While there are many fancy-schmancy marketing tactics out there, there’s only one judge of a successful marketing campaign:
After all, if your audience doesn’t connect—it just won’t work!
You could run the exact same, flawless marketing campaign, targeted at two different audiences, and it would land completely differently each time. Success or failure is ruled entirely by the people you are communicating with.
That means there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to marketing. Different buyers have different preferences, so marketing should be shaped not by the marketer, but by the buyer in question.
Enter the buyer persona, the roadmap that will guide your marketing efforts directly to your audience.
Buyer personas are powerful tools that use vital customer data to optimize your marketing. Below, I’ll share an actionable, four-step process for creating buyer personas, plus actionable methods for putting them to work.
How to Create a Killer Buyer Persona
There are many ways to go about creating a buyer persona, but most of them follow a similar process with slightly different techniques. Below I’ve shared a simple four-step persona-building process I currently use with my clients:
Step 1: Select Your Persona Research Criteria
Step 2: Collect Reliable Data
Step 3: Organize the Information
Step 4: Model the Persona
Step 1: Select Your Persona Research Criteria
Buyer personas provide data on the whos, whats, and whys of your target in an organized document:
- The lingo and vocabulary of your customer
- Influencers they follow
- Where they hang out online
- The strategies best suited to them
- and more…
A lot of resources go into creating just one buyer persona, so it’s likely impractical to develop several personas, especially in B2B transactions that involve different buyers.
Instead, you should refine your buyer persona research criteria to target only your most ideal customers. This is where a client audit comes in and helps you find who your most valuable customers are, and therefore, the people you want to create personas around.
So how do you go about auditing your clients?
There are many tools to go about it, but I recommend using this client assessment chart created by Mike Michalowicz, a highly successful entrepreneur. Basically, the chart enables you to input your clientele features and filter them down to your most valuable clients.
In addition to revenue (which is the first column), you rate them based on qualifiers such as whether they’re quick to communicate, good at communicating, or provide other opportunities.
Michalowicz takes this further by including immutable laws, which you can customize to your preference—some of his laws range from “Blood Money” (frugal clients) to “No Dicks Allowed” (no explanation needed).
I stole that last one to use myself, but feel free to come up with your own. 😉
Once your columns are ready, you assign scores for each client, total up the score column on the far right and you’re good to go.
I recommend grabbing Michalowicz’s book The Pumpkin Plan (look for chapter: “Assess the Vine”), where he covers client audits in more detail.
In most cases, you’ll find that only a small percentage of your clients actually bring in the money (this will make sense if you’re familiar with the Pareto rule). Take this a step further by identifying negative personas, the people with the lowest scores. This will allow you to market to people you want to target the most, focusing your efforts in ways that will actually move the needle.
Step 2: Collect Reliable Data
Now that you’ve determined your ideal customer base, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty and collect customer data. There are many ways to go about this, but what’s key is to focus on primary data and not create personas on intuition and assumptions.
A study by the Edelman Group found that most businesses fail to understand the fundamental motivations and concerns of their customers. So it’s no surprise that 34% of the 2,000 U.S. adults surveyed by Responsys said that they had “broken up with a brand due to receiving poor, disruptive, or irrelevant marketing messages.”
This is where buyer personas come into play and enable marketers to understand their target markets. Buyer personas are based on real data that goes beyond standard demographics, including:
- Insights from their work life
- Goals and objectives
- and more…
Here are some ways to collect reliable customer data:
Interview Your Customer-Interaction Teams
These are your staff that deal with your customers, either directly or indirectly. For example, salespeople, managers, employees, customer support, etc. Talking to your employees is a great way to learn different perspectives about your customers. To conduct these interviews, you can:
- Send out surveys to your employees (this is quick but not as effective).
- Hold workshops to discuss customer issues.
- Hold one-on-one meetings with key customer-facing staff (think: top agents, senior reps, etc.).
Interview Clients/Customers (Good and Bad)
After interviewing staff, you need to talk to the customers. However, it’s also important to talk to your unpleasant clients, those you’d had some conflict with, as they’ll help you better understand what’s wrong with your value proposition.
Customer interviews can be a real PITA, but they are essential in persona building, as they’re your most reliable source of information. Below are a few methods to make this process easier:
- Use incentives (think: coupon codes, gift cards, etc.) to encourage customer to accept interviews.
- Hold phone interviews to make it easier for customers to share feedback.
- If you can, try to hold face-to-face interviews (preferable to phone) to get a deeper insight as people open up to people.
- Spend some time on customer questions so you get the most out of every interview. I recommend checking out Crazy Egg’s guide on how to interview customers for more information.
Pro tip: Limit customer interviews to a maximum of five per persona you’re creating, or at least until their answers start to get predictable.
In the next section, we will dive more into the type of data you want to gather for your personas. You can also use this as a guide to figure out what questions to ask your customers during the interviews.
Step 3: Organize the Data
Next, it’s time to organize all the data into a spreadsheet. This process involves a lot of manual labor, but is essential to get the most out of your data. Below are a few key data points you want to focus on when organizing data:
Demographics are attributes of your customer that help you understand them on a granular level. For example, job title, gender, income level, etc. This is important to understanding your customer better and making better marketing decisions.
For instance, a website for a 25-year-old male customer might be different than one targeting a 55-year-old female—and demographics are what helps you define how different it should be.
You use firmographics in B2B buyer personas that represent firms and enterprises. At a minimum, firmographics should define company type, size, and industry. You can then extend this by adding location, revenue, and the number of employees.
Note: Firmographics are only required when creating B2B buyer personas, or when you’re targeting enterprise individuals (think: online courses for entrepreneurs).
