If you’ve spent any time marketing your business or sat through sales pitches with digital marketing agencies, you’ll have likely come across the term “customer persona” or “buyer persona” every now and again. But what is a buyer persona and is it really worth your time to come up with one? Is it just an empty buzzword? Is compiling one just a throw-back to that one creative writing class you had in school or is it actually a valuable exercise based on real, observable facts about your prospective customers?
In today’s blog post, we’ll be taking a deep dive into what customer personas are, how you can make them and what you can use them for. We’ll also recommend some good resources along the way to help you develop yours so that you can start customising your marketing, sales and product to better appeal to your ideal customers.
What is a customer persona?
Simply put, a customer persona (also known as a buyer persona) is a semi-fictional depiction of your ideal customer, including their needs and wants, their quirks and demographic information. That’s not to say you can only have the one: really, you can have as many customer personas as you see fit, though if this is the first time you’ll be developing customer personas, we’d recommend you write up no more than two or three.
What we mean by “semi-fictional” is that the personas are based on reality but partly fictionalised through simplification to make them easier to understand. This means doing research on your customers current and past, your leads and your prospects to find what makes them tick, recognising similar patterns and then condensing these to one semi-fictional “character”. It’s the perfect mix of creativity and objective market research.
Why create buyer personas
Having some customer personas you can refer to at any time can be a huge help with a number of different aspects of running your business - not just marketing! They can help your sales team recognise which leads are more likely to convert to paying customers, what kind of language to use with them and what questions they may have. This way, they can focus their energy on the people most likely to convert and anticipate their needs better.
Customer personas can also help with your product development: interviewing people about their experience with and expectations of your company will help you develop your offering to better align with their needs and wants. Making changes to your products or services based on real feedback also communicates to your audience how much you value their opinion and helps to create brand loyalty.
Meanwhile, on the marketing front, buyer personas will help you focus your efforts on the right channels, use the right sort of language, create content that’ll speak to your target audience and, with the help of some segmentation and content mapping, tailor the messaging people belonging to different customer persona segments will receive.
They’re also a helpful thing to present to your digital marketing agency if you do decide to outsource some or all of your marketing, allowing them to quickly understand who your ideal audience is. We’ll talk more about how to put your buyer personas to good use in just a bit.
How do I go about creating customer personas?
So how do you go about actually creating customer personas? To start with, talk to your customer-facing staff about their experiences. Then, see what kind of demographic information you can find out about your leads through your Google Analytics page: which channel brings in most website visitors, are these people on their phone or desktop computer and where are they based?
Next is the most important part: talking with your customers. Reach out to customers old, new and prospective and ask if they have a little time to answer some questions for you.
Keep in mind that some questions might be easier for people to answer through a written questionnaire rather than directly to someone from your business. So do consider a written questionnaire but keep in mind that people might quickly forget they’d promised to fill one and require several reminders to complete it, or provide only very brief answers.
In contrast, when people are talking directly to you or one of your team members, you can ask follow-up questions and there’s a set time you’ll get their answers, so choose the option that seems more appropriate based on what you want to ask.
People generally like to talk about themselves and have an impact on the products and services they use. However, if you’re inteviewing them, make things as easy for them as possible by letting them pick a time that suits them and try to keep the interview brief.
As for what to ask for, start with demographic details: their age, gender, where they live, their family and work. Then it’s time to move onto your offering and the problem it seeks to solve. What issue were they facing before reaching out to your company? How well has your company helped solve that issue and how could you improve? For more suggestions on what to ask during these interviews, check out this blog post.
Don’t have all that many - or any - customers just yet? Not to worry - you can still create accurate customer personas. In fact, even if you have a large list of customers you could interview, it’s a good idea to also talk to people who might not be familiar with what you do but who fit into the rough categories of customers that have surfaced through talking to your sales staff and existing customers and checking your website analytics.
