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What is a buyer persona, and how can it help you to target customers effectively?
Being able to target your customers effectively is critical to surviving as a business. The more you understand your customer, the greater the opportunity for sales, helping you drive your bottom line and business growth.
However, it’s hard to imagine who your customers are as real people, especially when the majority of transactions being made are online. You might have some idea of who you want to target, but an idea is not enough. You need to determine precisely how your customer behaves when making a purchasing decision, where they buy, and how they communicate as well as what their interests and motivations are. Without this essential information, it’s difficult to identify the best way to capture their attention and serve their needs through your marketing activity.
Whilst most marketers are no stranger to the concept of target audience segmentation, using buyer personas are a great way to help bring key customer profiles to life in a way that is more effective, memorable and useful to your marketing and communications team.
Each persona represents a specific customer type or demographic, and details useful information such as their lifestyle choices and interests, media preferences, the challenges they face and the questions they might ask, all of which can help you to roadmap their informational needs at every stage of their buyer journey. With these representations, crafted to reflect the reality of your target audience, you can align your strategy to their needs and successfully draw them towards your brand.
In this guide, we explain in more detail what a buyer persona is and its role in your marketing strategy, alongside our top tips to help you and your team create them for your business.
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your customer. A brand can have multiple personas to represent the various ‘types’ of customers it may have. In this sense, a persona shouldn’t stand for an individual customer that you are targeting, instead it will represent a group of customers that have key things in common with one another.
When creating your personas, you want to pin down as much information as possible about each customer type to help steer all your future communications.
Of course, you can’t know every specific detail about your customers – some of the data is based on assumption, which is why buyer personas are semi-fictional. Where you can, you want to use real data to fuel your information, such as statistics, consumer behaviour studies, market research and surveys. However, it’s also okay to make some informed assumptions about your customers based on any existing knowledge you have. Just remember to continually check these assumptions and be prepared to refine your personas based on any real-life data you gain in future.
Another key staple of the buyer persona is an alliterative name that highlights who that persona represents and makes it more memorable and interesting for your marketing team. So be prepared for names like Family Fiona, Student Sam and Professional Peter!
We’ve included an example of a buyer persona below to help you understand what it should look like and the key data to feature. This has been created on behalf of a brand selling fitness equipment for home use.
How do buyer personas help to target customers?
There are many benefits in using personas to help drive your marketing activity. Their most significant value is in enabling you to move beyond guesswork and learn who your target audience is through real-life insight. 90% of companies that use personas state they have gained a clearer understanding of their customers.
By crafting personas, you can help determine several useful things to inform your communications – such as the language your buyers use, so that you can speak the same language; what channels they’re present on, to help you decide where you need to have a brand presence; the challenges they need to solve and the questions they are asking so that you can ensure that you are producing the right content to fulfil their informational needs. With this knowledge, you can create tailored strategies that align to the specific needs and preferences you know your customer has, helping you to engage with them better, develop long-term relationships and generate much-needed sales.
Let’s take the ‘Occasional Olivia’ example we’ve given above. If you were a brand with this type of customer, you could immediately gain an understanding of how they might like to be targeted. They enjoy influencer content – so it would make sense to consider partnering with a trusted and relevant influencer in the fitness industry. Much of the content is video, or visual, which means that they are likely to be an Instagram user. Therefore creating compelling visual content that can be shared on this platform will be useful in reaching her. You might even consider a paid Instagram campaign to further boost your efforts.
By taking the time to research and think about your customers, you can streamline your efforts to the right channels and with the right messages and content.
Buyer personas can also help you to see very clearly just see how your customers differ, by grouping them together based on their background and needs, so you can build personalised strategies for exactly that type of customer. Data shows that buyers are 48% more likely to consider purchasing when a provider personalises marketing to their specific needs, so being able to target each type of customer specifically can grow your sales.
Finally, buyer personas can act as a single-source go-to guide for your entire team, putting everyone on the same page about who you are targeting, why and how. With this, content creators, social media specialists, web/UX designers, PR executives and any other relevant roles can do their work with full sight of how to effectively approach your customers, helping you to align your activity as a whole and build consistent experiences for your customers.
Our top tips for creating buyer personas
Now that you understand the value of buyer personas, you might want to know how you can go about creating them for your brand. We’ve listed some of our top tips to help you build out effective personas that accurately represent your customers and refine your strategies.
