Bright lightbulb hanging in a dark room

What are the benefits of buyer personas?

Most businesses start with a brilliant flash of inspiration. You spot a gap in the market, think of a different way to do things and have a unique proposition.

When it comes down to it, all businesses are solving a problem – even if it’s a problem people didn’t realise they had! As we all know though, having a fabulous solution is not enough to deliver a thriving business. If only it were that simple.

Buyer personas are a helpful tool to navigate the launch and continued success of a product or service. They focus your mind on who you are serving and can guide your strategy and decision-making.

Not sure what a buyer persona really is? Check out my blog on using buyer personas to attract your ideal customers to find out more.

Let’s jump into 4 key benefits of buyer personas for your business. Spoiler alert! They’re not just about marketing.

  1. Avoid mediocrity
  2. Get some objectivity
  3. Clear prioritisation
  4. Helping you to navigate your evolving customer

Avoid mediocrity

Getting those all-important sales can become an obsession for any business owner. It can be hard to hold your nerve and you think ‘I’m happy for just anyone to buy from us’ and you ask yourself ‘Should we drop the prices?’ The clear vision you had of the problem you solve and who you solve it for starts to become a bit blurred and you try to appeal to everyone and anyone to get the sale.

The result? A big fat tumbleweed.

The mistake people make who are trying to market a product, service or themselves is to make average stuff for average people in a misguided attempt to please everybody.” Seth Godin

A clear buyer persona, on the other hand, helps you to remain focussed on who you are serving, how to engage them and the best way to communicate. A buyer persona gives you the knowledge and confidence in your decisions and helps you to remain relevant and resonate with your target market. 

Get some objectivity

It’s no surprise that the majority of people become so close to their own business and solution, that they lose some objectivity. 

Come on, admit it. 

You know you should stay close to the people on the ground and your customers, but somehow it’s the thing that gives first. It’s not that you don’t value these discussions, but other things just come up and before you know it, another quarter has gone by. Oops.

It’s also likely that these types of conversations with your customers don’t get measured, it’s hard to do. And we know, what gets measured gets done. 

I still do a shift behind the bar each month and talk to customers…it’s the best night of the month. The further away the decision-makers in a business get from the action, the more the rot sets in.”  David McDowall, BrewDog CEO*.

Buyer personas are a way to ensure you are always considering your customer. Think of it as a version of Jeff Bezos infamous empty boardroom chair. By consistently using and referring to your persona(s), it will become second nature to scrutinise your decisions with a customer lens. 

Clear prioritisation

This Way sign on a fence with arrow pointing right

Typically you won’t be short of ideas to improve or enhance your offering. What tends to be far more challenging is to decide what to do first.

Prioritisation gets way easier when you know what will make the biggest difference to your customers; what will attract new customers, as well as keep the existing ones happy. Plus, what people are willing to pay for. 

Buyer and user personas aren’t just about getting people through the door, they can feed into every area of your business, putting everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction. You’ll all work towards what’s best for your customers and the business, rather than people or departments prioritising their own agendas. 

Helping you to navigate your evolving customer

Particularly in the tech world, but it really applies to most businesses, your initial customers, those early adopters, will feel different to your customer base in the long-term.  Although those first customers may stay with you over the years and be some of your biggest fans, they typically won’t be able to sustain and grow your business over time.

Everett Rogers introduced us to the adopter categories in his book ‘Diffusion of Innovations’, which poses some interesting questions when it comes to building your buyer personas.

It’s important to recognise and identify the innovators and early adopters amongst your target market, as they are likely to accept some bumps in the road and are happy with the value exchange your minimum viable product (MVP) provides. Basically, some cool stuff which might not be perfect or fully formed yet. 

Product roadmap including MVP on a whiteboard

However, your ‘mainstream’ customers will see you MVP as a bit risky. The excitement of a new solution and the latest tech is not enticement enough for this group. They want something tried and tested. 

