Buyer personas already make up the backbone of your outreach strategy, whether you’ve been relying on formal personas or not. Think about it. If you are an ophthalmologist marketing Lasik packages to an older demographic, would you choose to run ads for those services on Snapchat or TikTok? Probably not. Common sense dictates your audience won’t be found there. But what about the rest of the consumer story? The details within the details that paint the picture of how your customers operate are what unearth insights that have huge impacts on your business.
What is a Buyer Persona?
The field of Inbound Marketing, popularized by HubSpot, defines a buyer persona as a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.
Breaking that definition down a little further, buyer personas generally are named in such a way that they are easy to remember and recall. Names like “Mary the Marketer” or “Pete the Plumber” are naming mechanisms that allow teams to reference “Mary” instead of “the marketer persona” when referencing the target audience.
The key point in this definition, though, is that buyer personas, according to Inbound principles, MUST be created according to market research and REAL data. Modern technologies like social media, automation, and AI are allowing consumer behavior to change shape more rapidly than ever, necessitating the need for accurate, data-backed buyer personas.
As a marketer, business owner, or sales executive, you simply cannot do your jobs successfully without a deep, well-rounded understanding of who your customers are and what makes them tick.
B2B vs B2C Buyer Personas
Regardless of your business or customer base, personas are necessary to stay on top of your customers’ needs. However, there are nuances between B2B and B2C personas, in general, to be aware of.
For example, in a B2C environment, you may be compelled to research how purchasing habits change in your industry when a coupon, sale, or discount is offered on a product. B2C companies are also concerned with seasonal shifts in consumer demand much more than B2B customers, in most cases.
Understandably, in both B2B and B2C environments, the price point is the main consideration for any investment. That said, because B2B investments typically come with a higher price tag, the buyer’s journey will tend to be longer.
B2B marketing campaigns typically will consist of four to five content offers as a visitor becomes a lead researching their problem in the Awareness stage, begins to consider your offerings in the Engage stage, and eventually into the Delight/Purchase stage. Moving leads through the buyer’s journey is a process that could take months for many B2B companies and will likely involve hours of educational, helpful content being consumed along the way.
Thus, it is very important to understand deeply what makes B2B customers trust a brand, how they prefer to consume content and their research habits.
Additionally, B2B purchases will typically require multiple sign-offs from internal stakeholders, necessitating a complex content strategy that addresses the concerns of each. For this reason, B2B organizations are much more likely to conduct persona research about multiple stakeholders that would be involved in the same purchase decision.
When building your Persona Questionnaire template, don’t be afraid to add or adjust questions that directly reflect your business model.
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Conducting Persona Research
Even if You “Already Know Who Your Customers are"?
A common refrain we hear at Beacons Point from clients is, “We already know who our customers are.” And in many cases, they’re right (to a point).
Working with customers on a daily basis provides a terrific surface understanding of your customer base. However, if you could provide just one valuable insight to the rest of your team about how your customers think, interact with, or trust a brand, and that insight built the foundation of a campaign that increased leads or customers, wouldn’t conducting the research be worth it?
It’s important as business owners and marketers that we don’t simply assume we know exactly what our customers want and need. As everyone’s parents used to say, “you know what happens when you assume?..." — you know the rest.
If you're wondering why buyer personas are important to an inbound marketing strategy we suggest you listen to our podcast The B2B Growth Marketer.
Customer needs are changing all the time. Is there a new competitor in your industry that’s disrupting the way you attract customers? Is there a new social media platform from which you could potentially be driving leads?
It’s important to conduct persona research on a defined schedule (annually, every other year, etc) to continually have your finger on the pulse of the industry.
Advantages of Documenting Buyer Personas
Picture yourself. You just ended a 30-minute call with one of your persona interviewees, on which you were able to gather insight that is sparking mouth-watering campaign ideas left and right in your mind.
There is a sudden urge after conducting the research to just go ahead and build a strategy, or write a new “Ultimate Guide to Grilling Hot Dogs.” We’ve felt it too. You want to strike while the iron is hot.
The key to buyer persona research, though, is that it allows you to identify trends in the data you collect. Just because one interviewee prefers reading text over watching a video, doesn’t mean you should scrap video entirely from your marketing plan. Conducting buyer persona research is exciting and very rewarding, but you have to stick to the plan.
Take time to marinate on the ENTIRETY of the data you collect. Methodically put your pen to paper and document the challenges, the goals, the research habits, the values of your customer, etc.
When you frame your documented personas around an entire collection of feedback, rather than isolated nuggets that spark a unique idea, you’ll be much better equipped to deliver a comprehensive marketing strategy that connects in the long run.
