Actionable Buyer Persona Research: A Step-by-Step Guide
Creating buyer personas can seem overwhelming, but it’s a critical part of any effective marketing strategy. Without them, you’ll be flying blind with your marketing efforts. In this step-by-step guide, we’ll show you how to do actionable buyer persona research and how to turn it into a useful persona profile.
I was in the market for a basic laptop to temporarily replace my main device. As soon as I walked into the store, a salesman jumped in with his pre-rehearsed pitch about the “perfect laptop for professional video editors.”
“It’s fantastic for editing video,” he said. “The powerful processor, graphics card, and large SSD drive will speed up your work.”
I smiled and kept looking around. The salesman followed me, still trying to sell me on the idea of the laptop with a doinkload of processing power.
The thing is, I don’t need all that processing power to watch dog videos and sports blooper reels. I just wanted a temporary replacement until I sort out my main laptop.
“Well, the best part is that it’s on sale this week,” he continued with his pitch.
I tuned him out for a while. Eventually, I got tired of the hard sell, so I made up a reason and left.
As I walked away, I couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened if he’d taken the time to find out what I needed. His pitch was aimed at someone with a completely different need.
The incident has served me as a good reminder of the importance of having a target market persona. If you want to create irresistible offers, write great ad copy, and increase sales, then you need to know your potential customers inside and out. Buyer personas help you understand your ideal customers.
You can have demographically similar customers with totally different needs. Identifying these needs will help you quickly get results from your marketing.
Granted, elements like mapping your customer’s journey, creating content for each stage, and all that good stuff is essential. But none of that matters if you don’t know your target customer. That’s the starting point for your marketing strategy.
The problem with most personas
Just because an ideal customer profile is important doesn’t always mean it’s effective. Inaccurate buyer personas can steer you in the wrong direction and ultimately lead to the wrong decision. Let’s take a look at the most common pitfalls with marketing personas.
Generic buyer persona templates
Most buyer persona examples found online provide the same surface-level demographic information regardless of their intended use. It doesn’t consider the person in the company trying to make sense of the buyer persona and what he’s trying to do with it.
I’m talking about the generic B2B buyer personas with names like Marketing Mary or Nurse Nina, which include only basic demographics and a random picture. These personas are too broad to provide the insight or context a person needs to do their job well. A UX designer, for instance, has very different information needs compared to a sales manager, which should reflect in the buyer persona template you give them.
Inaccurate market segmentation
It’s important to think beyond demographic customer segments. Let’s think about our laptop incident for a second. Despite being in the same demographic segment as a video editor, I had very different needs. If we clumped everyone in the same age group and location into a single audience persona, we’d miss out on many potential customers.
A buying trigger is what inspires a target persona to take action. Even the same person might behave differently in response to different triggers.
I wanted the most basic laptop because I was temporarily replacing my main laptop. But I’d have a different perspective if this was my main work laptop. The high processing power argument might have swayed me even if I wasn’t a video editor because it would give me peace of mind.
Information like my age, gender, education, marital status, and even purchasing power had very little influence on my decision because my buying trigger was very different from a typical customer. You might need multiple personas depending on buying triggers, customers segments, and the person using the buyer persona.
Types of customer personas
Buyer personas can be categorized into two types based on the research technique used:
- Low fidelity personas
Low-fidelity customer profiles are fast and cheap to make. They’re created using secondary research techniques like online market research. While these may not be 100 percent accurate, they can help you create a detailed buyer persona.
- High fidelity personas
High-fidelity personas are more detailed and accurate. These personas are developed through primary research, which means you collect the data through surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
What is buyer persona research?
Buyer persona research is the process of understanding your target customers. It involves understanding their needs, goals, and pain points. It digs deep to understand customer motivations, values, and decision-making processes. You can come up with new marketing angles, create irresistible offers and write great blog posts using this information.
How do you do buyer persona research?
Buyer persona or marketing persona research is done through primary and secondary research techniques. Primary research collects data directly from the ideal customer through surveys, customer interviews, and focus groups. Secondary research relies on publicly available information and online market research.
Primary buyer persona research is more accurate, but they also take more time and money. Similarly, secondary buyer persona research saves time and money but is less accurate.
Secondary research methods
These personas help you understand your ideal buyers. Let’s look at some customer research methods you can use to create a detailed buyer persona.
