Three Steps to Creating Audience Archetypes for Smarter Content Marketing

Previously, we’ve talked a lot about heroes, mentors, and Jedi warriors in an attempt to devise a content marketing strategy that works for startups. Now it’s time to get personal.

If you’ve identified a topic, you may have a snapshot in your head of what your “heroic prospect” is like. It literally pays to have a better understanding, though.

To really nail down the type of content you’ll need to create to build your business, it helps to take that mental snapshot you’re working with and flesh it out a bit. You know, into something more like a real person.

Why? For starters, you must strive to know your audience better than they know themselves.

Plus, you may have heard that you should write as if you’re speaking to one person, not some amorphous “audience” of nameless, faceless strangers. That’s good advice, but you need to have a clear picture of that “one person” placed firmly in your mind.

That’s where audience archetypes come in.

What Do You Mean by Archetypes?

In the traditional sense, an archetype is “a universally understood symbol, term, or pattern of behavior, which serves as a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.” That’s a mouthful, huh?

As an example, the role of both hero and mentor are archetypal characters that have repeatedly appeared across diverse and disparate cultures for centuries, which led to Joseph Campbell’s formulation of the monomyth. This is the broad conception of the primary players in the hero’s journey that we’ve explored so far.

When developing audience archetypes, we’re using the term in the psychological sense, meaning a model of a particular type of person or personality. In other words, you’re creating a profile of one or more typical audience members so you have someone in mind when you’re creating content “for them.”

You’re putting together something very similar to a buyer persona, except you’re ignoring (for now) the aspects of buyer personas related to things you might want to sell them. That comes later.

When creating an authentic marketing story with content, an audience archetype is similar to what Adele Revella calls the Core Buyer Persona. You focus exclusively on the world they live in, their problems and desires, and the things that may stand in the way of them getting what they want.

In other words, it’s all about them, not you.

Three Steps to Effective Audience Archetypes

Fortunately, creating an audience archetype allows us to stick with our hero’s journey approach to content marketing. Let’s quickly review the initial steps of the journey:

  • The prospect starts off in the ordinary world of their lives.
  • The call to adventure is an unsolved problem or unfulfilled desire.
  • There’s resistance to solving that problem of satisfying the desire, until…
  • A mentor (your content) appears that helps them proceed with the journey.

Understanding a person’s ordinary world, her potential calls to adventure, and things that might provide resistance make up the three steps to creating effective audience archetypes. This allows you to properly position your content in a way that makes you a mentor for whatever transformation they seek.

1. The Ordinary World

Understanding the world your prospective hero lives in, and more importantly, the way he views that world, is critical. You can get everything else right, but fail to understand the general worldview of your audience, and you’re done.

When you know your audience well, what you’re really tuning in to is the way they generally view the world. And when you understand the worldview your prospects share – the things they believe – you can frame the delivery of your content in a way that resonates so strongly with them that you enjoy an “unfair” advantage over your competition.

What do you need to know? You need to know whom they admire, and what they aspire to, despise, fear, and cherish. Instead of sitting around dreaming up stuff you guess people might react favorably to, you tell an educated story with your content based on one or more archetypal individuals who represent the whole.

To get an idea of what I mean, take a look at Worldviews And The Story Of Bottled Water. Pay particular attention to the fact that the bottled water companies didn’t manufacture this worldview, or even originate the disinformation about water consumption — they discovered that the worldview existed and created a $60 billion industry.

How to do it:

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+, plus online forums, blog comment sections, and social news sites provide an amazing glimpse into the “ordinary world” of just about any group you can think of. Lurk, observe, and listen.

Then become an immersed member of your own market by participating and contributing. When you start creating content, you’ll be naturally positioned to become a leader of your own particular tribe.

2. Potential Calls to Adventure

Identifying the problems that plague your prospects, and the desires that drive them, is at the heart of any smart marketing. It’s just not the first step, since those problems and desires exist only as an outgrowth of existing worldviews.

