It may seem like a simple question, but most businesses can only conjure a surface level answer, which is usually driven by the service they provide. For example:
I sell windows, so my buyer is a person who needs windows.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this basic understanding of your buyer is not going to make much of an impact on your high-level business strategy and it’s worth taking a moment to consider that. Do you build your business around the detailed needs and challenges of your buyers? If not, doesn’t that seem crazy?
While every company aspires to give their customers exceptional service, many don’t because they do not understand the details of what their customers are actually looking for.
This blog is going to describe exactly how you can develop your understanding of your buyers and their motivations for purchasing. You’ll be left with a document you can use to influence the very DNA of what your business provides and how it does so.
In short, I’m going to show you how to create a buyer persona.
Part 1: What is a Buyer Persona?
‘Buyer persona’ is a term that’s thrown around the marketing world a lot, but it’s far more than just a tool to make sure your communications collateral is on point.
At its heart, a buyer persona describes the purchasing motivations and process your customers go through, along with what they consider a successful or unsuccessful purchase.
By having an in-depth understanding of these factors, you can retrofit your product, customer service and overall business to give your buyers everything they are looking for.
So, what do we mean by an ‘in-depth understanding’? Let’s revisit our example of the window seller.
Someone who wants to purchase new windows has a host of potential motivations, including one or more of the following:
Having a more eco-friendly house that stores heat better;
Replacing existing windows that are no longer fit for purpose or damaged;
Redeveloping or extending a portion of their home;
Wanting to benefit from new window technology, such as being self-cleaning;
Aspiring for a more modern style of home.
If you can identify their purchasing motivation, you then need to work out what they consider a successful window purchase. They may want windows on a tight budget, or with a quick delivery team. The possibilities are endless.
Even looking these two factors can quickly create a host of different combinations, which will all impact how you market and sell your product. For example, you may have a customer who wants to:
Make their home more eco-friendly and is influenced by price.
Modernise their home and is influenced by speed and customer service.
Each of these customers would need to engage with your business in an entirely different way before they became ready to purchase. If you don’t have documented buyer persona, you may be putting all your effort into selling to the first of these customer types, when in fact, the majority of your buyers may fall into the second category.
Of course, you may have more than one customer type, in which case you’ll need more than one buyer persona. So, what’s the benefit?
Well, imagine a potential customer walks into your window showroom and is met by a salesperson who understands your three core buyer personas. That salesperson is then equipped to identify which persona this prospect falls into and deliver a tailored pitch to their needs.
Do you think they’d have a better chance of closing that sale? Of course, they would.
Now imagine that the prospective customer has already engaged with your brand online by visiting your website, where they found a host of information relating to their needs. Pretty quickly, your business begins to look like it was put on Earth to suit their window needs.
All this starts with documented buyer personas, and I’m going to show you how to create them.
Part 2: Examples of Buyer Personas in Action
Before we look at how to create your own persona, let’s look at a real-life example of buyer personas in action, from a brand we all recognise: McDonald’s.
The fast-food giant’s buyer personas can clearly be seen in every TV advert it puts out. Here are some examples:
The Worried Parent Ad
McDonald’s has always been followed by rumours of the origins of its products. In fact, I worked at McDonald’s while at school, and the rumour then was that the special ingredient that made the milkshakes so thick was chicken skin. For the record, it wasn’t. It was milk.
The more common concern is the quality of the meat. This is something that McDonald’s has identified as being a sticking point for parents who are worried about what they feed their kids. So they’ve created multiple ads to demonstrate where their meat comes from, and why parents shouldn’t be worried when their child asks for some Chicken McNuggets.
The Growing Friendship Ad
While the first of these ads was targeted at parents, this nest ad focuses on a younger market. Teenagers are a great source of income for McDonald’s (presumably because they spend most of their weekends hanging out in shopping centres) so McDonald’s has created an advertising campaign just for them.
It usually includes a group of friends but focuses on one or two individuals who are feeling somewhat isolated. Of course, when they go for a Big Mac, he or she discovers a connection they never knew they had.
The Family Unit Ad
Perhaps the most obvious of McDonald’s adverts are the ones portraying families visiting their local restaurant. What’s interesting about these is that McDonald’s has clearly identified that many families visit to find somewhere to take shelter from the hecticness of life.
McDonald’s then expertly positions its services, such as table service, to solve this challenge.
