April 22, 2023 - 17 min read
I work in social media and I don’t usually see people in Social use “buyer persona” enough. But I’m always using “Buyer personas” because it makes social media strategy planning & content creation very easy. Another reason is I love studying people.
That was the first reason I pursued marketing as a career. Since the start of my career, I’ve seen marketers struggle with buyer psychology & building personas. Probably because there's a lot of outdated & scattered information on creating buyer personas.
How I learned about buyers at my previous jobs was through real-time surveys, using Google Scholar & accessible qualitative/quantitative data to find relevant information on the potential buyers. And tracking the progress of big brands in my free newsletter.
My process isn’t enough to teach you about creating buyer personas. That’s why I have tried to curate all my favorite guides, insights & practices to help you.
It starts with an explanation of what a Buyer persona is. A buyer persona represents your ideal buyer and you gather characteristics & data about a persona that mimics a real-customer. And after that you will build your campaigns & do marketing focusing on that single persona. In hopes of converting the real customer.
After that the guide to build a successful persona starts at the advice of gathering data about your target audience. Any data that is available in the market or you can get your hand on is extremely valuable.
Then the guide advises you to work on understanding that audience & finding the common grounds. And then use those common beliefs in product marketing to achieve success.
Most of the guides tell you to do the market research & you will eventually find the best buyer personas. And I say that is a mediocre advice to give because that’s just saying data is buyer persona.
No, Every piece of data that you get from market research & knowing your audience doesn’t help you to convert that buyer. If you understand the personas well enough, you will know what pain point to target and what to not.
That’s what the focus of this writing is helping you understand what matters & what doesn’t matter in building buyer personas. If you are completely new to building personas, I recommend you to read this guide from Hubspot & come back.
We need to stop chasing Audience demographics in dreams of creating buyer personas. Especially as the Generative AI wave is growing within marketing. Curating & Extracting audience demographics is something AI will do in a matter of seconds. That’s why I want marketers to drop the ball on this way of creating buyer personas.
First, To create buyer personas that help you build products & brands that people love. You need to master the art of asking questions that get people out of their mold.
For years, I’ve been seeing marketers push traditional questions & run surveys that are too oriented and simple. That what consumers might answer is very much predictable.
For Great Surveys that help you create buyer personas. There are two possibilities, either you give them an abundance of context about your vision, competitors & Industry or you give them 0 context and let them share what they know at the starting phase.
In both scenarios, you are giving the person more than a question. It’s an opportunity to either express or share their insights.
Don’t build personas from numbers only, build them from conversations. Data helps you to identify the ideal buyer & analyzing them in real-time helps you to confirm the best buyer persona to target.
Take Ron Johnson as an example, his time at JCpenney. He came and looked at numbers & data only. He failed to understand the buyer persona, he tried to build a great customer experience like Apple at JCpenney. When the ideal buyer wasn’t looking for experience, they were looking for better deals & products at JCPenny.
A lot of marketers end up making this same mistake at companies. Many work in the same industry jobs & take what they learned about X buyer to the next company job. And use that persona, Like Ron Johnson.
Yes, 90% of the characteristics of buyers are the same, but to do great marketing. You should care about the minor characteristics of a buyer.
And those characteristics & identities are learned through real-time engagement & interactions with your potential buyers.
I love this guide from Ramli John explaining what buyer personas aren’t and what most people neglect.
One of the points he mentioned was most personas don’t focus on what the buyer is doing during the buying process
For Context, Most B2B purchase decisions for marketing are made with help of teams & the process is longer than B2C.
The importance of understanding how your potential buyer moves is important. What are they doing after the first interaction, how do they move toward an end-decision? You need to understand the buyer journey to improve the sales & marketing process.
You can grab the free cheatsheet from Ramli John & Adrienne Barnes about understanding buyer journeys.
This insight comes from Bonnie Chiurazzi, Head of Market Insights at Glassdoor. She mentioned that using qualitative data from reports, industry leaders & previous campaigns isn’t bad. If you’re on a limited budget, lack the technology or may be the potential buyer is too hard to reach (like industry professionals).
Even though both of the insights above suggested that use of real-time insights & customer journey is the best way to go. Gathering these insights & data isn’t easy.
