Watering Holes

Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting to our friends at the Illinois Manufacturers Association. We discussed how to utilize key marketing tactics to create “candidate personas” for recruitment purposes.

Of course, this is a takeoff on building buyer personas for your potential customers and clients, which is a term you may recognize from our past blogs. These personas include key data such as your ideal customer’s age, education level, salary data and their watering holes.

While the first few stats are easily found on sites like PayScale or the Bureau of Labor Statistics, discovering how your ideal customer consumes media and gets their information can be a murkier task. Let’s wade in and learn more about finding your audience’s watering holes!

The Basics

Before we jump into watering holes, let’s review what a buyer persona is and what yours should include.

Defined by HubSpot:

buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”

This research often includes variables like age, gender and job titles, or more nuanced information such as average salary, education level and years of experience.

For example, here’s a look at a standard buyer persona we built for “CEO Charles:”

You’ll notice we cover more accessible data like level of education, age and average salary. But we also investigate psychographic aspects – traits related to behaviors, activities, interests and lifestyle. These require more digging but can offer valuable returns.

To find these nuggets of information, we ask questions about:

  • The Problems He’s Solving: Is he tasked with managing his leadership team effectively? Developing strategies for company growth? Finding the right talent to join his company?
  • The Decisions He’s Making: Is he tasked with vetting potential leads and partnerships for the company?
  • The Interests He Has: Is he an active member in his local chamber of commerce? Can you find him volunteering on the weekends or organizing company 5ks?

And of course, we’re also asking – “Where’s the best place to find our CEO Charles?” That’s where watering holes come in.

What’s a Watering Hole?

A watering hole refers to the places your ideal customers hang out. This could be websites they read or newsletters they subscribe to, social media platforms they frequent or physical places they belong to, such as conferences or clubs.

At first, it may not seem very important to know what podcasts your customers listen to or how often they’re scrolling on LinkedIn. But consider the depth this information adds to your buyer persona. For example, the CEO that reads Forbes and TechCrunch religiously and follows college football hashtags on Twitter is different from the one who listens to CNN’s highlights each morning, catches up on Rachel Maddow at lunch and researches diversity inclusion strategies.

Now, we know a lot more about CEO Charles, beyond that he’s 45 with a Master’s, which means we have a better idea on how best to sell our services to him.

Let’s Find Those Watering Holes

First, you’re going to go straight to the source. Start by interviewing current customers and prospects (casually! No need to interrogate them!)

Frame this request to interview as help with market research to gain great customers like them, and make the interview focused and brief. You’re going to want to ask them questions like:

  1. Outside of work, how do you like to spend your free time?
  2. What sort of hobbies do you (and your family) enjoy?
  3. Are there any “can’t miss” events in your industry you always make sure to attend?
  4. If you’re buying something new, how do you go about it? Do you do online research? Go in store? Read reviews?
  5. Are there any associations you’re active in? What do they focus on? (Networking, local businesses, charity, etc.)
  6. Is there a newsletter you read as soon as it hits your inbox? How about printed publications you get delivered, like newspapers and catalogs?
  7. Do you have a social media platform of choice? What types of accounts do you follow?

This can give you a strong foundation for your watering hole data, which you can then further refine with additional research.

While it does require a paid plan, we suggest investing in LinkedIn Sales Navigator. This tool allows you to find lookalikes of your target customer based on your ideal industries, seniority levels or other aspects. Then, you can create a cross-section of these profiles and their commonalities to further flesh out your persona watering holes.

For example, we performed this exercise on behalf of a client who was a LED lighting manufacturer. We discovered most lighting designers they were selling to often had a theatre or artistic background, which helped shape the messaging of our campaigns. As you can imagine, an ad intended for a theatre professional will look quite different than one for an office manager looking for better lighting solutions.

Now, let’s harken back to the social media questions we pose in our customer interviews. If you ask most folks what accounts they’re interested in, they’ll might respond with, “Oh, I follow SHRM’s stuff.” (That’s the Society for Human Resource Management, BTDubs.)

And it’s doubtful that they’ll respond with the specificity of a data researcher, saying something like, “I frequently like Johnny C. Taylor’s posts when I’m scrolling Twitter.” (He’s the president and CEO of SHRM, double BTDubs.)

SHRM is the major watering hole here, but how your target client interacts with the SHRM depends on their awareness of their online habits, which can be tricky.

Audience research tools can come in handy here – they’re built to give you a more robust understanding of your persona’s online habits and media consumption. Our current go-to for additional in-depth watering hole research is SparkToro.

SparkToro is an audience intelligence tool that helps you uncover where your audience is consuming content online. This platform provides data on social media usage, including what conversations your audience has online, hashtags they use, the news outlets they read or their favorite podcasts.

Your Next Steps

Armed with this key data, your watering holes can help define your strategy going forward, leading you to the channels where you’ll want to spend effort, resources and ad budget. The major commonalities for your target customers are the best place to start, leaving off other avenues that may not be nearly as helpful. For example, if you’re seeing a trend of target customers on LinkedIn, make sure not to waste your time on Facebook or Twitter ads!

You can make the most of this information by exploring the marketing opportunities among these watering holes. While some tactics like LinkedIn or Facebook ads will cost you, there are also more budget-friendly ways to grab your target’s attention. Can you publish press releases on their favorite association websites? Can you write blogs for popular industry publications? How about joining relevant online groups to engage in the conversations your ideal customers care about? There’s endless opportunity to interact with your target customers once you know exactly where to look.

Interested in creating and beefing up your buyer personas? Need help tracking this detailed information down? Give us a call and let us help.