even if it’s more guesswork?
Ardath: I’ve done that a couple of times. Usually I get hired by enterprise companies and they’ve already got this, but I’ve done a few startups, and luckily I have a big network. And so once we’ve figured out who we think our potential customers are, I can usually either get an introduction to somebody or know somebody that works in that role in a company that might be a target and I get an interview with them. The difference is they haven’t actually gone through the buying process. So they’re guessing what they would do, and that makes it a little bit harder, but you have to start somewhere.
And without talking to the actual type of people you’d be selling to, it’s really hard to just say, I would do this. Yeah, you already know too much about it. Of course, you would do this. What about people who don’t know about it, and it also depends if it’s a new category of solution. And so then I get on the phone and talk to people and say, “What do you think of this idea?” And people will either say that really makes sense or I don’t get it, explain to me. And then I can figure out if what we’re thinking for messaging and positioning is off or if it’s on.
But there’s also asking questions in forums or online, LinkedIn and groups, or what have you. And so it’s a benefit for somebody like me that has a pretty diverse network, because I’ve done a lot of work in different domains that I usually have somebody I can reach out to that can talk to me. It’s much harder if you don’t have customers to talk to.
But then also, the other thing to look at is, all right, so assuming they have a sales team, has their sales team worked with people similarly? Do they have contacts that they can hook me up with that I can talk to that would be representative of who they want to talk to? Who does the CEO know? Because in companies that are starting up, usually I’m working with the CEO and the executive team, and quite often they have people that they talk to, which is how they came to build the product in the first place. It’s just a matter of getting in enough conversation so you can get a real feel for what’s going to resonate and what’s going to be relevant.
Rich: I’ve seen some people when they create personas, they’ll give that persona a name, they’ll use images. I don’t know if anybody still cuts out pictures from magazines to make a scrapbook, but whatever it may be. Do you find that work helpful, or does that kind of take away from some of the generalities of a persona?
Ardath: Let me put it this way, nothing’s perfect. But I do name them, and not silly names like “Marketing Mike” or whatever. What I do is I pull up all the profiles on LinkedIn of all the people I’ve interviewed, and just look across them and say, okay, what’s representative of this group of people. And then I will give them a name.
And the reason for doing that is because when we’re in conversations and we’re designing content for a particular persona, it’s much easier to say, “What would Debbie say?” “What are we creating for Chris?” And it is, “Will this help Chris talk to Debbie” and whatever. And so it’s a conversational mechanism more than it’s the persona needs a name thing.
But it’s how do you keep them in the room. And so if you have to say all the time, “Our VP of IT persona needs to hear about this”, it’s much easier to say, “Dan would care about this”. And so that’s why I do it. Because it just gets them in the room, but it also personalizes the persona. It’s not like just talking about a construct, they become more real. If you say, “Dan would never do that. Dan objects to this kind of thing.” And Dan is intent on that, and that goes against that goal. Dan would say no, and so that’s why I do it. Just because it’s when you’re in brainstorming sessions and you’re trying to put together strategies and whatever, it’s much easier to refer to them with a name than a construct.
Rich: So once you’ve delivered the persona to the client, what are some specific tactical ways that the marketing team can use those personas, whether it’s creating content or anything else they might be doing? What are some of the first tasks that they want to tackle using those personas?
Ardath: Generally, with the way I build personas, the first thing they’re going to do is take that series of questions and figure out how the heck to answer them. And with some of the questions, there could be two or three different answers, two or three different pieces of content that speak to that. But if you think about storytelling, a storytelling perspective or conversational content or whatever, something that’s going to be relevant and engaging, quite often what you find out is it’s a series of Q&A, just like you and I are doing today. You’re asking questions, I’m answering you. If I wasn’t being interviewed, I’d turn around and say, “What do you know?” And so it’s a series of Q&A.
And so if you start with those questions, and given the rest of the information and the persona, and you say, okay, given this question, how would we answer that and how does that align to our brand story and our product differentiation and value prop and what have you, how are we going to build the story? Now, once you’ve figured out how you’re going to answer that, you say, okay, once they’ve learned all this stuff, their context is going to shift and so is this next question where they would go or would it be this other question over here?
