What is a buyer persona?
"Know thy customer"
If there were commandments to the inbound marketing methodology, this would be number one. When a company knows and understands its customers, the solutions they create for customer problems will be more useful, more impactful and ultimately result in more sales.
To illustrate the importance of knowing your customer, let's take an example from Apple. Today, Apple is considered to have first-class marketing and sales. However, in 2008 when Apple launched their iPhone 3G in Japan, their sales were shockingly low; they sold a mere 200,000 phones in a market of over 50 million cell phone users.
The reason? Apple didn't understand their customer. If Apple had done a bit more research on their potential Japanese customers, they could have discovered that one of the most coveted features of a cell phone to many Japanese individuals is the ability to shoot videos, something the iPhone 3G didn't even have. This story is a reminder that all companies, no matter how big they are, need to know their customers.
The best way to "know thy customer" is to create buyer personas. A buyer persona is a fictional, generalized representation of your ideal customer. Buyer personas help you understand your customers and prospective customers better. They make it easier for you to tailor content to the specific needs, behaviors and concerns of different types of buyers.
Buyer personas will help you answer questions like:
- What are your ideal customers' backgrounds, goals, and challenges?
- What are their interests and needs?
- What incentivizes them?
- Where do they get their information?
Without knowing these answers, it's difficult for businesses to create an effective strategy to attract, engage and delight their customers. A deep understanding of your various buyer personas allows you to personalize your marketing for different segments of your audience. Instead of sending the same lead nurturing emails to everyone in your database, you can tailor your messaging according to what you know about these different personas.
Buyer personas are composed of two things: demographic insights and buying insights.
Demographic insights describe your buyer, like their age, gender expression, income, family life, hobbies, etc. These details explain how your buyer makes decisions, including their priorities, what success looks like to them, what barriers they need to overcome, how they evaluate options and what attributes they pay attention to when making a decision.
According to the book "Buyer Persona" by Adelle Revella, buying insights reveal:
- Which buyers are receptive and which will ignore you.
- Which aspects of your solution are relevant.
- What attitudes prevent your buyers from considering your solutions.
- What resources your buyers trust as they evaluate their options.
- Which buyers are involved in the decision and how much influence they wield.
When you create a buyer persona that combines both demographic insight and buying insights, you not only know who your prospects should be — you also have a better picture of what your company needs to do to get more business. For example, if through your research you've discovered your persona is someone who doesn't have a lot of time and needs to make decisions quickly, you may want to re-evaluate the length of your sales cycle.
Here's an example of a well-researched buyer persona, HR Hannah. HR Hannah is a manager who's concerned with hiring top talent who will perform well. Not only does she recruit, but she's also in charge of retaining, engaging, streamlining the process and decreasing unnecessary administrative work.
Unfortunately, she has too much to do and not enough resources. She has a dwindling budget, and even worse, her manager doesn't always see the need for an HR department. HR Hannah is between 30 and 50 years old, earns a salary of $90,000-$130,000, has at least six years of experience and lives in an urban environment.
Write a buyer persona story
In addition to curating information about your buyer persona in a bulleted list, it's important to write a story about your persona. This humanizes your persona, making it easier for everyone in your organization to think of them and remember their story when creating content, or speaking to leads and customers on the phone.
HR Hannah is easygoing and always looking for information and best practices. She is revolutionary; she wants to make a difference in her organization. She is decisive and wants the best for her colleagues, customers and the organization. She understands that recruiting top talent in this new technological world is a challenge and is open to ideas.
HR Hannah understands the reality of her shrinking budget. However, she doesn't want to miss out on quality hires as she understands the staggering costs of bad hires. She never says no, which causes her to work late nights. She wears many hats and she would be happy to get some relief. She may not get a chance to attend many conferences, but she educates herself online through blogs and news magazines. She wants a vendor that is flexible and will listen to her needs. She wants well-created, customized, and easy-to-use products and services, and she wants to feel part of the process. She also wants to work with a reliable brand with stellar customer service.
Now, this story might not be exactly true for all of your customers, but it's helpful to have an idea of what people in a similar situation prioritize.
It's useful to create negative personas as well. Negative personas are the people that aren't a great fit for your business. Think of the folks who buy your service or product, are unhappy as it doesn't meet their expectations, and end up parting ways with you shortly after they purchase.
Creating negative personas gives you the opportunity to filter folks who aren't a good fit for your business, so you can prioritize and better focus your marketing and sales efforts.
One of the most common questions when creating buyer personas is, "How many buyer personas should I create?" The golden rule is to create a few buyer personas as appropriate.
You shouldn't create a buyer persona for each demographic. Instead, group your buyers based on buying insights, or the way they make their decisions. This information is likely more beneficial than demographics. If you group folks who have similar expectations together, you're better able to tailor your content and messaging to fit their needs. If your analysis does reveal groups of people with different expectations, decide whether or not having two different personas will help you create a more persuasive marketing strategy.
Buyer personas through active listening
Buyer personas are complex and involve many variables. Simplify the process by actively working to understand your customers. Always start by listening to the stories your buyers are sharing with you. These details help shape your ideal customer profile and allow you to create buying experiences that are far less overwhelming and far more personalized. By integrating this information across your entire business, you're growing into a customer-first company.
Whether real stories or stories you come up with as you’re creating your buyer personas, storytelling is a powerful tool for understanding your customers.
Create a story for your buyer persona
In creating a buyer persona, your goal is to build out the persona by uncovering buyer demographics and buyer insights.
There are many ways to get stories from our customers. Some of the most productive means include surveys, forms, social media, your sales team and interviews.
Surveys are a popular tool in market research, as they can quickly provide information with predetermined questions and choices. Forms work well for learning demographic and basic information, like company size, purchasing needs, how they found you, and more.
Your sales team spends the most time talking to buyers, so their feedback can be particularly insightful. What generalizations can they make about the different types of customers you serve best?
Social media can inform on what platforms your buyers talk about you. Consider using a social media monitoring tool to keep an eye out for keywords related to your solution. Last but not least, interviewing your customers, your potential customers, and those who considered your solution but went with a competitor is the best way to gain insight to create your buyer persona. Read more about these tools in this blog about interviewing customers.
Buyer persona as a tool for success
As you create this fictional, generalized representation of your ideal customer – the buyer persona – remember to ask questions of the persona. What are their backgrounds, goals and challenges they face? What are their interests and needs? What incentivizes them? Where do they get their information?
Without knowing these answers, it's difficult for businesses to create an effective strategy to attract, engage and delight their customers. A deep understanding of your various buyer personas allows you to personalize your marketing for different segments of your audience.
Having a persona to lean on when thinking of solutions to challenges, and referring to the story surrounding this buyer persona, will make it easier for you to tailor content to the specific needs, behaviors and concerns of different types of buyers. This, in turn, will make your products or services more attractive, more engaging and more delightful to your customers.
With a fuller understanding of your customers, we believe that your company will grow wildly and successfully, turning leads into happy customers.
About the Author
Adriti is currently an Inbound Professor for HubSpot Academy, focusing on Service Hub. Prior to HubSpot, Adriti worked at a non-profit educational program focusing on getting high school students into colleges and universities.
She is passionate about ensuring education is accessible for all. Outside of work, Adriti can be found at your local Chinese restaurant, or a spin class, trying to work off said Chinese food. Follow Adriti on Twitter.