Buyer Personas - Why We Need Them & How to Create Them
You may think that your brand is at the heart of your company, but at the core of everything you do you’ll find your customers. Their needs and values should drive all marketing decisions, as they are the life force that keeps your business afloat.
However, many companies lack an intimate understanding of customer needs, thus necessitating the use of buyer personas. Whether you work with a small business or a large corporation, there is great value in using personas to spearhead marketing initiatives. But what are marketing or buyer personas, and what exactly are they used for?
As intimidating as personas may seem at first, their benefits are endless, and creating one is surprisingly easy.
What Are Buyer Personas?
Buyer or marketing personas are generalized statements about a target public which outline their attitudes, habits, lifestyle and, most importantly, propensity to buy. Though a persona is a fictionalized representation of a real type of person (e.g. Suburban Sally, Tech Savvy Travis, etc.), it empowers companies with the opportunity to segment their target audience into groups with shared values.
Why do marketing teams, public relations professionals, and companies need to do this?
Quite simply, different publics will respond to different messages across different mediums. For example, some groups are more inclined to respond to direct mail print ads, and others are more receptive to radio and digital marketing.
As lovely as it would be to have a “one-size-fits-all” approach to marketing, that is simply not a winning strategy. Different publics, or audiences, are bound to respond to different channels of communication. Understanding different groups’ preferred messaging and channels of communication is potentially very lucrative for companies, and it can lead to understanding of where customer satisfaction, dissatisfaction, and loyalty stem from. In an article published by MIT Sloan Management Review, authors Benjamin Schneide and David E. Bowen remind us that catering to customer needs has the potential to notably increase overall customer satisfaction.
Which Departments Can Benefit From Personas?
Personas are a tool that can be utilized by a number of departments — including sales, marketing and product development — to envision and understand the ideal customer. Once you understand where your values overlap with a prospective customer’s desires, you will encounter the opportunity to develop empathy for their needs. Additionally, you will find that you better understand how to begin a discussion of their needs.
The ultimate goal of marketing personas is to help you tailor meaningful content to specific publics within your target audience. Whether it is a sales program, internal outreach program, a call center script, or simply a product marketing initiative, it is important to put yourself in your target customer’s shoes to guide them on their journey through the marketing funnel.
In reality, any content linked with customer acquisition is best created with a meaningful understanding of your audience — after all, everyone wants to feel that you are talking to them, not at them.
Why We Need to Internalize Customer Needs
Every company serves a number of populations, both knowingly and unknowingly. There are internal audiences — employees, stakeholders, and partners. External publics are those without the inside information understood by and familiar to internal groups — these may be customers, future customers, or non-engagers.
As a member of the internal public of an organization, we often take advantage of our familiarity with a product or marketing initiative. We forget how little our audiences actually know about our undertakings. Personas empower us with the opportunity to internalize the needs of our customers and prospective customers. In colloquial terms, personas provide us the unique opportunity to take a walk in someone else’s shoes.
When we use a persona to understand how our company’s values overlap with those of a particular audience, we have an opportunity to cater content directly to the needs of that audience. For example, a young, single man living in a big city will most likely be receptive to messaging (and mediums) that differs greatly from what the stay-at-home suburban mom responds to.
In the wise words of Business of Story, “If you don’t craft and tell compelling business and brand stories from your customer’s point-of-view, then you will get lost in the sea of sameness as you compete for attention with old fashioned and undifferentiated features-and-benefit messaging.”
The goal, they explain, is to understand the journey your customers are on. Once you understand where they are in the marketing funnel — if they are just now gaining awareness of your product or if they have heard of it and have a high propensity to buy your product — as well as what they need in order to further their personal journey, you move away from being a promoter of your own product and into a role as a trusted purveyor of information and lifestyle enhancing services.
How Do I Create Buyer Personas for my Business?
Now that you understand what a persona is and why they are essential to content creation, you may wish to create buyer personas for your company. Depending on the size of your business, you may have just a few personas or you may have several.
