What are buyer personas (and why does your business need them?)
by John Kelleher on 5 December 2018
As we approach the festive season, those pop-up personalisation stands in Harrods, Selfridge’s and other major department stores become a hive of activity. From Marmite to Nutella, Christmas decorations to wrapping paper: you can now get your name, or a loved one’s, emblazoned across pretty much any gift.
And it’s a clever strategy – not only in present-selling terms, but for your business, too. No-one likes to feel like a statistic. Personalisation is the way forward, so understanding the person behind the job title is key to your business’ success. We aren’t suggesting you start sending out individual hand-painted mugs to every customer you work with, but ensuring you understand them, their pain points and needs is essential to selling in 2018 and beyond: that’s where buyer personas come in.
Definition: As HubSpot puts it:
“A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer, based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behaviour patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better.”
Your buyer personas represent the actual people you will be talking to – the human beings you interact with, within a business. These people will be making decisions about your product or service – should they try it? When they do, what do they think of it? What will they tell others about you?
Many businesses already have a rough idea about their buyer personas: they aren’t a new concept. Often, people know the job titles of those they will be selling to, and usually find it quite straightforward to identify their ideal client profile.
Using a job title as a persona is a good start: it shows you’re already thinking about targeting particular people within a business and seeking out the decision makers. But you’ll need to go into a lot more depth than that if you want to attract – and retain – the right customers.
The next part is the fun bit: this is your chance to turn a vague, 2D idea of your persona into a fully fledged character. Once your persona is really fleshed out, with emotive information about them as a person, their goals, motives and fears, you’ll be in a much better position to target them with your marketing and sales efforts (and they’ll be far more likely to buy from you, since they’ll already be aware of a pain point in their life that needs fixing). As Forbes recently discovered:
“Just over half (52%) of consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t make an effort to personalise its communications.”
If you don’t target your market with informed, specific details about their lives, you’ll find customers and prospects leave you behind in preference of a more tailored service elsewhere.
To help you feel a connection with your buyer personas – and to ensure they are differentiated from one another – you need to name them. Make a habit of using these names when discussing your marketing and sales activity: ensuring your content strategy and the sales process is tailored specifically to your named persona will make synergy between teams all the smoother.
Using these names comes in handy during scenarios such as:
"The lead I just spoke to is clearly a Sandra Sales Team."
“I’m creating a blog post targeted at Debbie Dentist.”
“I need a case study to help get Henry HR from the consideration to decision stage in the buyer’s journey.”
When creating your personas, you must use the resources you have all around you: firstly, your sales, marketing and customer-service teams. Each member of these teams will bring valuable insights to help you build the specifics. What one of your sales executives knows about your customers’ watering holes might be totally different to what your social media manager is observing about your buyers’ pain points online.
Another valuable group is your existing – and past – customer base. You can do this the old-fashioned way and pick up the phone to ask them a few friendly questions – if you’ve forged good working relationships by delighting your customers, you’ll probably be in a good position for them to give you some of their time. Otherwise, you could send an email or create a quick survey to get them to give you useful insights. Some of the core questions you could ask include:
1. What are your business goals? What are your personal goals?
2. What are the top five most important values that drive you to succeed?
3. What are your three biggest problems in your job role?
4. Where do you go online to search for solutions to these problems?
5. How involved are you in the buying process at your business?
A quick activity!
1. Search for an image of what your customer persona might look like – having an actual face to represent the group makes the whole activity far more purposeful.
2. Give them a name based on their job role – Nigel Network Manager, Holly HR Executive, Betty Business Owner: get creative!
3. Use this image as a mind map or create a list of all the things you know for sure about your typical customer: their education, role at the business, personal interests, hobbies, family life – answer as many of these questions as you can (there are more over on our buyer persona pillar page to help you flesh out your persona even more.)
There’s no point creating a brilliant persona then filing it away on a top shelf for it to gather dust – this needs to be a living, breathing resource your whole team is using. Try to ingrain these personas, one at a time, into processes at your business. Some ideas for doing this include:
So is it any wonder so many businesses have launched unsuccessful marketing drives in the past, when they don’t know exactly who it is they’re talking to? As Impulse Creative recently discovered:
“70 percent of marketers lack a consistent or integrated content strategy.”
Making personas part of your strategy is essential. It’s also worth considering what makes a persona a great customer for your brand: what is it about their personality, outlook and experience that makes them a great fit?
It’s all very well having a need for your product and the cash flow to purchase it, but if their morals and values don’t align with yours, it could lead to a sticky spot working together later on. This is why building a rounded view of your persona is crucial – from what they do in their spare time, to how they spend their money: get to know them.
It’s a tricky question that calls for a tricky answer: you should have as many customer personas as your business needs! For each buyer type that is involved in the buying process, you will need a dedicated persona. But we recommend starting slowly, being really thorough with your research, rather than creating ten all at once and only scratching the surface with each.
You'll also need to think about the subtle, emotional differences that exist between your personas: an eternally optimistic head of finance will need a different sales and marketing approach to a sceptical and jaded communications manager. A new marketing manager who entered on a grad scheme will be a different buyer to one who’s been at the business for twenty years. Understanding your ideal customer profiles will also help you dig deeper and is a great place to start.
However many you create, keep revisiting them as things change in your business, ensuring your personas are always evolving, too – no-one stays still in business, and that includes your customers. As our Senior Content Strategist, Anna Kaine, recently found:
“We’ve reviewed one of our customer’s buyer personas and found that a lot of what we knew about their customer six months ago had actually changed. Having spoken to more of their customers — identifying their pain points and exploring their needs — a lot of what we thought we knew had now altered and we had to tweak the personas accordingly.
This is exciting, as it means we are now able to adapt our content and ensure everything we send out on behalf on our customer is a) helpful and results led, and b) reaching the right people.”
Our new five-minute persona tool is an excellent way for you to make a start if you are brand new to personas. With up to three personas included, after just five minutes of questions, we’ll email you your tailored personas to start using straight away. We'll even send you a follow-up email every three months to check your personas are still accurate, giving you the chance to make updates.
If you’ve already got your buyer personas but want to check they’re as detailed as they could be, you can use our pillar page guide to buyer personas to help get you get into the nitty gritty details about your customers. Alternatively, we can create your personas for you during our onboarding process, taking the stress away and leaving you to focus on your business.
Whichever way you approach your personas, and whichever tools you use to do so, just make sure you make a start – it’s a process that will take time but it will pay in dividends when you are able to use them, target your audience and see engagement increase as a result.