The exact same messaging isn’t likely to work across the adopter categories. They might have the same overall problem to solve, but have different priorities. What entices your first 20 customers, needs more evidence and social proof to capture the imagination of the next 100.

Have you overlaid your personas onto the innovation adoption lifecycle?

Your customer’s expectations also change over time.

They will be influenced by the experiences they have elsewhere, not just in your sector, and certainly outside of your control. The introduction of new technology may shift their viewpoint or even entirely flip their problems on their head. A global pandemic might sweep across the world and change our day to day lives beyond recognition – apparently, that happens now. 

Man walking down the street wearing a face mask, looking at mobile phone

The truth is, it’s impossible to predict the future, but we can evolve with it. Please don’t be another company that produces personas and relegates them to a dropbox wasteland. Refer to them, use them, update them, make them part of your businesses culture.

If you don’t know where to start researching your buyer personas, here are some handy hints, even if you don’t have any customers yet!

Need more help? My persona workshop can guide you through the process.

Tell me more

 

 *(source: https://www.cga.co.uk/2019/03/15/david-mcdowall-on-brewdog-and-the-rise-of-craft-beer/)


If your really keen, here’s some further reading to get stuck into.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries 

Diffusion of innovation, 5th Edition, by Everett Rogers

Man staring at wall of documents trying to figure out his buyer persona

So, you’re brought into the concept of personas. Welcome.

If you’re not quite sure yet, my blog on how buyer personas can supercharge your business is for you!

You understand the concept, appreciate the benefits, know how important the research stage is to the process and you’re eager to get started. 

But wait…most of the advice on how to create a buyer persona relates to speaking to your customers. 

Kat Hounsell looking quizzical with a lime green background

How the hell are you supposed to research your customer when you don’t have any yet? 

It seems quite a challenge to identify the key segments and look for patterns with only a handful of customer records, or none at all. 

Never fear! Here are some great ways to get you started on the road to nailing your personas. In fact, even when you do have a substantial customer base, you shouldn’t rely on that alone.

The good news is, you’re not starting from a blank sheet of paper. You know what problem your solution solves and also who is most likely to benefit from it. You can take that as your broad ‘hypothetical’ persona to start with. Through additional research, you can check your assumptions and hone in on your actual buyer persona. 

Also, take a moment to step back and consider if the buyer is going to be the same person as the user? You may end up with multiple personas, but the process of creating them will be the same.

Interviewing prospects

Zoom application on a phone to conduct customer interviews

Interviewing customers is one of the most effective ways to understand your customer and create a buyer persona.

However, existing customers can only tell part of the story, prospects are also a valuable resource. They’ve not bought yet so you can really delve into the pain points they’re experiencing and identify the deciding factors that will push them over the edge to purchasing.

Based on your overall target market you can identify potential prospects and start to interview them. 

This could be asking people you already know or putting a survey out on LinkedIn. Use your coworkers, their connections, as well as social media, to find and reach these prospects. Just make sure that they know it isn’t a sales call, and don’t turn it into one.

During this process, you’ll hopefully start to figure out the traits in the prospects that make them ideal customers for your business. This could be their attitude, beliefs or maybe their current situation. Record as much information as you can during the interview stage so that you can seek out patterns later.

How many interviews should you do? Well, that’s a bit tricky to put a figure on. If you start to hear the same things over and over again, found some patterns and you’ve stopped learning anything new, I reckon you’ve spoken to enough people.

Industry reports

Another great resource to look into is industry reports. You’ll want to try and find the most up to date information available. This type of report can provide a wealth of information, but do your research and make sure it’s from a reputable source (no fake news here!), and that it is applicable to your region.

Although this may not provide the specifics for your solution, you can glean some insights into key challenges in your chosen industry. As well as the report itself, look for additional commentary in blog posts or comments. This can throw up additional questions or objections your target audience has.

 

Industry events

Woman sitting at a conference taking notes

You may decide that you want to attend, exhibit or even sponsor some events. However, when developing personas, the event website and promotional material can be a handy resource.

