Buyer personas – what they are and how to research

Who are your ideal customers? Where do they hang out online, and what kind of content do they consume? Researching your target audience isn’t exactly ground-breaking marketing, but it’s a step often missed by SMEs, when assumptions replace data.

Tell a story

A buyer persona is a partly fictional representation of a group of customers. Based on market research, a persona lays out the typical demographics, roles, goals and behaviour of a customer that would be valuable to you – the ones you want more of.

An SME can expect to have two or three groups that they can divide these types of customers into. Each group will behave and consume content differently. For example, for a small marketing agency, these groups could be based on an owner of an SME, a marketing manager, and a business consultant. All of these groups are valuable, and all need a marketing service, but each has different demographics, motivations and goals – and different pain points.

A buyer persona gives a single personality to each group, describing the common traits, and tells a story about that person. This document feeds into your marketing strategy, as your research tells you who you’re aiming to reach, what’s driving them, where they look for information, when and how.

How to begin

Firstly, think about your customers – the really good ones that you want more of. Not necessarily just the ones who make you the most immediate profit – also think about those whose orders go smoothly, the ones who tell others about your service, the ones who have a good lifetime value. Who are they, and how would you divide them?

The best personas begin with real life examples of customers you want more of – these provide a structure that you can add to when researching as you can delve into how they behave and see if it’s representative. Talk to your sales team if you have one – they’ll have information on how they group people, the questions they’re often asked before a purchase and how long a buying cycle is for different customer groups. Don’t forget to ask other departments though, as it could be that a lucrative customer for sales isn’t necessarily the most straightforward when it comes to customer service.

Desk-based research

Armed with information from your own company, you can then build on these basics provided and start looking at who these people, and people like them, are, and how they behave online. Don’t take assumptions as fact – get the data to back up your qualitative research. For B2B, this could go something like this:

Demographics

  • Are there common job titles associated with this group?
  • Which industries?
  • Where are they based?
  • What’s the age range?
  • What level of education have they had?
  • What’s their income bracket?

Story

  • Who are they?
  • What are their goals and priorities?
  • What are their challenges?
  • What pain point will your product/service address?
  • How will they come across your company?
  • What device do they use?
  • Are they a member of a trade association?
  • What sources do they trust?

Content

  • Where do they spend their time online?
  • How do they keep up with industry knowledge?
  • What channels do they use and how?
  • Are they active on social or do they just have a profile?
  • What content do they engage with?
  • Do they read longform content or watch videos?

When distilled into a single persona, the answers to each of these questions helps flesh out who this ‘person’ is and how they behave, which guides how you approach your marketing, and the content form and messaging that will help to reach and convert them.

Buyer persona development tips

Try and think about each persona separately – if you research them simultaneously, there’s the risk they’ll get muddied.

Look at your site’s Google Analytics Demographics report and see if this data fits what you’re coming up with – if it doesn’t, it could be that you need to look again… or the ideal customer doesn’t come through the website – maybe that’s not how they research.

Don’t be afraid to use common sense or what you already know of a market to develop and test a theory. When I do this kind of research, I look at a lot of data to cross check that behaviours I’ve identified are representative of their persona.

This kind of document is based on market research, the knowledge you already have in-house, and hard data. It’s not an exact science, and is a fluid document, as people, products and services change over time.

Want someone to do the legwork for you? Just get in touch and Faire Marketing can help.

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