If you were to put a group of marketing managers and business owners in a room and ask who could clearly define their target customers, most would raise their hand (most probably think they’re above-average drivers, too).
But how well do they really know their customers?
Truth is, companies make a lot of assumptions about their customers. A Gleanster study from 2013 revealed 80% of brands don’t know their customers beyond basic demographic and purchase history. Eighty percent!
Businesses are content only knowing the most obvious, most observable activity about their customers. But what about everything that happens prior to those observable actions? For example, the moment a customer realizes they have a problem, or how they begin researching a possible solution. This is a critical part of the customer journey many businesses ignore. They assume to know each customer type and how they behave, but most don’t take the time to actually study it. Therefore, they can’t optimize for it.
Enter: Buyer Personas.
Buyer personas are semi-fictional characterizations of your customer base, grouped by buying behavior, pain points, personal and career objectives, and other demographic information.
Step 1: Define What You Need To Learn
The first step in developing your buyer persona is determining what you need to learn. Identify which questions will get you the right information to drive your marketing efforts. Focus on topics that will paint a picture about the individual, what their average day looks like, what motivates them as an individual, and how they seek out solutions to their problems.
These questions could include:
- What does your typical day look like?
- What is your job title?
- What skills are required to do your job?
- What are your daily responsibilities?
- What are your biggest challenges?
- What does success mean in your personal and professional life?
- Where do you go to seek out information?
- What groups do you belong to (online and offline)?
- How do you prefer to interact with a business? (email, over the phone, or in person)
- How old are you?
- Are you married?
- Do you have kids?
Step 2: Interview and Survey Your Customers
Interviews and surveys are two effective methods for obtaining customer insight. Interviews yield insightful qualitative data while surveys provide the quantitative data.
The person conducting your persona interviews should be both personable, intellectually curious, and (if possible) not invested in the business outcome. They should make the interview subject comfortable enough to give honest, thoughtful responses, while also capable of reading between the lines and asking deep, penetrating questions.
To avoid confirmation bias (interpreting information in order to confirm a preconceived notion), set clear guidelines for how the interview should take place and make each question a requirement.
An interviewer who isn’t connected to the final outcome and has a clear guideline on how the interview should take place will yield consistent, reliable results.
Surveys provide quantitative data to balance the qualitative data of customer interviews. “Identification questions” (e.g., “which of the following best describes you”) and “purpose of visit” questions (e.g. “what did you come to the site to do today”) are good questions to understand user type and intent. This post describes goes into detail on how to learn more about your site visitors using surveys and user tests.
There is no magic number for how many interviews or survey responses need to be conducted. You will have enough when you see clear trends and the responses become repetitive.
Step 3: Gather all the research, look for trends, organize customers into buckets
Once you have conducted your research, it’s time to sort through the data and identify your personas.
Most businesses will have a primary persona and several secondary personas. Your primary persona is your ideal target - a decision maker in the right role who understands what you are selling and how it can help them. In the beginning, focus on fleshing out your primary persona. The information obtained during the interviews and surveys should paint a clear picture of what a day looks like in the life of this persona. You understand their pain points and challenges, where they go to seek help or information, and how they evaluate their different options.
Secondary personas are also part of your target market, but considered a less valuable prospect. This could be due to their decision making ability, lifetime value, role within an organization, or their general need for your product.
Step 4: Center your marketing conversations around each persona
Once you’ve successfully identified each persona, it’s time to put them to use. Detail each persona on a piece of paper, give them a name, hang them on the conference room wall, and never conduct a marketing meeting without involving them.
Every strategic marketing decision, from product development to content strategy, should be vetted against these personas. If it is not obvious how you are adding value or addressing a persona’s pain point, you should re-evaluate the strategy.
Effective marketing requires knowing your customer deeply. Most companies think they do, but don’t invest the time to do it right. Plan smart, do it right, and maximize your results.