These are just a few of examples of the targeted advertising of McDonald’s, and it’s all possible because their understanding of their customers is second to none. In short, they understand their buyer personas.
Part 3: How NOT to Create a Buyer Persona
If I’ve done my job correctly, you should be pretty excited about developing your own buyer persona, but before you do, a word of warning…
I’m going to share with you a very specific technique for creating high-quality buyer personas based around speaking to your customers.
This is at odds with a lot of the information that is out there on the internet, which preaches a type of buyer persona based on vague surveys. As such, when researching the process of buyer persona development, you’re likely to come across articles titled something like “100 Buyer Persona Questions You Need to Ask”.
Nine times out of ten, you don’t need to ask these questions and doing so will actually damage the buyer persona you create. These types of questions are designed to be used as part of a buyer persona workshop, where you gather your team and try to create a persona yourselves.
Obviously, you’re missing one vital ingredient in this scenario: actual customers.
The whole point of a buyer persona is to gather insights from your buyers, which means you need to interview them. It goes without saying that time is money, and so the more time you spend speaking to your customers, the more your persona will cost you. Therefore, you don’t want to waste any time asking questions that aren’t relevant.
In fact, there is only one question that you should plan to ask, which we’ll come onto later in this blog. For now, let’s take a look at some of the types of question you should probably avoid.
The Easy to Learn Yourself
If you only have a limited time to interview your buyer, you don’t want to waste time learning things you could discover yourself. Demographics like age, gender, location and occupation should be obvious from your own records, so before you begin interviewing, analyse this data.
The Uncomfortably Specific
You’d be amazed by some of the questions that are recommended for buyer persona interviews. Unless you have good reason to, and it relates to your product specifically, I’d steer clear very personal questions, such as “how was your social life in school?”.
The Simply Useless
As businesses, we like to know as much about how customers as possible, but everything you learn should have a purpose. Questions like “what is your favourite movie?” aren’t going to provide much value to your buyer persona and take up precious interview time to answer, so steer clear.
As previously mentioned, you only need one question for your buyer persona interviews (which we’ll come onto later), but many people like to have a backup list just in case. If you’re one of those people, try to come up with your own questions and bear in mind that if you don’t know why you’re asking it, it’s probably not worthwhile asking.
Part 4: The Five Rings of Buying Insight
This methodology may only require one question to conduct your buyer persona interviews, but that doesn’t mean the conversation has to be completely unstructured.
Now we’ve got to the point where we’re discussing the tools you’ll use to create your buyer persona, it’s time to introduce the person who came up with this type of buyer persona, Adele Revella.
The first tool that Adele developed was the Five Rings of Buying Insight.
Before we go on, it’s worth noting here that buyer persona development is not just about speaking to your existing customers. Some of the best insights will come from talking to the people who didn’t become customers.
The five rings are the structure by which you’ll identify what your customers expect from your company when purchasing with you. By comparing these to what your business currently delivers, you can build a picture of how you’re currently delighting customers, and what you can improve on.
So, let’s explore each of the five rings.
1) Priority Initiatives
Remember, way back at the beginning of this blog, that we were discussing the motivations your buyers have for purchasing? Well, what we were really talking about there was your buyer’s priority initiatives.
These initiatives describe the considerations that first make a person decide they need to purchase a product to solve a need they have. To identify this, you’ll need to learn what was going on in their professional or personal life that drove this desire for change. In this way, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of why this buyer purchased and what challenges you need to address in your marketing.
2) Success Factors
Everyone is purchasing to fulfil a need, but that is not the only thing that goes into a successful purchase. My best buying experiences come when I receive exceptional customer service, even if that’s just a friendly smile from the person behind the till.
Success factors describe everything a customer wants during and after they have purchased with you. You buy an Ikea piece of furniture because you expect to be able to build it yourself, so the ease of this process becomes one of the customer’s main success factors. If your product or service does not deliver these, it’s time to ask why.
3) Perceived Barriers
Just as success factors describe what a customer wants, perceived barriers describe what they don’t. This is especially important when it comes to streamlining your sales process.
Through buyer persona development, you may discover your customers don’t like being overwhelmed with technical information and industry jargon. These types of barriers are essential to learn and tear down so you don’t lose good customers to your competition.
4) Buyer’s Journey
The buyer’s journey describes the role your persona has in the purchasing decision, and who else may be involved. This will help you understand exactly who you need to get onboard before a purchase can take place.
