It all depends on your point of view.

As the head of marketing for your organization, you’re the defender of the brand. Your first duty is to make sure no harm comes to the brand. However, when your main responsibility is the health of the brand, it can tend to orient your focus inward and make it difficult to focus on the audience, or at least make it seem secondary.

When you’re focused inward, it’s hard to remember the audience’s point of view, what Seth Godin calls the customer’s worldview. Most brands tend to put their wants and needs first, and the audience’s wants and needs second. But, of course, putting the audience first is the surest path to success these days. Customers today really don’t want to be besieged by product pitches; they want information that helps them live their life or do their job.

That makes it imperative for your marketing to be audience-focused. And that means you must – MUST – have a good handle on your buyer personas. Buyer personas help you and your team to have understanding of the customers’ viewpoint.

The reason this matters is that the sales cycle has changed over the last 20 years. Today, 60 percent of the buying process is complete before the sales department ever hears from the prospect. Prospects spend that time educating themselves, developing ideas and preferences. We depict the Buyer’s Journey like this:

Buyers_Journey.jpgAt every step along this journey, the prospective customer is seeking out information. Smart organizations that want to build a relationship with the audience and ultimately make the sale are feeding this appetite for information.

Step one is to figure out who these people are. That means identifying buyer personas. You have to do that as the foundation for your content strategy. In many ways, well-researched and constructed buyer personas can replace the traditional creative brief. Once in-depth buyer personas are established, they become the focal point of marketing.

Here are some of the persona attributes you should identify in order to make your marketing smarter:

Job Role / Common Titles / Position on the Org Chart. This is pretty self-explanatory. Identifying the target audience’s roles and responsibilities is the heart of the exercise. Importantly, some personas will be higher up in the organization than other targets; they likely will need to have information delivered in a different way.

Demographics. Industry, company size and relationship to the marketer’s company.

Buying Center. This means identifying the department or team that holds the budget for the purchase.

Challenges.  The specific issues, problems and pain points faced by the persona. The goal is to identify universal challenges, but also be very precise in pinpointing them.

Initiatives. What are the significant projects the target persona is likely to be working on?

Buyer Role Type. Identifying what role the persona plays in their organization’s buying process.

Interaction Preferences. How do they like to receive information? Do they go online and figure it out for themselves, or do they have one of their direct reports do the initial research?

Watering Holes. Where do they gather with peers? Determining key trade shows and conferences, media outlets, LinkedIn discussion groups, etc. is important in creating connections with the personas you’re targeting.

Identifying these attributes should not be guesswork; this is a significant project that will take some time. It means conducting interviews with customer types; the more interviews you conduct, the better the data you collect and the more “real” your personas will be. It means questioning accepted truths – does it really make sense to go to that trade show we’ve always gone to?

The best marketing today puts the audience first. Which means you need to really, truly and deeply understand that audience.