Buyer personas are like shopping lists. Without them, you’re more or less just wandering around the grocery store, buying whatever catches your eye. With them, you know exactly what you're buying and what meal you’re buying it for. It makes a world of difference.
We’ve talked to tons of marketers who tried to implement buyer personas once, or never really saw the value in putting in the work to develop them. Only 44% of B2B marketers
use buyer personas in their marketing strategies. It’s our mission to bump that number up to 100%.
Non-believers, listen up. Let’s talk about the importance of buyer personas.
(Quick shoutout: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention our favorite resource for keeping it real when it comes to buyer personas: The Buyer Persona Institute. They haven’t taught us everything we know but they have taught us most of it. Check out the BPI blog here.)
What are buyer personas?
Buyer personas are semi fictional representations of your ideal customer. Marketers usually document a mini story introducing each persona and giving them a backstory that’s inherently tied to the company’s product or service offerings.
Backstories usually include the persona’s demographics, goals, challenges, pain points and behavior as a consumer. Personas don’t need to be the length of a bestselling adult fiction novel, but they should be fairly robust with as much detail as possible. These details should be based in reality, ideally taken from customer interviews and surveys.
Buyer personas should be documented and shared around your organization to help with strategic alignment across teams. That way everyone can focus on attracting valuable prospects and leads that are most likely to ultimately make a purchase.
What is the buyer’s journey?
People don’t wake up and decide to purchase a brand or product they’ve never heard of before. They may wake up and decide to buy a product that day, sure, but that means it’s a product they’ve heard of before.
The buyer’s journey starts the second the buyer becomes aware the brand exists and progresses all the way to purchase. Some buyer’s journeys are short and take place entirely in the shampoo aisle of the local Target. Others are complicated, involving multiple teams, proposals and evaluation committees.
Marketers have generally come to define the buyer’s journey in three separate segments:
- Awareness: The buyer establishes a need for a product or service
- Consideration: The buyer compares brands that may meet this need
- Decision: The buyer decides to purchase from one of the brands in consideration
Of course, this is a super simplistic version of the buying process. Not everyone’s buyer’s journey will be the same, straight, step-by-step process. Here’s an example of several different buyer’s journeys that all fall under the Awareness-Consideration-Decision (ACD) framework, but look vastly different:
But the ACD framework generally rings true for any sales offering, so we marketers like to use it as a starting point for developing our strategies.
Buyer personas vs. the buyer’s journey
While buyer personas and the buyer’s journey are two different marketing concepts, they have a beautiful synergy when used in tandem.
Understanding your buyer’s journey is the key to creating great personas. But the better your personas are, the more you understand why customers make the buying decisions they do while on the way from Awareness to Decision.
Personas also help you see customers as humans rather than data points. Humans are delightfully complex creatures with a tendency to do the exact opposite of what you expect. Knowing who you’re targeting with your marketing efforts and what can cause them to purchase from someone else helps you better develop a strategic plan that focuses your time and energy, making it easier to influence those buying decisions.
Research shows that buyers are 48% more likely
to consider buying from companies that personalize their solutions. Companies who deliver personalized email campaigns have also been shown to double open rates and receive a clickthrough rate 5x higher
than their baseline.
Bottom line: Personas are great. They work in tandem with your buyer’s journey to help you understand exactly who you’re targeting so you can better focus your attention.
The catch: your buyer personas need to be well-researched and precisely written in order to be useful.
How to write a buyer persona
There are full, deep-dive courses with hours of material on how to write buyer personas (seriously - we’ve done them). Researching and writing personas is genuinely an art, but all the best buyer personas have a few things in common.
First, they’re interview-based. The ideal people to interview for a buyer persona are individuals who have recently purchased a service similar or identical to yours. These people can be hard to come by, but they are the gold standard for creating accurate, fact-based personas.
The second best interviewees are your current customers, followed by your customer service representatives. Anywhere between 7-10 interviews is best. Anymore and you’ll have too much information to wade through. Any less and you won’t have enough to work from.
Interviews can be supplemented with customer surveys and secondary research. Any secondary research should come from quality, reputable sources. Avoid doing too much secondary research as you’ll eventually find yourself in an echo chamber, confirming your own biases.
After conducting research, you should be able to create a buyer persona that includes the following:
- Goals and motivations
- Pain points and specific problems
- General interests
Personas should be limited to three total. Four if you must. Two personas total is even better. If you’ve ever tried to market to four or more segments at once, you know it doesn’t work. Creating dozens of slightly similar, mini personas or even a handful of eight vastly different personas is a surefire way to get your work shelved.
The finished personas should be proofread, fact-checked and assigned a photo and name to really bring it to life. We’ll sum up this section with one of our favorite quotes from Adele Revella, CEO of Buyer Persona Institute:
"Marketers sometimes make the mistake of gathering buyer information that doesn’t really help them deliver more effective content or campaigns. If you are bogged down with finding just the right stock image of your persona, then you’re focusing on the wrong things."
thunder::tech’s golden rule for buyer personas
Before we send you out into the world to write a few personas of your own, we need to drag out our soapbox and say something controversial yet brave: Marketers have kind of forgotten how to write personas.
Namely, we’ve forgotten that humans are complex and unpredictable. No matter how many frameworks we make into little infographics and post on LinkedIn, we cannot accurately predict what every buyer will say or do.
The buyer persona, once a useful tool for helping marketers predict buyer behavior to the best of our abilities, has grown a bit stale. Once a marketer has seen one B2B audience, they’ve seen them all. Personas become slightly different versions of the same middle-aged, blue collar types. We break out the three-part buyer’s journey framework, fill in the blanks on our persona templates and pat ourselves on the back.
It’s time to rise up and fight back against what’s in the textbook and what’s in real life. That’s why we need every marketer to remember: If the customer didn’t say it, it doesn’t exist.
If the buyer didn’t say it, and you can’t produce concrete evidence anyone ever said it outside of your industry, you’re guessing. Or even worse, running with your own interpretation of your audience.
Personas have oodles of potential, but they only work when they’re based in reality. Marketers can’t get a proper understanding of the decisions customers make throughout the buyer’s journey without putting their listening ears on first.
Phew. Glad we had that talk. Now go forth and make better buyer personas, marketers.
Are your buyer personas feeling more like a waste of time than a useful tool? Our Comms team specializes in building strategic personas you’ll actually use. Reach out and let’s talk.