Buyer personas: an essential guide

What’s a buyer persona?

In marketing and user experience, a buyer persona is a fictionalised profile of a client type. While the profile doesn’t represent “a real person”, it summarises the similarities and characteristics of a specific target segment by sourcing data and information from your existing client base and market insights.

What are buyer personas good for?

Whether you’re a solopreneur, a small business owner or the CEO of a listed company, knowledge is power. And successful business starts with understanding your target audience.

Buyer personas help you pinpoint the needs, drivers and barriers of your ideal clients. What are their pain points? What about their buyer decision process – are they driven by impulse, convenience, budget limitations? What could make them choose you over your competitors?

Based on such insights, you can develop products and services that fulfil your prospects’ needs and match their requirements. Also, you can develop spot-on communications that will help them see the benefits they will get from working with you (or buying from you).

Buyer personas can also help solopreneurs be more confident in negotiations. While empathising with a prospect isn’t bad per se, over-identification can result in a weaker stand when the sales talk begins. Understanding typical customers behaviours and objections can help you keep some “professional distance” and feel more empowered when setting your terms or defending your prices.

What do you need to know about your ideal client?

When looking for buyer personas resources online, stumbling upon long lists of questions is common. Unfortunately, finding a premade set of questions that fits your business is not as easy.

Here’s the thing: actionable personas are based on meaningful information about your target audience. But the definition of meaningful varies greatly across contexts.

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. A retailer of organic food products (B2C)
  2. An IT company providing cybersecurity services (B2B).

Now think of what “ideal client” would mean in each context. Consider:

  • Problems and needs
  • Decision-making process
  • Sales cycle.

You can hardly find any similarities. And that’s why the relevant buyer persona profiles should be devised differently.

In a B2C scenario, demographics and lifestyle information hold special value. They provide insights on brand loyalty patterns, budget, drivers (e.g. status, convenience) and more.

In a B2C scenario, understanding the structure and needs of the company makes more sense that knowing about a project manager’s favourite ice cream. An effective B2B buyer persona describes a person in the context of her professional role – because the drivers and decision criteria depend on such role.

There is no such thing as the universal buyer persona profile. Different contexts call for differentiated questions, angles and levels of detail.

Need help devising your first client profiles? Here are a few pointers for you to consider in a B2B and B2C scenario.

B2B buyer personas: 5 key points

Role and background
Who gets in touch with you to ask about your products or services? What about her background? Is she in charge of budgeting and purchase decisions? If not, who is the decision-maker there? How much of an influence does your contact person have on that?

Company profile
Age and size of business; industry and niche; average annual turnover; location; corporate structure; stakeholders; …

Purchase drivers and triggers
Is the company looking for occasional help or a long-term collaboration? What are their typical purchase drivers? What intangible aspects do they consider as especially valuable in a business relationship?

Purchase barriers
What about the most frequent objections to purchase? Any objective limits affecting the purchase decision process (e.g. budget, time, technology/know-how)?

Objectives and benefits
Where do your services or products fit in the client’s value chain? How does your work make a B2B client’s life easier?

B2C buyer persona: 5 key points

Demographics
Age group and gender; area/region/country; profession and average annual income; family status and household structure; education; …

Values and lifestyle
What’s really important to your ideal client? Is she eco-conscious, tech-savvy, fitness-oriented? What does she do in her spare time? What are their hobbies and interests? Is she a social media enthusiast or a digital hermit?

Objectives and pain points
What does she want to achieve? What about her personal and professional goals? Where do your products and services fit? What are her biggest challenges and concerns?

Purchasing behaviour
Is brand loyalty a thing? To what extent do prices affect the purchase decision? What about other decision criteria?

Influences on purchase decision
Is she sensitive to trends or fashion? Are purchase decisions made independently? Who else is involved – and to what extent? What’s the role of role models and influencers?

Sourcing data for your buyer personas

Persona profiles are only valuable when based on real information and market research.

Keep in mind that your personas represent a client type rather than an individual client. Sourcing accurate data will make it easier for you to distil a profile that’s close enough to a real person. And this will help you understand what messages and ideas best resonate with her.

Start with your existing client base. Who are your clients and why do they buy from you? Look for similarities in purchasing behaviour, demographics, drivers and barriers that could help with target segmentation.

Segmentation is key to developing more meaningful marketing and outreach activities. You might e.g. sell products to end clients (B2C) and services to companies (B2B). In such cases, you’ll need to create a buyer persona profile for each client type.

However, sourcing in-depth data from your client base alone might be a challenge. Good news: data is all around us. And you can gather valuable insights on your target audience for free. Meet some of your options.

Social media
Most social networks help you make sense of your audience with analytics features. Got a Facebook business page? You can source valuable details on segment demographics and interaction patterns from the Insights function. Are you a serial tweeter? Browse Twitter Analytics to find information on the interests, lifestyle and purchasing behaviours of your followers.
But social media aren’t just about raw data. Twitter, Facebook & CO. help you connect with your clients – the real thing, not just profiles. By listening and observing the interactions and conversations of your audience, you can gather meaningful insights on what’s important to them, their problems and needs.
Even though we’re all a little too obsessed with the social for business rush, social networks were born to facilitate human-to-human interactions. And the best way to find out about your clients is being with them – engaging in conversation and listening closely. This will also help you refine your tone of voice, to enhance the impact and value of your communications.

Google Analytics
Got a corporate website? Google Analytics can help you understand how people land on your website, how they use it and customer acquisition patterns. Besides providing “technical” statistics about your website activity, the tool helps you gain insights on the demographics, interests and habits of your audience. Also, with Google Analytics you can define and monitor specific target segments.

Consumer Barometer
A member of the Big G family, the Consumer Barometer is a useful tool for online-based businesses. It provides an overview of how people use the internet across the world. The tool also features a module focusing on online purchasing behaviour. To get the most out of it, you can filter results by country.

Market reports
Industry-specific market reports are a precious yet overlooked source of information for B2B companies. They provide data about the status and trend of an industry (or niche) as well as insights on the companies and businesses that operate in such industry – size and age; sales volume and turnover; corporate structure; import/export profile; typical challenges; …

Using personas for marketing

Your client profiles are ready. What now?

No need to develop a new product straight away – even though you can, if you wish to do so. You can start small and use your buyer personas to develop targeted communications that will help you connect with your ideal client.

You might e.g. look at your client’s pain points and aspirations to source blog post ideas. Articles and resources that resonate with your client’s interests and needs is a great way to attract “the right people” to your website and be found by prospects.

Buyer personas can also ignite your corporate storytelling. Understanding what’s important to your audience can help you create a compelling narrative that strikes the right notes.

You can also use the insights provided by the profile to enhance the impact of your website copy or marketing materials. Knowing more about your client’s decision-making criteria and desires, you can e.g.

  • Provide answers to frequently asked question, to overcome typical barriers to purchase;
  • Highlight the product features and benefits that matter the most for your client;
  • Enhance your sales page with meaningful storytelling and supporting information.

Remember: all businesses evolve and change. This also means that our target audience may vary too. Update your buyer personas profiles from time to time (18-24 months) to keep your business and marketing strategy current.

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