  • See who is attending, exhibiting and speaking. Use that information as a springboard into further research
  • Look at the topics being discussed to get clues into trends and areas of interest
  • Check social media and blogs for areas of discussion and the questions people are posing

Social media

LinkedIn, Instragram and Twitter social media icons on a smartphone

Look to the leading accounts in your industry, those with ‘expert’ status, the thought leaders and trailblazers. Identify the themes around challenges in the sector, bugbears and what’s in vogue. Not everything you uncover will be a great fit for your solution, but it always helps to know the hot topics.

Find the hashtags that are prevalent to your target market and get following! See what’s being posted and just as vital, see how your target market reacts and engages. The conversations that occur will probably be more valuable to you than the initial posts. 

Competitor and complementary service analysis

Even if you feel you don’t have any direct competitors at the moment, you’re almost certain to have companies that provide a solution to the problem that you solve or operate in the same industry or sector.

They can provide you with some clues as to what’s been working for them and also what’s already out there so you can differentiate yourself. Some good places to look are:

FAQ pages

Find out what common questions they receive. If you have a similar target audience the chances are you’ll get these questions too. Think about how you can serve this audience and provide content that helps them in their journey towards a purchase.

Content

Look at what content your competitors or complementary businesses offer. This isn’t about stealing their ideas or copying what they’ve done. Use the information out there to inform your own strategy and put your own stamp on helping your audience.

Social media

As I mentioned earlier, social media channels can provide some amazing clues as to what engages your audience. You can see not only the content that your competitors are putting out there, but also get an understanding of the engagement certain content has. Don’t stop at the surface level, dig into the comments and responses to understand the conversations that are happening.

Reviews

This could be reviews of businesses or individual products and services. Discover what your target market likes and also what frustrates them. How do they assess whether the product was a good fit, what words and language do they use, how can you echo this back to them?

Remember to look on competitor websites, google and social media, but also industry type directories or review aggregators like G2 for business software and services.

Job descriptions

If you’re playing in the B2B space, job descriptions for your target market can reveal some fascinating details.  For example, understanding the skills and experience companies are looking for provides an idea of the direction they are trying to go in and how they are looking to grow. 

You can also learn what technology or ways of working businesses are using through how they advertise. If there isn’t a vacant position, check out LinkedIn for how individuals in similar positions describe their role. How do they explain what they do? What language do they use to describe their role? What are their key achievements and challenges?

Test & learn

The research stage is vital and hopefully, I’ve inspired you to get started, even if you’re low on customers right now.

But, don’t get sucked into a never-ending rabbit warren! Don’t use the research stage as an endless excuse to get started.

Once you’ve developed a solid persona, do some testing of your own. Produce content you think will appeal and see how it lands. Continue to talk to your customers and prospects to fine-tune your messaging, because a buyer persona is always evolving.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that things change.


Not got the time to do the research? Let me do the heavy lifting for you. 

Yes please, help me out!

Potential business customers waiting sitting on chairs

How can you attract your ideal customers? Well, to start with you have to know who they are. Sounds so simple right?

However, to have customers knocking on your door, you have to really understand them, you need to go deeper than just identifying a broad target market.

Building a buyer persona gives this process structure and provides you with clarity to make decisions across all areas of your business. Before we get stuck into that, let’s just review what we mean by a buyer persona.

The definition of a buyer persona

Hubspot defines a buyer persona as ‘a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customer.’

At its core, I don’t have an issue with this definition, except that the ‘semi-fictional’ element feels a bit unnecessary and unhelpful. Wouldn’t it work just as well if that element was dropped?

In the wrong hands, the concept of it being ‘semi-fictional’ could conjure up the idea that it’s actually made up, rather than the more accurate ‘based on a true story’. I like to consider personas as more fact than fiction, although granted, your real-life customer is unlikely to be called ‘Enterprise Ed’ or ‘Sales Rep Susan’.

