May 29, 2014 | Emily Winsauer

How to Create a Buyer Persona You Can Actually Use

How to Create a Buyer Persona

If you’ve been following our blog, you may have seen our posts about what buyer personas are and why using them will make your marketing efforts more effective.

Well, that’s all well and good—but you are probably wondering how to create a buyer persona that's accurate, easy for your team to use, and ready to take the helm of your marketing strategy.

Personas help marketers understand and build conversations with their customers as people rather than merely as consumers.

Thoughtful, data-driven personas that feel like real people and reflect the goals and motivations of your ideal customers will not only help you understand you’re the people you connect with more fully, but also delight them with your products and services throughout your relationship with them.

In this post, I’ll refer to customers, but buyer personas are also extremely helpful for nonprofits, community organizations, and anyone who needs to connect with people and earn their engagement.

Before we dig in to how to create a buyer persona, here are a few important things to remember:

  1. Finding and using the right information, even if it’s incomplete, is more important than ticking a bunch of boxes off of a checklist.
  2. Mine the details for the richest information. Should think about whether your personas are mostly male or female, and whether they make $50k or $100k a year? Sure, that stuff makes a difference. But it’s not more important than whether your customers are active on Facebook or email, or whether they’re more concerned about time management or cutting-edge industry updates.
  3. Personas are never done – they’re always evolving and taking in new information, just like people.

So, where do you begin?

First, think about the questions you need to ask.

At the beginning, the questions you ask are at least as important as the answers. If you’ve found the right question, don’t worry if you don’t have an answer yet.

The right questions get you to the heart of your customers’ motivations (and therefore buying decisions), while the wrong ones give you a false sense of progress, and then lead you to make important marketing decisions based on the less than ideal data.

You’ll probably ask questions in these general categories:

  • Employer, job, and daily functions
  • Goals
  • Challenges and Pain Points
  • Preferred sources of information
  • Where they spend their time online
  • Personal background
  • Buying habits
  • Hobbies and free time

There are lots of suggested buyer persona questions available on the Internet, but whatever you ask should be customized based on your industry, whether you’re targeting B2B or B2C customers, what kind of conversions you’re looking for, and many other factors.

When choosing questions, remember not to stop at what (for example, “What social network do you use the most?”), but to take the time to get to the why (“Why is Facebook more convenient for you than Twitter?). The answer will tell you much more about your customers.

Now, figure out what tools you need to answer those questions.

You can use a wide variety of resources to gather the information you need, including:

  • Insights from you team (e.g. sales, customer service, and support)
  • Customer and prospect interviews or surveys
  • Customer social media activity and engagement
  • Demographic data from your contact lists (we use Rapleaf)
  • Search engine and social media analytics
  • Market research and public records
  • A closed-loop marketing software like HubSpot that can track interactions on a variety of platforms all throughout the sales funnel

One important note - don’t talk only to recent buyers who have had just a short time with your product or service; talk to long time customers, repeat buyers, and one-time buyers who haven’t made another purchase to get a more complete picture. If possible, you can even talk to people who chose your competitors—find out why!

Don’t have customers yet? No problem. You already have a lot of knowledge about your product and industry, and you can go back and add more data and research once you have a customer base.

How much data do you need to gather? Like I said before, buyer personas are never complete, so going back to the data regularly is a must for your ROI. But to write your initial buyer personas, you need enough information to begin to identify clear trends.

Next, look for trends.

Now that you’ve done the bulk of your research, it’s time to compile the information and let the trends emerge. To do this, it’s extremely helpful to gather your data into one place, using Google Docs, Evernote, or whatever tool makes it easiest for you.

When you start to see patterns, it’s important not only to look at what the trend is, but also what relationship the trends have to each other. You’ll probably be able to see more than one clear group of people, and take note – these are the beginnings of your personas.

Other trends you need to look for include:

  • Which content is performing the best
  • Which platforms are earning the most engagement
  • What content formats your leads respond to best
  • What is getting the best conversion rate, and why

Once you’ve sifted through the data, it’s time to fill out buyer persona worksheets for each persona. This step helps you pull together the trends you see into a form that you can use to develop a marketing strategy, and it’s an ideal basis for writing your final personas that will be distributed to your team.

Build out your personas.

The worksheets you’ve filled out are the “bones” of your persona – they provide structure, but they need to be fleshed out.

In order to be useful to your team, your personas need to be more than a list; they need to describe the motivations behind behaviors.

Use your personas to tell a story. Weave the list of facts together into a life – the persona needs to help you understand your potential customers, not simply know things about them. Generally, this means writing a narrative document that describes your personas' lives, their needs and goals for their work, free time, family life, and beyond.

Why do they prefer Facebook to Twitter? Why do they engage more during the afternoon, or on Saturday mornings? Discerning their motives helps you anticipate what they want, and what they’ll want next.

Your persona needs to be specific enough to be realistic, but don’t forget that it represents a group of people. Craft a persona based on the qualities and motivations your group shares.

Present a finished product your team can use.

Your final version may be a document, a PowerPoint, or whatever form your team will find easiest to use and return to regularly.

Whatever the format, HubSpot suggests these 5 “chapters” in the buyer persona story:

  • Job and demographic info
  • Describe a day in their life
  • What are their challenges and pain points
  • Where do they go for information?
  • Common objections to products and services

Give your personas catchy names that you can use to remember them and coordinate your campaigns (For example, “Marketing Molly”: it may sound silly, but it works). Enrich your final persona with real customer quotes and a fitting stock photo. You can also write an ideal “elevator pitch” for each persona – your team will thank you!

Once you’ve completed your personas, choose a primary one and consider the others secondary. Prioritizing helps you get the most ROI for your marketing actions, so choose the most desirable persona as the primary and direct most of your efforts to those customers.

Finally, incorporate your personas into your marketing!

Now that you know what your potential customers are looking for, where they’ll be, why they need you, and what their biggest concerns are, you can create content that is directed right to them, from site pages to blog posts to offers and social media posts.

Buyer personas work best in combination with lifecycle stages in a content mapping process. Each persona will act differently and need different things at each stage of the buying process.

Ready to get started?

Crafting Effective Buyer Personas-Click Here to Download

Emily Winsauer

Emily Winsauer

As VIEO's content director, Emily Winsauer was responsible for content strategy for VIEO and our clients for over 5 years. She recently moved to Seattle where she's still creating compelling content in her new role.

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