What is a buyer persona, and why does it matter to you?
First, let’s answer the initial question. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional character profile created from research to represent your ideal potential customer.
Now the ‘why.’
You build your business strategy on data analysis, intelligent predictions, and industry trends. As a result, the word “persona” might seem too ‘touchy-feely’ if you’re accustomed to hard facts. How can a “semi-fictional profile” be sufficiently quantitative or objective?
While a persona is semi-fictional, it’s based on real audience research and industry insights. A fact-based skeleton, so to speak, fleshed out by corresponding human characteristics, demographics, needs, and desires. A persona allows you to understand your ideal customers’ pain points so that you can build marketing messages that target their needs. The more you understand and empathize with your potential customers, the better you’ll be able to connect with them.
So, where do you start?
Use research, not assumptions.
Many companies skip the critical research step in the marketing process, thinking that they already know their audience(s) well enough. But within these uninformed assumptions, grave mistakes can be made. Remember the infamous Gap rebrand of 2010? Gap wanted to rebrand to cater to younger audiences, but in doing so, they lost their rapport with a great deal of their existing, loyal customers.
Remember: You are not your customer. Because of this, you have made inaccurate assumptions about them. Failing to account for these differences will drive a wedge between you and the people you want to connect with.
When you don’t know your audience, you won’t know how best to approach, communicate, and partner with them. Not all audiences are alike, even within the same products and services, so having a comprehensive understanding of your existing and future client base becomes an essential planning tool.
This is where the research-driven, conceptual framework of the buyer persona comes in.
First Steps to Knowing Your Audience Better
Step 1: Find out who they Are
Use your existing customer base as a benchmark for increasing your traditional audience through what is already working for your company. You want to know as much as possible about the people who buy from you. Build out a series of detailed questions that gather information on the recipients’:
- Company industry/size
- Personal demographics
- Biggest challenges faced
- Educational background
- Career and job title
- Job requirements
- Vendor communication preferences
- And the list goes on…
Step 2: Understand what they do and why they do it.
After you know more about your loyal customers, ask them about what they do, why they do it, and the challenges they face in their industry.
- What does their typical day look like?
- What problems do they encounter?
- What do they do to solve the problem? Why?
- Why did they choose your company / solution to help them?
- What changes would make their day better? (Small incentives go a long way, so don’t be shy to send interview invites to get people in the door).
Extra Credit: Conduct interviews with your current and former clients (use an exit interview if they’ll agree) as well as your future prospects. If available, use sales records, trend reports, and CRM data to provide additional insight into buying patterns or unanswered demographic questions.
Along with this culled data, gather information from your sales and support teams — their position places them in the most frequent, direct contact with your current, former, and future clients.
- What problems do customers most often complain about?
- What types of customers do they most often encounter?
- Describe the customer who has a need and buys.
- Describe the customer who chooses not to buy.
Step 3: Draw your own conclusions
Integrate the data from all of the above sources to create an aggregate view for each client and customer type.
- Does the data you’ve found during the interviews correspond to the feedback from your sales and support team research? Where does it differ?
- What describes the clients that are most valuable to you? (Use lifetime value metrics if you have them)
- What describes clients that no longer work with you?
- Do your prospective clients match more closely with your current clients or former clients?
- Is there a common problem that you’re currently not addressing? (This is more of a product question than a persona one – but knowing what they need helps paint a more complete picture of the person you’re trying to reach.)
During the aggregation process, you’ll begin to see commonalities and patterns emerge in the data. Group similar needs, actions taken, and motivations together — you’ll use them soon.
Step 4: Act on your results
Create your buyer personas based on the data you’ve uncovered. You should create at least one persona for each role that your business wants to connect with. (One for the IT Director, one for the CTO, one for the Business Analyst, etc.) You can create as many as necessary, but we suggest starting with no more than 3. Give each a fictitious name and then fill in the needs, actions, and motivations. Make sure that you address the primary demographics of your audience and that the most prominent needs, actions, and motivations are mentioned on at least one persona.
Now, use the personas when creating your various content marketing campaigns or outbound marketing initiatives. Ask:
- Who is the target customer?
- What do they want from this [campaign, email, page, post, etc.]?
- How will they get what they want?
- What do we want them to know?
- What do we want them to do?
The Human Element
A buyer persona helps not only the accuracy of your marketing strategies, but it also gives your employees a human likeness to work with. Rather than trying to cater to an ethereal, half-informed conception of your clientele, your teams now have a focal point to direct their attention and resources towards — someone to speak to directly.
Ultimately, the buyer persona helps your company tell your client’s story first, not your own — it focuses your resources and efforts into acquiring and maintaining clients that are aligned to your target audience’s needs and business goals. And, by speaking directly to them, it helps your future clients feel seen and understood.
Client trust is essential, and now is the time to build a rapport. Let’s talk with them.