You have to figure out how the questions would fit together and how the information and knowledge transfer flows. And then you figure out how to answer the next one. And then what do they learn from that? And given that, their context has changed, so now what? And you start using that as a facility to build your storyline and your strategy. And then you figure out, okay, this should be a webinar, because we need it for lead gen, and this should be a paper, and this should be a video over here, and this should be an info, whatever.
People always start with, we need a white paper. No, you need to figure out what is it your buyer needs to know and what information you’re going to give them, and then what format should it be presented in and build from there. So we do it backwards a lot of times.
Rich: When you’re talking in those, to take a step back, when you’re talking to the clients or customers in those interviews, are you getting information also about where they get their information, like what channels they use and how they like to consume content?
Ardath: Yep, sure am. I’ll tell you that the biggest thing I’ve learned is, especially with executives. When executives are the persona, we may think that video is the end all be all of things. Most of the people I talk to hate video, and you want to know why? Because it’s not easy for them to share it with somebody and say, go to page three and look at this, right? They have to say, it’s somewhere in the first 10 minutes, go listen to the video.
I’ll never forget when some person told me, “I feel like I’m being held hostage, because there’s no way for me to figure out where the information I want is, so I have to sit and listen to the whole dang thing.” And she’s like, I don’t have time. And quite frankly, I’m the same way. I’m in a hurry. Let me scan something, figure out if there’s something valuable and move on. And the exception to that are things like webinars if the topic is interesting to them. But the videos that they most want to see are when they get to the product stage, they want to show me the product, that kind of thing. But as marketers, we’re out there creating all this video everywhere.
And I know we’ve got millennials coming up into being buyers and that kind of thing, but they’re busy too. We’re all busy and so we need to really think about what formats will our buyers engage with, and if they are not video fans, then no video for them. Or maybe, do a test flyer on one and see if it works.
For other personas, God, we love video. Give us more video. We can listen to it on the train. We can do it, whatever. And podcasts now are a big deal. So it’s really understanding what resonates with that persona. And the thing that I think is so funny is when you think about this, people are all different, right? We all have our own worldview. We all like particular things. But you would not believe the commonalities in the way they engage with stuff. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or what, but I have never seen, it’s okay, this one doesn’t like video. Okay, then I start hearing it. This one doesn’t, this one doesn’t, this one doesn’t, this one doesn’t. And this one, okay, yeah, sometimes I have to. Now it’s, they all love white papers or they all read blogs, or they only want to read a LinkedIn post. If the post is on LinkedIn, it doesn’t take them away from LinkedIn. So yeah, you ask all those questions and then you discover.
There was one persona series that I did where everybody was like, we subscribe to this particular industry newsletter, and otherwise we rely on our teams to send us content that they think we’d find interesting. Rut roh, what are you going to do? So we figured out how to place content in that newsletter. And then we created some content to target their team members with a pass along, inserting that pass along idea, your VP of marketing might like this or whatever, right?
Rich: All right. You teased this, but how often should we be recreating our personas? Do they come with an expiration date? And does it depend on your industry?
Ardath: Yeah, I would say it does depend on your industry. For example, I just had a storytelling class for industrial marketers. And after the first class, I had to rip the whole thing apart and back it up because they were not as forward in their thinking and their strategies. And it’s been years that we’ve been doing a lot of this stuff, right? So you have to, that’s another reason you really need to understand your market.
But I would say, and it depends during the last few years, everything changed for COVID. If you’re using personas you have before COVID, they are not relevant at all. And so then we got in the middle of COVID, and things were different. Now we’re out of COVID, things are different. And now we’re in an economy that’s stressful. Are we having a recession? Are we not having a recession? That kind of stuff. And the supply chain maybe is fixed. Maybe it’s not fixed, depending on what industry you’re in. So different problems show up. So you’ve got to pay attention to what’s going on around you in the environment.
What would cause them to change? There’s been, so I would say, I would do a check in every six months, maybe just have a couple new customer calls, and add that information to update your personas or whatever. Keep feedback from your sales team. We’re starting to talk to this role in our meetings. Now, we’ve never seen this role in here before. Okay, maybe you need a new persona. Or, this one has gone away. They’re no longer showing up. So maybe we need to quit creating content for them and start creating it for a new role.