Either way, Business of Story advises taking a Who’s Your Hero? approach to identify your top audiences. They advise you:
Jot down your top three target audiences and their needs on a sheet of paper.
Create marketing personas based on the psychographics and demographics within each group.
Take a storytelling approach to this. You’ll want to identify each audience’s backstory (where they are and where they wish to go), whom the hero is (how old members of the audience are, where they live, and so on), what is important or an impairment to them, and other similar factors.
Sounds easy, right?
The truth is… it is. You will, of course, want to start with a bit of data — though it does not have to be a lot, more information will help you to assemble a well-rounded and realistic analysis of each individual audience. Examples of this kind of valuable information include whether someone lives in the suburbs or the city, what their house is worth, what their annual income is, and the age of their children. Ideally, you will want to utilize strong market research to gather this information.
Market research includes anything that helps a business understand the behaviors of a public, their thoughts and interests, and anything that may cause them to experience hesitation with purchasing your product or utilizing your services. You will want both qualitative and quantitative data to do this. A few tools you might consider utilizing are:
Once you understand your audiences, you will want to link them to buyer behavior. From here, creating messaging for an audience will become a much more streamlined process.
Using Personas to Advance Business Goals
Ultimately, the goal of a persona is to create content that makes your audience feel as though you are speaking to them directly. They are the hero in your story, and your marketing is the voice of reason that guides them along their journey. When you understand their needs, you can provide them with messaging that is both empathetic to and understanding of their plight.
Here are a few theoretical personas to demonstrate how we can make assumptions about an audience’s needs:
Small Town Sue & Sam: If we know that Sue & Sam are young, middle class parents with deep roots in the community, we know that they will likely respond well to community-oriented messaging and products that ease the burden of parenting or clear up their busy schedules.
Big City Bryan: This young up-and-comer recently graduated from college and has settled in an urban community for work. While he is educated, he does not yet have savings or a house to call his own. He is, however, tech-savvy and an enthusiastic consumer of the latest and greatest technology — naturally, he is likely to respond to messages focused on value and innovation.
Rural Richard & Rita: Richard & Rita are retired, and they have spent 25 years in the same home in a rural community. They enjoy traveling, though international travel is out of their budget. They trust local companies over corporations and value one-on-one relationships with companies, having grown up in an area where everyone knows everyone else. They want to feel that they are investing in worthy products or services, and therefore they will want to know what your brand values and what post-purchase care will look like.
Once you have the necessary information to create personas and cater to their needs, the last piece of the puzzle is to track the success of different messages and mediums throughout a marketing campaign. Ideally, your company will find success and will enjoy profitability from your initiatives.
And if you don’t initially encounter success… try again!
As customers shy away from content that they feel is irrelevant to them, trial and error may be necessary depending on how much data you have up front. There are always resources, such as live streams and on-demand resources from the American Marketing Association, that can help your marketing team improve efficiencies. In addition, Joan Schneider and Julie Hall remind us in the Harvard Business Review to engage the help of internal publics — sales teams, the public relations team, and others — to steer a product’s launch toward success.
All in all, personas are an invaluable tool for marketing initiatives. Buyer personas empower businesses with the ability to create meaningful and engaging content and the skillset to recognize content that may be poorly perceived. There are many tools out there to assist in gathering market research and grouping publics with shared values into personas — and some of the most valuable resources may be the people within your own organization.
Once you have a bit of data and a drive to succeed, you are ready to jump into persona creation feet first.
We Can Help!
When assembling buyer personas, you will want to ensure that you have the proper research and data at your fingertips. Not sure where to start? The Jennasis team can help!
Our teammates are experts in strategic communication and can help you start building personas today!
Contact us today and start optimizing your marketing initiatives! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nikki Rhoades is a creative writer from Northeast Ohio who has a passion for the written word from journalistic efforts to marketing and public relations. She also plays guitar and violin, loves to rescue animals and has learned the art of palm reading.