Creating and leveraging buyer personas for site and online strategies
A balance point between specificity and generalization, to try to make the strategies and especially the messages of marketing campaigns that support our business more effective. We often use the phrase “buyer personas,” but perhaps we need to delve deeper into this topic and its practical applications, to learn how to build these personas tailored to the needs of our brand.
What are buyer personas
Buyer personas are semi-fictional profiles of ideal customers, created to help companies better understand their real customers and tailor their marketing more effectively.
They can also be called buyer persona (in the singular, although the plural more aptly indicates the set of ideal customer profiles that a company may have), audience personas, customer personas or marketing personas, but the basic concept does not change: it is always a detailed description of someone who represents our target audience, the target we intend and need to reach. It does not mean describing a potential customer or a segment we aspire to for business expansion, but this ideal type should reflect the people who already exist in our target market.
And even if this persona is fictitious, it has value because it is constructed based on thorough research of the existing or desired audience, studying real data such as age, gender, geographic location, income, interests and needs. The resulting profiles will become useful for creating more relevant content, developing more effective marketing strategies, and measuring the results of marketing campaigns more accurately.
A journey to the heart of the consumer
Buyer personas are thus semi-fictional representations of our ideal customers, built on real data and extensive research; these detailed profiles allow us to get inside the minds of our customers, to understand their desires, fears, and aspirations. It is not just about understanding who our customers are, but about understanding why they make the choices they do.
Buyer personas therefore describe who our ideal customers are, how they spend their days, the challenges they face, and how they make decisions, and through this understanding we can create marketing messages targeted specifically to them, speaking to their specific needs and desires in a language they are familiar with.
When we know our customers intimately, we can indeed communicate more authentically and inspire action more convincingly, and experts say these factors can have a profound impact on conversion rates.
This abstracting work helps us focus our time on qualified prospects, guides product development to meet the needs of our target customers, and aligns all efforts within our organization, from marketing to sales to service. Indeed, we cannot create a one-size-fits-all marketing message for every single customer, and this is where buyer personas come in, which allow us to group our customers into homogeneous segments, each with their own specific needs and preferences, and create targeted marketing messages for each of them.
For this reason, too, it is common to create multiple buyer personas profiles for a company. For example, if the end user of our product needs to get approval from others before making a purchase, each individual involved in that decision is a separate person because they follow different criteria for evaluating our product and we will need different strategies to meet those needs.
The difference between personas and proto-personas
Staying still in the realm of theoretical evaluations, it is important to make a distinction between personas (idealistic profiling based on data and customer research, used as a way to merge insights on specific segments) and proto-personas, concepts that are sometimes in danger of being confused.
In fact, proto-personas are a generative tool used to identify a team’s assumptions about its target users. Put simply, they are representations of a group of target users created based on the project team’s assumptions about its users, not on detailed research data. This makes them a useful tool in the early stages of a project, when data may not yet be available.
More specifically, proto-personas can include details such as basic demographics (age, gender, occupation), goals and motivations, behaviors and habits, preferences and expectations, but they are less detailed and specific than personas, which instead are based on information gathered through user interviews, surveys, analysis of usage data, and other accurate sources, and thus include more precise details and indications.
In summary, then, proto-personas are a useful tool for representing users in a marketing or UX design project, quicker and cheaper to create than personas, but also but less precise and sophisticated.
The value of buyer personas
Marketing personas are more than just portraits of our customers-they are a valuable tool that allows us to refine our marketing strategies, create content that resonates with our audiences, and develop products that meet their needs.
In this sense, these profiles help companies understand and empathize with their customers so that they do a better job of acquiring and serving them, ensuring that all activities are tailored to the needs of the targeted buyer.
When we understand who our buyer personas are, in fact, we can create marketing messages that speak directly to them and, reflexively, to the real customers who fall into this profile; this allows us to show (real) people that we understand their challenges and that we have the solutions they are looking for. In this way, not only do we attract more customers, but we attract the right customers, those who are more likely to become long-term, loyal customers.
Often, companies tend to talk about what they do, rather than what the customer needs, but this can be at odds with the way people make decisions, naturally gravitating toward brands they know and trust. Showing genuine understanding and interest in our customers, then, becomes an important lever for building this trust.
In short, creating buyer personas and using them continuously to guide our strategies helps us stay centered on our customers’ needs. We give these buyer personas a name, demographic details, interests, and behavioral traits; we understand their goals, weaknesses, and buying patterns; and we go even further by putting a face on them using photographs or illustrations to match the name.
Fundamentally, we want to think and talk about these buyer personas as if they were real people-this allows us to create marketing messages targeted specifically to them, remain consistent with the voice and direction of all activities, from product development to our brand voice to the social channels we use.
