Essential tools for defining meaningful buyer personas

All articles | Marketing
Published Oct 02, 2013 | Written by Jeremy Knight

“A wise man knows his audience,” goes the venerable saying, and whilst it lacks gender equality it does rather hit the nail on the head.  You will be well aware of the importance of ensuring your message responds to the needs, wants and interests of the people receiving it.  It’s a mission at the very heart of the strategic marketing concept that drives all others – “buyer personas.”

Personas were memorably described by Tony Zambito as “representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions.” In fact, as we said in an earlier post, buyer personas are “a sure-fire way to focus all of your content on the right people at the right time.”

But building and defining buyer personas is a complex process, so we did some research and found several useful resources to help guide you through the challenges. We've given a brief overview of them below, and more importantly how to use them.

How do you build buyer personas?

The Buyer Persona Institute makes the point that defining truly effective buyer personas requires strategic, detailed information. To this end, the Institute proposes that you follow its 5 Rings of Buying Insight to fully develop your personas; these are, to paraphrase:

  • Priority initiatives - What causes certain buyers to invest in solutions like yours? You need to understand the personal or organisational circumstances that have been the trigger for your buyers to allocate their time, budget, or political capital to a specific end.
  • Success factors - What operational or personal results does your buyer persona expect to achieve by purchasing your product or service?
  • Perceived barriers - What concerns cause your buyer to believe that your product, service or indeed company is not their best option?
  • Buyer’s journey - This insight reveals details about who and what impacts your buyer as they evaluate their options. Essentially, it's about your buyer or prospect's position in the “sales funnel”, which we have explained elsewhere, and which opinion influencers and content types they are most likely to react to positively at that stage.
  • Decision criteria - Which aspects of the competing products, services, solutions or companies do your buyer perceive as most critical, and what are their expectations for each?

Asking these questions in order to challenge yourselves, what your business offers, and your sales and marketing approach can be arduous, making you think long and hard about whether your current endeavours are the right ones for winning your ideal buyer. But, if done well, these valuable insights will enable you to examine how your product/services and marketing content might better attune with buyers' priorities, pain points and aims; and, in turn, how best you can demonstrate this accord, so that your audience appreciates the fact.  

Where do I get all that buyer persona knowledge from?

A potent source of information is, of course, your customers themselves. With this in mind, an excellent recent blog post from Tatiana Liubarets sets out a comprehensive guide to interviewing your customers (good and bad!), to help properly define your buyer personas. It includes how to incentivise the participants, and a list of critical questions you need to ask.

David Meerman Scott, cited in a Hubspot blog post, argues that there is also value in interviewing people who are not already your customers, as their lack of connection to your business means they are more likely to give honest, unvarnished feedback.

But, potentially, the most useful resource of all for gathering information about customers, is your website. Jey Pandian, in a recent Content Marketing Institute article, explains the SEO-based approach, in which you download your website's analytics in order to understand the search keywords that have led visitors to your site.  From this, you can then create a thematic plan for developing multiple buyer personas, mapping them to the themes and messages in your online content, contrasting them with the competition, and showing where the “holes” are.

But the keywords that lead visitors to your website only tell a limited story. It's what your website visitors do, look at and download once they get there, that gives you the best clues as to how to define their buyer personas. This online behaviour, as John Bonini notes in his recent piece for Impact BND, can be used to build up a profile that can contribute significantly to the accuracy and comprehensiveness of your personas.

Furnished with all this detail, you should have a strong understanding of your company’s typical buyer(s), and be able to create a “portrait” of this persona or personas that your content creators should always keep front of mind.

Do you buy the buying persona?

For some, it may seem a little strange to develop fictitious buyers with imagined physical and behavioural characteristics and even a first name such as “Marketing Matilda” or “CFO Charlie” - (Hubspot offer an easy-to-use PowerPoint template to help you form a persona that will be palatable enough to share with the rest of your firm).

But if you still doubt whether defining buyer personas is worth the effort, take a look at this 2013 research from the Content Marketing Institute. It concludes that “tailoring frequent content to specific personas is one of the key strategies of the most effective B2B content marketers.”

Now that's a persona any wise businessperson would be pleased with.

Image by Beeny87

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Published by Jeremy Knight October 2, 2013
Jeremy Knight