How to Create Buyer Personas: Customer Profiling Techniques

Contents

  1. Ideate - What is a Buyer Persona?
  2. Research - Buyer Persona Research Methods
  3. Create - How to Create Buyer Personas
  4. Analyse - Can I Analyse My Buyer Personas?
  5. Next Steps - The Principles of Content Marketing

What is a Buyer Persona? We hear this question a lot! So we're well-educated to give a reliable answer. This article will explain what they are, what they're used for and how to create buyer personas. All in 4 easy steps! Let's get started...



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1. Ideate: What is a Buyer Persona?

Defining Buyer Personas

Companies use buyer personas as a representation of their prospects. They could be clients you already have or clients you're aiming your product or service at.

Here's marketing company HubSpot's definition of buyer personas;

HubSpot Definition

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.

When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better.

Buyer personas provide tremendous structure and insight for your company. A detailed buyer persona will help you determine where to focus your time, guide product development, and allow for alignment across the organization. As a result, you will be able to attract the most valuable visitors, leads, and customers to your business.

You should never presume they're an exact representation of your customer. Make this mistake and your predictions become too narrowCompany data and statistics can be helpful. As well as information from sales and customer service reps.

Detail is key. When you're customer profiling, collect as much information as possible! If a lot of your customers are between 20-25, this will form a section of your persona.

Buyer personas have immense value. Knowing who you're marketing to removes a significant amount of guesswork.

Everyone in your organisation should study your target customers and use your personas on a daily basis.

Let's take a look at the Buyer Persona Institute's definition;

BPI definition

Built from the real words of real buyers, a buyer persona tells you what prospective customers are thinking and doing as they weigh their options to address a problem that your company resolves.

When we buy something it's because we want a solution. For example, if you're failing to keep track of your sales and marketing activities, you could solve the problem with a bespoke CRM.

But who would have this problem? A sales manager or director. A startup business owner. Notice how two personas have developed from one problem. And there could be more.


90% of companies using Personas have been able to create a clearer understanding of who buyers are - ITSMA


What Makes a Buyer Persona?

Customer segments and customer profiles are different ways of categorising customer information.


Segments are essential in the modern business world. The amount of data collected is astonishing and there has to be a definitive method to process it.


Segment customers to demographics, this could be age, income and location. If you sell high-end watches, your customers could be between 25-55, male and have an income above 25k.

There are flaws in this method. Because somebody is a certain age and has the same income as another buyer, it doesn't mean they have the same needs. For example, you may fit the above criteria and have 4 children, meaning you can't afford a high-end watch.

Segmenting is useful if you have access to large sets of data, or if you want basic customer profiles.


Customer profiling probes deeper. Focusing on the emotional and behavioural components of a buyer's personality.


This would be factors such as goals, problems and positive/negative traits. For example, if you're selling a CRM to a distressed sales manager, one goal would be to control company data.

These two categories combine to create the buyer persona. Transferring all these factors onto a blank canvas creates the portrait of your buyer.

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What's a Negative Buyer Persona?

What about the customers you don't want? Don't want?! "We want all types of customers". Brands are often destroyed by trying to appeal to everyone. Know your market and show them some love!

Here are 3 reasons why you should consider negative personas:

  1. You’ll save a lot of time. Every business owner or marketing team has their 'ideal customer'. But sometimes you attract the wrong one. A wholesale manufacturer getting enquiries from individual buyers should create a negative persona.
  2. Creating negative personas saves money. Not everyone wants your product so don’t feel obliged to market to them.
  3. Conserve your team's energy. Dismissing poor leads = more energy for the positive leads that convert to customers.

Macro & Micro Personas

Macro personas are buyer personas in their complete format. When you create them you'll think of variations, so it's important to present these in a simple way.

Visualise this as a pyramid, with the original persona at the top. As you filter down the pyramid your micro personas develop.

3-4 personas usually account for over 90% of a company’s sales - Mark W. Schafer.

It's important to have structure. Creating endless lists of micro personas based on insignificant data is time-wasting/consuming.

