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Reema Patel

Digital Growth Strategist

How to build audience personas that actually drive marketing

Businesses are investing in marketing and customer experience more than ever and marketing teams are busy delivering personalized content through multiple channels at scale. In a digital landscape inundated with ads and content, there is rising pressure for marketers to cut through the crowd and reach their target audience with better skill, precision and return on investment.

In this article, I explore problems marketers face and pragmatic solutions they can implement to achieve a better understanding of their audience, manage data and make data-driven decisions to drive customer value and ROI.

Common pain points for marketers

Issues with audience profiling
Audience data is classified into first, second and third-party data. Together they offer marketers unique insights, yet often, it’s believed that first-party data from one’s own website is all that is needed. But, first-party alone is not enough to understand target audiences. Because of this, it’s tempting to apply lookalike modelling to create scale. However, off-site data can achieve a better quality understanding at scale, if used wisely. For example by hunting similar users in alternative contexts. Understanding what the audience is interested in beyond their behaviour on one’s own website can build a more compelling audience profile.

Issues with targeting
Without real audience research and data strategy, marketers may target a blanket stereotype user, but cannot target an individual user. Brands may have a budget for digital ads and spend time on email marketing, but they also need to maximise ROI through what they spend - conversion rate. By gaining a deeper understanding of the audience, marketers can increase conversions through 1:1 experiences and humanise storytelling via ads and emails which lead to personalized content and calls to actions. Marketers can also arm sales teams with valuable insights and qualified leads to convert each prospect offline.

Issues with personalisation
Cookies allow users to benefit from content personalisation. They also enable businesses to learn more about their user’s favourite content by tracking behaviour. However, opportunities to drop cookies and store the information as a user profile are often not taken advantage of by marketers and can be legally blocked by users. Marketers need to implement cookies at any opportunity - ad, email, social post links - where a user may click through. Marketers also need to give attention to nameless prospects as well as those who hand over details and they also need to understand more about their audience’s interests and values through alternative multi-channel campaigns.

Issues with experience
Marketers buy ads rapidly through automated programmatic buying processes and achieve uplift quickly, but this also plateaus quickly and constant monitoring is required. With deeper audience insights, we can discover: where to buy ads, what messages to deliver and what time to send them. This also goes for email marketing and social media marketing where results are better if delivering what a prospect wants at the time they want it. We need to create great stories and then make use of technology to enhance journeys and trigger quicker analysis and action, cross-channel, to give real-time experiences to customers and gain continuous ROI.

Issues with data capture
Brands try to gather all sorts of customer data which can be used to understand their target audiences. However, resources to gather, process and store this data are often missing. It’s clear that an approach of gathering as much data as possible is not a practical option. So we should instead assess which data will be the most relevant for campaigns based on objectives, KPIs and actual marketing plans - and leave the rest. Research by Forrester reports that only 12% of data collected by businesses is actually used which shows the importance of quality over quantity and brings us back to why elements of third party data may be just as important to capture as some first-party data. Using technology to capture data online and automatically store it in a CRM is a must.

Issues with data analysis
A business which attempts to capture too much data and spends 75% of manpower to analyse those data sets and only 25% acting on it will realize that budgets and interests most likely deplete before profits are generated. We need to sample and review current data in the context of competitors, the market and proposed marketing activity then define which data segments really need to be captured and from where. We can then collect and harvest that data in a central hub with ease of access, combined analysis and create better data-driven marketing actions.

Once we have clear audience profiles, online marketing material and campaign journeys - we can look at taking advantage of time/effort saving technology. Seasoned marketers are already implementing data management platforms often known as marketing automation software to integrate and coordinate data and activities across channels, devices and contexts, continuously and in real time.

Leveraging technology for better results

A global survey by Oracle Marketing Cloud and Econsultancy of 170 senior marketers as well as interviews with brands, agencies and other industry experts reports that more than ⅔ of marketers have successfully used data to improve their advertising effectiveness. Half of these respondents have invested in a data management platform within the last two years and agree that using this to manage the use of existing data for better email, web, social and content personalisation has been a major benefit.