What they are used for and how to use them
Some of the most immediate and well-known applications of this profiling are in content marketing, where it helps guide the creation of content that resonates with target audiences, and in digital marketing, where it helps tailor advertising campaigns to reach customers most likely to be interested in a product or service.
More broadly, developing and identifying the right buyer personas for our site and our business has a number of practical effects that can have a significant impact on our online and offline success.
- Improving understanding of the audience
First of all, they help us better understand our audience, giving us a clearer view of who our customers are, what their needs, challenges and goals are, which we will need to modulate content, products and services that directly address their needs.
- Driving content creation
As mentioned, buyer personas are a great tool for driving content creation: when we identify a segment of potential readers or users, we can create content that resonates with them, answers their questions, and helps them solve their problems-to put it à la Google, we can create more useful and people-first content, which then potentially leads to more engagement, more shares, more customer loyalty, and has a better chance of ranking well in SERPs. Speaking of SEO, then, identifying buyer personas can simplify us in the keyword research phase, allowing us to better understand what keywords they might use on search engines and what content they might find most interesting or useful.
- Supporting sales efforts
For those in sales, buyer personas offer valuable insights into the needs, preferences, and weaknesses of the target audience that supports product development work, directing it toward meeting customers’ most pressing needs and solving problems. As such, we can also leverage the insights to provide better customer support by understanding the audiences’ communication preferences and support needs.
- Customizing the user experience
These representations allow us to personalize the user experience on our site: we may use the information we have collected to customize the design of the site, the features we offer, and the way we present our products or services. In this way, we increase the chances of customer satisfaction and of converting site visitors into customers.
- Optimize marketing strategies
Finally, this preemptive study can help us optimize our marketing strategies over the long term by personalizing our sales approach: we can in fact use the information gained to better target campaigns, to choose the channels and tactics that may prove most effective, to derive insights for lead follow-ups, and to create messages that speak more directly to our customers.
The history and evolution of buyer personas
It is not easy to trace the origin of this theme and its earliest applications in the marketing world, and there are various experts vying for authorship of the formulation.
According to one fairly widespread thesis-and also supported by Wikipedia, for example-the concept of persona, understood as a user of a product or service, has its roots in the work of Alan Cooper, one of the pioneers in usability inquiry, who first introduced the term “user persona” in his influential book “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum,” published in 1999, in which he outlined the general characteristics, uses and best practices for creating these profiles, recommending that software be designed for individual archetypal users.
In fact, Cooper had been using interviews with potential users of his software since the early 1990s to gain an in-depth understanding of the distinctive characteristics of the user persona, thereby succeeding in probing users’ needs and desires, as well as identifying features perceived as problematic. With this valuable information, Cooper was able to make targeted changes to his products, making his software more intuitive and user-friendly.
Cooper’s methodology, initially applied to research on software users, spread far beyond this area: from here, he developed the concept of the “buyer persona,” which extends user analysis beyond the product-use phase, making it essential as early as the purchase phase.
One of the most immediate applications was precisely in the field of marketing, and this is where Tony Zambito – who is credited with coming up with the phrase buyer personas, which he says he coined in 2001 – comes in, for whom buyer personas are archetypal (modeled) representations based on research into “who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions.” A further specification was then added to this historical definition, namely the assessment of ” where they buy and when they decide to buy.”
Buyer persona and marketing, a fundamental relationship
Beyond the diatribe, however, it is certain that since the 2000s the creation of buyer persona has become a standard practice in marketing, used by companies of all sizes and marketing professionals to improve their understanding of their real customers and to create more effective content and strategies for marketing, products and customer services.
As a result of the above, it can be understood how identifying ideal customer profiles can be a key strategic process for the success of marketing campaigns because it allows us to understand users at a deeper level, going beyond simple biographical data (how old they are or where they live) to try to delineate their motivations, goals, and fears, which can influence choices and decisions.
Knowing these aspects allows us to craft campaigns that resonate with them on an emotional level, demonstrate that we understand their challenges and have the solutions they are looking for. At the highest level, this allows us not only to attract more customers, but also to target the right customers, those who are most likely to become long-term, loyal customers.
On a more general level, integrating Buyer Personas into operations allows you to:
- Define the target audience in terms of demographic, psychographic and behavioral characteristics.
- Plan marketing strategies, to ensure that they are in line with the needs and desires of the target audience.
- Create more effective, relevant and engaging marketing content for the target audience.
- Measure the results of marketing campaigns, so as to understand which strategies are most effective and which need to be improved.
Planning an integrated marketing strategy for the online brand
Identifying ideal buyer personas closely ties in with other key concepts in digital marketing and thus concretely support our brand-building work.
