When done correctly, buyer personas are an important element of a B2B marketing strategy. But if they’re solely compromised of high-level demographic data – let’s face it – they can become a quick waste of time.
To craft a strategic, useful buyer persona, you can start by examining how your customers are behaving on channels like LinkedIn and conducting customer interviews to learn why they work with you. That still only gets you so far – to uncover the best channels to prioritize, you want to know where your audience consumes digital content.
Recently, our team began utilizing SparkToro, an audience intelligence tool that helps us pinpoint where our clients’ audiences are consuming content online.
Insights like this are crucial to going above and beyond in your campaigns. Now, you can reach your audience where they’re already hanging out, so you can build more successful marketing campaigns.
But is this promise too good to be true?
So far, I’ve found success with the platform in multiple ways.
Finding Your Audience Online
While this may come as an obvious positive, the insights from SparkToro help you vet where you invest your time and marketing dollars in the digital space.
For instance, I was working on a buyer persona for CEOs in the US. Here’s what some of my initial SparkToro results provided:
Knowing that 34% of the audience reads TechCrunch and 32.9% reads The New York Times, I may focus PR outreach on these publications. Plus, with 18.8% of the audience listening to Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, I may use this insight to explore pitching a podcast appearance or sponsorship opportunities.
SparkToro also provides data on social media channel usage, hashtags they use, what they talk about online and websites they frequently visit, giving you ample data to make your buyer personas more useful from a targeting standpoint.
In addition to finding results for large websites, influencers and content channels, SparkToro gives you “hidden gems.” These results are for channels that receive high engagement from your audience, even though their overall reach is smaller than that of sites like The New York Times.
For example, if I’m still looking at our CEOs in the US audience, the hidden gems look like this:
These can be extremely beneficial insights for influencer campaigns, PR outreach and digital ad placements, as their advertising costs are likely significantly lower than large media companies.
Another pro to SparkToro is the geographic targeting option. If your buyer personas are tied to a geographic region, this added level of filtering can help pinpoint hyperlocal influencers and channels to focus brand awareness efforts on. Currently, you can filter people located in or who mention a geography by country, state/region or major city.
Compare Audience Feature
One of my favorite features of SparkToro is the compare audience filtering. This lets you narrow down your audiences by finding overlapping data (or in some instances, can help you exclude irrelevant data).
This was a very helpful tool for building out my CEO buyer persona development. I was looking for CEOs at large corporations, but my data was skewing towards solopreneurs that use “CEO” in their social media profiles. To get more accurate audience intelligence data, I tested a few comparison options, including:
Competitor insights: I used “people with CEO in their profile” and “has visited the website” of their top (very large) competitor to find commonalities.
Overlap data: I found overlapping data for “people with CEO in their profile” and “people with Fortune 50 in their profile.”
Exclusionary data: To remove data from solopreneurs, I looked at “people with CEO in their profile” and people with “people with solopreneur in their profile.” Instead of using the overlap data, I specifically pulled data from the CEO-specific insights.
I haven’t had the chance to explore this feature – you need a premium plan or 7-day pass – but it is still worth noting. On these plans, you can build a custom audience from your current customers or subscribers. All you need is a list of at least 300 social URLs and SparkToro can provide audience intelligence around your list.
If you’re looking to target more leads that mimic your current audience profiles, this feature can be extremely beneficial.
Though there’s lots to love about SparkToro, there are a few roadblocks.
While SparkToro has a few plan options, they can be limiting for small to mid-sized businesses. Unless you’re a large corporation or need features such as custom audiences, the premium plan likely isn’t going to be a consideration, so today I’m going to break down the free, starter and standard plans.
Free: This is great for testing SparkToro, but there are some limitations that may impede you from reaping its full benefits. With only 10 searches a month, you can quickly run out (for instance, if you search CEOs, then CEOs in the US, then CEOs that aren’t solopreneurs, you’ve used up 3 searches for the month). Plus, this plan only provides a sampling of data.
Starter: If you’re a small to mid-sized business, this is likely the plan you’ll consider investing in. This plan provides up to 30 searches a month, giving you more bandwidth to explore filtering options, and provides up to 50 results and unlimited list creation (perfect for organizing your searches by the persona they relate to). But at $450 for the year, it can be a significant investment for businesses on a tight budget.
Standard: This plan is geared toward marketing agencies that develop buyer personas for multiple clients at a time. One key benefit of this plan is that you can access email information right in SparkToro. For instance, if I decided I wanted to pitch a podcast appearance on Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, I could pull the email address for the podcast right in SparkToro. If outreach is a significant part of your work, this could be a time-saving feature.
Another option with SparkToro is a one-week pass for up to 1,000 searches, but at $450 for just the week, it might not be a viable expense for many small to mid-sized companies. Plus, to get a true value from the investment, you’ll need a team member who can dedicate a significant block of time in those seven days to using the platform.
While you can utilize the free plan and attempt to stick to 10 searches a month, a more feasible option is to partner with an agency that already utilizes SparkToro. Not only will this give you access to additional searches, but it saves you time by leaving the research and planning to a dedicated team that does this every day.
No Demographic Filtering
One feature I wish SparkToro could provide is demographic filtering. For instance, if I want to narrow my CEO search down to CEOs at a certain income level or in a certain age bracket, I currently have no specific way to do so. Instead, you must use makeshift guesses with comparison data to hope you’ve found the right target.
No Location Filtering on Audience Comparisons
While I love the location filtering and audience comparison features, you can’t utilize them at the same time. For me, that meant either searching for CEOs in the US or using one of my many audience comparisons, but I couldn’t look at the comparison data specific to a geographic filter.
Hopefully, SparkToro can add these multiple filtering options over time.
The Still Deciding
As a relatively new software, it makes sense that SparkToro has some limitations. Even SparkToro recognizes that their users hit some roadblocks. While their blog does help answer some of the burning questions I have with data filtering, I’m still deciding if they get the job done fully.
The biggest thing I’m still evaluating – inner-industry specific targeting.
Like I mentioned, there are major limitations when it comes to filtering by demographic data. Even when I’ve found workarounds like the CEOs at Fortune 50s search, the overlap data is minimal, providing what SparkToro refers to as “low confidence.”
Over time, I’ll be keeping an eye on how the search functionality and filtering evolve to help solve for these needs.
Is SparkToro Worth It?
Short answer: if you’re an agency or large corporation – yes! While audience intelligence data shouldn’t be the sole makeup of your buyer personas, these insights can help you build robust buyer personas that translate to strategic marketing plans.
For small to mid-sized businesses, it can be worth it if you need high-level data and know exactly what to look for to keep your free searches under 10 a month. If you need more robust data, consider partnering with an agency that can provide access to SparkToro’s paid features and manage the research process for you. If you need a partner, I know just the team.