Undergoing your first buyer persona research cycle can seem a daunting task. You have to contend with scheduling interviews, sourcing quality research, dedicating internal resources to planning and executing a persona report, and then following up on tracking personas throughout an inbound marketing campaign. There will be some experimentation involved to determine how to approach the development of personas, but with the right guidance you can skip over common persona pitfalls.
What We've Learned About Persona Research
We’ll be honest. Here at Beacons Point, our persona research process has been an evolving journey that began as a rushed exercise that provided minimal insight and value for us or our clients. When we first began, rather than conducting our own research through interviews with clients’ customers, our research primarily entailed surveying our clients about who their ideal customer or audience was, essentially relying on them to provide us an accurate depiction of who their persona was. In some cases, we got in-depth answers that helped us tremendously, while other clients would provide us with minimal responses that didn't make our job any easier.
For the most part, the result was generalizations made based on minimal objective data, followed by broad research around our clients' industries. In short, we made a lot of assumptions as to who the target audience was along with their wants and needs.
Getting Serious About Personas
As we grew and developed as a HubSpot Solutions Partner agency, we shifted our focus toward content and building a strong content strategy, which would become our central service. In the process, we also found that the key to creating an accurate and effective buyer persona was empathy. In other words, understanding the human behind a fictional representation. Taking time to understand the psychology, personality, challenges, demographics, and other aspects of customers would enable us to effectively market to and attract them.
We eventually went from conducting more thorough interviews with clients regarding their customers to actually connecting with their existing and prospective customers to better understand them. The more people we could reach and the more we could develop our personas based on human-to-human interaction, as opposed to merely objective data, the more targeted and human our campaigns could be.
If you’re just starting your persona journey, you’ve come to the right place. This best practices list is meant to guide you away from the common pitfalls experienced by many content marketers and towards a powerful and efficient persona development process.
Best Practice #1: Don't Put It Off Any Longer
The persona research process can involve a lot of communication between clients and customers over the phone, talking them through questions with follow-up and ideas. Because it seems like a lot of time-consuming work, it can be easy to put it off.
According to the following stats detailed in an infographic by SingleGrain, buyer personas are invaluable to a successful marketing campaign in a number of ways:
- If only one out of every 10 people in your target audience is in need of what you're offering, you're wasting 90 percent of your resources and time on ineffective marketing.
- Using buyer personas can make websites two to five times more effective and easier to use for targeted visitors.
- Personalized emails can improve your click-through rate by as much as 14 percent and your conversion rates by up to 10 percent.
- Behaviorally-targeted ads are two times as effective as ads that are non-targeted.
These are simply a few stats that prove that you need to begin your research immediately. Waiting too long to get started on researching your personas can be a silent killer for your business.
However, keep in mind that the persona research and development process can be gradual — you don't need to do it all at once. Even once you have an in-depth persona in place, each persona is subject to change over time as customer needs and challenges evolve. You may find that your personas require mild to extensive modifications within months of creating them. It helps to look at persona creation and research as an ongoing process that's best to begin as soon as possible.
You can also focus on one persona at a time and give it the attention it needs. Figure out which customer is the most valuable to target and start from there.
Best Practice #2: Play Dumb
Regardless of how much you think you know about your buyer personas, you can always gain even more insight by keeping an open mind and asking some seemingly obvious questions. Simply put, be smart and play dumb. Any of your own assumptions or personal bias could influence your personas, so avoid bringing your own ego into the research around those of your target audience.
Listen closely to all responses, be open to each response that might help build an accurate persona, and ask every pertinent question no matter how obvious it may seem.
Best Practice #3: Don't Go It Alone
The best buyer personas come from the collaborative effort of a team, not one person doing all the work. Not only can it be overwhelming for a single team member to take on, but it can also lead to a biased, incomplete interpretation of the persona.
To get your whole team on board, spread your workload to make it manageable. Working together on each persona can also offer different insights and perspectives that help further bring each persona to life. Each person in your team can take on different tasks while providing input into others' work. For instance, you can have different team members focus on objective tasks such as industry or demographic research, while another small group is responsible for conducting interviews and communicating different perceptions of each response.
Having everyone involved in the persona research and development process can also make them more invested in each persona. In turn, your personas will be stronger and research will be more efficient.
Best Practice #4: Allow Personas to Evolve
As we've discussed, the persona research and creation process is ongoing and dynamic, and you're likely to update your personas as the nature of your customers and campaigns change.
It's important to give your personas some room to evolve. You can start by creating a minimum viable persona, or MVP. Once you have this MVP in place, you have enough ammunition to begin campaign planning, development, and analysis. If you have specific deadlines in place for research and work on your personas, be patient but avoid holding off for too long. For example, you may have conducted four out of a goal of six interviews. While you may think the information you've gathered from those four is sufficient to build a complete MVP, consider conducting those last two interviews at a later date and updating your draft. You never know who may offer different insight that's invaluable or game-changing after creating your first draft.
Best Practice #5: Talk to a Diverse and Well-Rounded Sample
In an effort to gain a well-rounded sample, take the time to consider your client's opinions. Having marketing, sales, and customer service contacts can also provide additional vital insight. If you mainly work with an in-house marketing team, try to branch out to your in-house or outsourced sales and customer service teams, or interview other stakeholders in other verticals or teams about your personas. You can also contact customers both existing and prospective, along with other strategic partners who share those same customers.
Don't limit yourself to contacts within your or your client's companies. Go beyond your own network, taking advantage of channels such as LinkedIn to locate other interviewees, or you can ask your existing interviewees for additional contacts that may be able to contribute additional input.
Taking all of these voices and opinions into account can help you thoroughly cover each persona during the research phase.
All of these best practices can help you get the most from the persona research process. You won't need to worry about inadequate personas and subsequent campaigns if you spend the time and energy needed to get to know your audience.