Indeed, buyer personas are critical to building brand awareness, brand loyalty, and brand identity because they help us understand how to introduce our brand to potential customers, how to create an emotional connection with people to increase their loyalty, and how to place our brand in the marketplace to create a strong brand identity.
In more practical terms, then, buyer personas play a crucial role in each stage of the marketing funnel, which describes the path that takes a person from being a potential customer to being a loyal customer. helping us understand how to attract potential customers (top of the funnel), how to convert them into customers (middle of the funnel), and how to keep them loyal to our brand (bottom of the funnel).
Support in designing profiles, especially in understanding motivations, can come from Maslow’s pyramid, which describes human needs from the most basic to the highest: for example, a buyer person might be motivated by security needs (such as buying a home security system) or self-actualization needs (such as enrolling in a painting class), and recognizing the level and need is helpful in responding appropriately with our offer.
The limitations of this approach: criticality of buyer personas and more recent developments
Although these concepts are a valuable tool in marketing, they are not without their limitations and criticalities, and over time scholars have identified several challenges associated with the use of buyer personas.
One of the most obvious limitations of buyer personas is their simplified nature: although based on real data, profiling remains simplified representations of our ideal customers, and this can lead to generalizations and stereotypes that do not reflect the complexity and diversity of our audiences.
Another critical issue is the tendency to base buyer personas on demographic data rather than on motivations and behaviors, and this causes an inability to understand why people make the choices they do, which is to analyze our customers’ motivations and behaviors, which is a key point for effective work.
Moreover, buyer personas can become obsolete if they are not updated regularly: customer behaviors, market trends, and technologies change over time, and our buyer personas must reflect these evolutions.
More analytically, criticism of personas falls into three general categories: analysis of the underlying logic, concerns about practical implementation, and empirical findings.
- From the perspective of scientific logic, scholars argue that because the profiles are fictitious, they do not have a clear relationship to real customer data and therefore cannot be considered scientific nor can this process be subject to the scientific method of reproducible research because there is no reliable method for turning data into specific personas.
- More problematic are the other implications highlighted by some experts, who in particular argue that personas can be reductive or stereotypical, generating an illusion of an organization’s understanding of its users; moreover, the burden placed on designers, marketers and user researchers to capture the opinions and needs of multiple people in predefined segments could introduce personal biases in the interpretation of data. There is also another practical issue to consider: these profiles often feature gender and racial representations, which are not always necessary and often distract the target audience from true consumer behaviors, reinforcing biased views.
- Empirical results also yield controversial outcomes because research to date has provided soft metrics to support people’s success, such as anecdotal feedback from stakeholders.
Precisely to overcome these limitations, in recent years various scholars have introduced new approaches in this area, such as the idea of data-driven personas or quantitative personas, designed to overcome the critical issues associated with creating qualitative personas. Data-driven development for this profiling uses various techniques, including clustering, factor analysis, principal component analysis, latent semantic analysis, and nonnegative matrix factorization, which are also more scientifically relevant because they accept numerical input data, reduce dimensionality, and produce higher-level abstractions that describe the patterns in the data. These patterns are then interpreted as “skeletal” characters, which are enriched with personalized details, such as a name or portrait, and can be further enriched with qualitative insights to create hybrid characters, which combine quantitative and qualitative methods. This approach offers a more comprehensive and holistic way to understand and represent our target users.
In addition, recent developments in the field include the growing recognition of the importance of basing representation on behavioral and psychographic data, as well as demographic data, thanks in part to the support of big data and artificial intelligence, which allow us to collect and analyze large amounts of data about our customers and, thus, have a stronger foundation for creating increasingly detailed and accurate personas.
How to create buyer personas for sites: a quick guide
Creating detailed buyer personas for our online business may seem like a daunting task, but with a methodical approach we can build profiles that help us better understand our users and create content and services that meet their needs.
To be sure, the process takes time and research, but the return on investment can be significant.
In general, we need to keep in mind is that a buyer persona is an imaginary character that represents our ideal customer: it is a model based on real data that describes the characteristics, needs and desires of the target audience. To create a buyer persona, there are a few steps to follow:
- Collect data on current and potential customers and from competitors.
- Identify customer characteristics: what are their age, gender, income, geographic location, interests and needs?
- Determine customers’ desires. What do they want to achieve with the products or services we offer?
- Create a profile of the buyer persona, including all the information gathered.
Depending on the type of site, we can then proceed in a more structured manner, as in the cases exemplified here.
For an eCommerce site, buyer personas could be based on various factors such as age, gender, geographic location, income, and buying habits. For example, we might have a “Laura Person,” a 30-year-old professional who lives in the city, earns a middle- to upper-middle income, and prefers to shop online to save time. Or, we might have a “Mark Person,” a 65-year-old retiree who lives in a rural area, earns a fixed income, and shops online for convenience.
