Are Buyer Personas Still Effective and Relevant?

Buyer personas, customer personas or audience personas. No matter what you call them, they’re often overlooked or dismissed as a nice-to-have but unnecessary luxury by many businesses. Developing a set of buyer personas might seem like a waste of limited resources, but it’s not. Why? Because effective buyer personas offer critical insight into how to move real people through your sales funnel in order to convert them to loyal customers.

Real vs Fantasy Buyer Personas

At its core, buyer personas are a set of specific descriptions of your target audience. You can think of it as a character profile, describing who they are and why they do/act/buy based on hard data. The most basic persona might be limited to gender, age, and location. But as with anything in life, the more you invest in developing a well-rounded persona, the more useful it’ll be.

Some marketing teams create and then ignore their buyer personas because they don’t really understand their audience. Instead of using actual data to build the persona, they indulge in wishful thinking to create their ideal audience. Wait. What? Shouldn’t we be marketing to our ideal audience? The short answer is, “No.” You need to be marketing to your actual audience.

If you identify your target audience as 35-45-year-old men who like to fish in Tennessee, but you ignore the data which tells you your actual audience is men and women who are 50-70 years old and like to fish in the nearest lake, your marketing efforts are going to fail. And before you tell yourself that you actually do know your audience, consider the real-world public failures of Gap (no one even liked the new logo), Apple (an album no one wanted) and Pepsi (when was the last time you chose Crystal Pepsi?). Each of these major brands assumed they knew their audiences, too. All too often our clients ask us to develop marketing materials based on their fantasy target audience. It’s an ideal instead of reality. Ideal audiences don’t buy what you’re selling. You really need to understand the real people behind each purchase.

Types of Buyer Personas

Like good advice everywhere, the answer to how many personas you need is simple: you need as many as you need. Hold the pitchforks. You already know there is no magic sauce, and, by extension, there is no magic number of personas that you need. It all depends on your individual business.

If you’re in the senior living industry, and you’re marketing an aging-in-place service, then you need audience personas for the actual users of your service, their adult children who are involved in the decision, and senior service providers in a position to recommend your service. If you’re a small, niche college, you need a different number of personas, breaking down your audience into parents, students (seniors, juniors and sophomores as separate personas), high school counselors, pastors, school administrators, and other influencers.

What’s most important is that your personas are based in reality, using hard data based on actual facts, and not fantasy.

Creating Buyer Personas

Creating effective brand personas takes time, resources, and data. Begin by assembling information about your current audience. You’ll want to collect this data from your customer service team, your sales team, and your social media accounts. In other words, this isn’t a strictly marketing team exercise.

Where is your audience located?

Brick-and-mortar stores know the majority of their in-store purchases are made by consumers within a reasonable driving distance. Online companies can check their shipping labels. Is your audience mostly urban? Are you shipping to major cities or to small, rural communities?

Who is your audience?

For some services and products, gender may be important. For other services and products, it may not matter at all. Does age matter? Does race? The inclusion of these types of demographic identifiers are not a must depending on your business. If you’re a bank, knowing the age range of key audiences should make a difference to your marketing strategies. Boomers are more likely to actually visit your branches; Gen Zers expect digital access.

What pain point does your service/product solve?

In other words, why do they choose you? Your CRM and sales data may include this in their forms, your comments on social media platforms may offer insight, and actually speaking with customers will tell you even more. But don’t stop with the first round of questions you identify. Follow up with after-purchase responses. Your customers make their purchase decisions based on a host of criteria. Your brand ambassadors will continue to promote your product because it surpassed their expectations. Telling that story is the one that will convert those still considering your competitor.

What triggers a purchase?

Is your product an impulse buy like the single-serving bags of candy in the checkout aisle? Are you selling a multimillion dollar investment? If you’re in the sweet treats business, a colorful and flavorful offering is going to win more buyers than a somber, veggie-based treat. The psychology behind our purchases is rife with relevant data for your marketing team. Understanding the event that happens just before purchase gives you insight into ways to connect with your audience. Those veggie-based treats are going to need a persuasive campaign when they’re up against brightly colored sugar!

What does your customer’s buyer journey look like?

Is it a years-long decision like we see in senior living? Is it a thoroughly researched decision like the best used car for a new teen driver? Or something else? Understanding the number of stages and steps taken to move a potential customer from their first awareness of your brand to making the sale is information that can’t be gleaned from guessing or wishing. How many times did your prospect visit your website? Are they liking and commenting on your social media? Have they signed up for your newsletter? Are they visibly engaging with you in any way? Don’t assume the answer is yes to all of the above. College admissions teams will tell you that they see new students show up to register for classes who they have never met before.

New Ideas for a New Decade

Whether you choose to invest your time and resources into focus groups or work through data captured via other systems, you can’t afford to brush off the importance of understanding your audience. You can create the most amazing marketing campaigns, but if they don’t speak to your audience, you’ve failed.

Understanding who your audience is, what they want, and why they believe you can make their life better is a surefire recipe for success. We’d be delighted if you’d like to talk with us about how to achieve that success.

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And this above all: To thine customers be true!

And this above all: To thine customers be true!

Far be it for me to mangle one of my favorite Shakespearean quips, but honesty and truthfulness on the Web