While buyer personas are rooted in in-depth research, the goal is to take all of the information you have about your target audience and condense it into a summary of just one person: Your ideal customer.
Once you start using personas to guide your strategies, campaigns, and interactions, your audience will get the impression that you truly know and understand them — whether they’re reading your content or talking to your sales team. As a result, you’ll be able to generate more qualified leads, drive sales, and delight your customers.
So, how do you begin the extensive research process that goes into creating buyer personas and how do you decide what to include in the final “profile” of your ideal customer? Let’s dive in.
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona is often presented much like a personal profile. In just one glance, it reveals some critical information about your customers, such as who they are, where they live, and the challenges they’re facing.
When companies go about creating buyer personas, they often present them like a social media profile for a fictitious person, even going so far to give them a name, like “Fun Guy Fred” or “Timmy Technology.” In most cases, just hearing the name can call to mind a whole character, which is what businesses want to achieve.
By creating a profile that feels like a real person, buyer personas can effortlessly convey a wealth of information about a target customer while giving your teams an easier, more natural way to discuss different personas and their needs.
Why are buyer personas important?
Most founders dig through piles of demographic information and market research before they even establish their business plan. Yet, once they’re up and running, it’s simply not practical to dig into stacks of papers before every little decision, and that’s where buyer personas come into play.
Being able to pull out a short and sweet buyer persona is so very valuable, especially when it comes to activities like:
Your product development team can use marketing personas to complement the customer data they collect, helping your business take a more customer-centric approach to planning and prioritizing future products.
Your sales team can turn to buyer personas to optimize your brand’s outreach and follow-up strategies based on the types of customers they’re working with. This could change everything from the channel they use to engage leads to the script they follow when talking to them.
Your marketing team can use buyer personas to inform your brand’s marketing strategy, ensuring that content and messaging align with the target customer’s pain points and priorities. For instance, instead of blasting out the same lead nurturing email to everyone on your list, you can segment your audience based on your personas and tailor your messaging accordingly to produce more warm leads.
No matter what you’re working on, buyer personas give your team a foundation for better understanding the person that’s browsing your site, picking up the phone, or walking into your store, allowing them to shape the customer experience for that individual and produce better business outcomes as a result.
Buyer Persona Examples
For most businesses, their entire customer base can’t be summed up with just one persona. Oftentimes, you’ll end up creating two or three personas to cover the largest and most important market segments.
For example, Canva is an online graphic design tool that offers countless templates with a point-and-click visual interface, making it easy for anyone to design practically anything (brochures, business cards, infographics, etc.). As you can imagine, Canva has a huge audience that spans many use cases.
Let’s say they determine that their most profitable segment consists of freelance designers, small businesses, and students. Sure, all of these customers are using Canva to produce stunning designs, but their needs and goals vary, so Canva needs to develop a marketing persona for each one. Let’s walk through some examples to demonstrate:
Freelance designers use Canva for their paying clients, so they need advanced tools that let them design, re-size, and share projects quickly. Freelance Fran is ready to pay for the features she needs, but she also wants a streamlined workflow.
Small Biz Susan
Small business owners are trying to do things in-house without a ton of design expertise, so they care about ready-made templates and print-on-demand integrations. Small Biz Susan doesn’t have a huge budget, but she is prepared to pay for easy-to-use templates and tools that help her build her brand.
Students use Canva for projects, so they prioritize collaboration and presentation tools to help them finish their projects faster. They’d rather spend no money at all, but they may be willing to pay a small price if Canva’s team can convince them that the time savings or end quality are worth the upgrade.
Without separating these target customers and establishing buyer personas for each one, Canva would be taking shots in the dark. They’d be marketing premium tools to students who don’t want to pay a dime and they’d be pushing free trials to professional users who are ready and willing to sign up at the highest tier.
Without buyer personas to guide you, you’re stuck trying to cater to everyone all at once, ultimately resonating with no one at all. Meanwhile, customers will be left disappointed, confused, and even frustrated because no one ever catered to their personal goals and, instead, kept pushing features on them that they didn’t want or need.
So, how do you go about creating powerful personas that are reliable enough to guide your marketing efforts and other endeavors? Let’s go through the process step-by-step.
