There’s a lot you need to consider when settling on a marketing strategy. When you’re developing content, you want to make sure that it’s relevant, and that means thinking about the subject matter, how it’s delivered to your audience, when it’s delivered, and more. In order to determine whether or not you’re creating the right content, you need to know who you’re marketing to. Who are your current customers? Who are your potential customers? What is the best way to reach them that will translate into business for your company?
There are many questions, but luckily there’s one tool that can help answer all them: the buyer persona.
Buyer Personas: What and Why
A buyer persona is a archetypal representation of your ideal customer; it’s the type of person who will spend money with your company and therefore the type of person you should be targeting with your marketing efforts. With a buyer persona, you’ll find out people’s goals, motivations, desires, and behavior to allow you to create the best, most valuable content you can.
But why do you need personas? Isn’t the beauty of the Internet that you can connect – and market to – anyone, anywhere? That’s true, but the reality is that your company has a set number of resources to devote to marketing, whether it’s time, money, or employees. Lots of people buy cars, for example, but if you’re using the same techniques to market minivans and sports cars, you’ll find yourself in an uphill battle.
Buyer personas are useful in a few ways. First, they allow you to segment your customer base into different groups. Not everyone makes purchases for the same reasons; knowing the different motivations and purchasing habits of your customers will allow you to target different groups appropriately.
Not everyone makes purchases for the same reasons; knowing the different motivations and purchasing habits of your customers will allow you to target different groups appropriately.
Knowing your customers can also get you better customers. Purchases, lead generation, and customer satisfaction can all be improved by targeting the right people and fulfilling whatever needs you discover they have during the persona creation process.
Finally, good buyer personas can help in the creation or refinement of your business model. The Business Model Canvas is a template from Alexander Osterwalder the covers all aspects of a business model: customer segments, customer relations, channels, revenue streams, value propositions, key resources, key activities, key partners, and cost structure. Some, like customer segments, you’ll learn directly through creating buyer personas; for other aspects, like key resources, going through the persona creation process will teach you the best way to implement strategies based on the information you learn about your customers and how to best serve them.
Creating a buyer persona is an involved process – one that, if done correctly, will certainly pay off in the end, but something that you’ll still have to put some real effort into. It can be daunting, but the first step can be as easy as looking inward to your own company and starting with customers you already have. You’ll realize you have a number of tools and data at your disposal already.
Speaking with your sales team is a great place to start; after all, they have a good idea of not just existing customers but existing buyers: people who are already spending money on products or services with your company. The sales team is on the front line and are aware of many factors of the buying process: what encourages customers to make a purchase, what discourages them, any pain points they encounter during their decision-making process, and so on. It may be rudimentary information but if you can quickly and easily gather obvious data points, it will let you dig down into deeper issues later in the process.
You can also leverage customers directly through a variety of tools that track their behavior. A/B testing, for instance, is a great way to gather information regarding changes in a site, service, or product. A/B testing involves exposing part of a user base to version A of something and another part to version B and noting changes in their behavior or process.
Customer surveys also help in gathering feedback from customers. Asking specific questions about their experience or desires can help you get an idea of likes, dislikes, suggestions, and other feedback about their experience and interactions.
Finally, web analytics provide a wealth of data about what your customers are doing. If you find that people aren’t opening emails, are spending far less time on a particular page than they are on others, or notice any other aspect of their behavior that you can collect and quantify, you can either make changes or keep these specifics in mind when speaking with customers and creating your buyer personas.
Asking the Right Questions
The personas you create are of fictional people, but they are based on very real people: people who have goals, struggles, and habits that you want to address. Because your personas will be based on real people, the most important part of the persona creation process is speaking to people. Interviews with existing or potential customers will be your most valuable tool in crafting a thorough, useful buyer persona.
Because your personas will be based on real people, the most important part of the persona creation process is speaking to people.
