Steps to develop and apply buyer personas
Adele Revella, CEO and founder of the Buyer Persona Institute, is a recognized expert in crafting effective buyer personas. With years of marketing experience and application of marketing personas in her work, she has led the way to help companies understand what their targeted customers will and won’t buy and why.
Creating personas is so critical, Revella defends the essential nature of marketing when she writes, “We tell everyone in the company what buyers will and will not buy, and we build lasting relationships with buyers who appreciate our ability to meet their real needs.”
Buyer personas transcend demographics, life stage, and other segmentations because they are more precise in identifying buyer intent when they are considering what to purchase, from whom, and why.
She advocates collaboration between marketing and sales functions to ensure proper coordination between promoting and selling products built on mutual understanding of targeted buyers. The Five Rings of Buying Insight™ she and her team developed identify critical motivational areas to explore to fully understand buyers when they are considering a purchase.
These areas are the buyers’ personal priority initiatives, success factors, perceived purchasing barriers, their buying or consideration journey, and decision criteria to buy. Each of these areas require engaging with customers to best understand them, and it’s usually best accomplished through personal interviews with actual and potential customers.
What is most important to the buyer and why are they seeking a solution in the first place? For consumers, this might be a household task, service, or product but it involves a need or a perceived need they are trying to complete or achieve. For business-to-business customers, its’s the why behind a solution they are pursuing, who’s involved, and what is being accomplished with the solution.
These are more than pain points, rather a precise determination of what’s at stake and the rationale behind deciding on a solution. Knowing these priorities means being able to position your company as part of the solution, especially using content.
Why does your customer or potential customer overlook you as a solution or doesn’t see you as a best option? Is it your reputation? Are there personal or business obstacles that have built a wall? Does your solution require uncomfortable business changes?
Knowing barriers will help inform what you’re up against and what would be a viable solution or approach to overcome them — even how you might have to change.
The buyer’s journey helps you understand how customers discover the solutions they are pursuing and where they find them. Do consumers depend on personal referrals, social media, ads, or search engines to find solutions? At work, who is involved in the decision-making process and who has the ultimate decision authority?
You need to know who your buyer trusts for which solutions and why. Knowing what your buyer is going through personally or at work helps define how you use their decision criteria, success factors, and perceived barriers to create persuasive and effective content that speaks directly to their needs.
What is most critical to your buyer when considering a purchase? Knowing this informs content messaging and content marketing decisions. It clarifies the content’s purpose and what is to be achieved in helping the customer decide.
This goes beyond superlatives into customer perception of how your solution meets specific needs and why.
Your buyer persona helps reveal attitudes, concerns, and criteria that will drive them to choose you, your competitor, or to do or buy nothing. The point of all this is not just to describe a buyer, but also reveal insights into a specific buyer with specific needs who is looking to solve a problem or get a job done. Done correctly, the buyer persona offers accurate and effective marketing guidance to align messaging, keywords, content marketing, and sales enablement built on your buyer’s expectations and requirements.
When you speak the same language relative to what the buyer is experiencing or wants to experience, you build a bond of trust that gives you an advantage against competitors. It also helps identify your best customers and not just discount seekers — what retail consultant Jim Dion of Dionco has called “bottom feeders” who suck your time and margin looking for a deal.
The buyer persona is especially helpful for products or services that require high consideration for purchase but also is effective for products and services with more reactive, compulsive, or spontaneous purchasing. The persona helps position where your business is during consumer discovery, inspiration to buy, and emotional motivation to buy. Finding a product while following a series of web links or a social media thread opens doors for information, advice, direction, or other aspects that continue the search, reinforces customer interest and knowledge, and moves toward trust and conversion.
To start the process, consider where you find or have found customers. Choose buyers who have purchased and those who haven’t. People who considered you but decided to buy from another company, and people who never considered you and chose a competitor.
Use your own data to identify customers (best and worst) who might be willing to talk about their experience with you and why they bought from you or rejected you. It won’t take a lot of interviews to gather information you need.
Interviewing customers directly is the best way to get feedback you need. Follow a structured process to gather buyer information and gain key insights on why they buy, don’t buy, or just won’t buy from you. The process helps with comparing and contrasting later.
