I just returned from a speed networking event at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communications. It’s called “speed” for obvious reasons. In a one-hour span, I met and talked with 20 students — each of them at different stages of earning their degree.
The way it works is simple but effective. Imagine two big circles with professionals shaping the outside circle and students forming the inside circle — just like the alignment of musical chairs (except no one ever gets kicked out).
The event was a unique win-win. In a three-minute window, students meet and pitch to professionals in desired future careers, while we have face-time with prospective interns or job candidates. When time is up, the organizer blows a whistle and the student circle shifts clockwise to the next professional.
In B2B dealer communications, getting similar networking time with key dealership staff is extremely insightful in learning how to create and deliver content to meet their needs. But when we can’t stand in circles, shake hands and have that live interaction, content marketing teams can still make connections with dealers through the creation of personas.
Personas are a powerful tool that can help drive every aspect of a marketing effort, from tone of voice to channel selection to message. In essence, personas offer snapshots of a dealer audience member that serve as the ultimate networking substitute.
Dealer personas are a valuable resource to better understand dealers and their needs, track their content habits and preferences, and ensure that the manufacturer they represent is spending its time and resources on the right content topics and in the right media and channels. Personas give us the ability to segment this audience and track their interest in and engagement with a company’s communications and content.
Depending on the type of dealership operation, we may only develop a couple of personas or several. We have identified seven key target audiences who typically receive dealer communications and have driven the creation of personas:
• Dealer Principals
• General Managers
• Sales Managers
• Sales Specialists
• Rental Managers
• Parts Managers
• Service Managers
We can start to build personas once we understand the segments of an audience through market research, or if we base them on our knowledge and real-life experience with them:
• Name, photo and memorable description – We may fictionalize their names, but we connect them with descriptive phrases that sum up their roles in the dealer organization. For example, “Stu, the bottom-line driven strategist.”
• Quote – Based on research and interviews, we use real quotes that define people and what they want from a company. Such as, “I’m trying to drive the bottom line and teach
everyone else the importance of it.”
• Job title and purchase role – Understanding who is a key decision maker and who is an influencer will definitely change the content created. “Large, single-location dealer principal/sales manager” suggests Gary may need a steady supply of business management content to help him perform his job.
• Day in their life – A short first-person story describing a typical day in their work, reasons why they’ve chosen a career in the field or their goals for the business. “When I took over this business, my goal was to grow it, and that’s what I’m doing. We opened our second location two years ago.”
• Challenges/pain points – What’s causing them stress or problems? What keeps them up at night? What keeps their business from being a top performer?
• Job activities/values/motivations – What does their average day look like? What are they trying to achieve? What are their goals?
• Communication habits – Where do they go for information? What is their preferred communication channel with companies? How frequently do they want to be communicated with? Who are their influencers?
• Demographics – Age, household, education, marital status, generation, income, etc.
• Psychographics – Personality, goals, needs, interests, etc check that.
• Seasonal content needs – A simple calendar illustrating the timeframes in a year when dealerships need specific content. This calendar might describe the need for strategic planning and forecasting content in the third quarter or order/delivery updates, product comparisons, customer-friendly tools and upselling tips in the second quarter.
Dealer personas are a combination of our experiences with the audience along with information from many sources, including:
• Online research – job descriptions, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, company websites.
• Dealer stories and interviews used in dealer newsletters and magazine articles.
• Phone and in-person interviews with dealership representatives and their staffs.
• Company experts who work directly with dealers.
As we learn more about these dealer audiences, their needs, content preferences and challenges, we periodically update dealer personas. To effectively create relevant messages for dealers in the language they can relate to, we need to define them. Once we put a face and personality to the dealer groups we’re trying to reach and influence, we can create a networking experience that inspires them to excel.