Assigning a title to a persona adds another dimension, which helps with targeting. For example, an agent would follow a different approach when pitching to a 6-figure employee as compared to a 60-year-old real estate investor. The titles would be completely different.
Goals and Challenges
Goals and challenges are important persona traits that help you understand what makes them tick:
- What keeps your persona up at night?
- What do they want to accomplish?
- What can your business do to help them?
Next, you’ll want to swipe some real, direct quotes from your customer interviews. These quotes are gold in marketing as you can easily use them to create irresistibly relevant copy that’ll make your target feel like you’re in their head (not in a creepy way!).
Kind of like inception.
Objections are issues that negatively affect a buyer’s decision to purchase. These can be anything from price, quality issues, or even lousy reputation. It’s easy to sidestep these objections, but doing so will only create gaps in your marketing. Tackle them head on and address them. What’s more, objections are a great way to identify gaps in your value proposition and position your service around it.
An elevator pitch is a brief, persuasive pitch that sparks an interest in your offer. A strong elevator pitch combines your product/service with the motivation and objection of its persona.
Use this formula to create your own elevator pitch:
Why does this pitch format work? Because it focuses on what they get and the fact that they don’t have to suffer to get it.
Let’s say you’re a job board that has two customer segments:
- Job seekers
Here’s how I’d create an elevator pitch using my formula:
1. For Job seekers:
“We make it easy for job seekers to get many offers from reliable employers without filling out countless applications.”
2. For Employers:
“We help employers find reliable employees without having to waste precious resources on the hiring (and firing) of bad employees.”
These elevator pitches are simple, fluff-free, and directly point out the value proposition of the job board service. Create a similar elevator pitch for each of your customer personas to help guide your marketing.
Step 4: Model the Persona
Once you have the customer data gathered and organized, you need to turn each customer segment into a rad buyer persona.
This step will help your marketing because it’s much easier to use visual personas instead of boring spreadsheets. However, when modeling personas, you won’t need to incorporate every piece of data you have.
Instead, keep it simple and focus on the most important factors:
- Behavioral drivers: Your customer’s goals and objectives
- Obstacles: Concerns your customers have with your service
- Mindset: Expectations and preconceived notions of your customers
To paint a better picture, here’s an example of an excellent buyer persona:
Source: Marketing Insight
Below, I’ve shared two best practices you can adopt to create rockstar personas just like this one.
Bring Your Persona to Life
Your buyer persona is a semi-fictional character, so it’s only logical to give them a name and face. However, avoid stressing over perfection. A made up name should do just fine, and for the image, just grab a royalty-free portrait image off a stock provider like Shutterstock.
Visualize Your Persona
Apart from humanizing your persona, you want to display the data in a nice visual format.
For this, either get a designer to create a custom persona, or use a persona generator. I recommend Hubspot’s persona generator as it lets you create nifty visual personas in a matter of seconds.
How to Put Buyer Personas to Work
Once you have created a buyer persona, give yourself a pat on the back, but don’t celebrate just yet, as this is only the beginning.
You see, creating buyer personas is one thing, but putting it to work is another. Now, depending on the nature of your business, there are many ways to use your personas. Below are four actionable methods:
1. Segment Your Client Books
Go through all your existing (and prospective) clients and organize them based on your buyer persona, which will instantly improve organization.
2. Distribute the Persona Internally
Make sure everyone concerned (think: marketing, sales, etc.) has a copy of the fresh buyer persona. Also, hold workshops to explain how the personas work, as not everyone in your company will be familiar with them.
3. Audit Existing Content
Before churning out new content, run a check on your existing content. This is, in fact, the fastest way to get a return from your buyer personas. But remember, kill your darlings and edit ruthlessly, no matter how much you love your content.
Basically, your goal is to fine-tune your brand and make it more relevant to your customer personas (and not what you think is best because of some hunch).
You can also audit the web page copy. An excellent example of this is Flywheel’s service copy. Flywheel is a hosting company that has a diverse customer base of agency owners, freelancers, and even business owners. Here’s a snippet of its landing page for agencies:
Source: Flywheel for agencies
And here’s a piece of its landing page for freelancers:
Source: Flywheel for freelancers
As you can see, Flywhee’s landing page copy for the two segments is significantly different (although the service is the same).
Similarly, you’ll need to audit your existing content and optimize your copy to its target, or even create different pages entirely (just like Flywheel!).
4. Tailor Your Content
After the audit, use your buyer persona to create fresh content, but this time, make sure your content guys dive deep into the voice of the customer (think: design, vocabulary, tone, etc.).
This ensures the content gets developed in a way that resonates with its target audience. To paint you a better picture, here’s a snippet of my own services page:
Source: Seo Content Writer
From problems to terminology, every bit of my copy is personalized to my target—B2B SaaS and marketing companies.
Back in the day, personalization wasn’t as necessary. But today? It’s practically an essential. In fact, there’s a lot of research that strongly links personalization with a solid ROI:
- A study by Accenture found that 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who provide offers relevant to their tastes.
- Recent Epsilon research found that 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase when brands offer personalized experiences.
- A whopping 70% of millennials surveyed by Smarter HQ said that they feel frustrated when brands send them irrelevant marketing emails.
These sobering statistics point to one reality—you need to tailor your content and marketing to specific customer segments. And customer personas are the best way to do this efficiently and at scale.
Don’t Leave Your Buyer Personas on a Shelf!
Creating a buyer persona is not a one-off project. After all, the needs and preferences of consumers are constantly changing, especially considering the rapidly evolving period we live in.
So you’ll have to regularly research your consumers and maintain your personas to keep them fresh. Yes, this is a tedious process, but doing so will help your brand connect with its evolving consumer base.
Are you using buyer personas in your marketing strategy? If so, what is your experience? Any issues you’re currently having? Let me know in the comments below!