How to Create Buyer Personas
The most important thing to do when creating buyer personas is to collect data from a variety of sources, including existing customers, potential customers, and even people that fit your target audience who aren’t yet familiar with your brand or product. You should also look internally to ask your marketing and sales teams about the different types of customers who they feel your business serves the best.
Data collection is critical to crafting reliable buyer personas, but it’s still only one step in the process. Here’s a complete guide to help you explore your target market in-depth and ensure that you include all of the most important details in the personas you create.
Who should be involved in creating your buyer personas?
If you’re trying to throw together some buyer personas without leaving your laptop, you’re going to end up missing out on crucial insights that could completely transform your perception of your target audience. In other words, don’t try to create your buyer personas in a silo. Consider this a collaborative process and give yourself plenty of time to finish the project.
Assuming your business is already established, you’re going to want to involve all of the following people:
Since your sales team has direct interactions with your prospects and customers, they can walk you through the specific pain points, challenges, and objections your leads face. Assuming you have excellent data collection processes in place, you might even be able to compare call recordings and chat transcripts and begin to understand the best approach to take (and not to take) with each persona depending on whether the interaction resulted in a sale, renewal, cancellation, etc.
Your marketing team likely already has a lot of information about your customers, even if it’s hidden with marketing tools like Google Analytics. Getting your marketing team to work in tandem with your sales team will help them identify commonalities that form the basis of a persona. They can also tell you about the customer journey before a visitor becomes a lead, revealing insights about the large portion of your audience that isn’t in your CRM.
Involving representatives from your support, service, and success teams is equally important to hearing from your sales and marketing team. After all, these individuals regularly interact with people both before and after purchase. Amongst other things, they listen to questions, bug reports, feature requests, complaints, and complements, all of which can reveal further information into fundamentals like the buyer’s journey, purchasing decisions, and cancellations.
Social Media Representative
The individuals responsible for monitoring social networks for messages, comments, and mentions of your brand should be involved in the buyer persona development process because they not only interact with your existing customers and potential customers, but also your competitors, your competitors’ customers, and even past customers. They can reveal things like how marketing messages are perceived or where the most interactions take place (i.e., LinkedIn over Twitter), giving you even more practical data to work with.
Executive leadership plays a major role in creating buyer personas because they are responsible for deciding on an actionable structure and presentation for all the data you collect. Additionally, it’s the role of executive leadership to determine which personas best align with the company’s overall goals, and even identify “negative personas” (i.e., customers you don’t want to work with) to keep everyone on track.
What if your team is very small or very large?
For large companies, sending our internal surveys and questionnaires is one of the fastest ways to collect droves of insights, but you also need to select one or more individuals from each of these departments and let them get hands-on in the persona planning and review process.
For smaller businesses, your front desk person might double as customer service rep and social media manager, in which case they’re likely incredibly busy — but you still need to steal some of their time and involve them in the process because they’re perspective is extremely valuable.
In the event that your business hasn’t launched yet and you are developing buyer personas to guide your marketing and sales tactics, kudos to you! In this case, you will want to delve deep into competitor and audience analysis, and lean heavily on the data collection methods described further down since you don’t have any historical sales or marketing data to build upon.
What should you include in a buyer persona?
Your buyer persona needs to summarize the following:
Where do they live? Are they single or in a relationship? What’s their age and gender? Do they have kids? What is their annual household income?
Did they attend college? Do they hold any certifications? What’s their current job title? What are their career aspirations?
Are they tech-savvy? Which device do they usually browse on? How do they prefer to communicate? Which social media platforms do they use?
How do they spend their free time? Do they travel a lot? What are their hobbies and interests outside of work?
What are their personal goals? What are their professional goals? What are their role-related and company-related goals?
What immediate challenges are they facing? What long-term challenges are they facing?
What objections do they hold? What objections do those around them hold that could stop them from pursuing a solution?
What do they fear in their work life? What do they fear in their personal life? What fears may stand in their way of achieving their goals?
As you can imagine, some of the information will be easier to ascertain than the rest. For instance, it’s easy to uncover demographics and find an average age for your persona, but how do you even begin to figure out what they do in their free time? It comes down to using a wide variety of data collection strategies, so let’s get into them.
Gathering The Data You Need
The thought of having a buyer persona that you can confidently turn to whenever you’re developing a marketing campaign or designing a new product is certainly alluring. However, the amount of research necessary to develop a reliable customer persona can be daunting.
