Buyer personas: Powerful or pointless?

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Buyer Personas: Powerful or Pointless?

Ah, the buyer persona. This darling of the marketing world is often touted as the key to unlocking customer insights, and therefore marketing that yields better unit economics.

But what is a buyer persona—and more importantly, does developing and implementing these personas really help you achieve your goals?

To help answer these questions, we’ve put together a brief guide. Think of it as everything you didn’t know you needed to know about buyer personas.

So what exactly is a buyer persona?

A buyer persona is a fictionalized representation of your ideal customers. While novelists create characters based on people they meet in coffee shops or their Great Aunt Claudia, these archetypes are rooted in data and research. Buyer personas tell you who is most likely to buy your products and how to best reach and influence them.

What should a persona include?

Buyer personas feature:

  • Demographics
  • Psychographics
  • Consumer habits

Demographics include the basics: age, gender and geography. This information helps create the best lists for optimal targeting.

Psychographics put meat on the proverbial bone—or perhaps cells in the brain. They uncover the hopes, fears, interests, preferences and hobbies of your buyers so that you develop value propositions and messages that resonate. And compel.

Consumer habits tell you how your buyers live, from what they watch to their favorite music to their preferred way to consume media. The upshot? This information helps you reach buyers where and how it matters most.

How many buyer personas should I create?

First, design buyer personas around how your customers buy, not around how you created the product or how certain people in an organization will use it. Product design and use help define a user persona. While user personas provide powerful, actionable insights, they’re not the same as buyer personas and should be treated as a separate project. (More on user personas in an upcoming blog.)

Secondly, create buyer personas according to industry and role.

Start by getting vertical then honing from there. Even if you’re a vertical SaaS company, you probably have sub-verticals or certain types of industries within your broader vertical that are nuanced and unique. Dig deep. Get specific. Focus on relevance.

At Mindbody, we were a fitness/wellness company, but identified no fewer than 14 verticals within that larger vertical, including Crossfit, yoga, open gyms, spas and salons.

Finally, target buyer roles rather than user roles. Who are the buying decision-makers? Who do you need to influence via marketing? What makes these individuals want to learn more about your product? What can you do now and what should you do next?

Research. Adjust. Rinse. Repeat.

I’ve created buyer personas. Now what?

After you’ve created your personas, put them to work.

Begin by teaching employees. Present the personas at an All Hands meeting, distributing to every member of the team to ensure that all have a better understanding of ideal customers and how to reach and influence them.

Then test, test and test again. Determine whether your research is accurate by testing a message targeted to a specific persona.

Let’s say you want to run a campaign targeting VPs of Marketing in three major metros. Their primary pain point is managing their budget, and they spend most of their time on LinkedIn and Twitter. We would focus messaging on the budget value prop, run campaigns on LinkedIn and Twitter, then run a control group of cold emails and a cold call from Sales. This test would determine which campaign has the biggest impact.

Performance is king.

The proof of any marketing tool, including buyer personas, is in the performance. Set performance goals. Establish a minimum goal and a stretch goal, then shoot for the moon. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take and a 100% of the goals you don’t make.


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