That’s why in some cases, you need to rely on limited insights to create personas & have to test & experiment consistently to find the ideal persona. The important part is identifying your objectives with every persona from the beginning to have a great product-led growth.
The worst mistake you can make while creating buyer personas is being too direct about your product and competitors. That creates immediate bias in the mind of interviewees.
And the next worst mistake is choosing the wrong person to write & ask those questions. A person too optimistic about the product will always ask questions that deliver predictable answers. Because they also have bias towards products and their questions often have predictable results.
I can’t teach you how to ask great questions that deliver the best insights. Because that is a creative marketing skill and you need to understand the business & think outside the box. Then never allow bias to come in your way.
The skill of asking right questions is now even more important as AI also gives you the best answers when the prompt is right.
To successfully move your potential buyer to an end-decision. Understand how much context they have about different things in your industry & about similar products.
For Example, Successful dictators in the past used the power of context to influence people. They started limiting the context people had about certain elements of society, to share their own vision. That helped them maintain control over the people.
In understanding personas, you want to identify their knowledge & context, some of the common characteristics of buyers (based on context) in every industry are:
Observers: People who are observing the market & just want an overview to make a buying decision.
People who do fast fashion, observe & adapt.
Fans: These are People connected with an element of the brand & they have more context about competitors & market through that specific brand
People who choose Brands like Tommy Hilfiger and stick to them.
Customers: These are people regularly in the market for products & know the ABCs of how to find a better deal.
People who try to find a new fashion brand for the sake of experience or a better offer.
Commentators: These are Industry representatives sharing their insights & have an influence over other decision-makers.
People who share their fashion reviews & insights on Brands recent look books. Affecting other buyers in the market.
Collaborators: These are People who get involved in major buying decisions. In scenarios like B2B partnerships, house purchases & Art buying.
When Brands like Nike & Tiffany work together to target two personas together: sneaker collectors & Luxury lovers.
Now, You will find these 5 types of personas in every industry and their decision making is reliant on the context they hold. That’s why finding how much context a customer holds is not negligible.
With the help of advertising networks like Facebook & TikTok, you can easily find a lot of information about your ideal buyers & use that data to create buyer personas that will convert.
But the reality is you have to create different personas first and test them. To have a final persona that will convert on through Social Media Ads & creatives you are currently running.
Social Media Analytics dashboards & Tools like Facebook Audience Insights will never help you create the ideal buyer personas. They will serve you demographics only.
How successful brands use social media to create buyer personas & then create content for them is through direct brand partnerships with these platforms.
Take Pinterest for example, Every year they launch various content deals with brands. Take their partnership with Tastemade last year.
These content partnerships are made after Pinterest analyzes the user personas on the platform. How they(users) are interacting, what are they saving & the conversations, all these factors to identify the persona. Then, the platform advises Tastemade and other brands on what type of content to create to reach that audience.
The Big Agency campaigns on other platforms are also successful because many have API access. They tune into the conversations happening on that platform & analyze the user behavior before crafting the buyer personas to create content for!
In Future, this will happen a lot as many will use AI + Social Media APIs to build personas using real-time conversations happening on the platform.
For now, you have to settle for social media analytics data & analyzing the conversations that take place around your brand.
Innovation persona exists when CEOs & businesses feel like they have a similar persona to their ideal buyer. Why? Because they themselves had a problem and built a product around it. Now, it is a business & they are getting sales. 90% of Shark Tank stories are a great example.
Is there a problem with the Innovation persona? No, if the sales are great. But even if Sales are great, you should always test different personas and try to learn about new characteristics of customers because you might discover some new opportunities.
That’s why never take a working buyer persona for granted. Always try to find a persona to upscale your business.
A great example is In starting of his career, McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc for years never identified that his ideal buyer needed better locations more than any other element that he provided. Because the potential buyer of a franchise was already in love with the idea of the franchise and ready to deal with employee training fees & paying for food costs.
He was unknown to an element that could make the buying decision faster and easier. And that was choosing locations and leasing them to franchisee owners.
That taught me the importance of being open to adapting to new buyer personas & exploring new customer data to craft better marketing strategies.
You leave a kid in a room with an unknown object for 30 minutes, you will see him trying to figure out what it is & after that visit him in the room. He will have questions for you.
That’s what brands are doing to understand the buyer personas without having to do extensive research.