Utilise data and insight
To make the most of your buyer personas, use as much real data as possible
There are many data sources out there that allow you to build this understanding, including search listening, social media monitoring and analytics, Google analytics and national statistics. All of which will help you to create more truthful representations.
That said, assumptions will still be required when creating the personas, as per the ‘fictional’ aspect. For example, there might not be data out there that tells you precisely what TV shows they watch or their favourite social media channel. However, by developing your customer knowledge through data, you will be better placed to make accurate guesses about them and fill the gaps that your insight doesn’t entirely cover.
You should also be prepared to refine your personas if there are flaws or if new data emerges. In this sense, personas should act as a guide rather than a definitive view of your customers.
Don’t make too many personas
You shouldn’t need to create lots of personas since you will likely only have a handful of major customer groups that you are targeting. While every individual customer is of course different, try to avoid delving into too much detail when splitting out your customer grouping, focus on those customers that share commonalities. If you have too many, it can confuse things and make it harder to create aligned strategies, especially if there’s too much overlap.
When first introducing personas, start small and look at the customer groups you have the most data on. Three to five personas is considered to be a good starting point. Over time, you can always add more personas as new customers emerge – but only if they differentiate from the personas you already have.
Remember your personas are a representation
It’s essential to remember that your personas are just representations of your customers – they aren’t real people and it isn’t a perfect system. Every customer is different, even if they fall in the same persona group, so don’t expect them to respond or interact in exactly the same way. As a result of this, your marketing activity might be better received by some and yet not others. This is natural and doesn’t necessarily mean your strategy is wrong.
What personas can do is enable you to identify general themes about your customers to help streamline your efforts and improve your chances of success. Once you’ve started a campaign using personas, you should set out the goals you hope to achieve and track progress against them, using your KPIs and analytics. This will help you to see what’s working and what isn’t. From there, you can refine your approach and if required, your personas, using the new data you’ve gained, to further optimise your marketing.
Spend time on the process
It can be hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, especially a customer who you may have never met. Don’t be afraid to spend time building your personas to make sure you get it right.
The persona-creating process contains many factors, including reviewing data, carrying out research, looking at analytics, etc. You then need to compile and process this data against your separate customer groups. It also requires a lot of brainstorming to fill any gaps left by the data and make sensible assumptions about your customers. You might also want to sound off your personas with colleagues to verify them and get a different perspective.
With all this to consider, it’s no surprise that personas can be time-consuming to research and produce. However, taking this time will help you enhance your customer understanding and enable you to create more targeted and relevant communications, delivered to the right platforms, and therefore improving your engagement and results.
Consider the entire buyer journey
The needs of every customer will change as they move along their buyer journey through the awareness, consideration, purchase decision and post purchase stages. Your marketing and content need to address each stage.
When creating buyer personas, it makes sense to consider how a customer might think, feel and act at every step. Ask yourself what the awareness, consideration and decision stages may look like for that particular persona, in line with the understanding you’ve already developed about them. Map out what their informational and motivational needs are at each stage, as well as which channels they will be using. This will be very useful when developing your content plan.
By looking at the whole customer journey for each persona, you can ensure your marketing addresses their requirements and provides the most appropriate content, delivering value and guiding them through their purchasing decision with your brand.
Share your personas
Once you have finished collating the information and data for each persona you may want to consider how best to present this information to make it easy to use and digest for your team. Often, the base data is recorded in a spreadsheet format, and with each persona being reproduced in a more visual and infographic manner such as in a PowerPoint slide or similar document. This will help you to bring your personas to life by adding images, logos, and colours that reflect the personality of each persona customer group.
Every time you revisit your strategy or develop a new campaign, you should refer to your buyer personas. This will help to make sure your plans align with your understanding, and consistently address the needs of your potential customers, right through to conversion.
Buyer personas are a great reference tool and help your wider team to build a greater understanding of your target audience and be able to target them more effectively.
Since they are based on real data and educated assumptions, you can build an accurate picture of your customers and their preferences.
With this knowledge, you can ensure you keep them – as they truly are – at the forefront of your decisions when crafting strategies and campaigns. This will enable you to match your marketing to their needs – offering you improved results and your customers a better experience.