Buyer Personae: 2 Critical Things (and a Few Others) to Render a Multi-Dimensional Customer Profile

May 6th, 2015 by

WHO are you marketing to? It’s the first and most fundamental question to answer when devising an effective content strategy.

Or at least it should be.

Buyer persona (or personae, for you fellow Latin scholars) are the cornerstone of content marketing. But a simple fact is that a lot of marketers ignore or pay lip service to them. They may think they know enough about their company’s customers based on what they hear in the the media or what salespeople tell them. Or based on the little amount of description that passes for most customer research. Or they may suffer from Don Draper syndrome and believe they are brilliant enough to simply churn out content that will intuitively hit the mark with customers.

Honestly, talking to clients about the importance of documenting their buyer personae is one of the toughest parts of our jobs as content strategists. The companies and people we work with are smart. Do they know their customers? Sure they do, at least to some degree. But our point is that their understanding of their buyers usually lacks the depth necessary to create effective content.

So let us tell you what we tell them: Do. Not. Skip. This. Step.

Why is it so important? In an age of ever-expanding content and options for where to get it, your content strategy needs to be spot-on in speaking to the needs and concerns of would-be buyers. If you fail to truly understand what they really care about (beyond just knowing their price point or buying “triggers”), you almost certainly will fail to deliver content they care about.

Buyer personae have two essential jobs to do:

The first job of buyer personae is to support the sales funnel. A solid buyer persona or customer profile should reflect an understanding of the customer journey or buying process. It will address such things as: What are buyers’ immediate challenges, and why are they considering (or not) a product or solution like yours in the first place? What kinds of content do they want or need to make their decision? Personae also will address key objections buyers may have. By fully understanding how people come to be aware of your product, why they may need it, and why they may buy it, you can establish and map a content strategy that speaks to them and helps push them through the sales funnel.

Buyer personae should help you create content that positions your brand as an authority or industry leader. This is the part about buyer personae that so many companies (as well as content marketing gurus) miss. Generating and nurturing leads is a constant need for any company, and yes, your content should help to drive people through your sales funnel. But what is all that content doing for you over time? Is it resonating in a positive way for your brand? This is a huge opportunity. Buyer personae should help establish your expertise in your industry, or at least your corner of the industry. For instance, what are the key trends or big challenges your customers are concerned about, beyond their immediate pain points (i.e., their interest in buying your service)? What can you tell them about their industry or business they may not already know? Think of this more as the psychographic portion of the buyer personae… you’re trying to understand your buyers more as people, to figure out what motivates them and what they aspire to achieve, for their companies and for themselves.

If you ask 10 content marketers to give you a written example of buyer personae, you will likely get 10 different examples. But these two pieces — supporting the sales funnel, establishing authority — should be constant, not matter what example you follow.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • A buyer persona is a composite sketch. It is not simply a reflection of each and every customer segment. Let’s say you have four to six types of people who typically buy your products or services. Larger companies can have even more. A buyer persona may roll up several different kinds of customers into one. Let’s say you sell anti-fraud software for financial institutions. The bank’s president, CIO and CTO all may share similar concerns and have a similar outlook. So you don’t need three personae, but just one that captures all of the key psychographics. Remember: It’s not about their titles. It’s about the distinct orientation and viewpoints your customers have.
  • You should identify buyers through the lens of the buying process. Lots of folks think if they can just capture the interest of the president or someone in the C-suite, they’ve got it made. But a lot of times folks that high up in the company simply sign the contract. They’re not the ones researching, demo-ing and negotiating. When deciding who it is you’re going to profile as part of your customer sketch, think about the people who really matter. Who are the decision makers and the internal influencers who are really going to spend the most time with your content, and who are the end users? Think of this as the I.D.E.A. approach to identifying your most important buyers (Influencer / Decision Maker / End User / Approver).
  • You don’t need to blow your marketing budget. Say the word “customer research” and watch marketers scatter. Don’t sweat it, and don’t overthink it. If you have money for professional research, great, but most marketers with brains and conviction can deliver buyer personae that are just as good as the professional version. The secret is to simply talk to your existing customers. All it may take are several coffees and/or phone conversations, and voila, your conception of what customers think and care about is turned upside down.
  • Your buyer personae should be documented. Remember, these are profiles. Write about your buyers in such as a way that reflects the fact they are people. Don’t make them generic. Give them detail. Give them a picture (even if it’s stock imagery). An example of a buyer persona template is included below.

Need help creating compelling buyer personae? You’re in luck. Our Traffic University webinar series, “Who is Waldo: Developing Buyer Personae,” has all the tools you need, including a complete list of “Funnel Questions” and “Authority Questions” to ask your customers and would-be buyers. Access the complete deck here [PDF], or by clicking the image below. You can also can get the complete webinar replay here.

who is waldo

Happy personae building!

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