Buyer personas – what, why and how

It’s a new year, and you’re raring to get your voice heard. You’re ready to craft content strategies that are so meticulous they’ll make the moon landing look like a vaguely conceived holiday in a rocket. Before you create any content, though, you need to pin down your buyer personas; they can make or break your inbound marketing efforts.

Buyer personas are representations – using a mix of speculation and real data – of your ideal customers. They should encompass the personal and demographic information, ambitions, challenges, motivations and patterns of behaviour shared by all the members of a particular customer type. Buyer personas, along with documented tone of voice and messaging guidelines, are the cornerstones of your marketing strategy.

Worth getting right, then.

To be of any use you can’t just make them up; you need to do your research, which means talking to current customers and quizzing your sales team. 

Then you actually need to sit down and write them– holding them in your head is not enough. You want to cover five main areas:

  • Their job and demographic information
  • A day in their life or their ‘story’
  • Their challenges/pain points and how to solve them
  • Where they go for information
  • Common objections they might have to products or services
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Here’s an example of a fully fleshed-out buyer persona, not unlike the sort we use at Articulate when writing for clients. It is for an online HR and process-management service. It may seem like overkill, but every detail can give insights into your audience that will help you craft content that will pull in qualified leads.

 Buyer persona for a content marketing company

James, Founder and CEO

Demographics

James is in his late 30s, is university educated and commutes to the city from his home in a nearby suburb. He is in a committed relationship, and is hoping to start a family. 

James's story

James started work right out of university. He began in sales for a mid-size B2B tech company and worked his way up the ladder for five years.

Working for someone else didn't suit him, however, so he left to start his own business. Ten years on, he now employs between 20-40 people and is looking to grow the business.

He has a slightly tech background - he understands common terminology and software - but has little knowledge of anything as involved as coding or real 'behind-the-scenes nitty-gritty' functions. He wants to know how digital transformation will affect his business, and what new tech is out there that will make things more efficient and free up his time. 

He has a partner but no children yet, so he would like to delegate within the business so that he can start a family. He lives just outside the city but commutes in for work and meetings with clients. Though he enjoys the city, he would like to be able to work from home occasionally because it saves him time on the commute and has fewer distractions. His business has matured to a point where he feels comfortable letting go of the reigns a bit and trusting his long-term employees. 

Pain points

  • Time and efficiency – His business doesn’t have large established departments, such as dedicated HR and IT teams. This means he has to wear a lot of the hats himself which spreads his time thin. He knows that the purchase orders and time-off requests that come by his desk are important but he has trouble finding time to get around to them. He’s conscious of keeping on track for business goals, so efficiency is a priority. 
  • Cost control and trust – It isn’t just James spending company money, so he has to make sure that other employees are not overspending or buying what they shouldn’t. He also needs to manage holiday and time-off requests to ensure that they are all accounted for and he isn’t paying for unaccounted holidays. He’s in a position where he wants to delegate this and put trust in his employees, but still be able to monitor it. New tech has to be easy to implement.
  • Tracking documents/processes Paperwork comes attached to every request for time off or expenses etc. Managing vendors and ensuring that he receives what he’s paid for and pays for what he receives is difficult to stay on top of manually, so he needs better process control.
  • Modern ways of working – James has a small office space but he is often out at meetings and occasionally his employees work remote, too. Mobile/flexible working capabilities are on the rise in modern workplaces and are seen as a perk for new and current employees.
  • Compliance – With so much paperwork to process, it’s difficult to keep a transparent record of all purchase order and expense requests made in the business. Losing paperwork becomes an issue, which is particularly damning when the business is audited. It also means there is little to no security or identity and access management. James is worried that one misplaced file could cause a big problem down the line.
  • Growth – 

    Efficiency is the first step to growth because it means systems are well-organised and can scale. Automation is relatively risk-free compared to hiring because you can scale back if needed.

Where does he go for information

James is subscribed to a few online magazines such as Harvard Business Review, TechCrunch and the Microsoft SMB blog.

He reads blogs and articles about his industry and also about tech in general, looking for how developments could apply to his industry.

He also follows influential leaders such as Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki, Gene Marks and Rosabeth Moss Kanter.

Over the years he has built up his own network of peers whom he trusts and goes to for business advice. He has benefited from mentors in the past and still turns to them if he has questions.

Common objections

Value for money–he is willing to pay more for a service but he needs to be sure that he’ll get a good return. He likes to trial software first, but he’s not fussy. If it works, it works.

Timehe needs something quick and easy to implement. He doesn’t have the time or the internal resources to manage a big implementation at this stage.

Crucially, you want to tell a story, which means a focus on behaviours rather than just a list of speculative facts. Our ‘James the CEO’ example is an entire character unto himself, with emotions and motivations that we’ve come up with based on interviews and educated guesses. It helps remind us that we’re writing for real people, and that inbound marketing is all about focusing on the audience.

It takes time and effort to properly research and flesh out buyer personas, but it’s immensely useful to have these ‘characters’ in mind when you’re writing copy, developing new products or refining your marketing strategy – it gives you a much clearer sense of your audience and allows you to effectively tailor your content strategy.

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Alex Cohen

Marketing copywriter and avid learner of new things, from juggling to social media management.