Alex Hooshmand, ‎vice president of product management, Oracle Marketing Cloud says:

"Consumers today not only desire a personalized customer experience – they demand it. If marketers can’t capture, analyse and act on the massive amount of insightful data that their audience is making available to them, they are missing a huge opportunity to engage and delight them...”

“...As budgets continue to shift steadily towards programmatic it’s essential that companies implement DMPs as part of an overarching cross-channel data strategy for both advertising and marketing to generate maximum value from those investments.”

Oracle is an enterprise marketers platform, but there are many platforms out there to suit all sizes of businesses, databases, use cases and budgets - whether it’s B2C or B2B.

What is a data management platform

A data management platform centralizes data collected from various disparate sources into a single data warehouse and provides visibility of it in a way which is useful for marketers who want to understand and improve experiences and improve ROI. A DMP can also extend into a central digital marketing hub (DMH), often known as marketing automation software which allows data-driven action by means of digital marketing execution, analysis and reporting. It also enables collaboration between marketing and sales teams to share insights and achieve joint conversion goals.

According to Gartner, a DMH improves experience by addressing four main areas:

Audience profiling — Combining first-party, second-party and third-party data across known and anonymous customers and prospects for precision targeting and tracking of offers and experiences. A consistent view of prospects and customers across marketing programs and processes is the baseline for effective communication.

Workflow and collaboration — Supporting marketing programs with core services through ideation, planning and monitoring of customer journeys and experience designs, internally and externally. Uniform collaboration and workflow are keys to breaking down operational silos that result in disjointed, incoherent customer experiences.

Intelligent orchestration — Driving the sequencing and coordination of engagement across channels. Specialized channel-specific execution is wise, but consumers are engaging on their own terms, freely switching among channels and devices. Multichannel marketing programs need shared intelligence and automation to optimise each interaction in real time.

Unified measurement for optimisation — Tying investments to outcomes to optimise decisions to the highest yield. Unless marketing programs are measured by a common set of rules, marketers will misuse resources and lose out to more efficient competitors.

With a focus on ROI and collaboration between marketing and sales, Forrester research prefers the term lead-to-revenue management automation solutions (L2RM). Forrester suggests that such systems are developed to “bridge a gap between lead generation activities (marketing) and selling activities (closing the deal) that are managed by a customer relationship management (CRM) system. They note the opportunity to calibrate marketing spend to revenue generation is a significant driver of L2RM adoption.

What we strive to achieve:

  • Assist clients by bringing together data, tools and workflows in one place online
  • Streamline marketing executions and conversion measurements through the buying cycle
  • Provide clearer visibility of ROI and insights for learning and improving
  • Provide the ability to automate tasks, trigger alerts and build integrated reports
  • Provide access to technical support, resources and a community of users to learn with
  • Align marketing and sales goals, driving teams to work together to grow revenue Improve customer experience, relationships and retention

Fast facts

  • 84% of top-performing companies are using marketing automation (Gleanster)
  • 77% who use both CRM and marketing automation as part of an integrated marketing stack increase revenue
  • Improving just half of the end-to-end customer lifecycle through alignment of sales and marketing teams delivers on average a 36% improvement on customer retention (Act-On)
  • Marketing automation drives a 14.5% increase in sales productivity and a 12.2% reduction in marketing overhead
  • 63% of marketers using marketing automation software indicate that the ability to set measurable objectives for each of their campaigns is the biggest value driver of marketing automation. (Gleanster)
  • Marketers who use marketing automation software have reported conversion rates as high as 50% (Act-On)
  • Nurtured leads produce a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads (DemandGen)
  • And improving the end-to-end customer life-cycle delivers on average 38% higher sales-win rates
  • Businesses have seen a 451% increase in qualified leads by using marketing automation (The Annuities Group)

While a data management and marketing automation software is often offered alongside complementary native applications within a marketing cloud or suite, it is also extendable for integrations to external services, making the implementation of the platform straightforward. Any platform like this should be implemented as the last phase of a strategic marketing plan that is based on audience insights and business analysis. Preparation and planning are key to success!

Read my latest LinkedIn discussion with real-life insights from marketers on this topic here

Contact me to discuss your current audience data and marketing activity.