What are buyer personas and why are they critical to every business?

Do you know who your customers really are? Do you wish you could get inside their heads and find out what is driving them to make certain decisions?  How do you attract prospective customers with targeted messaging if you don’t know who they are or what they want? We can turn to buyer personas to help us find answers.

Buyer personas are semi-fictional, generalized representations of ideal customers. They help us understand our customers (and prospective customers) on a more personal level and make it easier to tailor content to the specific needs, behaviors, and concerns of different groups.

The strongest and most accurate buyer personas are generally derived from two sources: market research and insights and data gathered from your actual customer base. Market research methods include statistical tools, focus groups, and field observations.  You can gather data on your customers through surveys, interviews, and information they volunteer, such as when they fill out a blog subscription form.

At the most basic level, personas allow us to personalize or target our marketing for different segments of our audience. They guide the business in continuing to meet evolving customer needs and stay ahead of industry or competitor trends. When combined with lifecycle stage (i.e., at what stage someone is in the sales cycle), buyer personas also enable us to map out and create highly targeted content.

Creating a Buyer Persona

The elements that make up a buyer persona include demographics, psychographics, buyer perceptions, and consumer pain points.

Most people are familiar with basic demographics such as age and generation, gender identity, geographic region, income, marital status, education, ethnicity, employment, and life-cycle stage (for example, Empty Nesters). These factors strongly influence how people make purchasing decisions and form the foundation for creating a buyer persona.

However, to delve deeper into consumer decision-making, you need to know your customers’ psychographics. Psychographics include personality traits, values, opinions, interests, and lifestyle. These elements help you narrow the broad categories of demographics and give you a more defined perspective of customer groups. For example, depending on your product or service, you may want to know what type of car your ideal customer drives (luxury or economy model)? Is she interested in travel or perhaps politics? Is he comfortable with the status quo or does he seek challenges and change?

Buyer perceptions are driven by tangible, rational benefits and intangible, emotional benefits. Is your ideal customer driven by saving money (tangible benefit) or by maintaining prestige with their peer group (intangible benefit)? Tailor the messaging of your content to the benefits that resonate most deeply to your customer segments. Various segments will respond differently to your content depending on their demographics, psychographics, and readiness to buy.

Finally, you should know your customers’ pain points.  While price may drive the purchasing decisions of a certain segment of your customers, others may be motivated by quality, or whether your materials are sustainably sourced.

The goal of creating buyer personas is to craft as detailed a picture as possible of your customers. You may develop multiple personas depending on which product benefit you want to emphasize. Since buyer behaviors evolve, you also need to stay ahead of trends to remain relevant to your customers. Gathering customer data and continually conducting market research will give you the insights you need to understand how and why they will choose you over the competition.