Another reason documented personas are so important involves bringing the entire company into the fold. It’s more than just sales and marketing who could benefit from a deeper understanding of your company’s target audience. Your marketing team would do well to present the personas individually to each department and explain what they can do to ensure your company is connecting with its target audience.
You just spent weeks conducting the research. Document what you learned and educate your team so everyone can move as a unified front towards whatever goals have been set.
Buyer Personas’ Value to Marketing Strategy
Get The Data That Matters
If you were to fill out a persona report for your customers right now, you may, for example, be able to write a novel about their challenges and goals, but then be stumped about what makes them value a brand or their research habits.
That’s why getting this data really matters. Building a persona involves gathering information to sculpt an accurate, timely, representation of your target customer that is comprehensive.
In our Buyer Persona Questionnaire and Report templates, we ask questions and conduct outside research that fall under the following top-line categories:
- Demographic information
- Goals (In their job or through buying a product/service)
- Research habits
Each of these top-line factors is critical to developing an understanding of your customer. Without just one, you risk launching a marketing strategy that won’t connect.
Gather Trends in the Data
Buyer persona research is a bit of a balancing act. An art and a science. To get the best insights from your customers or potential customers, you want to be engaging in conversation in order to make them feel comfortable and trust you fully. You want to be loose and approachable.
At the same time, though, it’s important to ask specific questions the same way every time so you can compare responses apples to apples.
For example, a B2B company assessing the research habits of their customer base could ask a question like, “How do you typically go about researching a problem you encounter at work?” Or, they could ask, “When conducting research, do you prefer video, case studies, academic journals, or consulting with colleagues?”
In the example above, the way the questions are framed could potentially lead an interviewee to completely different answers. Unless you know you would like an answer to a specific research method, for example, it’s best to ask more open-ended questions that prompt thoughtful answers.
Framing questions the same way each time solidifies that similar answers across interviews can be classified as trends and marked as defining characteristics of the persona.
Generate Content Ideas Naturally
At Beacons Point, we include a BIG box on the bottom of our persona template for “Content Ideas” to jot down any that sparked during or directly following a persona interview.
As marketers and business owners, it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds. Promotions, campaigns, and content ideas seem less likely to arise the harder you fixate on them. Therein lies the magic of persona research. By talking to your target audience directly, they are giving you the gift of explaining exactly how they would like to speak to, marketed to, and sold to. It’s a treasure trove of insight you simply cannot get any other way.
Use their opinions to jot down interesting content ideas along the way. Does an interviewee mention how they prefer video content and want to be shown how something works, not told? That sounds like a perfect opportunity to build product demo videos into your next campaign.
Persona building forces you to think about the “why” behind each piece of content created.
Every promotion you run, content offer you produce, or blog post you write should connect back to a documented target persona. If an idea doesn’t connect, consider reframing it or pushing it until new persona targets are identified.
Staying on strategy in this way will ensure that your campaigns are developed as efficiently as possible. If you can tie a new product demo idea for glass cleaner directly to the persona “William” the Window Washer because the research indicated that “William” prefers video to text and wants to be SHOWN how something works, not told. With strategy, you can confidently move forward and produce the demo because the data shows it has a high probability of connecting to the persona.
If an idea doesn't align with your plan, persona strategy dictates you must reframe or table the idea for when you have a dedicated strategy built around it.
By eliminating or tabling initiatives unlikely to connect with the target audience, you speed up your process of developing comprehensive campaigns.
Where Persona Building Fits into Campaign Strategy Planning
Buyer personas should be completed as early as possible in the campaign planning process. As soon as your sales, marketing, and leadership teams have settled on a new target customer, the marketing team should immediately begin scheduling persona research.
At Beacons Point, we recommend the following structure for campaign strategy planning:
- Agree on persona targets
- Research and document buyer personas
- Perform Competitor Analysis
- Conduct paid and organic keyword research
- Set SMART Goals
- Build a strategy
Personas do not happen overnight. It is recommended to interview at MINIMUM five to six target customers plus outside research in order to glean any significant insights you can trust. Prepare for the time investment to sync-up calendars, conduct the interviews, digest the information, develop reports, and everything in between.
That said, doing this work upfront provides mountains of consumer insights from which you can go forth and build a comprehensive marketing strategy that connects to your valued customer in meaningful ways.
At Beacons Point, we spend each day building out strategies for our clients and for our own business. Speak to one of our Content Strategists today for a about how you can deliver a comprehensive campaign for your next persona target.