Speaking with sales teams and utilizing tools for existing customers is helpful but comes with limitations. You can get basic information on the hows and whats of a customer, but those methods are less useful in determining why they do something – or, equally as helpful, why they don’t do something. Buyer personas are more than just customer profiles, so you’ll have to dig a little deeper to get valuable information.
The downside of surveys is that they often come with closed questions that allow the customer to answer but perhaps not in they way they’d like or in a way that doesn’t truly address their issues. When speaking with customers, have questions in mind but keep them open ended so the customer is able to say what they mean. Ask or allow them to elaborate on any answers so you’re able to get the full picture of their situation.
As mentioned, the key question in buyer persons interviews is, “Why?” That’s what make personas more valuable than simple profiles. Demographic information is helpful, but if you don’t know why a persona makes decisions regarding your company, knowing that she is a married HR associate aged 35-45 who manages a team of three for a small company and lives in the suburbs with her two children won’t be of much use!
When interviewing customers, get a good picture of their journey as it relates to doing business with you. Ask what factors go into their decision-making process; discover any pain points that keep them from doing business; find out what their goals are; learn how they do research before making a purchase; ask them how they determine successes and failures as a customer.
These questions and others will allow you to learn not only what decisions a customer makes, and how, but also why they make them. Understanding their motivations will be key when crafting content that is directed toward them.
Creating a Persona
You’ve finished your interviews and gathered all of the relevant information about your customer types, so now it’s time to get to the fun part: creating your actual buyer personas. The persona is where you’ll map out all of the information you’ve collected into an easy-to-read chart that lays out everything you need to know about your customer segments.
Since your buyer personas represent actual people, it’s helpful to treat them as real people. Putting a face to a customer can help you and your team relate to them, so adding a stock photo of a person to your persona is helpful. You should also name your persona; some use clever names that help identify the persona, like “Technical Tina” or “Education Eddie.”
The meat of your persona, of course, will be the information about their purchasing habits. The best way to clearly see everything is to divide it appropriately; put the demographic information in one section, their goals in another, their pain points in another, and so on. Boil the information down and list it in bullet points in each section. Clearly segmenting the data and making it easy to read will allow you to see pertinent points at a glance and will come in handy when incorporating the information into your marketing strategy.
If you’re having trouble formatting your personas, using a template can help you get started. Keep in mind that you’ll likely have different criteria and information for your personas, so don’t get locked into what someone else is doing. Once you look at a few examples be sure to create a persona that’s relevant to your needs.
The amount of buyer personas you should create depends on several things, including the size of your company and your overall goals. Having too few personas means you’re likely missing out on valuable customer types; too many personas, though, means that you’re still trying to market to too many types of people, most of whom won’t make good customers, or have divided personas too much using irrelevant information. It’s best to start out with around 3-5 personas and reevaluate from there.
Once you have your buyer personas mapped out you can begin to tailor your marketing accordingly. But what are your next steps? After all, the world moves quickly and there’s always another company vying for your customers’ attention. You’ll find that there’s still plenty you can do to keep your buyer personas – and thus your marketing strategy – relevant.
Your customers and their motivations are bound to change over time, so it’s important that your buyer personas change accordingly. It’s important to revisit your personas periodically to make sure they’re still helpful to you. This might involve updating existing personas based on new data, getting rid of personas that no longer hold value, or creating entirely new personas altogether.
It’s also helpful to create negative personas. As you can get, this is the opposite of the personas you’ve been creating and represent what you don’t want in a customer. Why would you want to focus on people who aren’t in your customer base? Some people may not contribute enough to make them worthwhile targets. If you know which groups of people simply don’t make sense investing in, you’ll know who to avoid to strengthen your marketing even more.
If you’ve tried marketing without using buyer personas, you know how difficult it can be to target customers blindly. Buyer personas are a valuable tool for getting to know your customers and developing smart, cost effective marketing strategies. You’ll quickly find that the effort is well worth it and good buyer personas are invaluable for growing your company and helping it reach its goals.