Getting Started with Buyer Personas

By Ryan Middleton, Generation Next Governor at Large
Muncie Power Products Inc.

This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of Generation Next Edition

There is no doubt that marketing has changed over the last five, 10, and 50 years. Everything from the rapid advancements of technology to the changing psychology of the everyday buyer plays a key role in marketing’s evolution. One of the ways we have seen it vastly change over the last 10 years is the way we segment our audience. For years, marketers relied on having a handful of target audiences that they could use to tailor marketing campaigns. For example, you might primarily target mid-level managers who work for companies that bring in at least $5 million in annual revenue and operate within the work truck industry. This is a perfect example of a target audience. You look at the shared characteristics of a segment of companies, or individuals, and then tailor your marketing to that group. While this is a great starting point, I want us to think beyond that.

For modern-day marketers, we need to push beyond target audiences and look into what we call “buyer personas.” By leveraging buyer personae throughout your organization, you will unlock crucial insights within your marketing as well as other parts of your business.

What is a buyer persona?

So now you might be asking yourself, what exactly is a buyer persona? According to the folks over at HubSpot, “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” Your buyer persona will typically entail basic demographic information, common behaviors, tendencies and habits, goals, and pain points. You can start to see how our buyer personas are going to give us a lot more information, insights, and actions than a typical target audience would. 

Leverage the data you already have

T.J. Miller wrote a great article last month about how not all data is created equal. In this article, he explains that valuable and accurate data is a powerful component of decision-making that can lead to your company’s growth. For example, as a marketer for a manufacturing company, I have all kinds of data and information on our distributors. I can pull information on their job roles and purchasing tendencies, their engagement with our marketing communications, calls into our customer service team, and much more. By leveraging accurate data across all of the organization, not just marketing, I can start to map out and design what a handful of buyer personas will look like for us. Don’t forget, it is crucial that your buyer personas are supported by your data and continuously adapted to meet your buyers’ changing needs.

Buyer personas in marketing

Buyer personas are typically referenced in a company’s marketing department before being discussed elsewhere in an organization. This is with good reason, since this is where your personas are going to have the most impact. I will touch on how they impact other aspects of your business in the next section, but first let’s tackle how they can impact your marketing strategy.

The big way buyer personas will impact your marketing strategy is through personalization. While this might sound daunting, it needn’t be. When I first start to work personalization into my marketing campaigns, I tackle these three items: medium / source, messaging, and calls-to-action.

Medium / Source
Medium and source is simply figuring out where your customers are living. Some of your buyers might be super active with industry publications like NTEA News. Others might consume a lot of their content through social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. This is an important part of the process, because we have to understand where our content will have the most influence. By determining where your personas live and consume content, you can get much more effective use of your advertising dollars.

Your messaging can really help tie in that one-to-one personalization your buyer seeks. For example, let’s say the persona I am targeting is end-users who manage tow truck fleets. Since I know all of this information, I can be very personalized with my messaging for that demographic. My messaging should resonate with the unique values important to that persona. This is why one of the most important pieces of the development process is to identify the goals and pain points for each persona.

Lastly, you must have a call-to-action (CTA) that resonates with the individual. This ties into the messaging component, but it is important enough to have its own step. You should have a single, strong CTA that ties into the messaging and ideally provides them something of value. If you are sending them to a landing page, your CTA allows you to either provide them a resource of value, or make a direct transaction on the website.

Tying it all together, we identified where to reach our persona, wrote specific messaging targeting their pain points and challenges, and provided them with a valuable CTA. This personalization method will lead to much higher conversion rates than a traditional one-size-fits-all approach. At the end of the day, conversions are what we really want, no matter the stage in the pipeline to which they are attributed.  

Beyond marketing

Your buyer personas should benefit your company as a whole. An effective set of buyer personas provides value across multiple departments - for example, the information can help  prioritize product updates and new product releases. Your customer service team will be more effective because they can more quickly solve problems, or even recognize problems before they arise. The whole idea of the buyer persona model is to keep the user of your product or service in mind. As their priorities change, yours will too.

One final thought: please remember that your buyer personas are not an end-all-be-all. While they are certainly an improvement over target audiences, there will always be an exception. Every person you do business with, or wish to do business with, is an individual; not everyone will adhere perfectly to their assigned persona. Once you successfully implement personas into your business, you will see a return, and not only in marketing.

If you are looking for some inspiration to get started, here are some free resources:
HubSpot Persona Templates
Personas for Manufacturers
10 Examples of Buyer Personas