How to avoid common pitfalls when defining your buyer personas

Written by Jeremy Knight  |  10, May, 2017  |  0 Comments

In modern marketing, buyer personas are integral to everything you create as a content marketer. Buyer personas are representations of your target customers based on real-world information and educated guesses. Their likes, dislikes, habits, behaviours, motivations and concerns, as well as their job function, where they spend time online, decision criteria, and more.

The trouble is, as with so many recent marketing developments, the subtler ideas around personas are often not fully understood. Getting your personas right, and keeping them current is not as easy as it sounds. Here are some tips to avoid some of the common pitfalls when defining your buyer personas.

Understand your Audience

The process of defining personas can create moments of tension within internal teams.

Often, disagreements about who their buyers are or how accurate their current buyer persona profiles are - if they exist at all, can flare - up. This is where using an external agency to help shape your personas can reduce conflict by offering an unbiased viewpoint.   

Other times, the group confidently shares their buyer personas but focus predominantly on the C-suite. But, is the CEO really searching in Google to find a new solution? Or is the CFO searching online for the price points of tools to make their processes more streamlined?

Although we should absolutely have a persona which is archetypical of the C-Suite, we should not forget the person doing the research. This could be a manager who reports to the C-suite. But in recent years, according to Forbes, many companies’ first point of entry with a prospective customer is anyone from a junior level staffer to even an intern. 

Do not take short cuts

“A buyer persona is not merely a description of your buyer… simply profiling your buyer results in too many personas and not nearly enough marketing guidance”. (Buyer Persona Institute)

The process for defining your personas should involve persona questionnaires and interviews with your salespeople. The results then feed into a process to discover, plot and analyse the primary personas involved in purchasing your products or services.

The Buyer Persona Institute has developed a model - 'Five Rings of Buyer Insight™ to help you dig deep into your personas and reveal the perceptions, attitudes and interactions that affect real buyers as they evaluate products or services like yours:

  1. Change Drivers: What causes buyers to invest in solutions like yours, and what is different about buyers who are satisfied with the status quo?
  2. Success Factors: What operational or personal results does your buyer persona expect to achieve by purchasing this solution?
  3. Perceived Barriers: What concerns cause your buyer to believe that your solution or company is not their best option?
  4. Decision Criteria: Which aspects of the competing products, services, solutions or company do your buyer perceive as most critical, and what are their expectations for each?
  5. Buyer's Journey: This insight reveals details about who and what impacts your buyer as they evaluate their options and select one. 

Keep them up to date

While the very best buyer personas will give you demographic, buying, employment and financial information about the clients you are likely to come across, there are issues which often remain unaddressed. What if the circumstances of your real clients change? What if you’ve misunderstood or misinterpreted good information surrounding the buyer persona? What if the previous responses revolved around services your client hadn’t needed at the time, and now you could or should be offering them something totally different?

Suddenly those buyer personas aren’t quite the perfect tool you’d hoped.

But there is an answer to these problems, and it’s even better than the original idea: talk to your customers.

Keep the lines of conversation open after your customers have purchased. Even a few hours per month dedicated to speaking to existing customers can save an enormous amount of time in writing, planning and producing content intended to meet their needs. That time spent will also remind the client that you care about them as an individual, strengthening your relationship over the long-term – the final stage of the inbound methodology is ‘delight’ for a reason.

Check them for size

You should also be checking the reactions of clients to your content and services: are they engaging as the buyer personas predicted? Or is there a gap we hadn’t considered which means that in practise, our messages aren’t being picked up in the way we’d planned? Are their pleasure and pain points exactly as we expected? Only through listening to real people, learning, and being flexible, can we be of value - whether that’s through adapted products or personalised services.  

Think about your own tastes, your preferences for shopping, for communication, or socialising. Do you fit into one neat demographic group? Do you match up in every way with a predictable tickbox? Or are you sometimes contradictory – sometimes enjoying a conversation on Twitter, other times finding it intrusive? We’re all much more likely to fit into a fringe or niche set, overall, than we are into a buying group.

Buyer personas are a respected tool which, when used correctly, can be an invaluable part of an overall inbound marketing strategy. But it’s always helpful to remember that, just like you, just like me, there’s a human being at the other end – and we should treat them as such.