We are on a journey to better enable ourselves to attract and acquire the types of customers we want. In Part 1 we looked at the various stages a buyer passes through before he makes a purchase. We then flipped this to the seller’s perspective – wishing to engage with customers in order to sell our products; which we labelled the customer journey. In this article we are going to focus on the customer journey and in particular one of its key elements: the buyer persona. Buyer personas are key to ensuring our means of communication and messaging resonate with your target customers.
Getting to ‘yes’
By now you will have likely judged that the highlight of the customer journey is a successful outcome to the acquisition stage – or more simply, making the sale. So, we want to make a sale, but we don’t know what the track looks like for the buyer to transit – e.g. what are the stepping stones; why would a buyer want to walk down our path, etc? So many possibilities! The challenge however, is that only some possibilities are likely to appeal to the customers we wish to target.
‘That’s easy! ‘, you say, ‘just use the market segments you developed earlier’. Yes, but one of the facts of marketing in the digital age, is that not everyone uses digital media in the same way, or to the same extent. Segments help to forecast market interest for a product or service, but it’s dangerous to assume that every buyer within a segment has the same motivations, attitudes and exhibits the same behaviours in relation to your product. We need to think about the person behind the customer.
If only we had a tool to help us understand the emotional and behavioural triggers that would get people to take the first step…and then keep going, all the way to making a purchase. It’s likely that many of these triggers would be common across segments and so we could then begin interacting with each of these groups in an individualistic way, as if they were the ‘only’ customer in the room.
Then to make things simpler when we are talking to our friends in web development, or copy writers – and to better align our messages, the way things work – let’s create a handle for each of these groups. So instead of thinking about sales managers aged 35-50; we now think about Needs Leads (Neel).
Neel is a 42 years old sales manager working for a medium sized company. After spending most of his career working for large corporates, Neel was attracted to work for our customer by the prospect of being able to make a difference, the potential upside and being less burdened with the dross of bureaucracy.
Don’t look now, but we’re starting to create a buyer persona.
We’ll flesh out Neel more as we progress through this article, however hopefully you can already see how we’ve turned a descriptor into a something more meaningful. People relate to people. Is there a Neel in your life? Even if there isn’t, it’s not too hard to think about what ‘s likely to work for the Neels of this world in terms of:
- the channels utilised to communicate with him (also referred to as touchpoints),
- our messaging, and
- how our website responds to him
How to create a persona
Remember in our article: Market segmentation – how to get a bigger piece of the pie, one of the key drivers of segmenting our market was to identify groups likely to respond to our marketing mix in a similar way? Personas represent an extension of this. This is particularly important in B2B marketing where there is often not the same degree of overlap between segments and personas.
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona is a fictional representation of a real customer within a group of interest. Companies use personas to align their touchpoints and messaging, to better resonate with the group’s wants and needs in the hope generating a favourable outcome (e.g. purchase). Buyer personas are given names, faces and personalities, to which the company ascribes beliefs, attitudes and values to a product, service, or experience. Personas tend to cut across segment boundaries, by actively considering the person behind the customer. As a result companies generally require fewer buyer personas to address their entire market, which in turn enhances targeting.
Do you need buyer personas in business markets?
Yes. Although buyer personas might have grown from consumer markets, they are a vital ingredient in your digital marketing strategy. Buyer personas enable you to bring in the ‘human’ element to your segmentation including:
- Situational factors (e.g. urgency)
- Purchasing approaches (e.g. centralised Vs decentralised; the role of influencers, gatekeepers)
- Personal characteristics (e.g. just-the-facts Vs relationships)
Do you need to have a male and female buyer persona for each group?
No. A Buyer persona represents the whole group. If there are differences between how males and females are likely to respond, then separating based on sex is recommended. Where you have multiple groups and gender is not a differentiator, then alternate the buyer persona genders across the groups. This will remind everyone that to consider both men and women.
Where to start?
Our goal is to identify groups from which we will then choose a single member to represent the whole group. This person will be the buyer persona for that group – i.e. there will be one person for each group. Note: Personas tend to cut across segments since they are based on attributes common to all. For example: IT/technology managers searching for cloud solutions.
Start with your segments
First step is to identify the groups from which a persona will be drawn (i.e. one persona per target group). We recommend starting with your segments, both for continuity and the possibility that your secondary and tertiary segmentation variables may already identify suitable persona groups.
Recall, with buyer personas we are looking to group customers around data points such as:
You may have already taken some of these factors into consideration as part of your segmentation analysis and so these are good candidate groupings from which to draw your buyer personas.
Choosing your buyer persona groups
Choose your buyer persona groups based on what is meaningful to your business. This may sound obvious but remember, your goal is a successful outcome to the buyer’s evaluation of alternatives. For this to occur your chosen buyer persona must be inherently attracted to your value proposition – i.e. there is no sense going to all the effort of marketing to a group, that doesn’t ultimately buy from you. Secondly like with segments, we are looking for the group to respond to our marketing mix in the same way.
Nominate a buyer persona for each group
You’ll be surprised how selecting one person to represent a group can be more challenging than first thought. (We recommend doing this as a group exercise as it will help build consensus. ) Ideally your buyer persona should be based on an actual customer (with his/her identity changed). Things to take take into consideration:
- Sex (if appropriate)
- Social economic status (income, education, and occupation
- Job title (if appropriate)
- key motivations
- what success looks like for them (as a result of transacting with your company) – i.e. goals sought
What’s in a name?
