Understanding Buyer Personas
We live in a fast-paced world that runs on technology. The reality is, your audience is larger now than its ever been. Thanks to the internet and the way we find information, you now have more ways of reaching that audience. This is great for businesses, however, it poses a big problem. More people means more competition.
The entire world is your audience. But the same is true for your competitors.
Potential clients are being bombarded with ads, offers, and promotions all the time. So, how do you cut through the noise? In order to really capture the attention of those whose needs your organization meets, you have to narrow your focus and speak to them directly. If not, you might end up spending your time or resources speaking to the wrong audience, or worse… speaking to no audience at all.
In order to scale their company, Aspen & Eagle needs to first define exactly who it is they’re doing their research for. While their services might cater to a wide variety of people, they need to create personas based on their ideal customers – allowing them to properly motivate potential customers and get the most out of their marketing efforts.
A buyer persona is a representation of your ideal customer. Not to be confused with basic demographics or your target audience, personas are semi-fictional characters based on detailed research of your actual customers.
Unlike simple demographic information, buyer personas look deeper at your target audience to uncover the needs and wants of your ideal buyer. Buyer personas are the base of your entire marketing strategy and they’re a necessary component for every organization to have, big or small.
With good personas, your organization will have insights into questions like:
- What pains are you solving for your clients?
- What form of content best reaches your clients?
- How are your clients engaging with you?
A Buyer Persona is Not
A buyer persona is not your target audience. While you might be able to gain insight from your target audience, this insight will lack the personal touch and detail provided with a buyer persona.
Your target audience provides the basic information that you need to know about the people buying your products or services:
- Marital Status
This allows you to create a basic profile of your buyer:
Jane is a 44-year-old Asian-American female. She is a department head at the company she works for. She is married with no children and lives in the suburbs.
While this is a good start to understanding your buyers, it’s limiting. It doesn’t answer the question, “why?” In order to truly understand your buyers, you need to know what it is that motivates your buyers to do business with you.
A buyer persona is also not your dream client. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to start building your personas based on the needs of your organization and not the needs of the buyer.
While it might be more convenient for your business if Jane were the owner of her company (allowing her to have the final word on all of the purchasing decisions), that’s not who she actually is. You need to keep your buyer personas realistic – a true representation of your actual customers.
It is imperative that you avoid using preconceived ideas of who you think your clients are or who you want them to be. Assuming these things will inevitably lead to ineffective personas and misguided efforts to reach the people that matter most.
The Importance of Buyer Personas
Buyer personas reflect your best customer relationships – relationships that generate the most revenue, with minimal opposition, over the longest period of time. Think about your best customers. How do they communicate? Are your goals aligned? These are the clients that you are trying to reflect with your personas. They are not your dream clients. They are your best clients, based on real-life customers.
Structuring a business strategy without the use of buyer personas is why many businesses fail. Without them how do you know how to attract leads? The research that you do in order to build your personas will uncover many details about the people that you are trying to engage with. It will guide you in turning strangers of your business into customers and (eventually) promoters of your business.
Buyer personas are not solely used in marketing. Their value can and should be utilized across your entire organization. Sales departments can use them to focus on training and learn how to best sell to qualified leads. Management can use them to better know how to properly allocate resources. It even benefits new hires during onboarding to better help them understand the clients that they will soon be working with.
By orienting your team around your ideal persona you assure that your entire organization is working together to reach the right client.
This provides a seamless transition through every step along their buyer’s journey.
The Role of Buyer Personas in Your Marketing Strategy
When you understand the nuances that motivate your buyers, creating content that interests and engages them is much easier. Without personas, you are essentially creating content at random and just hoping it speaks to someone. You have to focus your efforts or you will miss out on the best opportunities for your business.
Again, you can’t assume that you know what your customers want. The only way to truly know is to ask questions that help identify the pains that your product or service is able to resolve. Once you know what problems your clients are trying to solve, you can design a highly effective marketing strategy that offers them the solution they are looking for.
Who Are Personas for?
Every type of business should use buyer personas.
- BRICK & MORTAR
- SERVICE PROVIDERS
Buyer personas are the best way to make sure you are getting the attention of those that allow your company to maintain its profitability. If you offer a product or service of any kind, you need buyer personas. They are the only way to truly understand your clients for what they are… human.