- News Site
For a news site, buyer personas could be based on specific interests, news consumption habits, and format preferences. For example, we might have a “Sara Person,” a college student who is passionate about politics, reads news on her smartphone, and prefers in-depth articles. Or, we might have a “Person of Luke,” a 40-year-old manager who is interested in business news, reads news on his laptop, and prefers short, concise articles.
- Thematic Blog
For a thematic blog, buyer personas could be based on specific interests, content consumption habits, and problems or challenges they seek to solve. For example, if we run a fitness blog, we might have a “Clare Persona,” a mother of two looking for easy exercises to do at home. Or, we might have a “Matthew’s Person,” a professional athlete looking for advanced tips to improve his performance.
Tips for making a template for buyer personas
Creating a buyer persona template is essential before conducting research, because it allows us to organize the work of laying the groundwork for gathering the information needed to paint a complete picture of this hypothetical client. Obviously, this process requires extensive research, careful data analysis and a clear understanding of the business objectives.
Reasoning generally, and with the understanding that model criteria will vary according to business needs and objectives, we can nonetheless identify standard criteria and steps to refer to.
- Research. We may begin by gathering as much information as possible about current and potential customers, including, for example, demographic, behavioral, and psychographic data. We can obtain this information through surveys, interviews, customer feedback, analysis of sales and product usage data, and third-party data.
- Segmentation. We go on to divide customers into distinct groups based on common characteristics, such as age, gender, geographic location, profession, income level, purchasing behavior, personal interests, challenges, and goals.
- Persona Creation. For each segment, we will create a “persona” that represents a typical customer-including a name, a picture, and a detailed profile. The profile should include information such as:
– Demographic information: age, gender, location, education level, profession, income. These are the characteristics of a specific population, often closely related to the individual’s identity, and can have a great impact in their experience of the world.
– Background: job role, career, family. Job status also includes elements such as type and organization of work (in the office or remotely), income level, seniority level, and is especially important in B2B marketing, where reaching the right stakeholders and influencers within a company can make a difference to the success of a marketing campaign.
– Behaviors: buying preferences, preferred communication channels, online behaviors. These characteristics are often referred to by the term psychographics, which is the set of personalities, values, interests, and attitudes of a target audience, going beyond demographics to identify the psychological characteristics of individuals that influence their behavior as consumers. In addition, still within this set of factors we can also investigate influences and sources of information, which reveal where customers spend their time, where they get their information, and whom they trust (websites and blogs visited, favorite social networks, favorite media, personalities followed, events or conferences attended. This information is a valuable source for guiding influencer marketing, communications, PR, advertising, and content placement efforts.
– Values and fears: what does the person value? What is he or she afraid of?
– Goals and challenges: what is the person trying to achieve? What obstacles does he/she encounter? This also includes “weaknesses,” i.e., specific problems that customers face while trying to achieve their goals or meet their needs, such as frustrations, inconveniences, inconsistencies, or dissatisfactions in the process.
– Purchasing process: how do you make purchases? We can assess aspects such as role in the purchasing decision-making process, potential life cycle as a customer (frequency of purchase or use), obstacles they face.
- Validation. Once the personas have been created, they should be validated with real data to make sure they are accurate. This might involve comparing the personas with real customer data or using the personas to make predictions and see if they come true.
- Implementation. Finally, we move on to practical implementation, using personas in all marketing and sales activities. Specifically, we can proceed to personalizing marketing messages, designing products or services that meet the needs of personas, or adapting sales strategies to directly address the challenges and goals of ideal customers.
- Update. Buyer personas are living tools that should be updated and refined over time, including from the data and insights we collect on “real” customers over time.
Ultimately, buyer personas are an essential tool for in-depth understanding of a company’s and a site’s target audience: thanks to these generalized representations of ideal customers, we can identify the points of contact between us producers and consumers, analyzing the values and behaviors that actually drive purchase.
The goal is to design strategies that place the customer at the center, making them effective because they are tailored to his or her needs.
This concept is closely related to inbound marketing, which aims to attract customers through relevant and useful content, rather than resorting to more invasive marketing techniques. Inbound marketing focuses on intercepting customers’ needs in order to provide solutions that meet their needs, and therefore needs to know the specific characteristics of customers, going beyond simple socio-demographic and geographic data.
David Meerman Scott, author of the book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR,” stresses the importance of understanding one’s target audience in order to create truly relevant content, suggesting to think like customers and try to identify with the various buyer personas and their ways of thinking. As Scott states, the idea behind the concept of buyer personas is to understand your target audience so well that you start thinking like them. This approach makes it possible to create more effective and personalized marketing strategies that more accurately address customer needs.