A lot. If a buyer persona is a handle for a group, then the name is the handle for the buyer persona. Whilst you will initially create one page overviews for each persona, no one will likely refer to them after awhile. Not because they don’t value them but rather, everyone should be familiar with the different personas. You therefore need a name that immediately engenders the key characteristics of the persona.
One way of creating a memorable buyer persona name is to make it with two parts: the first as a common name for someone of the required age. The second, as a play on either a key motivator or goal sought. So Brittany Bricks could be a 27 year old product manager who is looking to get started on the property ladder. Eventually your team will start to refer to Brittany like she is a member of the family, ‘knowing what is likely to work for ‘her’. Don’t be afraid to have a bit of fun with it – providing it does the trick!
Completing a buyer persona template
The buyer persona template is typically a one page template used as a ready recknoner for each persona. We use it to not only list the details nominated above (e.g. age, sex, etc) and include a photo but also, add other demographically based information such as:
- Personal values
- Buying drivers
- Social media use
- Internet activity
It is from this information that we can start to make decisions about the communication channels or touchpoints that we will use to reach our persona. This prevents us from making assumptions like ‘everyone is on facebook’. Yes, most people are – but the likelihood decreases with age – particularly the over 50’s. We’ll talk about this more in Part 3 of this series.
Buyer Persona Example
AUSPresence – Digital Marketing Consultancy
AUSPresence is a digital marketing consultancy looking to expand. Consultancy businesses – small ones in particular – are primarily driven by referrals however, success is based on increasing the amount of new business sourced from outside the proprietor’s network over time. To this end, the business is looking to develop personas to underpin its digital marketing efforts.
To keep things simple we are going to concentrate on three digital marketing services:
- Search engine optimisation – getting more traffic to your website
- Conversion rate optimisation – tuning your website to reach its objectives
- Marketing strategy development – getting started/bringing it together
At this point the business has a broad industry focus that includes technology/telecommunications/IT companies but others as well. Note: Readers of our article: How to develop an overall strategy would recognise this as being a differentiation based strategy by default – in effect, the owner is casting the net wide to catch some fish. This can happen in small businesses, or when a venture is just starting, where there may not be sufficient industry data points to draw meaningful conclusions a priori. However, we believe businesses in this situation should move to a differentiation-focus strategy as soon as possible once you identify what types of fish are biting and the ones you like best.
What groups should we use?
In the absence of industry/vertical segmentation, a common segmentation variable is business size. Apart from explicit dimensions such as annual turnover, number of employees, etc. business size can also be a good pointer to stages along the business growth cycle. Why is this important? Well, we favour Churchill – Neil not Winston’s – analysis that business stage growth implies organisational structures; and (to cut a long story short) organisations without fully formed marketing departments are more likely to seek the services of external consultants. This doesn’t imply small businesses alone since quite often there are mismatches between business size and business structure – making ideal consultancy clients.
Selecting sales people as the group.
Business size provides valuable information, but isn’t sufficient for buyer personas. As the word persona implies , we need the character behind the customer. A common way to do this is using job titles. Although it’s tempting just to start at the top (CEO/owner) and work down, that may not always be the best approach. A review of readers’ job titles from a recent LinkedIn post suggests a greater response (reading the post) from sales people. Given that the article in question was a marketing related post, this warrants further consideration.
Sales people are typically the most affected when things aren’t working well in an organisation. If the organisation is not generating the leads, proposals, supporting materials etc. they need, then sales fall and so does the paypackets of those charged with the selling. As a result sales people can quickly grow frustrated with internal marketing resources who may have other ‘big-picture’ priorities; making them possible champions for external solutions.
Choosing sales people as an initial persona group therefore makes sense. The combination of a measured level of interest in what AUSPresence has to say and the potential for AUSPresence services to be of use in generating more sales; makes them a suitable group. The plan would be to test this assumption going forwards by measuring the response rates of sales people further along the customer journey, relative to other job titles.
Assigning a buyer persona – introducing Neel
There are many ways to present your persona however we favour ones that fit to one page; on the basis that any longer, and no one will read it. We also like to highlight:
- where the persona fits in terms of segmentation and his anticipated role in our sales process (e.g. influencer, champion, decision maker).
- expected level of interest in AUSPresence services.
Buyer personas help the organisation form a common view of its customers
A good persona enables a manager to quickly assess whether the company is hitting its mark: Would (persona X) go for this? Keep them high level, as a one page ready-reckoner to encourage everyone to refer back to them. Put their photos on the wall.
Buyer personas are not meant to be set in stone
They represent your best guess at this time. You need to test with real data to confirm your assumptions. Better still, talk to customers/prospects who resemble your personas. Refine/discard as necessary.
Hopefully you are starting to see that each tool does not it in isolation. The choices we make in terms of overall strategy need to be reflected in our segmentation/personas. It’s rare that you get everything right on the first go, so be prepared to iterate as you add each element – keeping an eye out for inconsistencies.
Where to from here?
In the next part, we’ll bring things together. It’s time to think about the tactics and communication channels we’ll use to facilitate each persona’s group through the customer journey. Our choices will be driven by each buyer persona’s:
- role in sales process
- use of the Internet/social media;
- buying drivers
- personal values