You should think of the marketing and sales funnel when creating you micro personas. Aim top of the funnel content at a wider audience, it covers a broader topic range and is designed to stimulate interest.

As you move customers down the funnel and learn more about their needs, tailor your offers and content.

Example of Micro Persona Offer: Let's say you're trying to sell a 'Complete Guide to Running a Business' book. Top of the the funnel content describes ‘10 Key Traits of Brilliant Business Owners.’ As you move down the funnel you consider your micro personas.

Business Owner Bill 1 has inherited the family business after working for another company. He's worried about staff management. So your email offer will send him an excerpt of that chapter.

Business Owner Bill 2 has been building the company since he was 18 and worries about the digital age. So you send him an excerpt from the digital business chapter.

top tip

Don't spend too much time on micro personas. Create 2-4 for each persona and test them against each other.


How Many Buyer Personas Should I Have?

There's no definitive answer to how many buyer personas you should have.

But common sense plays a big part! If you have a business with a wide range of customers e.g Tesco, you’d have many personas. If you sell in a niche market you won't have as many.

Create personas inline with your target market, and any surprise customers you pick up on the way. You may find a new niche in the process!


Why Are They Important?

We know what buyer personas are, but why bother using them? Here are the benefits:

  • Create consistency - Buyer personas are useful for building sales pitches or customer service calls. Having an idea of who you're dealing with makes it easier to script.
  • Company alignment - Buyer personas make it easier for different company departments to work towards a goal. Knowing your prospects makes strategy planning more accurate and communication more meaningful.
  • Product development - Knowing your customers' needs and pain points means you can adapt your product/service to suit them.
  • Rich results! - As you generate leads you'll start noticing that specific customers fall into certain personas. You'll be able to analyse each persona, see what works and what needs changing.

The Power of Niching

Niching is worthwhile if you have a specialist product. For example, If you sell gecko food your niche market is gecko owners. Niching is a fantastic opportunity to build meaningful customer relations. It's all about quality, caring customer service.

Knowing the intricacies of your customer will improve the detail in your personas. It reduces competition, but don't see yourself as the only service and get complacent.

key developments

Expect different types of customer and company. Keep track of emerging trends and add them to your persona.


What to Avoid

  1. Naturally, your sales team will have the most contact with customers before they buy. Because your prospect has a passion for rugby, it doesn't mean all of them do. Track emerging patterns and explore all scenarios.
  2. Don't assume your prospects aren't buying due to price. There are plenty of factors that make or break a decision. Is one of your sales team struggling to close? Is your aftercare package enticing?
  3. Don't assume your clients aren't online. Assume you're looking in the wrong place, and keep searching! If you're still struggling, think about how you can help your clients online.
  4. Giving up! It can take a while to withdraw information from people. They may have no problem telling you their age, but there deepest fears for the business? That could take time. Be patient and don't let resistance deter you.
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2. Research: Buyer Persona Research Methods

We've answered the question, what is a buyer persona? But how do we trim the layers? What's the secret to finding out their pains, goals and deepest desires? Customer profiling peels back those layers, uncovering the information you need to understand your customers.


The Behavioural Segment

For insight into how people buy, you must understand their behaviour. Advertisers have capitalised on this for decades. Understanding the psychology of buying is the gateway to success.

What type of clothing do people by in the summer? Shorts, vests, trainer socks. The clothing in the sale is big coats and woolly jumpers, summer wear is high-priced.

Coincidence? Certainly not. It's basic human behaviour. How many people buy winter clothes in the summer and summer clothes in winter? (Clever/rich people, that’s who!)

What's the most popular food sold around Christmas? We wouldn't bet on salads!


Behaviourally targeted ads are twice as effective as non-targeted ads - HiP


What Benefits do They Seek?

Your products offer different benefits. The buyer decision making process has changed, customers have access to unlimited resources.

This means they can research, compare and analyse. They are driving, they know their destination. Can you help them?

Example: You sell hi-fi’s, and your aim is to sell the most expensive one, obviously! It’s robust, good-looking and expensive. Your buyer is seeking a cheap, average, mid-range model, so the high-end model doesn’t benefit them.

