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An Easy Guide to Buyer Personas

For 20 years, I have been a leader in business development, whether as head of the organization or as a professional consultant. I am constantly astounded that nearly every sales or marketing resource I help knows what a “Buyer Persona” is but has never taken the time to document who their target Persona is! If this is a new topic for you, a “Buyer Persona” is best described as a fictional person who represents your target audience.

 

A “Buyer Persona” is best described as a fictional person who represents your target audience

Most people are intelligent, and it takes a striking marriage of that raw intellect and related experience to become an expert in sales or marketing; that dual skillset is what differentiates yours from others. With that, I know there are also 20 things in any day that we know we “should” do, but we just don’t find the time. Instead, we’re forced to prioritize, and the academic exercise of developing and documenting a Persona often just doesn’t make the cut today…

Or this week…
Or this month…
Or this year.

The Critical Value of Personas

Whether your focus is sales or marketing, you know that generic messaging yields generic results. The business that can make it’s product feel relevant and Personal will always beat the competition who offers bland services, features, or functionality.
You cannot make your message personal until you know who you’re personalizing it for. Many times I’ve seen companies target female buyers with ads, email, and web imagery that are predominantly male. I’ve seen companies target 25- to 30-year-old buyers with long and wordy messages. I have seen entire marketing campaigns targeted at corporate decision-makers promoting specific features and product functionality. These are gross errors that are almost always guaranteed to fail.
The value of a Persona is that it forces the most valuable trait in sales and marketing — Empathy.
When we think of our target audiences as people it changes the way we market. People live lives, raise children, have mortgages, careers, promotions, and dreams. People are worried about judgment, getting fired, or missing opportunities.
People are very different in character and remarkably similar in how they make decisions. With marketing, there is this universal truth:

If you try to reach everyone, you will reach no one. If you try to be everything, you will be nothing.

The only way to make your marketing relatable, relevant, and impactful is to define who you are targeting at an individual level. What makes them tick? Why they would care about you? You need to answer these questions, then wrap everything in your marketing process around them.

A Persona Is Not A Business

Perhaps the most common “miss” in Persona development is that marketing and sales teams define the people they are targeting by the companies they work for. At every company, there are very different people working in very different roles. Some are highly technical and require advanced degrees, such as engineers. Others are very Personal and require no higher education, but do require “soft skills,” like sales. Business leaders get frustrated by too much detail, but a junior resource need lots of information to distill and present to their higher-ups.
When your Persona is “companies in the Midwest with 250M+ annual revenue and 500 employees,” there is no chance your messaging will be on point. That is not a person, so it follows that it is also not a Persona. There are at least 500 people, likely grouped in 20 different departments with different working skill-sets, priorities, job functions, lives.

If your Persona is a company profile, you are guaranteed to miss.

How Many Personas Should I Have?

 

If you are ready to take your marketing to the next level and you’re passionate about Personas — that’s great! Now the immediate risk is over-segmenting your audience, which leads to massive time loss and creates targets that are so narrow and nuanced that they cease to be useful.

My Rule For Personas: Three Per Vertical

I’ll use my own business for example. My team could help any marketing organization. We’ve worked with massive Fortune 100 companies and local “mom-and-pop” businesses, B2C and B2B, non-profit and membership, financial and venture capital.

At Tactical Marketing Automation, we made a deliberate decision to not market to “everyone we could help.”

We made a deliberate decision to not market to “everyone we could help.”

Instead, we focus on four verticals: B2B Services, Credit Unions, Membership Organizations, and Manufacturing. In this process, we have defined three Personas for each of these industry targets.

I break my Personas down into three main categories:

Decision Maker

The Decision Maker Persona is typically the person who will approve the purchase but not directly engage with or use the service. In most companies, this is an executive who holds budget authority but doesn’t get involved in the nitty-gritty of the tactical execution process.

  • Purchase Authority
  • Executive

Influencer

The person who will use the service but isn’t likely to have the budget authority. Often this is the Manager or Director level of an organization that will directly benefit from using a product or service but doesn’t have purchase authority.

  • Engages with the Product/Service
  • Managerial

Beneficiary

The person who will benefit from the service but is not likely to use the service. These are the people in an organization who may be suffering from the problem that your product or service helps to solve, but would not be involved in solving the problem.

  • Problem to Solve
  • Anywhere Within the Business

When you see how these fit together, a clear business case emerges. For example, a clever CEO (Decision Maker) looking to increase revenue will approve a budget for the savvy Marketing Director (Influencer) to engage with Tactical MA; Sales (Beneficiary) will receive an increased lead flow.

How to Build an Effective Persona

Remember that a Buyer Persona is a fictitious customer or client. The goal is to create the “ideal buyer” so that you can empathize with their day-to-day struggles and tailor your marketing towards their needs.
An effective Persona has three core elements:
  1. Name
  2. Demographic
  3. Psychographic Traits

What’s In A Name?

The very first tactic we use in developing a Persona is to give them a real person's name. This helps in two ways. First, it helps us to remember we’re thinking about an actual living human being. Second, it makes it easy to contextualize this for our team. When working through messaging briefs or design, we can ask, “Will this resonate with Janice?”

This context breeds empathy in our human brains and facilitates genuine creativity.

Demographic

Demographics relate to “census” type information. Education level, income, age, etc. Your Persona should include enough demographic data to clearly define who you’re targeting.
While gender may not be a major concern for you, age probably is. Is your marketing targeting edgy up and coming managers or are you looking to target seasoned professionals? What’s the best fit for your product or service?

As we refine these questions down, focus on the following attributes:

  • Role/Title
  • Age
  • Education
  • Income
  • Housing
  • Geography

 

Psychographic Traits

Psychographics relate to “attitude” information. This is where the difference between good and bad Personas is made.
For clarity, if your Persona is 100% demographic, then yes, I called it bad... because it is.
There’s a lot of psychographic development to add to Personas. Some of my favorite questions to include are “What is their day like?”, “What motivates them?”, and “How do they get information?”

This is how you personalize your marketing. This is how you create marketing that hits. Now you have real and tangible targets that you can truly tailor your messaging towards.

The Whole Point

There are four absolutely critical questions that we ask for every single Persona. These four questions are the core of everything in the Tactical MA marketing methodology, every campaign we design, every image we create, every asset we build.

They are simple and yet oh so amazingly effective:

  • “What’s the problem they need you to solve?”
  • “How will your solution help solve this problem?”
  • “Why is your solution better than any other option?”
  • “Why would they object to the solution you offer?”

 

In the marketing work that we do, everything aligns with one of these questions or it isn’t allowed. If a hero image doesn’t relate to one of these questions, we don’t use it. If an email or ad doesn’t answer one of these questions, we don’t run it.
I have sat in more than a thousand conversations where these simple questions changed the course of entire marketing departments. I have listened to CEO’s who have worked 30 years building their business as they realize that they don’t really know who their customers are.

And I have watched the simple act of developing a Buyer Persona change the strategy and increase the output of marketing over and over. Statistically, by about 300%.

So if you aren’t getting what you need from your marketing, if the leads aren’t there or the sales revenue seems a bit light, my first and best recommendation is to look at your Personas and ask:

“Do I really know who I’m talking to?”

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