If we do not understand our customers, how do we give them what they want?

There are so many options for consumers in a global marketplace. If we do not utterly understand what customers want and their motivations, then it is likely that someone else will be doing a better job giving them the service they want. This is where Buyer Personas come in.

This week’s blog is all about buyer personas and how businesses can use them to target their ideal clients or customers more effectively.

Buyer Personas are a relatively new topic, first discussed in the late 1990s. They have sprung to relevance in the rise of social media, where we have a far better ability to target our marketing to specific segments of the market.

What is a buyer persona?

Personas are fictional and generalised representations of real people.

Buyer personas are representations of your customer types – profiles depicting your ideal customers and describing their different personality types. Accountant Andy or Groundskeeper Willy. Your buyer personas are the people you want as customers. Not just your best, long-term customers, but your competitors’ customers, new customers who a very profitable, and potential customers who do not know your service exists or that it could be valuable to them. You want to know about the people who have not bought from you to get the full picture.

It is common to have multiple buyer personas for business – these buyer types have different motivations. Some personas have families and a spouse who plays a key role in the household decision-making process. Variations between buyer personas include customer demographics, behaviour patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are with these personas (within reason), the better you will understand your customers and the people you want as customers.

“A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” (Ravella, 2011)

Give your main buyer groups their own “Avatar” – a character that represents them and their traits.

I was in real estate previously. House buyers could be a young first-home buyer, a seasoned investor looking for another rental property, or a property developer who wants to knock it down and build apartments, all interested in the same property. These are all three distinct buyer personas without yet delving into financing, how many properties they have looked at and other characteristics you can use to categorise a buyer. You want to make these as specific as possible.

Why businesses should use Buyer Personas

Buyer Persona help business to define the people who buy, or might buy, products like the ones they sell. It helps us to emphasize with customers and understand their daily routines, the challenges they face and their decision-making process. We can then do a better job of acquiring and serving them. You cannot position the ability of your product to solve a person’s problem or meet customer needs without knowing anything about these people. Their backgrounds, demographics, goals, challenges, personal interests…

As a business, you want to attract the most valuable leads and customers to our business, right? We want to reach the people most likely to become long-term customers and advocates. Knowing who these people are, and their similar characteristics enable marketers to tailor targeted marketing to these people. It gives direction to marketing strategy.

People prefer to purchase from brands and people they trust. A way to build this trust with people is to try to understand them and their problems. Creating buyer personas, and continually using them to guide your decision-making helps keep you focused on the needs of your customers.

For small businesses, it helps you tailor your experience. For example, you could be offering music lessons from a website. After a while, you could realise that your best-paying customers are middle-aged men wanting to learn the guitar. You would then focus your copywriting, blog posts, video tutorials and other content on this group of people.

By grouping similar customers into persona categories, it helps us more effectively tailor our marketing to target these market segments. It gives marketers the confidence that they know what matters to their target audience.

“It’s an archetype, a composite picture of the real people who buy, or might buy, products like the ones you sell.” (Revella, 2011)

Better Marketing ROI

One of the benefits of using Buyer Personas is that you have a better return on investment. It helps you make better decisions o such as what channels you focus your marketing on. Your marketing becomes more personalised to these individuals, and you can target a more specific market segment. This yields a better return for cost-per-customer as your advertising directly to people most likely to be a customer.

Customer-focused marketing

Having Buyer Personas help us gain a deeper understanding of a buyer’s purchasing decision. We need to know who we are speaking to, so we meet their needs and create an experience that resonates with each of them.

Often there is a conflict between rational decision making based on needs and pricing, and other emotional factors which could be at home, at work, for play. Anything. We like to pretend everything is rational. Having buyer personas helps us uncover some of these factors. Going through this process helps you understand your current customers a lot better, and you may realise your most profitable customers are not the type of person you thought would be your customer at all!

Target your most profitable customers

Inbound marketing is about creating marketing content that encourages engagement between you and your ideal customers within the channels they feel most comfortable. Buyer Personas give our ideal customers a human story and help us focus and define our marketing content for these people. The tone, style and delivery specifically designed to best communicate directly with each persona type. Use quotes from your buyer personas to bring them to life and have a think about what keywords and phrases to associate with each group.

For example, if you do an E-Newsletter, you can have 5 different variations suited to your different persona types, instead of the one generic email for everybody. You could also run ten different Facebook adverts for the same product, with assorted styles of adverts, targeting different personas. Some could be video-based, and some text and image.

Other uses for Buyer Personas

The process of building buyer personas is valuable. It forces you to ask questions about your business that you never have before. You will notice things you have never thought of. This information is not just relevant to marketers – it can inform everything from writing more effective copy to developing better products. Align this information across the organisation.

It is important to know how these people might use your website, for example, becoming “user personas” for your web developers. It is important to use these personas across your organisation and marketing funnel. Buyer personas can also help your sales team build rapport with potential customers, through better understanding what the prospect is dealing with and coming prepared to address their concerns.