In SaaS, free Trials are one of the best ways to identify the personas. Using Trials, you will identify what users are utilizing within the tool & what breaks them to leave the platform. These free tryouts are the best.
In Digital, Using tools like Microsoft Clarity & Hotjar help you capture the engaging elements of your website. And Tracking Pixels & Abandoned purchases tell you a lot about the buying process and the regular buying behavior. You are highlighting your business & using copywriting in the Ads & website. Then how they react is tracked by these tools leaving with a better overview of the customer journey.
On Social Media, You share the content & brand messaging after a single post you get the data about how people interact. Also get to listen to real-time conversations.
In an established business state, all of these things might need to be done after identifying the buyer personas. But just starting out as an early-age startup or small business “Show, don’t tell” framework is one of the best. As you learn from experience & interactions with your audience.
There is no doubt in my mind that earned buyer insights are more valuable than borrowed insights. But you can’t earn buyer insights at most marketing jobs, first I believe marketers need to be rewarded whenever they work on gathering real-time Buyer insights. It isn’t an easy task, that’s why most marketers rely on borrowed buyer insights.
Gathering insights through Industry benchmark reports & surveys conducted by Big Firms. And that isn’t bad but you should identify trusted sources & compare data to other sources.
For Instance, Deloitte in the latest marketing trends report published data about Metaverse marketing trends while this year so far the pioneers of Metaverse: Google & Meta have cut down their budgets for metaverse.
Not only that, at the time this report came out many marketers were also disappointed with the data. Proving that data sources also don’t create a huge impact. What really matters is you try to compare & analyze as much as possible to gather buyer insights that actually help you target ideal customers.
In B2B & Enterprise-Level B2C, you might’ve a hard time reaching the potential buyers & getting them to answer in surveys or attend interviews.
And in some cases, you can’t get the answer out of them in that state.
To fix that put them in different group settings like a get together or workshops where they might be more open & sharing some thoughts. I recommend this guide from Hubspot to understand the importance of running workshops to understand your business & customers better.
In certain scenarios, you might need to put your potential buyers in these type of situations occasionally to better your understanding of their general buying behaviors, preferences & pain points.
This comes from Patrick Campbell, CEO of Profitwell. On Lenny’s Podcast, He mentioned that only 1 in 5 companies create buyer personas or work consistently on Ideal customer profiles.
First, I advise you to listen to Lenny's podcast. One of my favorite podcasts to learn about business & product marketing.
Patrick also mentioned that qualitative market research isn’t conducted on a quarterly basis in most industries. First these are Patrick’s personal beliefs & there isn’t data to back his findings.
But I agree with Patrick, companies aren’t working on gathering buyer insights & data consistently. Because the reliance on data sources like Meta, Google & Microsoft is increasing. And companies are scared to spend time on real-time research & experimenting with their consumers to learn more.
This needs to change as third-party data is a dying breed & companies need to get back to gathering first-party data & buyer insights to do better product marketing.
Not only marketing, these insights help product management, developers and other members to work with a better understanding of the market & business.
One of the marketing trends mentioned in McKinsey’s latest report was Personalization.
Consumers in most markets are expecting brands to show a sign that they know them on a personal level. Likelihood to purchase, recommend & repurchase is now more reliant on how you personalize the average buying experience.
To do that, you need to understand your buyer, not buyer personas. Try to understand a single individual buyer & personalize the experience for them. If there is a market for that buying experience & product. You will be great at marketing.
This is what is happening in Social Media Marketing, everyone is creating content for mass personas, to convert the viewers into buyers. And they are failing, You need to create for a few or just one.
In one of his golden interviews, he explained the difference between acting in a comedy show vs Saturday night live.
He says people get to enjoy the comedic act more at SNL because they know the characters are having fun & even when they break characters people like it even more.
On other hand in a comedic movie or show, the character needs to be in the role & shouldn’t find it funny, to make sure the audience gets most out of it. Similar situations with movie characters not crying easily in movies, to make the audience cry.
To understand your buyers better, you shouldn’t be too direct because that takes a lot of material out of the conversation. The bias kicks in, they are afraid to answer and much more.
But most guides tell you to be so direct and ask the majority of questions that don’t matter. Be precise with what you choose to build these buyer personas.