Find a person to help you who has experience interviewing people, like former journalists, who can ask the right questions but also follow up on comments or statements to gain deeper understanding.
Start interviewing your best customers. It’s easier to start the process and strengthens relationships you already have with them. You may find hidden concerns that may be bothering your best customers and influence their loyalty.
Do you know people who might buy your products or services if they knew more about them? These are great interviews because they could stimulate a closer look at your offers or give you a sense of why people don’t know about them.
Do you know who likely customers are? What they do or where they work? These make great interviewees because they may not know about your offerings or how they fit into their lives. This isn’t a process to sell, but a discovery process for why they don’t know about you or your offerings that could help them. It also could reveal what you might do about it to increase sales or make marketing more relevant.
Customers of your competitors are always good to interview. These people already buy but have a reason they’re buying elsewhere. What is it? Of course, you may run into the owner’s sister-in-law and there’s not much opportunity there unless you want to become part of the family. However, a competitor’s customers often reveal shortcomings or opportunities for you to address.
Good interview techniques are critical because this isn’t a sales process but a discovery process for you. Record interviews and analyze them for patterns of thought, belief, phrasing, and word usage that reveal common impressions, information sources, perceptions, or other aspects that reveal buyer preferences and opinions. Listen for how buyers become inspired to buy, where they go when they begin considering a purchase, what they use to make decisions, and other elements of their purchase. What is it in their life that drives them to purchase or influences where they purchase? This critical information helps you build your messaging, content, and even your business strategy.
Review and Analyze:
When you look at your notes and listen to your interviews, tune into motivations, common words and phrases, and other clues that reflect buyer opinions and preferences. Write them down and consider what they mean for you.
Revella says as few as six to 10 good interviews can give you a baseline of customer information to begin work.
Compare and contrast this information to existing knowledge and data you may already have or is available. Narrow data down to what you need to craft a personal look at your targeted customers and what they need and are experiencing.
Build the Persona
The knowledge you gain from your customers or potential customers gives you a framework to understand specific pressures buyers experience, a foundational understanding of what’s most important to them, and how they view success. The value is the big picture look at critical elements they face and challenges they have making the right buying decision.
It also organizes information by the five rings of buying insights so you can see key issues, buyer needs, and gain a vision for what your buyers are trying to accomplish. It also lays out data in a way that allows you to think through options to build your strategy.
Templates and samples help you organize this information for maximum effect.
This is where pieces come together and dots are connected. The content strategy takes a broad look at where your customers are and what they are feeling and experiencing so you can map out an action plan. The plan includes information they need at various points in their buying journey and where and how they find it relative to the buyer’s revealed challenges.
How they search for information drives not only content creation but also key words and phrases that support search engine optimization (SEO) and sets you apart from competition.
The quality of content is increasingly important because search engines, especially Google, are using new artificial intelligence technologies and machine learning to find and display content that is meeting search intentions and desired information gathering. Today, it’s more than keywords and click-throughs, it’s where people go to find help and solve problems.
In a blog post about Google’s new BERT algorithms, Pandu Nayak explained Google’s use of Biodirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT for short): to better understand a searcher’s query and match it to more relevant results — not just keywords but language context. BERT’s open-sourced neural network-based technique uses transformational grammar-type schematics to more precisely define common-language context and quickly yield better search results.
The content-strategy map includes keywords for each step of the buying process, from inspiration and discovery to consideration, deciding, and buying. However, the writing aims to help solve buyer problems and answer the intentions of a search (discover, learn, buy, share), which is where Google is going with its artificial intelligence and language processing adoption.
The persona content process identifies areas of buyer need that can be addressed by content and information and helps you apply it to resolve buyer intentions. You create strategies, products, and promotions based on what customers tell you they want and need.
Evaluate and Assess:
Like any business process and strategy, you must evaluate and assess whether your content is doing what you want it to do. A/B testing, website and Google analytics, and comparisons to your stated goals for your content, campaigns, or customer impact provide markers to determine how effective your content and campaigns are.
Knowing your specific customer beyond just buying something opens the door for you to build trust and relationship that overcomes many obstacles, including price and process. Now you’re in the area of purpose and performance, and that puts you in a position to enable and help customers, not just sell them something.