How To Refine Your Marketing Strategy with Personas and User Journeys

Kirsten Pickworth, Director of Client Services

Does your marketing strategy keep you up at night? Are you not sure how you’re reaching your audience with the budget you have? Are you developing content that focuses only on your products or services? Then it’s time to pause, understand who your audience is, and evaluate how you can practice having better conversations with them.

Finding Your Marketing Strategy Stride

When I first started running, I heard other runners talk about a “runner’s high” when they got into their stride. It felt like something in their core awakened and gave them the energy to keep moving forward step after step. That release of endorphins motivated them to run faster and farther, without focusing on pain or the number of miles that had passed. At the time, that feeling seemed so far from my reality of exhaustion.

I practiced my breathing, bought shoes that fit me better, found a route that I enjoyed, and eventually developed my own pace and cadence. It took me months to realize that I couldn’t replicate the same stride everyone else used. I could observe my friends and ask for their help with coaching and pacing me, but I couldn’t expect the same results with my body and my early training.

Finding your stride and your method as a marketing team requires similar analysis and dedication. Very rarely does a brand find success out of the gate with its first campaign and initial spend. They have to learn about their audience to determine who they are targeting, and how their content and overall strategy speaks to them.

Marketing channels, content, and targeting should start with your brand’s ideal customer. Even if you have an unlimited budget, and potential customers across the world that span industries and demographics, using personas to direct your planning and execution is smart marketing.

Why Do You Need a Persona to Guide Your Marketing Strategy?

A digital marketing strategy should be dynamic, and continually refined by testing and user engagement. Yet, every marketing team should have a foundation and a focus framed by goals, budget, and audience targeting. A persona makes customer feedback and demands tangible and helps marketers identify primary and secondary audiences to prioritize their efforts.

If you need a short list of reasons to use personas to convince your team or your manager, here you go:

  • You cannot control your potential or current customer’s journey, you have to meet them where and how they are searching.
  • Your website should be part of your conversation with your customers and build trust in your brand.
  • Your content across media channels and on your website should help answer your customers’ questions about trending topics in your industry as well as your products and services.

It’s nearly impossible to accomplish any of these strategic tasks without first conducting some research to confirm who you should be targeting. There are a number of methods for conducting formal and informal user research:

Formal User-Engaged ResearchInformal User-Engaged Research
User testing and interviewsSales team interviews
User surveysVoice of the customer report view
Focus groupsBehavior analysis based on analytics data
Empathy mappingAsking marketing, product managers, and sales "who is your ideal customer?"

Based on your research findings, you can align your insights with the attributes of your target customer. These could include age, job title, personality (or adjectives that describe them), goals, frustrations, motivations, and even a brief bio.

Personas for your target customers allow you to map your strategy to the things that are most important to them.

Once you’ve developed your persona, it’s time to put it to use in making decisions for your content and setting achievable goals.

Ways to Use a Persona to Guide Your Marketing Decisions

Putting a face, a name, and pain points to your customer helps connect the dots between who your target is and how they might engage with your brand.

You can use a persona to guide decisions you make around what content you develop, what channels you use, and what goals you set for your marketing plan. For the following examples, we’ll use our persona for a potential client, “Margaret, Marketing Director.”

Evaluate Your Content

Using your persona as a baseline, you can ask the following questions about your content to see if it’s hitting the mark:

  • Is your content unique to your brand and your company mission?
  • Would Margaret share this content? Would other brands, influencers, or new sites link to it?
  • Does your content answer user questions about industry trends that would matter to Margaret?
  • Do you provide content that solves or speaks to pain points experienced by Margaret and her team?
  • Does your content build Margaret’s trust in your brand (e.g. reviews, awards, etc.)?
  • Are you providing content in multiple formats (e.g. blog, product description, infographics, video, tools, etc.) that Margaret would engage with?
  • Are you creating content that Margaret would share with her manager, team, or network?

Review What Google Thinks Your Users Want

Here are a few questions you can use to determine how Google is interpreting Margaret’s search queries. Choose a priority keyword such as “webinar best practices” and analyze the search results page:

  • Is Margaret looking for information, a definition, or a guide?
  • Is Margaret looking to compare products or services?
  • How do the paid and organic search results appear on page 1?
  • What format of paid ads are appearing (e.g. site link extensions)?
  • Is Margaret looking for a local result?
  • Are there relevant image or infographic results?
  • Are there video results?
  • Are there shopping results for products or resources?
  • What page titles are in use for the top organic results?
Put yourself in your user’s shoes, and explore what they would see in a SERP when searching for keywords relevant to your brand.

Evaluate Your Competitor’s Content

Although your marketing strategy should be unique to your brand and your company personas, that shouldn’t stop you from observing what your competitors are sharing with your potential audience, and trying to do it better. Here are some questions to ask when reviewing your competitors’ ad copy and landing pages.

  • Do your competitors use the same keywords and topics that would resonate with Margaret?
  • Do your competitors have non-branded and branded content or resources about the topic?
  • What CTAs do your competitors use? How do they compare to yours?
  • Do your competitors provide more authoritative content (industry trends, reports, awards won, reviews, etc.)?

Once you’ve reviewed your persona and referenced search behaviors of your typical customer, it’s time to evaluate your content from the lens of the user. Your persona is a valuable resource in building your marketing plan, but your user journey is what can bring the strategy to life. Even with a simple user journey map, you can confirm priority channels, identify content opportunities, and create company engagement and ownership around phases in relationships with potential and current customers.