What are they searching for? What keeps them up at night? What are the questions that drive them?

Another great example of a blockbuster movie based on the hero’s journey is The Matrix. Recall what Trinity says to Neo in the nightclub scene at the beginning of the film:

I know why you’re here, Neo. I know what you’ve been doing… why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night, you sit by your computer. You’re looking for him. I know because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn’t really looking for him. I was looking for an answer. It’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.

If you understand what your audience is searching for as well as Trinity understood Neo, it’s hard to go wrong. But you’ve got to put in the time and effort to get there, and again, being a passionate participant of the group you hope to mentor is invaluable.

How to do it:

To this day, some otherwise intelligent people think search engine keyword research is some evil thing, applicable only to creating crappy content. Smarter marketers, on the other hand, know that being able to discover what your prospects are searching for, and the language they use when searching, is an invaluable gift.

Let the others think what they will while you understand your own group of prospective heroes better than they understand themselves. You can’t be of service to an audience — and help them transform — unless you know what they’re searching for.

3. Resistance to the Call

In copywriting and in-person sales, you’ve got to express the benefits of buying (emotion), back it up with credible features (logic), and then overcome objections (resistance based on both emotion and logic). You do that by understanding your prospects and your product exceptionally well.

With content marketing, you also have to overcome similar forms of resistance. Except in the case, some forms of resistance exist well before the buying process begins, and it’s imperative that you find it.

Creating content that addresses and alleviates resistance is at the heart of effective content marketing. You’ve got to help people believe they can achieve what they want before they’re going to spend money trying to achieve what they want.

But you’re not done, yet. If you’re creating on-point content, you’ll actually create new forms of resistance. People will respond with new questions and concerns, often about problems and desires they didn’t know they had before.

No worries. This is what agile content marketing is all about, and this feedback helps you build a more complete set of cornerstone content. Over time, you’ll build a conversion-oriented website that addresses every common objection and aspect of resistance — based on actual audience feedback, not conjecture.

How to do it:

Effective online marketing is a combination of content, social media, and search. Effective research that identifies resistance points covers the same three points.

Read everything you can on your topic to discover resistance points. Listen and participate in social networks and online communities. Do keyword research specifically geared to resistance points and see how existing search engine results (content) are addressing the issues.

Bonus Step 4: Actually Speak With People!

I’ve often stated that the Internet in general, and social media specifically, is the greatest market research environment ever. You can learn an incredible amount without ever leaving your computer screen.

But if you truly want to develop a vivid mental snapshot of who you’re creating content for, you should actually talk to people. In person.

Shocking, I know.

How to do it:

If you’re creating local content, get out and talk to people specifically about the things we’ve covered here. If you are serving a particular industry, get to conferences and trade events. If you’re serving a particular activity like whitewater rafting, gaming, or knitting, get out there and find people who share these interests.

Over to You:

Does the concept of an audience archetype make sense? What do you do to find that “person” you’re communicating with?

Let us know in the comments.

Brian Clark is Editor-in-Chief of Entreproducer, a multimedia email publication exploring the business of independent digital media. Get more related content on Twitter.

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  1. Brian,

    This post reminded of at least two things I need to do.

    1. Keep being active in the online forums I’m involved with – it’s an excellent way to understand how other people view similar situations and see the areas other people need help with (product ideas!)

    2. I really need to finally see The Matrix so I can understand all these references on the interwebs.

  2. Matt Gartland says:

    Audience archetypes absolutely make sense. They speak to context. I believe that without such context it is difficult–nigh impossible–to fully and properly understand your ideal customer/reader because their habits, desires and expressed needs lack framing and rooting. The result: superficial (at best) understanding of “why” – the individual’s pure driving force and meaning.

    What I find fascinating, and as an area of further discussion, is how worldviews change. The hero’s worldview evolves in dramatic ways as the adventure unfolds. Innocence is replaced with knowledge. Knowledge matures into wisdom. Ultimately, a small, shallow worldview expands, intensifies and deepens. Hence the necessity of agile methods, not only to understand the initial core needs of your audience but to maintain a healthy and accurate pulse on those needs and characteristics as they change over time.