Forums are a great place to start your buyer persona research. Forums are where people go to ask questions and share their opinions. There are several niche forums in addition to the popular ones like Quora and Reddit. Google “Your keyword+forum” if you’re not sure which forums your potential customers use.
Here are the results I got when I searched for ATV+forum, which is the first thing that came to my mind for some reason.
Although Reddit is a forum, I’ve listed it separately because it has sub-communities for most topics. It’s a gold mine for content ideas if you know how to use it.
You can find people talking about similar products or services and see what they like and don’t like about it. You can also find out what kind of content gets upvoted in your subreddit and get an idea for the type of content that performs well.
Gummysearch is an excellent tool to help with Reddit research for persona development. It can help you identify customer pain points, requests for help, and suggestions. I use this research to decide what messaging to use before I write any marketing content.
Quora is a question-and-answer platform where people can ask questions and get answers from experts. It’s a great place to conduct customer research because you can find out what problems people face. You can also find out what solutions people are looking for and how they’re trying to solve their problems. You can use sites like Quora for your audience research.
Search for your business-related topics to see what questions your target audience asks. After a while, you’ll begin to see patterns and the main problems and concerns your customers have.
Your google analytics data can tell you a lot about your visitor’s demographics. You can check if this matches up with the information sourced through other research channels.
In google analytics, navigate to audience>demographics to see the demographic for your site visitors.
You can also see their related interests, which is more valuable than just seeing the age and gender. You can even break down the interest metrics further if needed. This gives you an idea about your buyer persona’s interests.
You can also use the Facebook analytics tool to create your audience personas. The Facebook ad manager offers these customer insights so that ad buyers can better sell their products. You can analyze existing customers or run a competitive analysis on similar business pages.
Social media listening
Social media research can help you find out what questions your customers ask and learn more about their culture. For example, go to Instagram and search for your keyword. This will give you suggestions for influencers and celebrities in your niche. See my results when I searched for “content marketing.”
You will get even more suggestions once you follow one of them. For example, I got Gary Vee as a suggestion when I followed the Content Marketing Institute and then Grand Cardone when I followed Gary Vee.
Look at the type of content they are putting out. People (or brands) in the same field could be using a different tone and type of content based on the kind of audience they are targeting.
Take a closer look at the content Gary Vee is producing, and the type of content Seth Godin is creating. Despite both being in the marketing field, they appeal to a completely different audience. Gary Vee appeals to a younger, more entrepreneurial persona, while Seth Godin appeals to a more mature audience.
Although their styles and content are polar opposites, both are masters of their craft.
You can do the same with Twitter and Facebook. Probably not LinkedIn because it’s a professional network and people are not their full true selves there. Even I’m wearing a tie in my LinkedIn profile picture.
Surveys are also good to get insights into your customer behavior, but you need to be careful when crafting the questions. You need to ensure that you’re not putting your customers in a position where they have to choose one answer because you’re not giving them any other option. You can use surveys to reinforce your findings from the interviews when you cannot ask your customers for as big of a commitment as a personal interview.
Now that you know how to create an actionable buyer persona. Let’s look at some of the common FAQs regarding buyer personas.
You can learn a lot about your buyer persona by reading reviews. You can analyze reviews of your products or similar products or services from your competitors.
You’ll better understand if there are any common issues.
Don’t forget that 5-star reviews are usually from people who are happy with the product and won’t give you much information. It’s the same with people giving 1-star reviews; they might be doing it because of a bad experience that doesn’t apply to everyone.
Look for reviews in the middle. Those will give you the most insight.
When looking for reviews, you can also check out:
- Google Reviews
- Amazon Reviews
- Yelp Reviews
- Facebook Recommendations
- Twitter Mentions
If you’re in the software industry, you can also check out:
These are all great platforms to get insights into what people think about your product. You can use AI-powered tools to help you with this research and analysis.
Related article: AI-powered content marketing.
Primary research is more expensive and time-consuming, but it’s worth it if you want to create truly actionable buyer personas. There are some sources for primary research, such as the following:
Lost prospective customer
The potential customer who chose your competitor over you is a gold mine for building your customer persona. They won’t hold back their opinions if you can get them to agree to an interview. Although it might not be music to your ears, it’ll help you understand what put them off from selecting your company.
Pro tip: Your marketing team (not sales) or a third party should conduct the interview. Make sure you reassure volunteers that the interview outcomes will be shared only as an aggregate and not on an individual basis.
Customers: the good, bad, and the ugly
Set up interviews with your happy customers, and they’ll be able to give you some information about what you’re doing right. But unhappy customers can shed light on where your product or service lacks.
