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Buyer Personas

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As marketing students, we were all taught how to build customer profiles with detailed demographics. We were told that these quantitative descriptors would help us to segment our market, better understand our customers, and as a result, market to them more successfully.

Buyer PersonasAll of this is true. But not complete.

About a decade ago, a more personal way to define our target customers emerged, called the buyer persona. As the name implies, personas help us go beyond the quantitative descriptors to actually get personal with our customers, to understand who they are as emotional human beings – and go from quantitative to qualitative.

Incorporating personas into our thinking is key to our success as marketers, because we sell to individuals – real people – not numerical descriptors. These people have:

  • A distinct personality
  • Feelings
  • Attitudes
  • Motivations
  • Problems they want to solve
  • Pains they want to relieve
  • Personal goals
  • Preferred ways to gather information about products and services
  • People they trust for opinions
  • A specific way they like to go through their buying process

The persona helps us get to know each type of person who is in the market for our products and services. While your entire target market may be generally described by one set of demographic descriptors, the individuals in your market might be more specifically described by several different personas. For instance, when marketing baby products to women of a certain age, income level and geographic location, you might be able to describe several different types of female purchaser, each with different concerns, motivators and buying habits.

Becoming truly intimate with the different buyer personas in your market will help you refine your marketing strategies and messaging to deeply resonate with each type of person your are trying to connect with.

Getting to know your customers

There are several steps to building useful buyer personas. At the end of the day, what you’re trying to do is really get to know your buyers. And what’s the best way to do this? Go out and talk to them! One conversation with a customer is worth a hundred internal brainstorms in a vacuum.

If you already have a customer base:

  • Speak to your customers personally. Ask them questions about their experience with your offerings and about their lives.
  • Listen in on customer calls to your service department.
  • Conduct customer surveys.
  • Read customer comments on your blog (you do have one, don’t you?), and your social media pages. Interact with your customers in these forums.
  • Interview your sales people about what they’ve learned from your customers.

If you are just starting out and don’t have customers yet:

(Adapted from “How to Determine Your Buyer Personas” by Tracy DiMarino at PR 20/20 » )

  • Read the publications your customers read. What do they write about? How do they present information to their readers?
  • Read industry blogs. What are they writing about?
  • Scan social networks for groups and forums with the types of people who are your potential customers. What are they sharing with each other? How are they sharing it?
  • Do a keyword analysis of terms used to describe what you offer (Google offers a free tool for this). What are the most popular terms?
  • Read news and reports about your market segment. What are key market and legal trends in your industry?
  • See if there are other companies already in your market. Read their websites, brochures, white papers, blogs and annual reports. How are they addressing their customers?

Questions to ask

To know your customers personally, you’ve got to ask some personal questions about them. The exact questions to ask will depend on what you’re offering and to what kind of buyer (for instance, B2B vs. B2C). Here is a starter list of questions taken from some excellent blogs on the subject.

Sample B2B persona questions:

(taken from “9 Questions You Need to Ask When Developing Buyer Personas” by Corey Eridon on the HubSpot Blog »  and “5 Tips for Developing Strong Buyer Personas” on the Fearless Competitor website »  )

  • What is this person’s job and level of seniority?
  • What’s this person’s role in the buying process? Decision maker, champion or influencer?
  • What does a day in this person’s life look like?
  • What are this person’s pain points?
  • What issues keep this person up at night?
  • What phrases does this person use to describe the issues he or she is facing?
  • What does this person value most? What are his/her goals?
  • Where does this person go for information and daily news?
  • Does this person seek advice from colleagues, industry peers and/or unbiased third parties? If so, where?
  • Does this person prefer high-level details or a deep dive into a topic?
  • What types of organizations does this person belong to and what events does he or she attend?
  • What experience is this person looking for when shopping for your products and services?
  • How familiar is s/he with the solution you offer?
  • How does this person make business and/or purchase decisions?
  • What motivates this person to take action?
  • What are this person’s most common objections to your product or service?
  • What prevents this type of buyer from choosing your company?

Creating your personas

Once you’ve asked all the right questions and sifted through the answers, you should see patterns emerge that allow you to segment your customers into specific buyer persona groups. Give each group a personal name, like “Opinionated Oliver” or “Indecisive Ingrid.” List the qualitative characteristics of each “person.” Describe that person in terms like the ones we’ve outlined in the blog post, tailored specifically to your customers. Distribute these personas to your sales, marketing and customer service departments so everyone can get to know your buyers. Now you can start to craft messaging and customer relationship strategies that will personally resonate with each type of persona, as if you are talking directly and only to them.

Next:

As usual, one blog post like this can only provide a top-level introduction to an important marketing concept like buyer personas. The subject is deep enough that some consulting groups make their living creating buyer personas for companies. There’s also a wealth of resources on the Internet to help you learn more. Here are links to the sources we consulted for this post:

Is your organization already using buyer personas? What has been your experience with them? We’d love to get your point of view.

Here’s to being a marketing champion. See you in the next post.

7 Responses to Buyer Personas

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  2. I strongly believe that knowing how to crystallize your buyer personas (and use them effectively, which is the easiest part) is the most valued competence for a successful marketer. It's the marketer's job to "know who customers are, how they think, what they want, how they buy, why they buy, and how they expect the company to treat them". So that she can provide sales with infallible ammunitions, create compelling content that drives leads, increase conversion rates etc.

    I have seen, on the other hand, two common obstacles for a market-driven approach (that is, a buyer persona-centric approach for anyhting marketing does). These are:

    (1) It is hard to move from a product-centered thinking to a Market/persona-driven approach. Most companies are product driven, inside out. They think they know what theis customers need. Becoming Market driven (that is, using buyer personas for building and marketing product or services that resonates with the market) is a change, that requires leadership and perseverance.

    (2) It is hard to crystallize buyer personas. It requires a certain set of skills and competence. The persona profiles need to be *precise*. You need live interviews to get to that (at least to start right). No shortcuts. You cannot afford wrong buyer personas as they will take you off the right direction.

    I would love to hear comments and stories about these two challenges

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