Whether you’re in marketing, sales, product development, or customer service, creating buyer personas can help you deliver what your customers want. However, your buyer personas may not give you the insights you need if you’re going about them the wrong way. There are several pervasive myths that can cause businesses to waste time on poorly-conceived buyer personas:
- Buyer personas are entirely fictional.
- Buyer personas are only representations of a company’s best customers.
- Buyer personas should contain as much information as possible, even if it’s not obviously relevant.
- It’s best to have as many buyer persona segments as possible.
- Each buyer persona represents a specific person.
- Once you create your initial buyer personas, you’re done.
We’ll look at each of these myths in greater depth, but let’s pause for a moment to define the term “buyer persona” for the purposes of this article. Inbound marketing pioneer Hubspot sums the buyer persona up nicely as a “semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” You can use customer interviews and other historical data to create profiles for different segments of your target audience. You can even give them names like C-Suite Cecily and Freelance Freddy if you want (Hubspot is really into this). However, what’s much more important than the names is determining how and why the persona makes certain purchasing decisions. By figuring this out, you’ll get better at developing marketing materials that strike a chord with your audience.
Creating accurate buyer personas is harder than you might think, and there are a lot of misconceptions that can lead both novice and seasoned marketers astray. We’ve debunked six of the most common myths about buyer personas below.
Myth #1: Buyer personas are complete works of fiction.
When creating buyer personas, you shouldn’t be polishing your creative writing skills. Don’t just write personas based on what you think you know about your customers or what your sales team has told you. Look at real customer behavior, from time spent on different pages of your website to survey form fills to purchases. Conduct interviews with a large swath of prospects and customers. Interview team members from different departments within your company (sales, marketing, customer service) as well. These team members interact with customers at different points in the buyer’s journey, and bringing their insights together will give you a clearer picture of the path to purchase your customers take.
Myth #2: Buyer personas should represent your ideal customers only.
According to Hubspot’s definition, buyer personas represent your ideal customers, but we politely disagree on this point. It’s easy to call up a few of your company’s best customers and let the praise wash over you. But that’s not going to give you insights into your typical buyers. It’s okay to reach out to your biggest fans, but you should also interview the people who make infrequent purchases, started as prospects but didn’t close, and even those people who have had a bad customer experience with your company. Figuring out the stumbling blocks that prevent people from making a purchase will help you develop better personas—and that may help you remove those stumbling blocks.
Myth #3: The more information you can cram into your buyer personas, the better.
You don’t need to include irrelevant information just for the sake of making your buyer persona seem like a well-developed character. You probably won’t ever need to know if your target customers ride motorized scooters or regularly eat French toast for breakfast (unless your company is in the motorized scooter or breakfast food industry). Getting too granular can be a waste of your team’s time.
That’s not to say that your buyer personas shouldn’t be specific: they just need to focus on the details that are most relevant to the buyer’s purchasing process. Here are a few things you probably do need to know:
- What causes them to invest in your products or services
- Concerns they may have when purchasing from you
- What selling propositions (e.g. free shipping, high-quality materials) are most important to them
- How they expect your products or services to solve a problem for them
- Who or what influences them during their decision-making process
- How they prefer to shop for your products (e.g. in-store, on their smartphone)
Myth #4: The more segmented personas you have, the better.
It’s easy to get carried away when creating buyer personas. You’ve collected all this data, and you start to convince yourself that maybe there really are 20 different buckets into which you could segment your customers. There’s no right or wrong number of buyer personas, but creating a bunch of microscopically specific personas is going to be confusing and unhelpful. Start with one or two core personas and build out from there as necessary.
Myth #5: A buyer persona represents an individual.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that Freelance Freddy isn’t a real person. In fact, Freelance Freddy (or whatever you’ve named your buyer persona) isn’t even supposed to represent a specific person. To paraphrase Hubspot again, your buyer personas come from an amalgamation of data provided by your customers. That means that there will be some variation within each persona (for example, some people who fit the persona might be Content Marketing Managers while others might be Directors of SEO).
Myth #6: Once you create your initial buyer personas, you’re set.
Maybe you and your team decided to create buyer personas as a marketing exercise a year or two ago but filed them away and haven’t looked at them since. If that’s the case, you’re wasting a tool that can be valuable across the sales funnel. Get those personas back out and bring them up to date. And even if you have been using buyer personas consistently, you should make a goal to update them periodically, especially when your business goes through major changes that could affect your personas (e.g. a new product offering, a subscription price increase).
Take the time to get your buyer personas right, and you’ll be able to use them to develop marketing materials that attract qualified visitors, leads, and customers.
Need help developing buyer personas or creating content that speaks to your audience’s needs? Contact Leverage Marketing to learn how we can help you target the right prospects.