Everyone thinks they know who their audience is but without data, it’s just a guessing game. Building up a detailed picture of your audience is a vital stage of marketing planning and potentially even more important for the voluntary sector – by getting a firm grasp on who your audience is and what you want to achieve from your non-profit’s digital communications, you can tailor your message to resonate better with potential donors and volunteers.
Despite its importance, following a recent free training session for charitable organisations we found that many fundraisers lacked the necessary knowledge to create solid research on which to base their marketing decisions and so, during the workshop, we introduced them to personas.
Personas are not new in marketing; in fact they have been around since 1994 and since then many digital marketers have used them to gain better insight into their users. With 56% of charities reporting that they needed training to maximise the potential of digital, however, it perhaps isn’t surprising that even charitable organisations that operate heavily online did not know what they were or how to make best use of them. In response to this I’ve written this guide to personas specifically for non-profits.
A persona is a “fictional character that communicates the primary characteristics of a group of users, identified and selected as a key target through use of segmentation data”.
By using personas in their marketing planning our attendees were able to understand and adopt the cognitive frameworks of their supporters and concentrate on designing content to fit their need states. In referring back to these reference points they are able to make sure that the content created is actually read and found useful by supporters and that it helps aid them through the decision-making process and donor funnel.
Personas are a fantastic tool to create a well-rounded view of your charity’s market segments to not only help improve your brand messaging to these audiences but also, thanks to their transparency, to help you get internal buy-in from the many stakeholders from within the organisation.
Creating the personas
A marketing persona can be a complex document (especially when a large number of stakeholder groups are involved) or they can be as simple as this example highlights. Either way, below are 6 simple steps that can help you put together personas for your own specific donor segments using readily available data:
Collect your existing data
To create marketing personas for donor group segments, start by pooling the data you already have, collating all available qualitative and quantitative information about those who have already interacted with the brand. This is a great place to begin as there is no doubt a tremendous amount of material readily accessible; from recent event sign-ups, newsletter subscribers or even basic information from your CRM system.
If you are not yet collecting data on your charities event, attendees and donors, start doing so. When collated this information can be incredibly useful in understanding your current evangelists.
Use your social networks
When searching for demographic data, look no further than social networks (and no… I don’t mean Klout scores). People freely volunteer their demographic information on social networks due to their open privacy settings which allows marketing tools such as Facebook Insights access to a host of data instantly, all fine-tuned to your specific audience. Logging into your Facebook page will give you a whole host of information about the community who are already engaging with your charity such as age, gender, location and language.
Another good tool to mine persona data from social media is Demographics Pro which offers further information based on followers of your Twitter accounts.
Make use website data
There are many places you can go to get further data on your web users, for example; Quantcast and Google’s AdPlanner allow you to gather information on demographics based on the advertising profiles of websites. This is especially potent for those who have a niche target market that regularly frequents particular online meeting places or reference websites, for example, my local charity Ty Hafan could look to related sites such as that for World Hospice Day.
Drill deep down into your own website analytics data too. Take great care to look into metrics such as social media traffic and organic keyword performance to identify intent, but also pay close attention to internal search, as this may offer clues about behaviour or missed content opportunities. Look for commonalities that can help backup the insight you have already captured. For example: you may believe that your current donors consist of young digital natives, but if your analytics show a distinct lack of mobile and tablet activity there may be cause to review your hypothesis.
If you know how your donors prefer to find information online, whether that is via search, social or other means, you can also make yourself present in those areas and, using your improved knowledge of the target audience, work on establishing the charity within related communities.
Ask the audience
Further expand your research for more qualitative data on your target market and gain more insight into the decision-making process of donors by gathering customer feedback.
Getting responses from your current audience on their feelings towards certain social issues (it helps if these issues are related to the non-profit) can give you much more information on the more “touchy feely” elements of persona creation, highlighting as they do their current mind-set which, when combined with your raw data, helps give more of a narrative to your personas. This is particularly useful to charitable organisations as it offers a much more natural way of illustrating key insights to key stakeholders outside of the persona development process and the project. For example, you can create extended descriptions to personify the donor segment, making it easier to explain your marketing decisions to others by asking: “Would ‘Donor Persona A’ relate to this?”
It is important to note however that this qualitative information must still be substantiated with hard data – don’t forget that outside influences and biases might skew feedback responses.
Pull it all together
Using all the data gathered you can begin to piece together a set of marketing personas that blend all of your research into a series of documents, each focused around a single personification of a market segment. The content and complexity of these documents can vary from project to project depending on the level of insight needed but, if very in-depth, can become quite detailed, including:
- Educational level
- Social interest
- Job status
- Typical work experience
- Main information sources (TV, web search, social media, etc.)
It is important to understand that a marketing persona does not reflect a single person. It is a hypothetical representation of the behaviour and motivations of a group of similar people who, often, are captured in a 1-2 page description to make the persona a realistic character.
With a completed persona you have a real (though hypothetical) person you can imagine, understand and plan around, making it easier to predict how they might act under any given situation and, importantly, how they will respond to certain stimuli from your campaigns.
Keep refining as more data becomes available
This list is far from comprehensive and while it does not guarantee success for your charity, it does give you a basis from which to develop your well-researched personas based on real market data. Remember though, it is important to keep up persona profiles by adding in new data from alternative sources as they become available as well as removing any traits that can no longer be backed up.
In creating personas, and gaining a more detailed understanding of donors, you can better divide marketing budgets, evaluate opportunity cost and minimise wastage within your campaigns.
How do you currently identify your target market? Do you use a similar technique to highlight audiences or do you use a less focused digital marketing approach?