Interest in buyer personas is heating up, but what are personas and how can they help a brand?
In a nutshell, personas are a fictional portrait of a businesses’ ideal customer based on market research, observation and data amassed about real customers.
Marketers need a granular picture of prospective customers if they’re to deliver relevant messages on the right channels and cut through noise in media.
They’ll reach a deeper understanding of wants, needs and behaviours of their customers by developing these detailed pictures of their perfect buyers.
Personas are vital to shape creative communications that resonate with customers – and their use also extends beyond marketing like product development, acquisition planning and more.
So, what's the difference between personas and segmentation? (Personas vs segments)
Personas aren’t interchangeable with market segments, although the boundaries often blur.
Segmentation is used to divide a market into sub-groups based on differences e.g. geographic or demographic differences or income.
A recent Marketing Week study into segmentation methods found the three most commonly used.
- Behaviour (44%)
- Location (42%) and
- Age (38%)
But, segments are still large groupings lacking the nuances to understand individuals and their particular needs and drives.
A persona on the other hand, is a more finely drawn outline of the dream customer.
Personas bring segments to life, so that the marketing team can define content and media plans. As Ian Williams, Management Consultant at Jericho puts it:
“Segmentation validates the identity of homogeneous customer groups, whereas personas help to then enrich those identities for other purposes.”
The creation of a persona means bringing to the table customer demographics, behaviours, deeper insights into customer aspirations and desires, a knowledge of lifestyle stages and much more.
The benefits of creating a buyer persona
There are many advantages in creating a buyer persona, listed below are a few of the main ones.
- Understand how potential customers make buying decisions
- Influence the buying journey of the target audience via appropriate channels and touchpoints
- Put the customer at the heart of the business. In other words, buyer personas improve your customer experience
- Assist a company to align its departments so it operates with a focus on a single customer-focused goal. This extends to research and development teams, who can use personas to tailor product development and new services to the specific needs of customers
- Create ‘negative buyer personas’ – a reverse mirror of the ideal customer – are valuable in decision-making and establishing brand image
For example, luxury goods companies or fashion brands need to maintain an aspirational image of exclusivity and keep control of the contexts in which the brand is seen and where it’s sold.
Why consumer attitudes to technology make personas more relevant
We live in a culture where individualism is prized and people expect their interactions with brands to be personalised and relevant.
But, there’s tension between what people say they want and how much data they’re willing to trade to have really tailored messages.
Digital technology is bringing the concept of marketing to a ‘segment of one’ closer but there’s a degree of pushback. Consumers demand more control over their data and how it’s used. They’re worried about privacy and security and full personalisation isn’t welcomed by all. Hence the scrutiny on privacy and protection of personal data and the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, 2018.
Although consumers say they want personalised, relevant messages a US survey by YouGov found
32% of respondents don’t like personalised messages from brands because it often feels like an invasion of privacy
28% said they don’t like it when companies hold information about them without explicit consent
Marketers need to make decisions on media investments and content. And this is where buyer personas really prove their value by being a useful tool to help avoid a ‘creepy’ level of personal customer identification.
Let’s get into the finer details of B2B and B2C personas as there are some differences in what marketers need to consider.
Building business to business (B2B) personas
B2B Marketers need to engage with a variety of stakeholders and influencers working at their target business.
For instance, a seller of marketing automation technology may have to communicate with the prospect’s senior marketer, sales director, digital/IT director and procurement.
In many businesses the user and buyer aren’t the same person and you should create personas for both.
Understand both the end-user and the buyer when creating a B2B persona
Developing an understanding of the end-user is crucial as they’ll have an influence on buyers – you need to know where users go for information about their job, their preferred communication channels and what they’re looking for to make their jobs easier.
But knowledge of the buyer’s goals, preferred media, the pressures they face and the metrics on which their performance is measured will also be necessary
Persona specialist, Adele Revella offers good advice:
“B2B marketers that want to have the right number of personas and, most importantly, useful ones, begin by focusing on the buying decisions they want to influence.”
What's a good example of a B2B persona?
I like Oracle Retail’s short persona videos.
Oracle Retail developed four films to target Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers and Chief Marketers that outlined each role’s challenges and goals.
See further reading below for a link to the videos.
4 tips for creating B2B personas
1. Understand different roles within a business may have motivations that differ as well
A marketer wants to deliver a seamless customer experience while a digital director may be looking for a more efficient or secure process.
2. Produce a timeline
It’s important to plan for when different personas are likely to interact with your brand along the customer journey.
For instance, if you’re selling online marketing services, when is the right time to engage the IT lead with relevant messages?
3. Generate more personas if you’re marketing to a variety of companies of different sizes
The number of decision-makers and the complexity of the decision-making process will vary depending on head count.
4. Keep the ‘human’ in your messaging
While B2B purchases are based on rational and measurable factors, there’s room for emotion in messaging.
Creating the B2C buyer persona
Emotion is a large part of the buying decision for consumers and their purchases are often impulsive. Segmentation is the starting point for building a persona and you’ll need to undertake detailed research.
You need to ask questions about your customer’s habits.
- How do they purchase online and offline and how does it differ?
Who do they listen to for advice?
- What do they read and what other media do they consume?
How do they prefer to receive information?
- What are their motivations and concerns?
By answering these questions, you'll have a greater understanding of your buyer's decision-making journey to their purchase. From there you can map out the relevance of your touchpoints and content to how people really live their lives.
You’ll be surprised by some of the findings and expect to have some assumptions overturned.
5 tips for creating standout B2C personas
1. People make buying decisions with both the heart and the head
Try to understand some of the more sub-conscious motivations surfacing in their answers.
2. Keep bias out of the research
If interviews are being carried out by your own sales teams or field marketing teams, they can be prone to producing results with bias.
3. Interview different customers, not just the satisfied, loyal ones
Those who buy rival products and services – don’t screen them out.
include customers who may have asked for refunds or cancelled services.
4. You don’t need to do hundreds of interviews
You’ll be surprised how common some answers you get are, a random sample of people facing a range of challenges is fine. If you start predicting what the interviewee is going to say, it means you’ve absorbed a lot of information and are able to create a rich buyer profile.
5. Ask which brands interviewees like
Knowing their preferences can help with messaging, imagery and media channels.
Our own experience of persona development
We developed personas that our customers can use for planning their mail campaigns.
The key insight from our research is that age is not the defining factor for how people interact with mail.
For instance, couples can be all ages, but have a certain set of shared behaviours in how mail is received and handled. We focused in on life stages as a framing device for our personas, as it incorporates age but includes a more nuanced view of behaviour.
Our ‘Life Stages of Mail’ proved some hypothesis wrong. For instance, young adults living at home with their parents don’t receive much mail and don’t expect to – no surprise. But they’re actually one of the most responsive to mail. That’s an unexpected insight some brands looking to rejuvenate their customer base can use.
Personas help brands to engage with the right people at the right time. They improve the customer experience, prevent wastage in targeting the wrong individuals or developing messages that don’t resonate with the audience.
Our report might help you build marketing personas.
To learn more about how people in various life stages use mail download the Life Stages of Mail report.
Royal Mail MarketReach, The Life Stages of Mail
CTSTON, Survey: Despite privacy concerns, consumers will share personal data if it saves money or resolves customer service issues
Marketing Week, Why behaviour beats demographics when it comes to segmentation
Ekstasy, Oracle product personas videos
Inc, Harvard Professor says 95% of purchasing decisions are subconscious
Royal Mail MarketReach, The Life Stages of Mail
Royal Mail MarketReach, Is your customer experience missing something?