Buyer personas are a powerful tool that helps teams build shared empathy for their buyers. While many put “buyer persona” into the category of cringe-worthy business jargon, without them you’d be building products and campaigns for a big faceless box of generalizations and personal biases.

Personas help marketers, product developers and CMOs put a face to the people they often can’t see. They help marketing teams see gaps in the buyer journey, ask questions from a specific point of view, and shed some light on the problems their buyers’ face. The trouble is, getting internal consensus on who exactly your buyer is, can be a daunting task. In this article, I’ll walk through gathering data, customer research, and the expertise of your team to build smart, specific, and data-driven buyer personas – all using a handy template you can get in Confluence or as a PDF.

Get to know who you don’t know

Rooted in data collected from user research, product analytics, purchase patterns, and web analytics, buyer personas paint a picture of the key traits of your audience members. They not only tell you what prospective customers may be thinking, they offer insight into what they’re doing as they consider your product or service.

Personas are also used to better serve existing customers and deliver a superior experience over the long term, influence product development, and even help prioritize projects or campaigns. They make it easier to choose the initiatives on which you should invest time and resources, leading to innovative features that address changes in the market.

What is a buyer persona?

“A persona is a composite sketch of a target market based on validated commonalities – not assumptions – that informs content strategy to drive productive buyer engagement (i.e., revenue).” – Adrath Albee, B2B marketing strategist & CEO at Marketing Interactions

Buyer personas can have a significant impact on how people inside your organization view your customers. Here’s what they do:

  • Eliminate personal wish lists, giving stakeholders inside your organization a solid, reality-based foundation for discussing the critical features and product changes that matter most to customers.
  • Give team members a consistent, memorable picture of the target audience, making it easy for them to discuss marketing and product solutions.
  • Allow your organization to walk through what-if scenarios that meet the needs of specific users, helping avoid costly misfires and mistakes.
  • Put a face on the customer base, fostering empathy and insight rather than preconceived thoughts and beliefs.

To build personas, start with a little digging

One way to start the process of building your own buyer persona is to write down the broad-brush vision you have of your customers – the picture you have in your collective head. Do a little poking around. Get some input from customer service, sales, marketing… even the folks in accounting.

From this process, you can develop broad buyer personas like “retail customer” and “wholesale customer.” Then take the next step. Build on these personas. Humanize them. Use qualitative and quantitative research to flesh them out, taking advantage of every resource available, such as:

  • Google Analytics audience reports
  • Facebook Insights
  • Social media listening tools like Hootsuite
  • Customer surveys and polls
  • Industry and market reports
  • Customer interviews
  • In-product analytics

Eventually, you’ll need to tell your buyer personas about the product or service you’re offering, so take time to research how they like to consume information. Do they typically access content online or offline? How often do they access social networks (and which ones)? Who/what influences their content consumption? Whose advice do they trust or seek when evaluating information?

Get information straight from customers’ mouths… and into a template

The persona template in Confluence

The most logical source of information about future customers is current customers. So make sure you listen to them. You can make it easier to analyze the information you collect by using a template that standardizes all customer interviews. This enables in-depth discussions that are consistent from interviewer to interviewer and from interviewee to interviewee.

Once you’ve finished the research, take steps to organize, centralize, and share customer interview information. All are invaluable in creating accurate buyer personas.

As you delve into the data you collected in interviews, ask the questions that will bring each persona to life:

  • Who is this person? What demographic characteristics describe her?
  • What are the specific objectives, responsibilities, and obstacles she encounters?
  • What is her role in relation to my company’s buying cycle?
  • What are her favorite ways to communicate, to make purchases, to interact?

Once you’ve identified the critical characteristics, you and your team can get down to the nitty gritty. Find common facts about your buyers in the data, and then funnel those facts into specific personas. You could end up with simply fleshed out versions of the originals or you could discover new personas you didn’t know you were serving. That’s the beauty of this process.

Obviously, you want your buyer personas to include the most relevant data about your current customers and potential customers. So yes: as you write them, include facts such as the types of businesses they work at, their job titles and functions, and their geographic locations. But also look for subtle facts that can give your company an edge – anything that can help you develop competitively relevant and strategically aligned products and marketing.

Keep in mind that buyer personas are fiction. It’s up to you to bring them to life. The more information your team has, the more likely each member of that team will be able to understand the people to whom you’re talking.

When you’re finished, you should have a great idea of who your customers are and how to best service, communicate with and improve your offerings to them.

Make buyer personas easy to use so you actually use them

For the sake of everyone’s sanity and focus, try to whittle down the number of buyer personas: between four and seven is usually a good range. Once you’ve nailed down the personas, they can be used to inform content strategy, to develop product-use cases in a variety of ways.

To make sure you do use them, post the personas where you and other stakeholders can see them. Get to know them. If you find yourself talking to them, wondering what you could do to help them, questioning how you can improve what you offer them, that’s excellent. (If they start answering your questions, you might want to consider a little time off…)

Don’t forget to revisit your personas every once in a while. Sit down with others in your organization and make sure they still align with where your business and content marketing strategy are headed.

The best thing about buyer personas is what they do for your messaging. Without them, some in your organization will have gut feelings about the people you’re targeting and what those people think and do. But without research-rooted personas, even the sage advisor on your team will still be throwing content darts at a very large board.

Simply put, without personas, marketers tend to follow the blind date scenario. They create content and products that fit their own needs or expectations, rather than those that suit the specific needs of a customer.

With personas, you create alignment across the organization and rally all teams around a customer-centric vision. The results are great product and service improvements as well as messaging that’s clear, consistent across all channels, and effective in building a long-term preference for your brand.

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