Content marketing experts often stress the importance of developing buyer personas. When you’re responsible for content marketing strategy, it’s tempting to find the fastest way to check off the buyer personas box. However, I recommend taking a research-based approach, even if it means slowing down. Buyer personas done right can influence every aspect of the way a company goes to market. Buyer personas done wrong can hinder success and stymie the careers of marketers that advocate for them.
Next time you’re tasked with developing buyer personas, consider the following:
1. Successful efforts have executive sponsorship
If you’re a mid-level manager and need buyer personas to do your job well, get an executive sponsor on board. Ideally, the marketing VP or CMO of your company has an ongoing personas initiative that gets refreshed quarterly and reported out to the entire organization. Content marketing becomes much easier when you share an understanding of the buyer with the rest of your organization.
2. Persona research requires interviewing and observing the right people
The two pitfalls to avoid in persona research are 1) a failure to observe and 2) recruiting the wrong research subjects. To avoid the first pitfall, be sure to set up observation time with your research subjects where you shadow them in their own environment. Observation may uncover unspoken needs and lead to a deeper understanding of your buyer. To avoid the second pitfall, consider the advice of persona expert Tony Zambito who suggests recruiting research subjects with a clear problem statement in mind and to recruit from customer types such as early adopters, defectors, non-retention groups, users of customer support, prospects and loyalists. Zambito shares the pros and cons of each of these groups here. Zambito also discusses the pitfalls of persona research here where he says, “Most failed initiatives took an easy way out by resorting to win/loss interviews or relying on sales only for contacts. Meaning, the buyer interviews could be the wrong set of buyers for the problems trying to be solved and the insight answers needed.”
3. A good buyer interview is a purposeful conversation
An interview is more than questions and answers, it’s a conversation that needs to uncover how and why your target buyers make the buying decisions for, or against, what you offer. A good interview will include questions that uncover what the buyers goals are and what may be preventing them from reaching their goals. Zambito calls this The Gap. According to Jeff Ogden in the video here, research should also uncover the product/service connection, which is “why the buyer would or would not buy your company’s product or service.”
The Buyer Persona Institute recommends in the blog post here to “capture how buyers arrived at their conclusions, and why the buyer ranked that issue so highly.” In this blog post about coaching a client, the Buyer Persona Institute writes about looking for, “the insights that would help me see his [the client’s] solution from his persona’s perspective. Focusing on the problem that his solution addressed, could he tell me what approaches she had already tried? Or what obstacles she thought his solution would need to overcome to deliver the benefit we were claiming? What did he know about her positive and negative attitudes towards his company’s current version of this solution?”
For more ideas on how to direct a conversation with a research subject, check out Tamara Graves article here titled, “The Importance of Knowing Buyer Personas Inside and Out.” Keep in mind that it’s okay to go off-script and follow up on conversational clues that can lead to big insights.
4. Goal-based personas are better than role-based personas
For B2B marketers, buyer personas often focus on the role of the buyer. In the blog post here, Zambito shares how equating a buyer persona to a role creates confusion in persona development. He says, “Some of the best buyer personas researched and created have been role agnostic. They became significant game changers to business strategy.”
So, try grouping buyers by their shared goals instead. For every group of customers that share a distinct set of goals, create a buyer persona for that group. Zambito recommends, “If the archetype of business and personal goals related to one buying group is distinctly different from that of another buying groups, it requires a unique buyer persona.”
5. Team up with an expert
If you’ve been tasked with persona development, I’d recommend shopping around for some help. This post links to several of what I’m sure are many options including Buyer Persona Institute, Tony Zambito and Find New Customers. I’m not affiliated with these groups in any way, I just found their content useful and think they would be a good place to start if you’re looking for a persona expert.