Customer support teams can use personas to better serve your customers. When they understand their problems better, your team can empathise with them. You can create scripts and dialogues around common issues. Product development can use buyer personas when building product roadmaps. Personas will help them identify and prioritize changes to your offering based on what your customers need the most.

Creating your buyer personas

Every business owner should have at least one buyer persona in their head – they know who their best customers are. If your business has somebody in charge of marketing, then you should have data to analyse where your leads have come from for your most profitable customers, and who they are. To find more of these people, you need to understand them. Analyse your best customers.

Inbound marketing is adapting the content to the “buyer persona” who came naturally and voluntarily to the company. …The “buyer persona” plays a central role, since if it’s not identified correctly, the entire marketing strategy will become a fiasco. (Patrutiu-Baltes, 2016)

Interview these people if possible, and they will become your first buyer persona and your strongest.

Collecting Data Online & Observation

Observation of online behaviours is a powerful tool to understand how people work. Observe communities where your customers interact and discuss ideas related to your products or services, such as social media, forums and groups. You can also collect information from some people who visit your website, by giving away something for free such as an eBook. This is gated content. Ask questions that can form important persona information. Even from the people who do not end up being your customer, you can find out what type of people are researching your services.

Understanding buyer motivations

Buyer Personas provide a framework to sort and analyse buyers. When you create these personas, consider their behaviour patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better. But not so much that you get bogged down in finer details and characteristics. The most common mistake marketers make is trying to create a persona for every characteristic a customer has ever had. It is more about the common goals – looking for similarities in patterns, common frustrations and shared personality traits.

Some of the buyer motivations you can explore are:

Priorities: What are the main problems or objectives that they dedicate time and budget to. What is their overall view of the world? If one of your products addresses one of their priorities, then they are one of your most important buyer personas.

Success motivations: what tangible or intangible rewards do they associate with success? What is the underlying reason for consumption? This is where emotions and irrational decision making often occurs. I want this sports car because it makes me look wealthy.

Perceived Barriers: What creates uncertainty in the mind of a consumer to become one of your customers? Why would they question whether you provide their solution? It is something behind the scenes – perhaps the wife will not let them, or vice versa?

Buying Process: We need to understand the process our personas take from researching and exploring options to selecting a solution. We need to understand their process for each step of the buying process. Where do they research, how much do they research, who is the decision-maker in the household? Then as a business, we can try and provide resources along the way to help with the process.

Decision Criteria: What are the criteria for making a purchase decision? Who makes the decision? Is it based on price, features, convenience? How are alternative brands/products evaluated? What is most important when it comes to decision-making. We want to understand not only the people who purchased but those who chose a competitor or nothing at all.

Demographics and other persona characteristics

Once you have been in marketing long enough, you start asking yourself the “W” questions subconsciously. Again, it is important to be asking these questions about your Buyer Personas.

Who: what is the biography of your ideal customer? Where they work, and what their responsibilities and commitment to family goals are.

What: describe their goal for consumption. Is it part of a greater goal? Is it a family goal?

Where: Where do they hang out? Any clubs or communities they are in, online and offline.

Why: The goals described under “What”, why are these important? What are the deeper motivations?

When: Where are they in the buyer cycle? Are they ready to purchase or just starting to research?

Content: What forms of content they enjoy consuming? Videos? eBooks?

Channels: The best channel to start a conversation with these people, what social media they use?

Trust touchpoints: Identify the biggest issue that consumers want a solution for, and what their preferred content and channels are. You can them aim to intercept them here to build trust.

Pain touchpoints: identify any objections that your buyer personas may have to your brand along their buyer journey related to your brand, content and the channels you use.

Managing your buyer personas

Buyer personas will evolve as your business does, and as the world evolves as it rapidly has with the introduction of smartphones around ten years ago. Your buyer personas will not stay relevant forever.

How many buyer personas do you need?

There is no correct answer for how many buyer personas you “need”, as it will differ from business to business. If you are a niche brand in a niche market, you might have 3-5. If you are a large brand with numerous product lines, then it could be 20 or more. First, there should be clear differentiators between each one of your personas.

When a buyer persona is too vague it means you are wasting your time, and just remove it. If 5 buyer personas make up 90% of your business, then focus on those five. If you cannot identify specific purchase goals and buying behaviours and patterns, then it is not worth producing a persona. Have the same attitude with your existing list of personas. If your list is getting uncontrollable, you need to be as objective as possible with your personas.

If you launch a product to a new segment of the market than you currently target, you will need to consider the distinct characteristics that purchasers of that product might have and how they differ from your current personas. Once you start getting data from purchasers to decide whether it warrants a brand-new persona.

Negative buyer personas

Why advertise to people who will never be one of your profitable customers? When your company segment out the people who do not make you money, the customers you do not want, you can become more profitable cost per customer.

Think about who you do not want as customers but tend to get leads for? Make a profile for this person, and make sure you do not target them with your marketing. Try and stay away from platforms they populate. Not all business is good business.

Read more: