Did you have a childhood imaginary friend growing up? Studies show that 65% of children under age 7 do.

These imaginary figures often act as intermediaries between children and the world that they seek to understand - not unlike the way in which audience personas help brands to interact with a target audience.

In fact, studies find that marketing personas can make websites 2-5x more effective and increase conversion rates by 10%. Targeted email campaigns were found to drive 18x more revenue than traditional broadcast emails. With equal parts research and creativity, building an audience profile can be a simple and highly effective way to get your message heard by the right people.

Why create audience personas?

Audience personas are more than just imaginary - they offer very solid results. By defining who you’re marketing to beyond vague demographic terms, you can target your content to those who most need to see and are most likely to respond to it.

Once you have a solid idea in your head of the sort of person you’re writing for, you can begin to build your brand around the communities that are likely use it, rather than seeking to build communities around your brand as it stands. This establishes empathy and makes your audience more likely to trust you.

Audience personas can also help you to choose an appropriate tone of voice for your content, speaking the language of the people you most want to reach. This not only injects personality into your content, but leads audiences to feel like you’re speaking directly to them.

Information is a currency of its own in this digital age. The more targeted the information you share, the more you can offer a relevant solution to genuine problems - and the more your audience will respect and remember your brand when it comes to selecting a product or service.

How to define target audiences

Before you can begin to work out what sort of personality your audience should have, ask yourself what sort of personality your brand has - and what sort of personality do you want it to have?

If you haven’t conducted market research into where your product fits within the market, now is the time to do so. Your audience is dictated by the product or service that you offer, so the more you know about your market niche, the more you’ll know about the consumers who are likely to be interested in it.

The next step is to create a broad idea of who you’re talking to, including who they are, what they do and where they’re from. For example, this article is targeted to business owners and marketing professionals around the UK.

Build on this by doing some research into your target demographic. Online tools such as YouGov profiles can assist in padding out personas with information about the interests and behaviours of audiences based on data taken from online surveys. Simply type in a competing brand, and see who comes up.

Using this information, write up a short introduction to your audience persona. Give them a name, and consider their age, location, lifestyle and favourite things. If it helps to be able to visualise these characters, find a photo that represents them.

If your brand appeals to multiple audiences, make sure you create a persona for each. For example, this article may appeal to a young freelance blogger named Anna as well as a more senior in-house marketer named Gary.

This may feel a little silly, but you’ll thank yourself next time you sit down to plan a campaign and ask yourself, “what would Gary think?”

How to define audience targets

Now you have your audience personas written out, you need to know what sort of content would most appeal to them. Find out what potential customers are asking online, so that you can answer their questions and make them feel like you’re speaking directly to them.

Keyword research can help with this, particularly as Google Adwords allows you to target your keyword searches by location and demographic. If you want some of the work to be done for you, however, tools such as Answer the Public and FAQ Fox will show hundreds of questions for any non-branded term, generated from search engine enquiries and data scraped from popular sites.

For example, typing “digital marketing” into theses tools brings up plenty of valuable content concepts such as “How is digital marketing changing the music industry?”, “What does digital marketing involve?”, and “Why does digital marketing need to be targeted?”.

Do a quick sanity check against your audience personas before you delve into answering one of these questions, however - if you can’t imagine your chosen persona asking a particular question, you may want to choose a different one to answer.

How to bring it all together

Your audience personas will not only give you a visualisation of who you’re sending your content to and what they need to know, it will also allow you to craft messages using an appropriate tone for the target audience in question.

The aim is to create messages that blend in with the articles and social posts that your audience persona chooses to read, while also ensuring that they stand out by offering relevant information tailored to that demographic.

In this sense, audience profiling taps into the heart of content marketing - offering something that makes audiences choose, of their own volition, to explore your brand, rather than forcing that brand upon them.

Your audience personas may start out as figments of your imagination, but once you put the work in, you’ll see them building bridges of trust and mutual appreciation between you and a very real audience.

By Alicia Lewis, content marketing specialist at Boz Boz

You can find Alicia's colleague Sophie Turton talking about psychology in language of paid search in the Innovation & Insight Theatre at 2:30pm at Integrated Live on 16 November, but you'll have to register for your free ticket first:

Eventbrite - Integrated Live

Originally posted on Digital Marketing Magazine