Buyer Personas and Content
The purpose of inbound marketing is to generate leads, right? But how do you generate those leads? By providing them with the information they’re looking for with content. As a marketer, there are many types of content at your disposal to reach your audience. In order to best capture their attention, you should utilize a variety of:
- SOCIAL POSTS
- DIGITAL ADS
With as many ways as there are to reach your potential customers, without buyer personas, how do you know which channels are going to work best?
Sure, you could assume and possibly see some positive results (e.g. if you are a company trying to reach millennials, utilizing social media is probably a good assumption), but how do you know if you’re using the right social platform? The truth is, if you don’t have personas, your inbound efforts are random at best. In order to see the best return on investment, your efforts need to be targeted.
How to Build a Buyer Persona
So, where do you begin when developing your buyer personas? While conducting research for your personas might seem relatively simple, it’s incredibly important that it is done properly. It is what makes buyer personas so effective after all. Once the research is complete, the second step is to use the research and properly build a story about your persona. This section details two things:
1) How to properly conduct your buyer persona research
2) How to write and construct your buyer personas
Once complete, you will have a clear understanding of who your ideal buyer is and what types of content will speak to them.
It’s important that Aspen & Eagle understands exactly how to conduct their research for their buyer personas. Biased research will lead to bad personas, which will lead to bad marketing, bad sales and unhappy customers or worse yet: the wrong customers entirely. However, if they can conduct great research and construct their personas properly, they will be well on the way to reaching their goals and growing their business.
Buyer Persona Research
In order to create accurate buyer personas, you need as much information about your existing customers as possible.
If you want answers, you must first ask questions. You need to talk to those closest to the customer, and you absolutely have to talk to the customers themselves.
Begin with Those Closest to You
Where’s a better place to start than right where you are? Your customers are interacting with your organization so it’s very important to conduct interviews with those that already have insight into the behaviors of your customers. Your sales, customer service, and marketing teams are all great resources for information about your customers. Consult with them and see what they can offer.
Your sales team is essentially the liaison between the customer and your business. They interact with the clients every day and know how your product or service benefits them. They also see first-hand exactly how those clients engage with it. Your sales team has tremendous insight into what both positively and negatively influences your potential buyers to become actual buyers. The questions, concerns, objections, and hot buttons that motivate a buyers decision are some things your sales team will be incredibly familiar with. This insight is invaluable to your persona development. Use it.
Customer Service Team
Your customer service team also interacts with clients on a daily basis. They have great insight on what your customer’s fears are and what they say about your company. They also have information on what types of questions your potential customers have about your products/services. Because they are the department that handles complaints, they can provide plenty of information on what pains that your current clients are experiencing, which is a large part of developing your personas.
Your marketing team will most likely be responsible for creating your buyer personas. Like the other departments, your marketing team has quite a bit of insight on the behaviors of your clients. Even though they don’t directly interact with customers, they have knowledge about how your potential clients interact with your business. Their knowledge of how to best reach your audience provides a lot of information that is very valuable to your buyer persona development.
Talk to Your Clients
The information that you get in-house will be very valuable to your buyer persona development. Paired with your basic demographic information you’ll be well on your way to creating a detailed picture of who your ideal client is, but it is still just the beginning.
In order to really know your ideal buyer, you have to talk to your ideal buyer.
You’ll probably have a good idea of who your buyer persona is by this point, but you need to test your ideas against your actual customers. It’s important to have diversity in the people you are choosing to interview. Having too many coming from the same background doesn’t allow for you to have a very wide understanding of your personas.
So, who should you interview? Consider someone that:
- has purchased your product/service
- has decided not to purchase your product/service
- has purchased from a competitor
These people are going to give you tremendous insight into what it’s like to experience your brand and what kind of experiences they’ve had with your competition.
Remember that insights are going to be both positive and negative. This is necessary for building the strongest personas.
Try to find people that have recently made a buying decision, so the experience will be easily remembered. If you don’t, you’ll run the risk of getting biased and inaccurate information.
Conducting the Interview
There are many things to consider when conducting interviews with past or present customers. The most important of these, perhaps, is transparency. Let your interviewee know exactly what your goals for the interview are. This will help to avoid confusion and help limit the number of biased answers you’ll receive.