A company that understands this behaviour would listen to their requirements and give them the product they need, not the product the company wants to sell.


Buying Occasion

A plumber will be aware that people sometimes don't buy out of choice, it's a necessity. Nobody wants a burst pipe, but if it happens, you have to repair it!

Plumbing Problem Paul could be a buyer persona. If you know his worries (price) and goal (quick solution) you're in a better position to help.


What Type of Buyer Are They?

Some people love the buzz of being the first buyer. The futuristic buyer pre-orders and thrives off the pre-release excitement of their new item.

The patient buyer is more sceptical, they wait for the first buyer to review the product. They weigh up the pros and cons and make a decision accordingly.

Although it's important not to waste time and money on people that aren't interested, don't disregard the unconscious buyer. They aren't aware the product exists and may hear through word of mouth or marketing.

Knowing who these buyers are can help you decide who to market your product to first. It would be unwise to aim your initial efforts at a persona that isn't proven.

The chances are, most B2B buyers won’t be futuristic, they’re patient or passive and look for solutions to problems.

quick brainstorm

Consider brainstorming your buyer, get your team together, have a bit of fun and come up with some suggestions. take a look at the example below for some ideas.


buyer-persona-brainstorm

Brand Loyalty

Brand loyalty depends on the customer and the product. Some people are happy switching from brand to brand looking for the cheapest option. Others become attached to the brand due to the experience it gives them.

You could find out what brands your customers like, or if they buy any similar brands to yours. Whether they have any loyalty cards or how long they've been with a company (such as a bank or mobile phone provider). Knowing how loyal your customers are will offer insight into how easy they are to retain.


How Often They Use a Service

Picture this. You're phone contract is coming to an end and you decide to ask about a new phone. You've been maxing your data out at 5gb and want a bit more.

You leave the store with 12gb of data per month on a £50 contract. A few months down the line you're only using 6gb per month. Why were you sold 12gb? To satisfy the company.

In the Pay-as-you-go market Tesco Mobile offer various 'rocket packs'. These packs offer various amounts of data and minutes to suit different users. These users could have different personas.

Consider how often your customer will use the service. If you over or undersell, give your customers the opportunity to increase or reduce their spend.


When creating your personas, consider how often people use your service. Are you a one off? Do customers use it everyday?


Product Perception and Beliefs

When you create your personas, consider how people view your business and whether what you offer conflicts with their beliefs.

Business perception has a huge impact on buying decisions. The horse meat scandal left Tesco’s reputation in tatters and knocked £300 million from their market value in 2013.

Similarly, beliefs can affect whether a prospect buys a product. Sticking with the meat theme, a pork scratchings company wouldn't market to Muslims as they don't eat pork.


Understanding Buyer Behaviour - Empathy Mapping

Empathy-Map

Using empathy maps gives us deeper insight into customer behaviour. It shows how various factors affect each other. And how those factors don't always relate.

For example, someone behaving in a way that is appreciative may be deceptive. They could be thinking something entirely different.


The Psychographic Segment

The human race is tribal, we seek those with similar interests and values. Consumer groups with different personalities require different marketing tactics.


Identify personality and lifestyle differences among your consumers. You can tailor your marketing efforts to their needs.


Brands aren't always exclusive to people who live one lifestyle and can crossover. Adidas sell sports clothing to athletes, but casual gym users buy it as well. Similar interests, different lifestyles.

In 1923 Young and Rubicam founded the Cross Cultural Consumer Characterization. It's a classification system that gives meaning to our behaviours, why do we buy what we buy? It's down to our personality type.


Cross Cultural Consumer Characterization

customer-profiling

These aren't factual but it's framework is relevant. Use the theory as an elimination process, or build customer profiling framework.

Remember, because a person is succeeding it doesn't meant they will be forever. They may lose money and become a struggler. It's part of the lifecycle process, people pass through different stages in their life.

