“Buyer Personas” Is Not a Fancy Name for Segmentation
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“Buyer Personas” Is Not a Fancy Name for Segmentation

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by: Ellen Valentine (@EllenValentine)
08 April 2015

Buyer PersonasLately, when I’ve been speaking to marketers about their go-to-market strategies, nearly all of them have at least mentioned creating buyer personas as part of their plan but frequently neglect using these roles when it comes to marketing execution. It’s clear that many marketing leaders understand the importance of buyer personas on the overall customer experience, but perhaps are not so clear on how to actually determine them and use them to create strategy, content and campaigns. 

Oftentimes, a marketing leader will begin a strategy session or campaign review by sharing the names they’ve given each persona, an avatar or headshot, the interests that define each persona, education level and several other identifying characteristics. They will typically highlight three to four of these so-called personas and take great delight in giving them full personalities. 

From there, the conversation progresses to discussing overall marketing campaigns, email marketing and other approaches and strategies. While the named buyer persona is nice, it seldom goes further than the introductory conversations around how to target these prospects. 

Suddenly, the marketer defaults to using demographic information (e.g. geography, products owned/installed, title) and perhaps behavioral attributes (e.g. downloaded a white paper, watched a video) to segment their customers. This is segmentation at its best – dividing a broad audience into smaller subsets based on common preferences or actions. Marketers then deliver content based on a marketing calendar, pushing information and sales when it’s most convenient for them, not the end customer. Unfortunately, the interests, names and other descriptors used to assemble the buyer personas mentioned earlier are usually relegated to PowerPoints that gather dust in our hard drives. 

What is a buyer persona?

According to the Buyer Persona Institute, buyer personas are “built from the real words of real buyers…telling you what prospective customers are thinking and doing as they weigh their options to address a problem that your company solves.” It’s more than just a touch point on a customer’s journey – it’s providing content and messaging based on real insight from customers and prospects. And, according to a study by Aberdeen Research, marketers who use personas and map content to the buyer’s journey enjoy 73 percent higher conversions. 

Buyer personas should represent an entirely new marketing approach for your company. Remember, once buyer personas are established, marketing should be on the customer’s timeframe, not the marketing department’s. Using automated marketing technologies, marketers are able to deliver messages on an individual basis based on pre-defined business rules and actions. 

Fair warning: Done correctly, there are no silver bullet shortcuts, and creating buyer personas will require the marketing team to do substantial research, calling on customers, prospects and even former customers or individuals from lost deals to determine who actually comprises a buying audience and what drives them to make a purchase.    

What are the steps for identifying buyer personas?

  1. Get to know the buyers – really. I have long been an advocate for nearly everyone in the marketing department making sales calls. In fact, I consider my five year tenure in sales to be vital to my success as a marketer – I enjoy talking with my buyers about their consideration and decision processes and hope others will as well. What better way to get to know your customers, and imagine how much a personal phone call will mean to many of them.

    It will take time, but speaking with a variety of individuals who have had interactions with your company will be so insightful and in the end, will make the marketing department as a whole a more focused and strategic unit. 

  2. Quit making stuff up. I recently finished Adele Revella’s new book, “Buyer Personas,” and she quickly sheds light on the dirty secret that marketers often MSU - Make Stuff Up! That’s right, in the absence of direct buying insight (gleaned from the thorough interviews mentioned above), marketers are forced to make up marketing strategy, campaign, content and digital tactics.

    Now is the time to declare war on MSU! So what should you do in these calls to new customers as well as the folks who did not buy from you? Take the time to conduct at least eight to 10 buyer interviews to get the real picture of not only who your customers are, but also what the buying journey is like for your products and/or services. Keep in mind that win-loss interviews, which are often conducted by sales or outside specialists, will not substitute for the interviews you needed to build buyer personas. Revella’s book will help you learn now to select the candidates for interviewing and how to ask the probing questions that will provide substantial insight.

  3. Do a content audit. It’s more than likely that marketing departments of all sizes have a lot of content on hand, even if it’s slightly outdated. Take an inventory of every blog post, white paper, infographic, etc., and if possible, report on at which stage of the sales cycle the content was consumed. Once you have a clear understanding of which areas you have an abundance of materials, and where there might be some gaps, you’re able to either update the old content or create new pieces to match particular buyer personas.

  4. Build out buyer personas and stay on top of your game. Once your interviews are complete, you are ready to organize and interpret the findings, using the insight you’ve gleaned to facilitate the customer journey and deliver the most relevant and compelling content. Again, step-by-step instructions are found in “Buyer Personas.” It’s a good idea to have a few people from the marketing team continue to do one to two buyer calls each month to ensure that the personas that have been created are still accurate and that the marketing strategies you’ve implemented since creating personas have positively impacted the customer experience. 

With these tips, you should be fired up about creating strategy and campaigns that really resonate with your future buyers. I highly recommend diving into “Buyer Personas” to get the techniques you need to be a world-class marketer. 

Related Resources:

1)      White paper: Ultimate Guide to Assessing Your Digital Marketing Program

2)      Blog: 3 Tips for Making Digital Marketing a Priority in Your Organization

3)      Blog: Tip for 2015: Move the Customer Journey to Center Stage   


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