Buyer Personas: What They Are and Why They Matter to Your Marketing

By Diane Saeger

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Your customers are real people, with real needs, real interests, and real problems. Because of the ways we communicate these days—email, social media, blogs, webinars—it’s easy to forget their reality and even easier to begin seeing and interacting with them as ones and zeroes in your database.

Here’s where buyer personas are key. Once you understand what they are, how to set them up, and how to use them, buyer personas can help you better reach and better engage with your target audience.

1. What’s a Buyer Persona?

The term “buyer persona” is tossed around quite a bit, but it’s not always clear what it means. Here’s how HubSpot describes a buyer persona: “a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”

In even simpler terms, buyer personas are infographics about your target audience—like a caricature that visually depicts collections of data. Buyer personas oftentimes include fabricated faces, names, and job titles created from very real information you have on your buyers.

2. Why do Buyer Personas Matter?

Beyond the fun of dreaming up imaginary people, buyer personas also bring your data to life. They help make sense of data points, charts, and graphs and give you direction on how to reach actual people.

Specifically, buyer personas can help you hone in on key segments in your target markets. Imagine going to a party with thousands of people. You can’t possibly talk to them all—not with any depth or meaning—so you decide that tonight you’ll only connect with men who appear to be between the ages of 30-50 and who carry iPhones. That’s how buyer personas work. They look at key identifiers and create smaller, more manageable segments in your database.

Additionally, buyer personas can help to refine your messaging. Back to that imaginary party, what if you approached the 30-50-year-old men carrying iPhones and asked specific questions that touched on their personal interests? Sure would beat stumbling through a lot of small talk, right? Buyer personas help in the same way by identifying specific needs and pain points for each audience segment. And so you no longer need to create generic content marketing that speaks in general terms. Instead, buyer personas allow you to create more personal collateral that looks and behaves in a way that’s relevant to that audience.

3. How to Create Useful Buyer Personas

While we’ve covered their benefits, buyer personas are only helpful if they’re useable. Finding fun photos and crafting creative names will be a waste of time if no one in your organization utilizes the buyer personas. So you want to make sure they’re useful.

How do you do that? Start by looking at your current customers. Sift through their data and pull out key elements—demographics, job title, industries, etc.—but then go deeper. If you know them, write down personal details that relate in some way to your product or service. She leads a 20-person sales team. He works from home to stay closer to his two kids. She went to college, but wants to get a master’s degree. And if you don’t personally know them, ask your sales or customer service teams what they know.

Also, consider conducting market research by interviewing customers, prospects, referrals, and third-party networks. Ask each interviewee the basics, such as: what is your title, what do you do, what industry are you in. But also probe with deeper questions that will add more life to this person, such as: what’s challenging in your role, how do you keep your skills current, what might your career look like 10 years from now. If you’re not sure where to start, here are 20 questions that HubSpot suggests you ask in your research.

You’ll then review all these stats, facts, and details in search of shared details or behaviors across the masses. As patterns begin to appear, you’ll lump them into smaller groups. And these segments will be used to create your first buyer persona that includes such tangible details as a name (i.e., Accountant Ally), demographic details (gender, age, location, income, family), and career notes (job title, work history, goals, challenges, pain points).

In the end, you’ll have transformed ones and zeros into names and faces. And you’ll be better communicating to and connecting with real people who have real needs, real interests, and real problems.

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