“Becoming A Persona” Through Client/Customer Research

Constantin Stanislavski

Some agencies and service providers like their consultants to work at clients’ premises.

This can be a great idea for both parties: the client gets to see first-hand the type of work the agency is providing and can appreciate the work ethic and output of the consultant, whilst the consultant can immerse themselves in the client’s business and get a real understanding of their products and services.

In some circumstances, this doesn’t always work out for practical reasons. Businesses are setup to run in a way that meets their own needs – working out of the vehicle of a mobile business or an office without technical difficulties (no Wi-Fi, incompatible networks) is obviously not practical.

Some client premises can be distracting for consultants – but this still should be considered, at least for a short amount of time.

If the consultant has the right mentality and aptitude for absorbing information, hanging around the customer services team of a company for a few hours can teach them more about a business than reading through all of the current content on the company’s website.

It is possible to get a little closer to your clients needs by doing some in-depth research into their business – whether you go “pseudo in-house” for a period of time or not.

Every time I get a new client, I go through a process I’ve started to refer to as “going native”.

Without taking myself too seriously here, this is somewhat reminiscent of the Method approach to acting. Sometimes you have to carry a fishbowl between your legs.

Sometimes you have to get in character.

This is a basic view of requirements and key performance indicators for a typical SEO campaign.

  • The Client wants conversions
  • I want traffic for keywords that convert
  • I need content including keywords that convert, links to that content and social engagement with that content
  • I need inspiration and knowledge to produce that content

Act Like A Stakeholder

What do I do? I go native – I find inspiration, I develop my knowledge and awareness of the subjects and content topics that surround a client’s services – I start to use a vocabulary of terms that I might not previously have used in order to become a stakeholder. I have to have an interest in the subject, in a similar way to how the client has an interest, and their prospective customers have an interest.
It’s all about asking and answering questions.

  • What? Prospective customers want to know about products and services
  • Why? Prospective customers want to read informed reviews from other customers
  • Who? All website content should be viable – believable, accurate, informative

Clients want me to “speak their language” so I can do a good job for them.

Here are a few places you can go to get started with researching topics:

Find Social Content Inspiration

  • I start a tumblr
  • I subscribe to a sub-reddit of the topic
  • I’ll setup a Pinterest board

Find A Community

  • I join forums and get involved in discussion
  • I read blogs and get a handle on trends (if there are any), writing styles and the kind of content being produced


  • I find the prevalent sources of news for that vertical
  • I find news about that vertical in mainstream media

As well as reading news and community sites, I’ll try and find a “Glossary of terms”. Imitating the vernacular of the client/customer/target audience is the best way to research what they want and make it easier for me to help give it to them.

It’s this process of creating a drip-feed of information that allows me to act like someone who is in that industry. I can relate to clients, to their customers, prospective content/link partners and get a grasp on what everyone’s incentives are.

Here are three examples on how I “went native” in order to add value to client campaigns.

Health, Wellbeing & Beauty Products

Did I know anything about Hair Loss products? When I started with one client, I was only just starting to lose a tiny bit of hair, so it wasn’t really ‘my thing’. Going “pseudo in-house” and listening to customer service teams answering calls on these products, I learnt a lot (I’m still hoping not to use that knowledge on myself, physically).

This allowed me to easily come up with topics for a Guest Post campaign and look into long tail keyword patterns for Q&A content and new on-site articles.

Menswear & Fashion

Did I know anything about Men’s Fashion? That depends who you ask, of course. Fashion is subjective to taste, so I knew what I liked and didn’t like. I spent some time getting involved with forums, reading blogs, pouring through “lookbooks” and dissecting celebrity outfits. Only then could I advise clients on effective content creation and start outreach to content, link and affiliate prospects.

The knowledge I gained allowed me to come up with an honest approach to outreach (that “indie fashion” should nurture upcoming talent) and so I found some great sites to partner with for content-led link acquisition.


Did I know anything about Wine? I’m a price-driven wine drinker, and I quickly found out that other price-driven wine drinkers are target customers for this client. My actual wine knowledge was limited, and so anything I found “surprising” is likely to also be found surprising by some of the other prospective customers.

For example, I didn’t know that duty on wine is fixed, so that if you’re buying something you think is good value or cheap – £2.00 of the “wine” is a “duty” charge. As shocking as that was to me I knew it would be to others, so I made this infographic. You may notice that the infographic hasn’t got a lot of links – that’s another story I’d be happy to tell…

Image credit: Constantin Stanislavski via Wikimedia Commons