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Using Customer Personas

A discussion on another site reminded me of the power of customer personas when writing Web copy. I guarantee that using personas will make it easier to write and turn out better results.

What is a customer persona? Simply put, it’s turning your target audience, or ideal customer, into a fictional but fully realistic person. You take cut-and-dried demographics and interest inventories and turn them into a well-rounded fictional character. As you work on the project, you let the persona guide you.

Now, understanding your target audience is no big secret. I would guess about 99 percent of copywriting manuals discuss target audience in the first few chapters.

But if you give your audience research a name and a face, now you’re writing to your one perfect customer.

A name and a face? Yep. Give your persona a name — I like to use funny or self-descriptive ones like “Tex Bigoilman.” Then go to Google and search in Images for someone who looks about right. (This search should be a two-minute diversion, not a day-long procrastination excuse!) Copy and paste the picture into a new document, add the persona’s name, and then write a mini-biography based on what you know about the target audience.

You might think this sounds like a waste of time, but it’s actually a great way to get into your customer’s head. Use your creative imagination and really work out the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and experiences your persona would have. Try the five senses: what does he like to see, hear, smell, taste, feel? What disgusts him? Then maybe a brief history: where did he grow up? Where did he go to college, and what was his major? (Assuming your persona is that old … students have money and like to buy things too.) What kind of car does he drive? Where does he live? How does he spend his money? Where does he vacation?

Most importantly, what is the difference your product or service is going to make in his life? By the time you get to this question, you should have a pretty intimate feel for your persona. You can make reasonable assumptions about his needs, wants, pain points, and objections to your arguments.

When you’re done, print out the biography page and post it near your monitor, or keep it near your writing area if you like pen and paper. You want to have your new acquaintance in sight while you’re working — staring out at you, constantly reminding you to write to one person, not a vague mass of “visitors.”

You might have a project where multiple personas seem to fit. If possible, restrict yourself to just one at a time. Otherwise you’ll likely lose everyone with an unfocused message. Perhaps separate landing pages for different targets are called for, or segmented mailings.

You can take this exercise to the bank, too. Ask your client if she has already profiled her customers, and if not, maybe you can add customer personas to the scope of work. Even if it doesn’t pan out as billable work, the hour or two you spend up front will save you even more time as you write.

Let me know what you think, and if personas work for you.

What is Blekko All About?

Despite a name that sounds almost self-parodying, the new Blekko search engine is worth your attention. Currently still in beta testing, Blekko is planning a public debut later this fall. The site seems pretty liberal with beta-testing invites, though, so you might be able to get in early to see what’s coming.

Not a Google Killer

Unlike some other search engines, Blekko isn’t out to dominate the market, but rather to satisfy a specific niche of users looking for specially filtered searches. Using a query-line syntax called “slash tags,” Blekko filters out the junk listings. In their own words:

Blekko is a better way to search the web by using slashtags. Slashtags search only the sites you want and cut out the spam sites. Use friends, experts, community or your own slashtags to slash in what you want and slash out what you don’t.

A slash tag restricts your search to a select group of sites hand-picked to be relevant to your needs. There are some Blekko slashtags built in, but to me these are just examples to follow. The real power of slashtags comes from building your own. Essentially you’re creating lists of authority sites you trust to return useful results.

You can also apply other users’ slashtags. For example, if you’re a beta tester, you can try this search:

headlines /cmlake/copywriting

The search will cover a handful of sites I recommend and use for copywriting advice. As of this writing, it turns up 22 results, all of which appear (from the page titles) to be close matches for the topic of headlines. Of course, you can combine slashtags to create a super-refined query.

All this sounds neat and useful, especially as more people get involved and their slashtag lists become available. How that will work is yet to be fully explained, but it could be a great asset if it is achieved. Imagine searching with the slashtags from an industry giant or a respected pundit or even a notorious celebrity.

New Strategies for Search Engine Optimization

I know what you’re thinking: Blekko offers some interesting search techniques. So what?

Well, here’s the unadvertised killer feature.

SEO information about any post or site in the index. And not just simple statistics, but deep linking information including backlinks, backlink anchor text, and more.

I’m sure you can see why this feature is so powerful. On one hand, you can see what your peers and competitors are doing — right and wrong. On the other, you can check up on yourself and find out who’s linking to you and how they’re doing it. Can you imagine a few ways you could use this information to improve your search engine rankings?

Like I said above, I doubt Blekko is going to become the dominant player in the search industry, but as a specialized niche provider, Blekko offers some powerful and appealing features.

How to Get Ahead in This Economy

There are thousands upon thousands of blog posts, news articles, and editorials out there analyzing our economic situation (aka mess, morass, debacle). But instead of complaining, now is the time to succeed in spite of it all.

Napoleon Hill taught that for every failure there is a seed of equal or greater benefit — therefore, there are no true failures unless you choose to accept them. It is not always easy to find the seed of opportunity but the more you practice this skill, the better you will get, and the more your competitive advantage will grow.