So you’ve got to keep aware of what’s going on. Because things change, and they change faster now than ever. And right now I’m doing a lot of work on companies in the middle of digital transformations and going from legacy to modern tech and all these things. And so everything’s changing. The culture’s changing, the hierarchy is changing, all of those things. Which makes me go back and talk to past clients and say, you really need to look at this, whether I do it or somebody else does it, you need to update this because something’s changed in here. And so you’ve just got to pay attention to it because change is faster than ever. It used to not be that fast. I used to not reading personas for a year and a half. And now it’s just different.
Rich: A lot of your work has been with these enterprise level companies. I know you mentioned you have worked with a few startups. For smaller companies with very limited resources and possibly limited customer bases as well, what’s the minimum viable approach to personas that they can take and still get some value out of?
Ardath: During COVID, I was functionally the VP of marketing for a sales enablement platform company called Modus. And I had a team of three, and it was a smaller company. And so what we did was we interviewed five customers and came up with the best take we could take on it, and I did a bunch of research. And so there are times where you just have to rely on your ability to research and interpret.
But what I did was I went out and hunted down online interviews, and I want to hear what they have to say. Articles that one of the personas types we’re writing, we went out and found them, and that kind of thing. On the upside, we had access to Zoom info. So I could actually produce a contact list and then go out and look them all up on LinkedIn and pull information off their profiles.
Now, some things on LinkedIn are not worth it and some others are. Like for example, if you want to really figure out mindset and perspective, look at the recommendations. What do people say about them? “Oh, she was a great mentor to me. I learned so much.” “She really helped me for my career” or, “Really project focused and drove us hard” and whatever. But you get the point.
And the other tool that I use is Crystal Knows, which is an architect tool. And so I can look, there’s a plugin for LinkedIn. So as I’m looking these people up on LinkedIn, I click on my little Crystal Knows thing, and it will tell me what archetype they are. And within that archetype, it talks about tendencies, how to email them, what they’re like in a conversation, etc. It’s kind of a sales tool, but I build a spreadsheet out. Now here’s the other interesting thing. What I find when I’m looking at a specific type of persona, that probably the majority of them, a high majority of them, will be within the same archetype group. So in other words, the same kind of people tend to be in the same kind of roles. They have that kind of interest level. And then of course there’s always outliers, but for the most part I can see the trend where it’s I pull a hundred of them and 60, 65 of them are in this archetype role. That’s what I’m going to focus on.
And so you can get a lot of information if you don’t have access to customers, as long as you can figure out who to look at. And granted, some LinkedIn profiles are garbage, but you find enough of them where people really talk about what they do in their jobs and you know what they’re interested in and whatever. And then if you have the benefit of something like Crystal Knows, it tells you archetypes, you can learn a whole lot of stuff to figure out how to create a baseline persona until you get enough customers.
Rich: Now, creating personas using tools like ChatGPT and other AI is a popular hobby these days. What can we do if we want to use them to avoid some of the issues we’ve already talked about? Or do you just feel like they’re worthless?
Ardath: I’m not so sure I want to say they’re worthless. But here’s the thing. You got to get really good at prompting. So I play with ChatGPT a lot, I use it for brainstorming and different things, but you have to get really specific.
So for example, if you just say to ChatGPT, “You are acting as the VP of marketing and you face this problem, how would you solve it?” or whatever. It’s not specific enough. And so VP of marketing of what? So if your focus is VPs of marketing in $5 million a year revenue companies with 50 to 100 employees, you‘ve got to say that.
And then my problem is, since it doesn’t source anything, how do I know it’s actually giving me information that relates to those specific people? That’s my problem. And so I think if you can prompt it well enough, you can get closer. I’m just not sure how much I trust it, that’s my problem.
