Once upon a time, I was a TV news producer. It was my job to tell breaking news stories in the most compelling and relevant way possible. Occasionally we cut stories because of time, but mainly because of fit. Not every story was right for our audience.
Times have changed. Now I conduct research and assemble data to help brands make their marketing more compelling and relevant for their audiences. That’s right, I build buyer personas.
What’s in a name?
Personas are imaginary people based on real data. I cannot understate their importance. Personas answer the questions “who cares about what,” and “how does that influence their decision making.” Every organization should know who consumes their products, services, or solutions–and how. Knowing your audience is the first step to developing content that drives demand.
In spite of their importance, buyer personas often lack insights or even contain blatant mistakes. And if an organization reviews personas on an “as needed” basis, as they often do, it could be months or years before they clear up murky descriptions.
Anyone developing or utilizing personas should take the following into consideration.
Real data versus anecdotes
Human beings relate to each other through stories. Personal experiences stick with us more than statistics. There is a temptation, therefore, to build personas based on the most memorable cases and treat them as the norm. The story of a client who makes decisions based on origami is more memorable than the number of customers or partners engaging strictly through mobile devices. Still, though, you don’t want to let persona work convince you that releasing customer updates via paper cranes is a best practice.
Real customers versus ideal targets
Profile the customers you have, not just the customers you want. Pursuing new business is essential to growth, but retaining existing customers is necessary for sustainability. Personas help define business strategy and objectives. Don’t leave your most loyal customers behind.
Input versus excess
Too few conversations with your customers will yield incomplete personas. Too much information yields overly segmented groups. Make sure the number of people you profile is proportionate to your customer base. Ask thorough questions that identify challenges for your customers as well as opportunities for your business.
Demographics versus details
Buyer personas are more than job titles, salaries, and age ranges. While helpful, that information doesn’t identify needs, purchasing motivations, or careabouts. In addition to HR stats, consider your customers’ professional motivators and frustrations, as well as their networking habits, as ways to further understand what influences their decision making.
4 best practices for building buyer personas
- Use data compiled through research
- Profile the customers you already have
- Conduct a proportionate amount of research
- Ask about more than basic demographics
Building personas is not a science, but knowing some best practices will help make your persona work more practical and insightful. Customers are people on the hunt. The more you understand them and what motivates them, the better prepared you’ll be to deliver exactly what they need.