Take a good look at your customers. No, really. Not their “personas,” them. Who are they? Why did they choose you, and how happy are they with what you’ve done for them? Which ones do you consider to be ideal customers and why? Now match those observations to your assumptions about your buyer personas and be honest with yourself. How accurate are they now? Most of us could use a little tune-up.
Why Would Your Buyer Personas No Longer Match Your Customers?
- Maybe they never really did fit – Perhaps we didn’t spend enough time thinking about who we want as customers and what their needs really are.
- We’ve changed – Our products and services have evolved with the changing marketplace; maybe we’ve moved on to greener pastures.
- Our customers have changed – They’ve become more sophisticated, or perhaps they’re reacting to their own business challenges in ways we didn’t expect.
- Our competitors are influencing them – We’re not the only game in town any more, and our competition is changing the conversation in their favor.
Let’s address the first point first…
Buyer persona analysis isn’t easy. You will certainly fail if you assume you know your buyers and start marketing to them with your brand messaging. I think the 80-20 rule applies here. Eighty percent of the world assumes they know their buyers inside and out. Who would know better? Your buyers would, for starters. Have you bothered to ask them why they purchased from you, what their options were and what got them over the hump? Have you asked them about their decision process, criteria, stakeholders and key factors in your favor? If so, how are you gathering this information? Customer surveys? Interviewing your sales team? Direct conversations? None of the above?
Let’s assume you nailed your buyer personas…
You’re part of the 20 percent that really worked the problem. Maybe you hired a consultant or two to help you discover the truth about your buyers and what makes them tick. Armed with that information, you have completely overhauled your messaging, sales process, website and content marketing strategy. Nice work, and congrats on the steep increases in traffic and leads. This stuff does work when you do it right.
But there’s a catch…
Nothing is static in the world we inhabit. Look at your own company. Are you the same company you were even last year? What about your products and services? Your customers? Aren’t they aware of all the changes in your industry—the trends and technology, the latest and greatest? Sure they are, and they’re not waiting for you to adapt.
What to Do About It
I like the suggestions Anna Ritchie had in her recent blog post, “3 Tips for Keeping Your Buyer Personas Fresh and Alive“:
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Tip No. 1: Move your personas from the strategy bin to the drawing board.
It’s not enough to brainstorm your personas once and put them away for a year or more. Smart marketers are constantly rethinking their assumptions based on actual people and conversations. Get your entire team involved and stop thinking about strategy as a static exercise that’s done once and executed thereafter. Your strategy, personas and messaging should be up for discussion. Your content is old news soon after you publish it. Your customers expect you to keep it fresh, relevant and responsive to their needs—needs that are constantly changing.
Tip #2: Prioritize direct conversations
You have to stay on top of the rapid changes in your marketplace and community. What are your customers talking about, and how are you responding? This is not just about social media engagement. It’s about making a phone call, talking to your sales reps (frequently), holding customer events (like webinars and live seminars) and asking your best customers to participate in new directions and updates. How open are you to suggestions for improvements and negative feedback? How much of this information gets folded back into your marketing strategy and product development?
Tip #3: Visualize your audience (and keep those mental pictures updated!)
We’ve developed a very visual online world. While you’re getting to know your customers, why not share them with everyone else? I’m not talking about testimonials or formal case studies—those are nice, but they’re written by you. No, I’m talking about real customer stories captured by video or photo essay, preferably by them—what they’re up to and how they’re solving their own problems. If it happens to include your “stuff,” great, but that’s not the point. The point is you value the importance of your customers, you’re visualizing them, and you’re sharing their experiences with everyone else. Here’s a great example from 37Signals.
Fresh is Better
Does anyone deny fresh produce, fresh ideas and fresh personas are better than the stuff that’s been sitting on a shelf for a while? How do you build persona updating into your process? Start by making it a priority, along with your editorial calendar for content and sales review, each month. Take a hard look at who your buyers are right now. Make customer feedback a priority in your marketing efforts. Get some outside help periodically to give you an unbiased view. Ask yourself how your customers and potential buyers are reacting to your marketing and your goods. Chances are, things are changing—fast. Time to think ahead and stop reacting to changing conditions.
Photo credit: Dell’s Official Flickr Page