Rich: Yeah. And of course there’s a whole AI hallucination problem as well to get closer to maybe where we want to be. If we have done interviews with our clients, and I’ve done interviews with some of my best clients who we feel is our avatar, and a few months ago I interviewed them all. I got them on Zoom, with their permission I was allowed to record it. So now I have transcripts. If I fed that data into ChatGPT, do you feel that I would be closer to that ultimate goal, or do you still feel that there’s just too much vagueness in what the current state of AI can do that it may not be quite as accurate as I’m hoping?
Ardath: The big question I would have is at what point – because I’ve been reading a lot about this lately – at what point do we overload ChatGPT and then it just confuses itself? So how much transcript can you put in there before it starts going blah blah, and gives you whatever. And so that’s happening more and more. And I believe it’s called ‘model collapse’, or it just gets overwhelmed with too much input.
And one of the things that I think it could be really useful for is, could you put the transcripts in and have it summarize the commonalities across them. Things like that. What do these all have in common, or whatever. It might help you assimilate the information easier, because I spend hours doing this, going through rings of documents from interview transcripts and what have you.
But I think my biggest problem, I just keep coming back to it, I don’t trust it. I don’t know where it’s getting the information. The funniest thing was I gave it a prompt the other day, something I was working on, and it spit back to me almost word for word, a Gartner report. Almost word for word. And I kept thinking, I’ve seen this somewhere before. And so I went into my folders and pulled it up, and I was I think this is the one. I pulled it up, and it wasn’t word for word, but I mean it was essentially the Gartner report, only there was no attribution for that. So what kind of trouble are you going to get in if perhaps I have a client and I decide I’m going to use that?
These are the kinds of things that scare me. I have a couple of clients that are building AI into their platforms and I’m doing a lot of research and work writing about what you need to think about when you’re implementing these kinds of things and whatever to try and help them drive market adoption of them. And it’s pretty fascinating, but it’s also pretty darn scary in some ways.
Rich: A lot of unknowns, for sure. Any last-minute thoughts for the people out there who want to start really leveraging personas? Anything we didn’t talk about, or anything that you want to hammer home that they should keep in mind as they start their own persona work?
Ardath: I would say pick your best one. Pick one. A lot of people try to boil the ocean, they want to do five. Pick one and do a really good job with it and get a program out there designed to speak to that persona and see what difference it makes, then build another one, or what have you. But you got to at least get started with one.
And even if you can only do, a lot of times we don’t have time to spend three months building personas, we got to get campaigns out the door. Well start with just interviewing a couple of customers. And start taking your learnings from those conversations and updating your content or whatever to get more relevant, and then keep interviewing them and whatever. And then start building out your persona and keep adding information as you get it. Personas are an ongoing thing.
In my opinion, anything you can learn that gets you closer to relevance with your buyers is a good thing. So however you can do it, whether that means… I work in companies where they’re not allowed to talk to their customers, which is absolutely the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen, but I get it. They’re trying to get case studies from them, and web do webinars with them, and whatever, and now we want to talk to them to build a persona. But somehow I think you need to make time for that. But talk to your salespeople. If your company uses something like a gong or whatever, listen to the reported sales calls and see what can you pick up from that. It’s not you asking the questions.
And granted, salespeople don’t always ask the best question, but it’ll give you an idea, it’ll get you closer to them. And that’s the whole point of this. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it never will be. It’s just keeps evolving. But you got to start somewhere and take a few steps to get you closer and closer. And sitting there thinking that when you’ve never spoken to them, it’s a definition of insanity. If that’s what’s driving your content, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting it to work, but you haven’t changed anything.
Rich: Awesome. Ardath, this has been so illuminating and so helpful for me, for sure, hopefully for everybody else out there listening. If they want to get in contact with you, follow you, learn from you, where can we send them online?
Ardath: My website is marketinginteractions.com and they can find me under Ardath Albee on LinkedIn.
Rich: Excellent. And we’ll have those links in the show notes. Ardath, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time today.
Ardath: Thanks for having me. It’s been fun.
Ardath Albee is a marketing strategist with an expertise in creating buyer personas for some of the most complex B2B companies, helping them achieve high-level success, and proving that it really is all about your buyers and mastering an understanding of exactly what they want and need. Check out her website, and be sure to connect with her on LinkedIn.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 25+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.