Personas can be used as a guiding light for decisions, prioritisation and development, but this only works if the time and energy are put into crafting them well to start with. As the saying goes, shit in, shit out. 

Researching your buyer persona

Research is what makes your persona actionable, firmly based on fact and not fiction. Your persona shouldn’t feel like a stranger, it’s an aggregation of people you should know well, albeit with a slightly ridiculous name. 

Without research, a persona is likely to be a flat and unconvincing stereotype, more likely to put customers off than bring them in.

Although personas are typically depicted as an individual, they need to be based on an aggregation of people, gleaned from a variety of sources. Personas are there to represent a key segment of your target market.

A marketing persona is a composite sketch of a key segment of your audience.” Ardath Albee

Even if you don’t have customers currently, there are ways to research your buyer persona. And, you can continue to fill in the gaps and fine-tune the persona over time as you learn more about your customers.

For any business, personas should be considered as always evolving and developing as technology changes and expectations shift. They need to be regularly viewed and adapted to continue to be a useful tool.  

You might discover that you have multiple personas, and that’s ok. Just remember, each persona should represent a key segment of your target market, not a handful of people. 

 

Are your customers picking you, or are you picking them?

Your marketing should act like a magnet, both attracting and repelling.” John Espirian, Content DNA. 

I love this analogy. However, repel is a pretty strong word. I’d suggest your aim isn’t to be the solution version of the creepy guy at the end of the bar, but rather the subtle dress code that signals to people this is the club for them. 

Having a clear idea of your buyer persona and ideal customer helps you to market to the people that are the best fit for your business. You can move closer to serving them rather than selling to them – a far more enjoyable experience for everyone involved.

Trying to appeal to everyone is exhausting and usually not very effective. It’s far better to have 10 leads that all convert, than 100 dead-end ones.

During your research, you can also create an ‘anti-persona’.  This could represent people who will never buy or can’t afford your solution, or if they do, it’s a disaster – constant problems, complaints and negative reviews. Let’s try and give them a wide berth, shall we?

 

Buyer personas vs. user personas

Although there might be some overlap, your buyers aren’t necessarily going to be your users and vice versa. This could be because you’re selling an enterprise software solution, or toys aimed at kids! 

Understanding both buyer and user personas for your business is ideal. This provides you with a strong foundation for not only attracting customers but for developing and evolving solutions and creating fans. After all, gaining new customers is only part of the battle, you also need to keep your wonderful, loyal existing customers happy.

 

The benefits of creating personas

Traditionally buyers personas tend to be most closely associated with sales and marketing departments. I would argue that personas have value across an organisation. Whether the roles are customer-facing or not, having a shared view of who your business is serving can only be a good thing and sounds like something everyone in an organisation should know.   

There are heaps of benefits to developing and using a well-crafted persona (buyer and user), some of my favourites are below:                             

For marketing

  • Crafting relevant content that resonates
  • Understanding the key problems your solution solves
  • Knowing where your customers are and the right messages to target them with 

For sales

  • Building rapport and developing relationships 
  • Tailoring conversations around the customers’ issues and desires
  • Anticipating and alleviating barriers to purchase

For Service roles

  • Offering empathy and the right resolution to any problems
  • Understanding user goals and the best way to support them
  • Tailoring conversations to a user’s level of knowledge

For Product Development

  • Developing solutions that solve problems
  • Prioritising the features that matter most
  • To shape successful User Experience (UX)

Marketing is a fascinating blend of art and science, best practice processes wonderfully combined with creativity. With some many tools and metrics to look at, it can be easy to fall into the trap of chasing the numbers.

Buyer personas can bring you back to what will actually make a difference, how you can serve real people and start attracting your ideal customers. 

Need some help with developing your buyer personas? Check out my services to get you started.


I’ve mentioned some fabulous resources in this post, here are some handy links and some additional further reading suggestions.

Content DNA: Using consistency and congruence to be the same shape everywhere. John Espirian, 2020

Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business. Adele Revella, 2015