Throughout the process, it’s easy to get stumped with highly specific questions like, “How can we uncover our buyer persona’s reading habits?” Fortunately, there is a way to do it and you don’t have to resort to guesswork. However, you will have to set time (and some money) aside to collect the data you need. Here’s an overview of the methods you should consider using.
There’s a good chance that your website already has forms, whether it’s to contact your team or sign up for your newsletter. As long as you’re abiding by data collection, storage, and use regulations like GDPR and CCPA, you can add fields to these forms to get more information about your leads and customers.
For instance, if you’re trying to identify your personas based on their job title, you can ask for this information on your forms. Likewise, you could ask about the size of their company or whether or not they have decision-making power. Of course, you don’t want to bog down your forms with too many fields as this can create friction and harm your conversion rates.
So, if you want to improve your forms to better support your data collection efforts, put the user experience first. If there’s room for more questions in the user flow, make sure the ones you choose to ask are truly important (and easy for your users to answer). Over time, your forms will help you fill in the gaps pertaining to these questions.
Questionnaires are easily the most popular data collection method because they allow you to ask tons of questions and get thousands of responses in a relatively short period of time. What’s more, by applying the right methodologies and analysis techniques, you can minimize the amount of time that goes into converting responses into usable insights.
In many cases, you will need to incentivize people to respond to your questionnaire, but giving away samples, trials, discounts, or gift cards is a small price to pay for the sheer volume of information you can collect.
When you’re ready to start collecting information, sending out a questionnaire is easy enough. There are plenty of tools to help you create, share, and analyze your questionnaire and many more resources that offer guidance on what you should ask and how. Hubspot is considered one of the best for digital marketing research, and they even offer free templates and a handy guide.
Interviews can be conducted over the phone, via video call, or even in person. While they simply take too much time to be feasible for high-volume data collection, conducting a handful of quality interviews with people who represent a perfect match to your target customer is worthwhile.
During interviews, you can ask open-ended questions that reveal tons of information about that person’s lifestyle, responsibilities, research processes, communication preferences, and specifics about other aspects that are more difficult to unveil in forms and questionnaires. You may even get a quote or two that sums up your buyer persona in a few words.
Filling In The Blanks
You shouldn’t rush the research process when it comes to creating buyer personas, but you’re going to have to complete them at some point. In other words, when your target date rolls around and you still have unanswered questions, you’re going to have to fill in the blanks yourself.
While guesswork should be kept to a minimum when dealing with such a critical document, you’re probably not going to be able to find definitive answers for every single data point you hoped to include in your buyer personas. If you’ve sent out surveys, called up customers, and dug through your data, that’s when it’s time to use educated guesses.
Fortunately, your buyer personas are not stagnant. You should plan to continuously review them to make sure they still represent your ideal customer and, over time, you’re bound to discover new information that can either confirm your educated guesses or help you adjust them accordingly. In other words, your buyer personas are only going to get better with time, especially as your team grows accustomed to using them.
Free Buyer Persona Template
Now that you know what it takes to create a buyer persona, I’d like to make the process just a little bit easier for you. I have created two buyer persona templates, one intended for B2B brands and the other for B2C brands. Choose the one that fits your company and then start filling it out.
• B2B brand template
• B2C brand template
My best advice when using these templates is to start with what you know. It can also be a good exercise to fill it out completely using the information you have now and your educated guesses, and then dive into the research process and make note of the misconceptions you had about your target audience.
In the weeks to come, you and your team are sure to uncover many new insights that will help guide your company going forward. So, what’s next? Finding ways to utilize your buyer personas within your content marketing strategy should be an exciting goal on the horizon.
Follow My Content Framework
Next time you’re discussing your inbound marketing strategy, your team won’t be left scratching their heads trying to figure out if the planned approach is going to work. Instead, everyone will quietly mutter, “Makes sense,” as they pass your personas around the room and kick off a discussion of new ideas tailored specifically to your target audience.
Your company can realize the benefits of a well-planned strategy, dreamy sales numbers and all, as long as you take the time to build a solid foundation for your brand. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can use your soon-to-be buyer personas in your content marketing strategy, or if you want to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, I encourage you to check out my content framework.
If you’re ready to move on to the next step, let’s dig into the process of user journey mapping and how it can help you understand how your customers (and would-be customers) behave throughout the sales cycle so that you can serve them better. Get started now with my guide to the user journey.