You can recruit people to interview through your network of contacts and through paid survey sites like UserTesting.com. With people you don’t have a prior relationship with, you might need to offer them some kind of an incentive for participating: a small Amazon gift card will usually do nicely.
And remember that whoever you’re interviewing, make sure they know what to expect: questions about their life and interests, not an hour-long sales pitch from you. This should make it much easier to get people to agree to an interview.
What do I do with the information I gather?
The more you talk to people, the more you’ll start to notice patterns that come up with their answers. From this, you can start categorising people who share many of the same demographic characteristics, interests and pain points.
This is where your creativity comes in: you summarise these similarities into one semi-fictional character who you name, like “Gin Expert Gemma” (alliteration is always a plus!), giving this character an age and a backstory and outlining what they are looking for from a product or service like yours. You should also provide details of what kind of media they consume (social media, news sites and so on) and what kind of language they use (online customer reviews are a gold mine for this).
You take all of this information and compile it onto one page, making a kind of character fact sheet that makes it easy to understand what makes them tick at a glance. A name, as well as a picture, will help to humanise each persona and to imagine their life and what they’d like to see from your company. For images, check out a royalty-free picture resource like Unsplash. You can download a free buyer persona template on the Hubspot website.
Your character is not fully fictional, but they’re not real, either. They’re simply a generalisation of a type of prospective customer you come across a lot, helping you target them with the right messaging at the right time.
Negative customer personas
Knowing who your target audience consists of is important, but arguably, knowing who isn’t part of this audience is just as important. After all, trying to market your offering to everyone is a surefire way to waste your money and energy trying to convert people who your product or service simply isn’t right for, drive up your cost per acquisition and miss out on more suitable leads. Enter the negative buyer persona.
The connotations this name might have are, well, negative, but in reality, negative buyer personas are not about depriving people interested in your business of something they’d find valuable, but rather, making sure you focus most of your energy on the people most likely to convert.
A negative buyer persona is a semi-fictionalised version of the people who aren’t likely to turn into paying customers. This could mean people whose budget isn’t big enough, who have unrealistic expectations or students and other business owners engaging with your company mostly for research purposes.
To hone in on your negative personas, talk to your sales and customer service staff, clients and prospects. However, perhaps the best people to talk to for your negative buyer personas are your dissatisfied customers. Yes, this might seem a little scary, especially if they’ve been vocal about their frustrations in the past. However, the insights these people can give to why things didn’t work out can provide extremely valuable insight into who your offering isn’t right for and even where you could improve it.
From there, the process of generating negative customer personas is very similar to that of creating your primary customer personas: you ask demographic questions as well as what they like/don’t like to see in a product or service like yours. Once you’ve started noticing patterns in what people bring up, you can quite naturally start sketching out your negative customer personas.
How to put your customer personas to use
So you’ve got your buyer personas ready to go, looking all pretty and impressing everyone around you. Now what? What often happens with customer personas is that they’re talked about for a couple of weeks and then promptly forgotten about. But we’re not going to let that happen, are we? So here are just a few ways to put those personas you worked so hard on to good use.
The first thing you should do is to assess how you’re allocating your marketing resources and how this spread could be improved with the insights you’ve gathered while writing up your buyer personas. Are you allocating your PPC ads budget to the social media sites your ideal customers are most likely to use? Are you posting on these platforms regularly and answering comments?
Customer personas will also be hugely helpful with your content marketing strategy. Since the research behind your customer personas helps to shed light on the pain points, interests and objections your target audience shares, it’ll be a gold mine for coming up with content ideas that will appeal to them, from blog posts to landing page copy. Especially once you combine your personas with your client life cycle stages, you’re able to produce content that appeals to your ideal customers with pinpoint accuracy.
Need some help coming up with your customer personas or putting them to good use? Bundle Digital can help! We’re a digital marketing agency in Edinburgh with a fully remote staff made up of PPC and content marketing experts who love nothing more than helping our customers reach the right audience. Have a read through our services pages and get in touch to chat about what we could do for your business.