Back to the Basics: The Importance of Buyer Personas

I write about strategies to turn fans into customers and customers into fans. I also share ways to use real-time strategies to spread ideas, influence minds, and build business.

New Rules of Marketing and PR  |  Buyer Persona  |  Marketing  |  Best Practices

shutterstock_influencers_1129479929The way most marketers operate is by making stuff up. They sit in nice comfortable offices and imagine what interests buyers and then create “copy” and “campaigns” typically with the help of equally clueless agencies. But a focus on buyer personas helps eliminate this behavior.

I spend a lot of my time talking to organizations about their sales and marketing plans and strategies, and it is amazing to me that so many of them spend their time like this: holed up in comfortable company conference rooms, sitting on nice cozy Aeron chairs, eating free sandwiches brought in from a catering company, and trading ideas about how to sell and market their products. You know, just off the top of their heads. The worst part? In these making-stuff-up sessions, everyone in the room works for the company, and therefore there is no representation of the voice of people who will actually buy the products and services. People go back and forth, saying, “Oh, I think we should do this” or “I think we should do that.”

Organizations filled with people who take the time to understand the needs of buyers they wish to reach, and then develop information to educate and inform those buyers, are more successful than organizations that just make stuff up.

Buyer personas, the distinct demographic groupings of your potential customers, are critically important for successful marketing that leads to sales success.

Creating marketing and sales initiatives that target specific buyer personas is a strategy that easily outperforms the results you get from sitting on your butt in your comfortable office making stuff up about your products.

For those of you who don’t work for a company that sells products or services, my use of the word buyer applies to any organization’s target demographic. A politician’s buyer personas include voters, supporters, and contributors; universities’ buyer personas include prospective students who might apply, their parents who will foot the bill, and alumni who might donate; a golf club’s buyer personas are potential members; and a nonprofit’s buyer personas include corporate and individual donors. So go ahead and substitute the way you refer to your potential customers in place of the phrase buyer persona if you wish. But do keep your focus on this fundamental and powerful concept.

Transform your marketing and sales

By working to understand the market problems that your products and services solve for members of your buyer personas, you’ll gain the insight you need to quickly develop a product or service that will resonate with buyers.

And once the product is ready to ship, an understanding of buyer personas transforms your marketing from mere product-specific, egocentric gobbledygook (that only you and the other employees in your organization understand) into the sort of valuable information people are thrilled to consume and eager to share. When people are educated and informed by your organization, they frequently make the choice to do business with you in return.

Consider the rental car industry. Now, I’m no industry expert, but I do rent cars from time to time. It would seem to me that rental car companies serve quite a few distinct buyer personas. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Independent business travelers who make rental decisions themselves
  • Corporate travel department employees who make an approved vendor deal on behalf of hundreds or even thousands of company travelers
  • City dwellers who don’t own a car but who need wheels for the weekend
  • Somebody choosing a car for a family vacation
  • A commuter whose own car is in the repair shop for a few days but who still needs to get to work

The incredible value of creating multiple buyer personas and learning about each is that the needs they express and the problems your organization solves may be very different. In the rental car buyer persona example, a corporate travel manager who cuts a deal for 5,000 employees has very different needs (for example, to save the company money) than somebody whose car is in the shop for a week and needs a temporary vehicle because, above all, she cannot miss work. Smart organizations build sales strategies that will appeal to each of these buyers, with a focus on their unique problems. It is precisely those organizations that build sites based on buyer personas that cause you and me to go “Wow! They really understand me!”

And then, because the marketing is so well targeted, the potential customer is nearly sold by the time she gets to the point where the sale happens, either in an e-commerce transaction or by contacting a salesperson.

Buyer persona research ensures that you market using the voice of your buyer, not of your founder, CEO, product manager, or PR agency staffer. This drives people into the buying process, making salespeople’s work easier and quicker.

For a great example of buyer personas in action, take a look at my interview with Paul Mlodzik, Vice President, Marketing and Communications at The Co-operators Group Limited, a Canadian-owned insurance co-operative with more than $40 billion in assets under administration.

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