Pro tip: You can entice customers with a free time-limited trial of your product to lower the cost, especially if it’s a SAAS product.
Salespeople and customer service representatives
Sales and customer service representatives are usually considered good sources of information. Still, I prefer to think of them as a secondary source because there is a chance for their input to be biased.
Your sales team will cite the lack of features or the high cost as your customer’s pain points in many instances. Be aware that your customers might be using this as a reason to negotiate with your salespeople.
Or they might be too polite to say the actual reason. For example, a target customer might not always tell the salesperson that their product is terrible, even if that’s the truth.
Target audience questions (aka burning questions)
These questions will give you insight into why your customer makes the buying decision. You need to bring in the artistic side of marketing when you ask these questions. If the candidate is not opening up, dig a little deeper, but make sure you aren’t leading them to the answer you want to hear.
Reason to enter the market
- What caused you to start looking for a new solution?
- What was the main frustration with the product/service that you were using
- Who initiated the search for a new product or service?
Pro tip: Responses from these questions can help you understand your ideal customer and their pain points. It’ll help you understand who you should target with your message and how to craft it.
- What do you expect to achieve by using our product or service
- What is your success/acceptance criteria
Pro tip: Make sure to highlight these points and position your product/ service as a solution for your ideal customer.
- What were the objections or concerns you had before choosing a product or service?
- Why didn’t you choose us?
Pro tip: Your content marketing should aim to overcome these objections
Make or break features
- What are the good-to-have features?
- What are the nice-to-have features?
- What are the must-have features?
- Why did you choose us?
Pro tip: Your content marketing should highlight the features your target audience is looking for. See the possibility of adding the missing features or explaining why these features are not as important as they seem to be.
- Who were the people involved in making the final decision
- How did they weigh the options
- Who decided on the budget
- Who made the final decision
Pro tip: Create content that will help the searcher convince the decision-maker. If the searcher is the decision-maker, then create content to persuade them.
You will get only very high-level answers initially. Keep probing for insights.
For example, for a question: take me back to the day when you first started looking for a solution.
Usually, they would say they searched on google. Not exactly a groundbreaking revelation, right?
We have to keep probing to get specifics. What caused you to start looking for a new solution? Who decided it was time for a new solution? What did you find useful?
If your client says they couldn’t find anything beyond the generic stuff everyone puts out, find out what kind of information they were looking for and why.
The answer to these questions might not directly influence the buying decision, but they’ll help you profile your potential customers.
- What is your designation?
- What are you responsible for?
- What does your job involve?
- Can you describe a day in your life?
- What would you describe as a win in your role?
- What are the most critical success factors in your role?
- What do you aspire to achieve in your role?
- What are the essential skills to be good at your job?
- What are the tools that you use commonly?
- What is the organizational hierarchy like at your company?
- What industry or sector does your company serve?
- How big is your company (revenue, employees)?
- Tell me a little about yourself.
- What is your educational background?
- Can you give me a quick tour of your career?
- Do you identify yourself with any hobbies or activities (like cycling)?
- Who are your favorite celebrities/music bands/movies?
- What do you do for fun outside of work?
- How do you prefer to do your research?
- What is your preferred mode of communication (email, phone, in-person)?
- What are your favorite blogs/magazines/publications?
- Are you part of any groups like CrossFit?
Frequently asked questions
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona, also known as customer persona, is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer created by assessing quantitative and qualitative data from existing customers and market research. Your buyer persona should consider customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.
Why is buyer persona important?
Buyer personas will be your guide in making any decision that will affect the customer, which includes design, marketing, pricing, and product development, to name a few. Lack of buyer personas (or having an inaccurate one) will increase the risk of wrong decisions that could sabotage your business in the long run. It can also help you understand the pain points that your customers feel and craft your service and strategy accordingly.
How do you use buyer personas?
Buyer personas can help with messaging, design, copywriting, and pricing, among other things. They should be considered before making any business decisions that may affect your users.
Do small businesses need buyer personas?
Absolutely. Small businesses must create buyer personas to create targeted communications and campaigns. It’ll also help to reduce ad costs by improving message relevance.
(aka The Mindful Marketer, aka the guy who rocks a pink shirt 😄)
I’m a content consultant who helps small businesses become iconic brands by clarifying their brand message and creating strategic content. I’ve worked with brands like EY, Natwest, and some early-stage startups like Vivartah.
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