As a marketer or marketing director, you've almost certainly heard the term “buyer persona” tossed around among savvy colleagues. You probably have a vague sense of what it means, even if you don't exactly know how they're used on a daily basis.
While the idea of buyer personas can be valuable in all forms of marketing, they're absolutely essential to inbound marketing, an approach that has been rapidly taking over the marketing world. If you don't feel 100% confident in the concept yet, let's get on that!
So what are buyer personas and why do you need them?
Buyer personas are fictional, but data-driven, profiles of your ideal or actual customer or customers.
They're used to make marketing decisions like where to place ads, what product or service features to focus on, what blog posts to write, and which social media networks to use to promote your business. Your buyer personas should be the north star for all of your marketing, sales, and product development—essentially, for everything your company does.
Because inbound marketing hinges on building individual relationships with your potential customers, most of your interactions are about helping them and answering their questions, not asking them to buy. That's why understanding who they are and what their motivations are is so important—because most of the relationship is about them, not you.
Buyer personas focus on three factors:
1. Who your ideal customer is.
Buyer personas should describe not who your customer is right now, but who your ideal customer is moving forward. Who is best suited to what you offer? Who results in the best ROI? Who will go out into the streets singing your praises, and keep coming back for years to come? That's your ideal customer.
Depending on the nature of your business, you may have one very targeted persona or several buyer personas for different segments of your business. Also, you may choose to incorporate an ideal buyer persona targeting a group of potential customers you haven’t reached yet or want to reach more fully.
Your personas are carefully crafted characters: they should include a name that makes them easy to reference (e.g. Marketing Miranda or Harry the Weekend Hiker, though you can resist the urge to alliterate if you want), a job title, an income, family and demographic information, interests, and hobbies.
While they are fictitious, your buyer personas should be based on real data. Research your customer base, talk to your sales and customer service teams, take advantage of any website analytics you have access to, and scour your social media accounts. (Our free master class on buyer personas will walk you through it)
2. What your customers need.
Once you establish who your customers are, you need to focus on meeting their needs. Use your personas to anticipate the problems your customers are trying to solve, what information they’re looking for, and what trends are having an impact on their businesses or their lives.
As with every stage of this process, never be afraid to revise your personas in response to data. Watch to see which blog posts, which premium content offers, and which pages of your website are getting the most action and let that inform your buyer personas.
Ultimately, buyer personas aren't about describing customers; they're about helping you accurately predict customer behavior. The only way to do that is by understanding their pain point, needs, and desires.
3. Your customers’ online habits and buying behaviors.
Building on the factors we discussed in sections 1 and 2, craft a profile of your buyer personas’ behavior. What types of behavior you focus on will be influenced by your business, but here are a few examples:
- Where do they spend their time online?
- What sources of information do they trust?
- What social media networks do they prefer?
- Do they turn to blogs, search engines, or social media when researching a product or making a buying decision?
- What do they buy online and what do they buy in stores?
- Do they research products online before buying in-store?
Once you have buyer personas in place, you can use them to make all kinds of marketing decisions. They help guide and clarify the marketing strategy of small businesses, and help larger companies keep the facets of their business focused on the same set of goals. If you've created accurate personas, they should increase your marketing ROI across the board.
Ready to go? Get started now with our Buyer Persona Master Class.
Editor's Note: This post has been updated. It was originally published on September 10, 2013.