For example, a family unit will likely have a lead instigator in the purchasing process, but the overall decision will be made by more than one person, eg. a husband and wife. If you want to close that sale quickly, you need to provide information for everyone involved.
5) Decision Criteria
Of course, in the modern world, closing a sale is not as simple as just convincing them that your product can solve their problem. Your buyers will review their options and likely look at your competition as well. The final ring, decision criteria, describe what aspects of a business a customer will evaluate when weighing up their options.
Price is an obvious factor, but far from the only one. Amazon may be a couple of pounds more expensive, but its fast delivery means it beats the competition. Finding similar criteria for your industry means you’re not forced to only focus on price when closing potential customers.
So, the five rings of buying insight will provide some support when conducting your buyer persona interviews. Just bear in mind the information you’re trying to learn and you’ll find the unstructured nature of the conversations much easier to manage.
Still, when you get on the phone with someone, you’ll need somewhere to begin…
Part 5: The Secret to Buyer Persona Success
We’ve kept you waiting, but it’s time to share the secret to buyer persona development success. We’ve already mentioned that you only need one planned question when conducting your interviews, and here it is.
When beginning an interview, you’ll want to start with…
Take me back to the day you decided to purchase. Can you tell me what happened on that day?
Why is this question so powerful? Well, because it immediately gets to the heart of the first ring of buying insight, priority initiatives.
With this question, you can immediately begin to discuss the motivations of that buyer and why they purchased. From this point, the conversation is free to follow the points of interest raised by your interviewee.
Every purchase is going to be slightly different for each interviewee, so it’s imperative that you do not follow a rigid set of questions. If you do, you’ll not have time to pick up on the individual subtleties of what your buyer is saying.
In short, following a set of questions will give the broad strokes, but none of the details you’ll need to eclipse your competition.
Part 6: Building Your Buyer Persona
Once you’ve conducted enough buyer persona interviews to have an understanding of their five rings of buying insight, it’s time to build your buyer persona. That’ll allow your entire business to understand what you know.
This documentation is essential to ensuring your entire company can get on the same page with regards to who your buyers are and how you’re going to delight them.
So, let’s build your buyer persona.
Step 1: Document Each of the Five Rings
The majority of your buyer persona will be made up of each of the five rings of buying insight.
For each of these rings, return to the transcripts of your interviews and begin highlighting quotes and comments that relate to one of the rings. Once you’ve done this for multiple interviews, you’ll likely begin to see common themes coming up for each ring.
These themes will become the basis of your persona, and provide a clear indication for your entire team of the challenges you’re trying to solve and desires you’re trying to fulfil for your buyer.
You’ll want to identify three to five of the most prominent and important themes for each ring of insight and include them in your persona.
Most importantly though, for every theme, include a set of quotes to illustrate why the priority is so important. It is these quotes that will be most valuable for your team in understanding the importance of the persona.
Each of these rings will need their own page.
Step 2: Identify Key Demographics
The purpose of the interviews is to discover the subtleties of why a buyer purchases, but that does not mean you should forget key demographics. After all, how you target someone in their sixties will be very different from how you approach someone in their twenties.
So, make sure you include the following:
Outside of these, include additional demographics that relate to your product or industry.
You’ll include these demographics on the first page of your buyer persona.
Step 3: Write a Buyer Persona Story
After completing the five rings of buying insight and the demographics, you’ll know all you need to create your buyer persona story.
This story should be a 200 to 300 word, semi-fictional description of your buyer persona based on your interviews. You should write your persona story as if you’re describing a single customer.
This means everyone who reads the story will immediately understand who you’re targeting, without having to delve into the individual interview transcripts.
This story should also come on the first page of your buyer persona.
Step 4: Give Your Persona Some Personality
Your buyer persona should feel like a real person in your office and come up regularly in meetings. With your persona getting so much attention, it’s only right that they should have a name and a face.
Choose a picture that represents what you imagine your persona to look like and give them a name.
If there is a specific characteristic that defines your buyer persona, such as their job title, you can include this in their name also, eg. Peter Property Investor.
This is the final set of information you’ll want to include on the first page of your buyer persona.
And there you have it! Everything you need to know to create your own targeted buyer persona.
With your new buyer persona, you’ll be able to tailor your marketing, sales and overall business strategy to delight potential customers and close more deals.