What Companies Get Wrong About Buyer Personas

Effective marketing comes easiest when a company can best identify their ideal customer. Knowing who that target buyer is and what makes them tick unlocks both insights of how to best connect with that customer, but also move them to commit to an action or sale.

In order to bring all that information together in a simple and concise way that provides the groundwork for an action plan, developing “buyer personas” has gained a great deal of buzz among marketers to the point where many consider personas one of the cornerstones of inbound marketing. That makes sense: Creating content and information that will engage a potential customer means that a marketer needs to have a very strong idea of who that person is.

In a recent blog, [Stormie Andrews, an expert on inbound marketing strategies, writes about the common mistakes that companies can make when they rush into creating buyer personas.

It might seem counterintuitive to place an emphasis on taking time to be specific in developing buyer personas. If my focus in business is lead generations, my clients expect to grow new customers and increase revenue and profit.

But that is the reason that constant testing and improvement of market strategies is essential. Customer needs change subtly on a daily basis. Analyzing and adjusting to meet those needs should be part of a company’s daily marketing.

For many companies, finding the information that goes into creating a typical buyer persona is straight-forward: The buyer’s ideal customer title, some demographics and basic information including age, income and profession. From there, Andrews argues, marketers will typically end up making a loose connection between that persona and the company’s product or brand.

Making a tighter, and arguably more successful, connection between persona and company comes from understanding how to avoid some common problems:

Focusing on Demographics Rather than Psychographics

The concrete characteristics of a population (age, gender, ethnicity, income, etc.) make up demographic information. To make a psychological connection requires companies to understand a customer’s  attitudes, aspirations and emotions. These are the elements that create psychographics.

As Andrews says in his blog, “The former is important for general targeting information, but the latter provides marketers with so much more to make decisions from. Psychographics are like the meat and potatoes of marketing because they get into the way a person does things and why.”

And that makes sense. People make decisions based on their emotions, even if they later justify those decisions with logic. Being able to engage customers at the psychographic level gives an emotional, and therefore more resonant, base for connection.

For marketers, testing behavioral overlay, and attitudinal and messaging motivations can help engagement and action. Using information in addition to infographics can also enhance your marketing effectiveness.

Not Thinking Through Triggering Events

Another way that Andrews suggests understanding the buyer persona is to consider what led the customer to the moment where they are engaging with your marketing. What is the thing that created their need? What happened in their life to make them research, and eventually purchase, a product to fulfull that need?

Andrews uses an example of realizing he needed a bigger car when he found out that he and his wife were expecting a new baby to suggest that most people don’t just decide to buy things out of the blue.

Sure there are impulse purchases, he argues, but not all purchases are as basic as buying a candy bar at the supermarket checkout. Treating all customer interactions the same way doesn’t take into account the triggering event that brought them to this moment.

And it’s a spot-on idea. Connecting the right message with the right customer when the need is there is a sure recipe for increased response..

Not Taking The Buyer’s Journey Into Account

Too often, marketers look at the triggering event and little else. But it’s important to remember that this  is just one part of the whole buyer’s journey before reaching the purchasing decision. First comes awareness, where the customer recognizes a need. Consideration, where they look at possible solutions to this need, follows. Finally, the decision stage brings the make-or-break moment of the purchasing decision.

Not understanding the differences between these different stages creates a common mistake for marketers trying to creage a buyer persona.

In his blog, Andrews returns to the example of his need to buy a new car with his expectant wife.

“We weren’t ready to drive off into the sunset with a new vehicle; we were still shopping around and researching. In other words, we were earlier in our buyer’s journey and not ready to convert.

Everyone we ran into at that lot wanted to sell us a car right then and there on their time. We were in no position to buy a car — we didn’t know what type we wanted, and we had seven months to make a final decision. Those salespeople failed to approach me in the right way for my stage of the buyer’s journey.”

It’s important to respect the customer and appreciate where they are in their journey along the funnel when you are coming into contact with them. There is a time to educate, engage and promote. Instead of accosting Andrews and his, the car salesmen could have educated them on the safety features they should be seeking and what ways a car might grow as their family grew.

Andrews nails the customer outcome from this kind of approach.

“I would feel like an empowered consumer,” he writes. “Then, when I became ready to make that purchasing decision in a few months down the road, I would have remembered the salesperson who took the time to talk to me as an individual rather than a dollar bill.”

Wise marketers create strategies that focus on helping the customer find value in what their product brings to them at that specific point of the buying process. Great marketing strategy does that and  helps move customers to the next step.

Not Including Action Items for Marketing

One last area where marketers make a mistake in creating their buyer personas comes when the process is over: Not implementing the persona into their marketing strategy.

Many companies will take the time to research and create a unique persona for their product, but continue executing strategies that don’t utilize that information. For that reason, Andrews suggests that the ideal persona should include some actionable steps for marketing to that individual.

“It should lay out how that person can interact with your brand,” he writes. “And why they should at all.”

Some might find the idea of buyer personas an exercise intended to prove assumptions about their audiences. But the information buyer personas offers marketers shouldn’t be ignored, as the data can often shine new light on how a product is being seen by the public.

Taking the time to analyze the journey their customer is taking, and why they’re taking it, will help set wise marketers apart from the rest.

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