    Brian, what are your thoughts on interacting with changing worldviews? Do you believe that–if you do your job well–your content is a “leading indicator” that propagates such changes in a fashion you predict? Or, as a true mentor, are you training your Padawans to make their own discoveries and draw their own conclusions of the world, thereby necessitating acceptance that your audience’s worldview can never be truly, fully predicted?

    • Brian Clark says:

      Excellent point and questions, Matt. Views absolutely change over time — just in the 6.5 of years of Copyblogger, I’ve seen the space evolve so rapidly, and with it, the views of the audience. Rather than get overly academic about it, I think this is at the heart of taking an agile approach to content marketing. Nothing remains unchanged, especially the perspectives of the people you’re trying to help.

  3. Brian,

    I’m glad you touched on the “personal” approach needed in constructing your audience archetype, as in traditional industries like Real Estate, Insurance and Banking, pain points aren’t as obvious as most people think but are common nonetheless.

    Do you think its better to begin at step 4 and work your way backwards to develop your audience archetype if you’ve chosen a topic/niche for your content in a mature industry like the ones mentioned?

    • Brian Clark says:

      Michael, I think starting with speaking with people is an excellent idea, as long as you know what you’re trying to find out, which is what steps 1-3 are all about.

  4. Constructing an archetype definitely makes sense, but would you recommend creating one or many?

    I’ve recently become absorbed in how to help people read smarter and better, but there are so many types of readers. There are those who don’t have enough time, those with bad memories, those who want (and try) to read everything, those who suck at picking something to read, and so on.

    I want to speak to all these people, and see how keeping them in mind very concretely via an archetype helps. Perhaps once I have all these people “in reader mode” I just have to focus on speaking to one at a time…

    • Brian Clark says:

      How many archetypes you end up with is generally revealed by your research. You’ll never find one true archetype that represents the whole, so you’ll usually come up with a handful. Some content is for one type of person, some content for another. That’s why it helps to publish a lot over time.

  5. Hello Brian.

    Although I haven’t been thinking in terms of archetypes (reminds me of Carl Jung) but yes, whenever I’m trying to explain to a client how I’m going to come up with effective content/copy for him or her, I often tell that I’m going to prepare the text according to what the audience thinks rather than what the business owner thinks. When you create your content according to what the audience thinks, you automatically not only create search engine optimized content, you also create content that converts well because people can immediately relate to it.

    One great thing that I’m going to take back from this blog post of yours is that keep a particular persona of an audience in mind while creating your content. Focus on a small segment and write as if you’re talking to a single person, face to face.

  6. The notion of getting into the head of a particular reader has formerly been a realm primarily inhabited by advertisers. Now, it seems that everything we produce as a writer must be born in that realm. It is invasive, yes, but it it necessary. It is crucial. I find that clients have difficulty going there because they don’t like to be sold, so they are assuming that other people don’t like to be sold either. Reader-centric copy continues to be a hard sell in my market.

    • Mia, I totally agree that it can be a hard sell and that nobody likes to be sold. However, most people like or even love to buy. When an informed consumer goes in to a car dealership with Consumer Reports tucked under their arm, they are ready and excited to buy.
      I can see how at first glance, “getting into their heads” could seem invasive, but I don’t agree. You’re not waterboarding your audience to give up their secrets; you’re trying to walk a mile in their shoes to understand them.

    • Brian Clark says:

      Every great story ever told is “invasive” if you look at it that way. But that’s not how people think about great stories. Most advertising, on the other hand, is just noise to be tuned out.

  7. Brian, I tell you my mind – You’re just too good. I so much have new things to gain from you always and you always prove your mettle.

    What pays better by sellinf to your audience the actual thing they need? Nothing except if you’re not ready in business

    Thanks for this epic post.

  8. Hey Brian. Just as long as you don’t ever say, “Try to relax.” : )

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