Also, it's no surprise most businesses aim for the mainstreamer. They feel it's a safe bet and will generate the most profit.

top tip

This is why it's important to target buyer niches. Don't just pick the mainstreamer for your persona because you're blinded by profit.


Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

maslows-hierarchy

An observational theory that is applied to marketing is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

The bottom of the pyramid consists of core needs, as you progress up the pyramid those needs change. Let's use the example of failing-to-thriving business owner.

Example #1

  1. Her business is failing, but she needs to provide food and shelter for her family. It's touch-and-go, survival is her main motivation.
  2. Her business is out of the dark period, she's looking for security and consistency. She needs stability, guaranteed employment and reduced stress levels.
  3. Her business is generating small profits. She has more time for family and friends and feels like she belongs.
  4. Her business is thriving, she wants recognition and respect. Her self-esteem and confidence are growing with each achievement.
  5. She has mastered the 4 previous needs. She wants more, she wants her business to be the best, she’s looking for enlightenment.

When building buyer personas we should remember that people have different needs at different times.


Psychographics can become an indulgence. Don't let it lead you astray, keep the process simple and don't rely on it.


Use Them Together

Combining both methods gives incredible insight into consumer behaviour. But only if you get it right!

Both methods aren't based on measurable data. Observations can be wrong. Miles off sometimes! And that can be detrimental to business.

Be careful with these methods and try not to indulge in too much guesswork. Remain objective, don't let your 'ideal customer' take centre stage.


Data Collection Techniques

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The size and focus of your company will determine what type of data collection method you use.

Smaller companies may not have the resources to conduct ethnographic research or interviews, but have a diligent Marketing Executive who has experience using Survey Monkey.

Larger companies with bigger departments have bigger opportunities. The Research and Development Department liaises with sales, who recommend clients for interview.

Consider what method works best for your business and staff. Don’t overload yourself and slow the process down.

High-performing companies use a variety of methods to compile insights about their buyers, while their underperforming counterparts reported using fewer sources of data - Cintell

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3. Create: How to Create Buyer Personas

Analyse Your Data

You've collected your data, now it's time to analyse and narrow it down. You'll notice patterns as you break everything down.

For example, a large percentage of people who responded to your survey will be certain age. There may be a common answer people give to one of your interview questions.

Noticing patterns is easy enough. Determining whether they're reliable and valid is more difficult.


The best way to do this is to test your data, and the best way to do that is by creating buyer personas!


buyer persona template

Pick Important Data

You'll need to select the most relevant pieces of information for your persona. For example, if you sell foundation but a survey shows 15% of customers are men, gender is a relevant field.

If you sell mens shaving foam and 80% of buyers have dogs, that information is irrelevant (unless they shave their dogs).

Template fields vary depending on the business. A dog food business would know what type of dog somebody owns and know what type of food to market to them.

But there are core fields which every persona should contain, they are:

  • Challenges and goals - The main reason we buy something is because we have a problem or something we want to achieve. What's motivating them to find a solution?
  • Value proposition - How your company can solve the prospect’s problems or help them achieve their goals.
  • Demographics - Age, gender, location and job role. This will affect your targeting style. For example, men have different needs to women.
  • Job responsibilities - Prospects may have more than one responsibility, which creates more problems and goals.

81% of buyers will pay a premium for industry experience and industry-specific solutions - ITSMA


There are also optional extras that can give you deeper insight:

  • Positive and negative traits - Your interviews may show that business owners are more aggressive than assistants. Your material would have a different approach for each person.
  • Topics of interest - The assumption that all business owners love golf? IT nerds play Dungeons & Dragons? (We know, we made that assumption!) You may find some interesting answers...
  • What questions they ask - If you know what questions your prospects are going to ask, you have more time to prepare an answer!

Buyer Persona Example

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Combine Personas With Empathy Maps

Empathy maps give your personas context and make them human. Word documents and stock portraits can make the process feel rigid.

They allow the contributor to enter the prospect’s mind, seeing how they think and react in certain situations. Remain as impartial as possible. It's quite easy for bias to creep in when a good idea is generated.

Empathy maps work great in brainstorm style settings. Everyone can contribute and it builds a feeling of togetherness.

