Oh, to be a fly on the wall in a room full of your company’s customers when they’re openly discussing their challenges and their plans. Fortunately, I was such a fly recently, and I was able to pick up on some genuine, unfiltered sentiments that many marketers share.

In full disclosure, my job is to conduct research and publish content intended to help marketers market more effectively. Call me over-ambitious, but whether a company does business with Aberdeen Group or not, if you’re in marketing, I’m writing for you.

Which brings me to the overarching challenge that needs to be addressed in this post: There is a disconnect between marketing best practices and the terms marketers use to describe them.

For even the smartest, savviest marketers out there, this disconnect creates confusion, stress, and unneeded complexity. These marketers hear descriptions of best practices and strategies that they should do, but ambiguity around meanings and implications makes it difficult for them to translate these ideas into marketing actions that they can do.

Case in point: Personas

This ambiguity was most striking in the questions and comments I heard around “personas.” As a word, “persona” already has a rough history. For one, it’s Latin, meaning it brings with it an air of academic gravity. Making matters worse, its original meaning – “a mask; a character played by an actor” – implies something innately deceptive.

What is a persona to a marketer? What is a persona to a sales person? What is a persona in terms that anyone can understand?

For many marketing and sales professionals, a persona is a complicated compilation of intelligence and insights on specific buyers that may take weeks, months, or even years to pull together. What’s worse, as CMO of Cintell and unapologetic-marketing-truth-teller, Katie Martell emphasized, personas often end up damned to a place called “PDF Purgatory.”

That is, personas get trapped in a state of disuse because they are complicated and hard to work with in the standard marketing and sales process.

Why is Creating Personas Worth the Effort?

The simple answer is that personas are people. (The dramatic, Charleton Heston way of putting it would be: “THEY’RE PEOPLE. PERSONAS ARE MADE [or, serve as a fair representation] OF PEOPLE!”) In marketing speak, having “comprehensive, well-informed buyer personas,” basically means having a healthy understanding for the types of people to whom you’re marketing and selling. In this context, personas – or you know, “types of people” – imply certain actions.

“We’re dealing with a ‘Nervous Nathaniel’ here, best provide added assurances and comforting language.”

“This campaign is specifically for our ‘Thorough Thelma’ buyers, so make sure we have all relevant topics covered and on-demand triggers when these Thelmas go on their typical batch-research blitzes…”

[Automated Warning]: “We’ve identified this prospect as a typical ‘Andrew the Ass…ertive Buyer.’ Don’t make any sudden movements, and stand your ground when challenged; proceed with caution.”

While “general types of people to whom you market and sell” doesn’t have the same beautiful brevity of “personas,” that’s all the word needs to mean.

When marketers hear they should use personas in marketing, it’s not an instruction that they should be conducting exhaustive interviews or collecting immense data sets on buyers. It simply means working as a marketer to define the types of people you’re communicating with and using these definitions to guide your approach to them: This persona represents someone who is A, so we should do B.


To keep this simplification train rolling, here is a list of marketing terms boiled down to their basic truths:

Lead Nurturing

While there are plenty of research-backed best practices around lead nurturing, this approach is really all about the definition of “nurture” itself: Your marketing efforts should “care for and encourage the growth and development of” your buyers.

This doesn’t necessarily involve a complicated system of timed-out email campaigns. It simply means building programs (it could be as basic as loaning out subject matter experts from your company to help solve problems for worthwhile prospects) that set up buyers for success and growth before they buy.

Parents “nurture” their children; the idea of being able to do that for your leads is what makes “lead nurturing” so attractive to marketers.

Social Media Marketing

This means “establishing credibility, trust, and rapport by being social.”

It’s more than simply using social media channels and technologies, though. “Social” doesn’t refer to Facebook, Twitter, or SnapChat. It refers to the stuff going on between people in those places.

Worry about the stuff going on, not the venues. And remember: Social media management and marketing technology can’t help marketers who can’t manage to be social and communicative on their own.

Content Marketing

This means “offering valuable, substantive content that is worth the time and attention of the people who consume it.”

Content is not just “stuff.” To be effective at content marketing, ask yourself what you are giving your target audience and whether it is valuable enough for them to be willing to do something (give information, read another asset, talk to sales, etc.) for you in return.

Data-Driven Marketing

This does not mean that data is at the wheel and marketing doesn’t have to think. Data-driven marketing means turning data into insight and putting that insight into action.

This doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. Even the Best-in-Class marketers keep things simple when it comes to measurement and reporting. The key thing is figuring out where you can use data effectively and how you can grow your skills and use-cases over time.

Brand Awareness

Doing a lot of frenzied marketing activities does not mean you’ve created brand awareness. It just means you’ve done a lot of marketing activities.

“Awareness” is an intangible thing, but what happens based on awareness is not. You need to focus on how being aware of your brand translates into action, and then how those desired actions can be measured. Once you understand the measurable elements, you can improve the immeasurable object.


Stories that connect with buyers are important for marketing efforts, but they are just one side of the buyer/seller conversation. On a date, if you tell a lot of your stories, and don’t hear a story or two from your date, then (1) your date might think you’re a narcissist, or (2) your date might be hiding something.

In marketing and dating, stories should simply be roadmaps for conversations.

You talk about how your company quadruples customers’ revenue streams while rescuing puppies from shelters (good for business and dating), and the other person tells you of their own puppy and how more revenue would open the door for a dog-friendly workplace. The stories funnel the conversation towards a match. (If the other person tells you he/she hates puppies, you also know it’s not a match, and you should run.)

As Carlos Hidalgo, principal at Annuitas and daringly-open-Denver-Broncos-supporter-in-a-New-England-hosted-conference-room, emphasized in his presentation, marketers get stories wrong. They essentially tell a story, like puppy-revenue one above, then propose marriage after a single positive response.

Instead, they should use stories to start conversations and use those conversations to understand needs and, if it makes sense, talk about next steps.

Aptly enough, in ending this story on storytelling, we want to hear your stories of marketing terms, tactics, and strategies that have truth to them, but where the meaning gets lost in translation.

What’s your story?

Image Source (Creative Commons): Horia Varlan.

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