October 2nd, 2018

Persona Development 101: Knowing Your Audience

Author: Laura Lynch
Laura Lynch
Director of Marketing

How buyer personas define your customer base and improve your marketing message.

Do you know your customer? Do you know what gets them out of bed in the morning? What keeps them up at night? What makes them tick?

Obviously, these aren’t easy things for any business to know—at least, not in their particulars. But most of us can make a general stab at answering them where our own customers are concerned. After all, part of creating a viable product means knowing who would buy it and why they would want it.

Fortunately, a good marketing team can help you learn more about your customers by developing what we call buyer personas. Persona development is the process of researching your customers to create a more detailed picture of what might attract them to your company’s products and services.

Through buyer personas, you can deliver a marketing message that resonates with your customer base and builds brand loyalty. Here’s how it works.

What is a buyer persona?

Simply put, a buyer persona is a stand-in for the kind of customer you want to attract to your business. They help you replace bland, generic copy with personalized and engaging messaging.

Many businesses have more than one buyer persona. One common example we use is that of non-profits. Apart from their customer base, they also need personas for both their donor base and their volunteers. Since each of these groups will have a distinct set of driving purposes, they will require different messaging.

For business owners, the personas may break down differently. For instance, let’s say you run a salon and spa. You’re a rather upscale establishment, so you don’t see much of the college crowd. Instead, most of your customers are working women who want to maintain a professional appearance while also taking time to de-stress after a hard work week.

Your other main customer demographic is comprised of retired women in their 60’s or up. They look forward to visiting your salon as an excuse to get out of the house. Their concerns have less to do with looking younger and more to do with aging gracefully, and they look to you to help them with that transition.

You may also be trying to nurture a small male customer base who have recently shown interest in your services. For women, self-care is often its own justification, but you’ve noticed the men who come to your salon are less accustomed to making it part of their routine. Winning them over may mean tying the benefits to something beyond relaxation.

Clearly you have a diverse customer base, but you can’t use the same messaging for all. Instead, you will need to create distinct personas for each, and then direct that messaging toward the right group as appropriate.

A few things your buyer persona isn’t:

  • A real person. Don’t make the mistake of basing your persona off a real person you know. While that is a step in the right direction, if you focus on just one person, your persona will be too specific. Instead, it should be an amalgamation of a group of people, so that the individual biases are smoothed out and what remains are their unifying hopes, needs, and concerns.
  • An ideal. It’s tempting to think of your buyer persona as the perfect customer, someone who loves your brand and is ready to buy your services. But if you only focus on that perfect customer, you won’t be able to address their concerns and hesitations. Persona development is about going deeper and truly fleshing out your customer’s needs.
  • You. Your love and enthusiasm for your business is something you should channel through your marketing, but it shouldn’t replace persona development. If you head down this road, you’ll only be talking to yourself.

How do you create a buyer persona?

Now that you know what a buyer persona is and isn’t, how do you create one? Most marketers have developed their own methodology, but it usually consists of a few steps.

For starters, you should begin with an internal discussion with your team about who your customers are, and who you would like them to be. When we work with businesses to develop their personas, we handle this process through a series of interviews with the business owner, members of the marketing department, and anyone who works on the front end of the business in sales or customer service.

It is also ideal to conduct interviews with actual customers, when possible. Some businesses have close personal relationships with their customer base, which makes these interviews easier to facilitate. If you run a business that doesn’t involve much customer interaction, a survey might be a better option.

As you handle these interviews, your goal is to gain a picture of your customers, their anxieties, interests, aspirations, and motivations. It helps to approach your persona development process with a list of questions you need to answer. You can ask these questions directly to your clients, or discuss with your team what they believe the answers would be. Your sales team will be especially helpful in working through these details.

5 Questions to Ask in Persona Development

Here’s a few of the most important questions you should be able to answer about your customers by the time you finish your persona development.

1. What are their demographics?

A good buyer persona goes well beyond demographics, but it’s a good place to start. Some demographic questions can be more important than others, but a few defining features might include their age, gender, ethnicity, purchasing power, where they live, and what their education level is.

You’ll speak to a Boomer using words and cultural references that are very different from the ones you would use with a Millennial, and you’ll offer a very different value proposition for your services to someone with an annual income of $30K than to someone who makes over $500K.

2. Why do they care about my product?

What is the greatest benefit that your product brings your customer? Is it a luxury good, or a necessity? Is this a purchase they will look forward to making, or one of expediency? How does your product make their lives better?

3. What are their biggest pain points?

Anxiety can be a big motivator behind many purchasing decisions. We’re not talking here about big, overarching life anxieties, but ones specifically related to your product. If you sell orthopedic shoes, you know that your customers are worried about ongoing joint or back pain. Or, if you sell roofing services, your customers will worry about their home value. Think about why these concerns have inspired them to come searching for your services.

4. What are their biggest hesitations?

Sometimes you know your customers want your product, but something is still holding them back. Commonly the hesitation has to do with cost. But other hesitations could include concerns about value (will it break?) or time (will I ever use it?).

You can’t win a battle if you don’t know what you’re up against. Once you identify the main buyer hesitations, you can address them directly.

5. How will my product solve their concerns?

Finally, how will your product help your customers? Does it solve their pain points, remove their anxieties, and lay all their hesitations to rest? Or does it side-step them entirely by providing a solution they never thought of?

Clearly, you can continue to ask many more questions. But as you work your way through, you should begin to see a narrative develop. You’ll get an idea for what sort of person your persona represents, and you’ll be able to deliver a more compelling message to that person.

Persona marketing tailors your message for your target customer.

Persona development may take a while, but the result is more focused messaging that appeals to needs and interests that are relevant to your customer base. Instead of messaging that dwells on your business and why you think you’re worthy of their business, you demonstrate how well you understand their needs and motivations.

Buyer personas dovetails with many automated marketing best practices, so that your messages go to those most interested in the right services. For instance, we use SharpSpring for our automated email mailings, because it allows us to assign each contact to a specific persona. Then, when we want to email to our lists, we don’t blast the entire list with unrelated messaging.

Using buyer personas effectively requires insight, empathy, and strategy. But when done right, customers walk away with the feeling that you designed your business for them. And that’s a powerful reason to come back.

Related Articles