So, what kinds of questions should you ask?
Truthfully, you need a mix of both general and open-ended questions. The general questions get you basic information that is fundamental to understanding your customers, but the open-ended questions will offer you the information you need to understand and create a story for your buyer personas.
Customers differ from industry to industry. It is crucial that you keep that in mind when conducting your interviews. Take the time and ask yourself, “what kind of specific information am I going to need to get the most out of my interviews?”
No matter what industry you are in, there are obvious questions that need to be answered and other important questions that will bring your personas to life. Start with the basic info and work your way into questions that will offer you more insight into what it’s like to be the customer.
Like we said before, demographic information is a good start. It will give you insight into what the person looks like – an important first step before understanding how they think.
- What is their age?
- What is their ethnicity?
- What is their gender?
- What is their marital status?
- Do they have children?
- Where do they live?
- Do they own or rent their home?
These questions will likely vary depending on whether you are a B2B or B2C business. However, in terms of creating buyer personas and developing their story, it’s important to know the details of a customer’s work life.
- What industry do they work in?
- What level of seniority do they hold?
- What level do they aspire to hold?
- How long have they held their position?
In order to think like your customers, you need to know what their day to day looks like. This will reveal what it’s like to be them. It shows what they find interesting, what they find frustrating, and an overall understanding of the choices they make.
- What does a day in their life look like?
- What keeps them up at night?
- What are their goals?
- What do they do for fun?
- Who are the most important people in their life?
Buying Behavior Questions
This may be the most important set of questions that you’ll be asking your interviewees. They provide insight into things that you simply can’t predict by speculating. The answers to these questions will be the guidelines for developing great buyer personas.
- What problems do they have that your products/services solve?
- How do they make decisions about products/services?
- Where do they go for information about products/services?
- What experience are they hoping for with your product/service?
- What are their the most common objections to using your product/service?
- What traits do they value most in a company?
Understanding the pain and frustrations of your customers is the last set of questions that will give you a well-rounded persona. While buying behavior shows you what makes your customers buy, pain-points show you their fears and reveals the things that you need to avoid.
- What is the most stressful part of their day?
- What type of interactions do they find most frustrating?
- What behaviors make them the most skeptical?
- What is their least favorite part of their job?
- What purchase did they most regret?
- What is the worst customer service experience they’ve ever had?
Lastly, take a moment after your interview and ask yourself, “what might they not have told me?” This question can also provide a lot of insight in some situations. Just keep in mind that it is purely speculative.
Again, you have to remember that things will differ from industry to industry. You might have specific info that you need to know to get the most out of your buyer personas. You want a full picture (positive and negative) in order to best build your personas and get the most out of them. Just don’t fabricate the details.
Buyer persona research is only effective if it is authentic.
Writing and Constructing a Buyer Persona
If the goal is to reach more of the right people (which it is), you have to make sure that your buyer personas actually reflect your buyers. You’ve done the legwork and gathered all the data that you need. Now, it’s time to compile the data that you’ve collected and create an illustration based on the commonalities.
Here are the components of a good buyer persona:
It may seem unnecessary, but the naming of your buyer personas is an absolute must. Naming allows you to easily distinguish between personas, it makes them easy to remember, and it brings it all together.
Using a name that is descriptive is common, and it really helps to identify personas. For example, if my persona were a busy woman in charge of a small team of professionals you might call her “Productive Penelope”. This alliterative naming makes it memorable and gives an indication of the personality behind the persona.
The story is the description that takes your persona from a list of interview answers and basic statistics to a character with a personality. It is the very information that is going to guide the efforts of your team. The development of the story will give you a clear understanding of your persona. The story itself allows you to truly understand your customers.
So, how do you write the story? Well, it’s suggested that you meet with your team and take some time to tell the story together. Start with the more simple information and work your way into creating a narrative. Things to include in the description might be:
This step is the icing on the cake. You have a name, you’ve created a background story that gives you insight into your buyer’s mind, now you need a face to put it all together. This little step offers so much more than you might think.
What do you think of when you hear the name, “Mr. Rogers?” Probably a nice man in a red sweater. By putting a picture to the name, you will not only better remember the buyer persona associated with it, but the association between the name, description, and image will solidify the persona in your mind and help you to view them as a real person.
Phew. That was quite a read.
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