Ways to Evaluate Your Digital Channels Based on Your User Journey

A user or customer journey is a visualization of how your potential or current customer persona interacts with your brand (See Nielsen Norman for more information on journey mapping). You can use this map to evaluate your marketing channels, identify essential interactions, confirm friction points that could be refined, and determine your approximate sales cycle timeframe.

User journey maps can take a variety of forms, but they should all include the relevant steps a customer makes in the purchase process.

Armed with all of that information, you can make some pivotal decisions about how you prioritize content development, modify your marketing mix, continue your research, and assign internal stakeholder ownership to different points in the user journey. Here are a few ideas to get you started as you evaluate your channel mix with your actual user engagement.

Learn from Your Assisted Conversions

Use your analytics platform to identify the primary channel or channels responsible for your goal completions. Even if the majority of your goal completions might be attributed to direct traffic to your website from returning visitors or paid traffic from your new paid search campaigns, it’s naive to think that those were the only ways your user might have interacted with your website. If you review assisted conversions data, you might identify gaps in your content.

For example, for a client who has been primarily focused on paid search campaigns, we recognized that 22 percent of their assisted conversions were from Google organic searches. This helped us convince the product managers to focus on updating their top-of-funnel and comparison content instead of prioritizing only their paid search bottom-of-funnel landing pages. Thought leadership and comparison content can be valuable in many stages of the user journey. And making sure your brand appears in the results for relevant organic search queries helps close gaps in your customer’s path to conversion.

Assess Your Conversion Paths

Review engagement trends by channel and identify behaviors by looking at channel order and repeat channels in conversion paths. From this analysis, you can confirm assumptions or update and refine your user journey map.


In this example, we know that the user saw our display campaign early in their journey and then visited the site again from a paid search ad and organic search results. So what can we do with this information?

  • Create retargeting campaigns focused on users who have visited a priority landing page to help test audience targeting and more relevant ad copy, and learn more about engagement behaviors to drive return visits.
  • Scrutinize the length of the user journey from initial search to conversion and evaluate if whether or not users are getting enough information early on or if, due to the industry, the decision cycle and conversion rates are on par with competitors.
  • Use this data for follow-up analysis of which display campaigns have a high conversion rate but lower traffic volume. Determine if additional budget or adjusted targeting could help improve volume from these campaigns that are an important and early part of the user journey.

Define the Purpose of Your Landing Pages

There is a reason to have both organic landing pages and paid landing pages as part of your marketing strategy. However, the messaging on those pages and in the ad copy should work in concert and support the user in learning about your brand and comparing solutions or products. Make sure you’re evaluating what keywords you’re prioritizing between paid and organic channels so as not to waste budget, lose real estate in the SERP, or cause frustration with your users. Here are a few of the ways you can evaluate engagement with your landing pages:

  • Compare time on page with bounce rate. These metrics should be evaluated together and with respect to the page type. By looking at the time on page metric and the content on the landing page, you can determine if users are reading the content or not finding what they came for.
  • Evaluate goal URLs and prior pages. Look at not only the goal completion URL, but the second or third page priority to the landing page on which the form fill or goal completion occurred. You might be surprised to find that a blog post is a vital part of your user journey instead of a product page. That blog post could evolve into an evergreen landing page that speaks more to your company’s solutions and trends. Or you could realize that users who visit your landing page are getting lost in product demos or comparisons and need more information on the landing page you created.
  • Understand how Google is ranking that page and why. Keep an eye on how Google is ranking your landing page and for what keyword topics. Also evaluate the type of search results Google is displaying for your priority keywords. Does the SERP include local results, only informational searches and no ads, or a featured snippet? All of these SERP elements can help you reframe your content and landing pages to align with your user’s search behaviors.

Consider a Flywheel Instead of a Funnel or User Journey to Continually Refine

Some brands have stepped away from focusing on user journeys and marketing funnels alone to embrace a flywheel, assuming that their content strategy will continue to cycle and engage current customers and prospects.

The flywheel model isn’t a realistic starting point for every marketing team because it requires knowing your audience, their engagement patterns, and dedicating the majority of your time to your existing customers. Yet, it is a goal that can be achieved with practice and ongoing evaluation by your marketing and sales teams. With time, this approach acts as an engine that feeds content ideation, customer engagement, and strategy refinement.

I’d argue that the flywheel is the “runner’s high” of marketing strategy. Once you’re engaged in an ongoing conversation with your target audience, the marketing isn’t effortless but it’s affirmed and evolved based on a foundation of trust. Your audience knows your brand, shares it, and advocates for it, and as marketers that is gold.

The beauty of this approach is that your content creation process is always focused on your persona(s), and answering questions that are relevant to your ideal or current customers. And it can also help you adapt your personas and user journey maps over time as your products and industry evolve.

Regardless of what method makes the most sense for your team, creating personas that represent your target customers and implementing a user journey map to understand how they make purchase decisions will establish the foundation for a marketing strategy that leverages your content and channels to best connect with your audience.

Kirsten Pickworth, Director of Client Services

Kirsten Pickworth

Interim VP, Agency Services
Interim VP, Agency Services

Kirsten is Portent's director of client services, with more than 15 years of experience building integrated marketing strategies for B2B and B2C businesses and nonprofit fundraising. She is a marketing nerd who is always learning and looking for ways to collaborate and teach in her community. Kirsten is also a mom of two who enjoys writing, volunteering, baking creations, and adventuring in the mountains and waters of the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her family.

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