Developing ideas about your prospect's words and actions shows you their positive and negative traits. You can use these in your persona, it'll help you pinpoint your writing style.


Consider Buying Modalities

The easiest way to do this is to consider what type of buyer you are. Consumers are more likely to be humanistic, spontaneous buyers.

They want to know why your product suits them at the time, and are more likely to buy if they see other people using it.

Business buyers are more likely to adopt a competitive or methodical approach. They'll focus on questions about why the company is the best at what they do or how they solve problems.


buyer-modalities

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4. Analyse: Conduct Buyer Persona Reviews

Why is My Persona Failing?

  1. It's too basic - Companies make the mistake of gathering as little customer information as possible. There's also the danger that companies use too much basic information such as salary or age. Filling out personas with a passive or lax attitude confuses employees. Get some external feedback, and remember to thank your participants!
  2. They're gathering dust - Why have personas if they aren't used? Make them accessible, they're the first reference point for your employees. Display them, be proud of them, they're your customers!
  3. Internal bias - Use outside resources, ask your clients what they like about your company and why they chose you. Don’t rely on personal assumptions.
  4. No collaboration - Departments have to collaborate and work towards set goals. If goals conflict your personas aren't specific enough, or communication isn't effective.


Try A/B Testing

A/B testing is a popular method that has been used in marketing for years, with the original test happening in 1908!

You can use it to test your buyer personas and it's handy for testing micro personas. It compares how an audience behaves and reacts to two different samples.

Data can always be tested. Because your data or observation suggests something, it may not be true.

Let's say you've targeted Business Owner Steve. Steve is 27 and you believe he likes his content in video form.

Your content isn't met with applause, so you try a written article which gets a positive response. Can we say Steve prefers written content?

Well, no. It requires more testing, try a different style of video article or adapt your tone.

You'll start to see patterns over time. If you've tested 50 videos against 50 written articles and video is popular, create more videos!


There's a lot of freedom with A/B testing, if it doesn't work, change it and try again!


Practice Your Buyer Persona Building Skills

As you develop more buyer personas, you'll develop the skills required to create them. People think it's easy! It's a complex yet rewarding process. Keep developing and learning. Create an open culture where people can discuss and share what they've learned.

skills-for-buyer-persona-1Maintenance

One of the main reasons buyer personas fail is because they aren't appreciated! Your persona is your customer, so why wouldn't you nurture and care for them? Okay, it may be a piece of paper or a word document, but it's still relevant.

High-performing organizations are 7.4X as likely to have updated their personas in the last 6 months than those who missed lead and revenue goals - Cintell

People's values and lifestyle change, there are changes in the market or technology. You have to remain customer centric to hold people’s attention.

  • Maintain an analysis from campaign to campaign. Things change. If you're writing a blog series on email marketing, does that content need to change to align with GDPR? Your prospect has different problems now.
  • Develop visual personas, people are more responsive to something they can see. It makes it real! Could you have them on the office wall, or make a screensaver for your computer?
  • Be proactive. Keep a diary of when you need to check in with your clients. Ask them if they can see any problems developing in the future.

Changing Customer Base

You may have a new product range, be entering into a new market, or you may want to change your customer base! If you do take any of these steps, remember to review or create new buyer personas.


Adobe saw a 10% increase in email orders, a decrease of 78% in time to market, 59% increase in web visitors and 53% increase in web revenue with persona-based launch - SiriusDecisions

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5. Next Steps: Use Them!

Just Do It!

That’s it, you know how to create buyer personas! The only way you'll be successful with buyer personas is by using the steps listed above. Ideate, Research, Create and Analyse!

That's it, keep saying it! Remember, the process is never over. Keep studying your customers and altering your personas. Now go! Get out there and delight your audience.


What's the Next Stage?

Buyer personas are the start of every marketing or business plan. But it doesn't stop there. As soon as you have a collection of personas, you need to start marketing to them.


How do you do that? Follow the link to find out more...


All images created by Red-Fern in-house designer Dan Wilmott 2018. 

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