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The beginner’s guide to buyer personas (and how to create them for your business)

Posted by Kerrie Brooks in General on May 11th, 2017

How well do you know your businesses’ target audience?

Okay, so you might know their basic demographics, but what else do you know? Could you describe their average day, their typical spending patterns or what inspires them at work and in life?

If the answer is no, now’s the time to start finding out. Why? Because the more you know about your ideal customers the better placed you’ll be to make sound marketing decisions – the key to getting sales and growing your business and profits.

And what’s the best way to get to know them better? By creating buyer personas.

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What are buyer personas?

Buyer personas (sometimes referred to as marketing personas) are marketing’s solution to achieving an in-depth understanding of your target customers and what makes them tick.

Basically they are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customer which present a complete picture of who they are both as a person and as a customer which includes their goals, behaviour patterns, pain points and motivations.

Why your business needs buyer personas

The reason buyer personas are so effective is that they take you beyond surface demographics and into the mindset of your ideal customer.

And, the deeper you can get inside their head, the better equipped you’ll be when it comes to attracting, convincing and keeping them – which makes them the perfect tool for inbound marketers. Whether you’re developing your website, creating content or trying to connect on social media, you can use personas to better tailor your messages to align with their wants and needs.

Creating buyer personas also offers advantages for other areas of your business such as giving you insights for product or service development, helping guide you sales team to the warmest leads and aligning your staff so they all have the same vision and customer understanding.

How to create your buyer personas

So, while the benefits of buyer personas are clear, the question you might be asking is: “how I you go about creating them for my business?”

Importantly, buyer personas should not be based on speculation or educated guesses. The best ones are produced through a combination of market research and insights gathered from your existing customers, prospects and wider potential audience.

Here are the basic steps you need to follow:

1. Create your question checklist

Your first task is figuring out what information you need to know, and what questions you’ll need to ask to get it. While the specifics will need tailoring to your industry and business, for example B2B versus B2C, here are the general categories of insights you should be seeking to create your buyer personas:

  • Personal background – gender, age, education, occupation and role, marital status
  • Finances – income, spending habits, preferred payment methods
  • A day in the life – at work and/or home, pressures, hobbies, interests
  • Hopes, dream, motivations – personal and professional goals
  • Concerns and fears – general as well as related to your product/services
  • Technology – how they use it, how often, platforms used e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn
  • Influencers – where they look for info, who they ask for advice, decision-making partners
  • Brand affinities – who else they shop with or do business with

2. Collect your data

Once you’ve refined this list for your business, it’s now time to seek and gather the information. Here are some of the techniques you can use to carry out your research, which include a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods:

  • Look at your existing data to uncover trends in existing online customer behaviour
  • Use the lead capture forms on your website to ask specific questions
  • Visit industry forums/chat rooms to monitor discussions
  • Talk to your sales team and other colleagues to gain feedback/insights
  • Send out surveys to your existing customers and prospects (e.g. using SurveyMonkey)
  • Carry out face-to-face interviews with your existing customers and prospects

While you may want to place face-to-face interviews in the ‘too hard’ basket, they are actually one of the most valuable ways to create successful buyer personas. And, even if you only do 3-5 to start with, they can give you a rich, first hand insight into your ideal buyer and can help shape your personas when you put them on paper.

3. Look for trends

Once you’ve carried out your research, the next step is to compile all of the information you’ve collected into one place, for example into a spreadsheet.

Now you need to set about identifying any trends across the categories. For example, are there commonalities in their interests, spending habits or day-to-day routines? Is there a concern that keeps cropping up? Is there a particular social media platform they interact with most?

Hopefully patterns should start to form.

4. Create your persona(s)

Once you’ve identified the commonalities, you then need to create your buyer persona outline. This should cover each of the items on your checklist  and present a stereotypical picture of who your ideal customer is – from their demographics to their needs, goals and motivations.

Best practice is to create one primary persona as well as some secondary ones. Why? Because not all customers will be the same and typically fall into distinct groups. You can also look to create negative personas. These can help you keep in mind the type of people who you don’t want to target.

5. Tell your persona story

Finally, you should turn your persona data into a real-fictional person and tell their story.

This means describing who they are, what they do and what their behaviours, wants and motivations are in narrative form.  Be as specific as possible and to give them a real name for example Busy Mum Mandy, Software Engineer Sam, Retiree Regi. This will help make them more human and relatable.

You should also create a graphic or include a photo to go alongside it. This makes it easier to imagine that person and empathise with them.

How to use your buyer personas

Once your buyer personas are complete, share them around your business and start using them to inform all of your marketing decisions.

For example, every time you begin to create a piece of content or send out a social media update, ask yourself how it would sit with your semi-fictional customer. Would it appeal to them? Does it offer them a solution to their problem?  Will they be able to find it easily online?

Importantly, buyer personas should not be seen as fixed. You should regularly be collecting information and updating your characters in line with what you find.