Why I Wasn’t Impressed with Michael King’s DFWSEM Presentation On Personas

Mike King iPullRankI have followed Michael King’s work for a few years now, so I have an idea of what to expect from him in the way of presentations, writing and such. It’s fair to say I peruse everything I can find with his name on it, which gives me quite a bit of perspective.

So when no less than four people asked what I thought of his recent talk at the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association’s  (DFWSEM) April meeting, my answers drew blank stares.

“I know Mike’s work well,” I said. “It was, meh. I wasn’t impressed.” Believe me, the answer was not given for effect. I was opening the door for discussion.

The message was misconstrued.

“Oh, you didn’t think he did a good job?” asked one SEO friend.

“No! No! No! That’s not what I meant,” I said, sitting up in my seat, emphatically making my point. “If you’ve read any of Mike’s work on personas, you know there are few people in the game who can touch what he’s doing. It’s beyond SEO, content marketing… He’s talking the language of the C-Suite, which is what we all need to be doing to stay employed. I was, like, ‘meh,’ not about his talk but about how we as SEOs, content marketers and digital agencies hear that talk on personas or read his work on personas, then wonder aloud, ‘This isn’t SEO. Where are the tactics?’ My ‘meh’ is born of being over that reaction from folks who don’t get it.”

I have nothing but love for content marketers, but the “discipline” itself is frequently a frustrating affair, with companies and brands jumping over one another to get ahead, even if it means getting ahead of themselves.

  • Creating content with no discernable plan, and then wondering why it never takes off
  • Lacking any real understanding of the true role of content in helping brands meet their business goals
  • Viewing SEO as a defacto fix-all
  • Neglecting user experience
  • Treating websites as design dumpsters

What’s the problem there? We’re downplaying the role of the consumer, reducing them to a nameless, faceless entity with no needs. And if we disavow their needs, there is zero requirement for us to create targeted content to market to them.

Talking The Language Of Your Audience

Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it? Brands aren’t willing or able to create targeted content for the folks who comprise the core of their market. It’s not that they desire to ignore their audience. It’s mainly (a) they confuse the audience they serve with the audience available to them and (b) developing personas is hard work.

But as one of my strength coach mentors used to say, “Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.” What we’ve found at Advice is the process of developing personas is just as important and as enriching an experience as the uncovering of those personas.

By being willing to dig and dig and dig some more, we’re able to reinforce a skill set that has carryover in all areas of the business, which sets us apart from the competition and makes it possible for our clients to identify areas of opportunity they were not previously aware of. Many times, for example, clients who thought they knew their personas, really only knew their clients at the profile level, not at the persona level, and certainly not at the buyer persona level, which is an area King covers with depth in his work on personas.

Before King went up to speak, I walked over and said hello, and then shared a story about how much I’d enjoyed his recent Moz post: Personas: The Art and Science of Understanding the Person Behind the Visit. We then talked about how important personas are for businesses of all sides and how accurate persona development is an area of content marketing that presents a great opportunity for brands and individuals to set themselves apart.

“This stuff you’ve been working on for years—and I’ve been soaking up—is right in the wheelhouse of the C-Suite,” I said, as he nodded approvingly. “Folks talk content this, SEO that…but the real money is in helping brands increase their business, either by acquiring new customers or by increasing business with existing clients. I’m glad folks are sleeping on your work.”

The Business Clients Are Happy To Pay For

I’m not sure folks are sleeping on his work, but I do know most companies are asleep at the wheel when it comes to accurately developing personas.

For example, last week, I talked to the senior vice president of marketing for a Fortune 500 company, who was convinced his business—which has over 100,000 employees—falls short when it comes to identifying personas.

“I think we do a great job of getting business from the folks we know and we’ve done business with in the past,” he said, as we stood in the hallway of a gym in the Dallas area. “What we don’t do a good job of is identifying those people who could become customers of ours. Many times, these people, for whatever reason, never get on our horizon. That’s my failing.”

It doesn’t have to be your company’s failing, however. You can begin the process today by emphasizing the following areas when looking beyond profiles, users, clients:

  • Pain Points. Look to identify likely pain points in areas related to, but not necessarily unique to, your business. Would they likely pay you to remove those pain points. Would that pay be sufficient to warrant work in this area?
  • Information consumption. How does this potential client consume information? Internet? Offline? Social media?  Wherever they are, jump in and start listening to their conversations.
  • Who do they trust? Could it be other brands? What about friends and family members, who could already be your customers?
  • What objections can you quash? Is it expense? Is it quality? Look closely at area of your business, including sales, advertising and customer service.
  • What can you do that the competition cannot? You could do expert work in identifying personas for a business category, only to find that these personas are not ideal for your business, given the latter’s position, branding, etc. You must find out if the personas you identify would pay your business for the service
  • What questions are you uniquely equipped to handle? Most brands focus on the questions their ideal personas have. That’s not wise. Your business must focus on the questions these folks have but that your business is uniquely equipped to answer.

Persona development can be a hand-wringing, exhausting affair. In the end, however, the rich details you uncover make the experience well worth the effort. Making it all the more sweet is the knowledge that most of your competitions called “Uncle!” back at profile. Recommended Reading:

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