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Updated 29 January 2024

Buyer persona: who is (what it is) and why it is important to define

Starting a business model without knowing who you are targeting is a serious mistake that you absolutely must not make. Knowing who your customers are, their needs and desires, the way they think, and the motivations that drive their buying behavior is, in fact, crucial.

If you know the meaning of “target audience” and all its many implications, you are already well on your way. This, however, is not enough: the concept of “target audience” is borrowed from the traditional TV and print advertising world and leverages mainly (but not only) sociodemographic criteria, mostly answering the questions, “What to offer? And to whom?”

In recent years, however, psychographic aspects, that is, those that are related to how consumers think and behave in certain situations, have become increasingly central. In order to know not only “what to offer” but also “how to offer it”, therefore, it is very important that you are familiar with the concept of the “buyer persona“, the archetype of the company’s ideal customer and a valuable tool that can best guide business strategies.

Specifically, you should know that accurately and effectively building buyer personas helps you to better define the characteristics of your products or services, your outlets, your site, your marketing and communication strategies and brand positioning, as well as many other aspects related to your business.

You may have noticed that buyer personas were mentioned, in the plural; in fact, there is no such thing as a single ideal customer, and it is up to you, based on the characteristics of your company and your goals (but also in relation to the sustainability of the project), to decide how many buyer personas to create.

Before you even worry about that, however, you need to know the exact meaning of buyer personas and know precisely how to build one and why, being clear about what this valuable tool is for and how best to use it in your campaigns. It will also help you a lot to find out what are the most common doubts and mistakes to avoid.

Let us proceed in order and understand, first, what a buyer persona is, starting with its definition and some historical background and literature references.


Definition of buyer persona

That of buyer persona is a relatively new term, but in order to understand why this concept is so important for a company’s business strategies, it is necessary to reconstruct its origin on a historical level as well.

The use of the term “persona”, to be understood as creating a profile-type of users who visit an Internet site, is generally attributed to Alan Cooper, a programmer and software designer, who coined it for the purpose of facilitating the creation of user-friendly software in design.

The first public appearance of this term was in 1989, in Alan Cooper’s book entitled “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum“. Subsequently, however, this methodology began to spread to other areas not strictly related to the enjoyment of software, and so, from the concept of “user persona”, came the concept of “buyer persona”, more closely related to the purchase phase.

“Buyer persona”, therefore, means the imaginary and generalized representation of a company’s ideal customer. An ideal customer is defined as a person who, having a specific interest in the company and/or its products/services or having a market problem that it claims to be able to solve, embodies a specific segment of its target audience.

Such a portrait is based on a very diverse, more or less concrete set of information, such as biographical and demographic data, personal and professional goals, and behavioral characteristics common to all members of the particular cluster taken as a reference.

While being, as mentioned, a generalized representation, the buyer person is constructed and presented as if referring to a specific person. This has a very specific purpose: it is easier to develop ideas and structure messages if you have a specific person with precise, well-defined characteristics in mind. However, this is not the only reason why it is useful to create buyer personas.


Why it is useful to define buyer personas

It is very important that you understand that in this day and age, knowing what to offer and to whom can be useless if you do not know how to offer your products or services to your customers.

Gathering all the information you need to build your buyer personas gives you the ability to improve the creation and presentation of your products or services based on specific needs and precise wants, building personalized and diverse messages and experiences that can connect directly to your customers’ brains and hearts.

To be able to do all this (and more) you need to be able to understand what your customers are thinking and think like them, step by step, at every stage of their interaction with your company, from the moment their need for a product or service arises to the moment they make a purchase. Thanks to buyer personas, for example, you can understand why some customers decide to buy your products or services more impulsively than others who, instead, take much longer, so that you can take the right steps to ensure that each sale can go through.

Reasoning about specific preferences and improving your customers’ shopping experience, for example by working on your point of sale, website or customer service, also gives you the opportunity to turn the customers themselves into Ambassadors of your brand, thus ensuring further positive benefits on your sales.

These are just a few of the specific reasons why it is very important that you know what a buyer persona is and why you need to use this valuable tool for your business. In fact, the favorable spin-offs invest any aspect of the business, from the aforementioned marketing and communications to sales team management. In this last regard, you should know that building buyer personas provides you with the information you need to keep the team constantly aligned and, possibly, even to reallocate certain human resources.

All these benefits, however, will not be able to occur if you do not know how to accurately, completely and effectively build buyer personas.


How to create the avatar and what data to collect

In order to start creating a buyer persona, you must, first of all, be clear about the information you need to collect and how to do it. You need to start by studying real customers, but remember that the data you need to collect are not always hard data. The challenge is to be able to think like them, making assumptions about their needs, wants, expectations and fears. Don’t bring limits: this is information that, then of course, you have to validate.

It is now time to understand in more detail what data you need to collect in order to create the avatar, that is, the representation of the company’s customer-type. In this regard, it may be useful for you to know that there are several templates with examples of buyer personas that can provide you with a trail to follow in order to get all the information you need to outline the identikit of your ideal customers. Not only that, Adele Revella, managing director of the Buyer Persona Institute (BPI), has defined the concept of the “Five Rings of Buyer Insight“, based on the five criteria that encapsulate the information needed to create a buyer persona: these are priority initiatives, success factors, perceived barriers, buyer’s journey and decision criteria. Let’s proceed, however, in order.

Biographical and demographic data, such as age, gender, nationality, educational background, profession, income, and marital status, serve to humanize the buyer persona. A useful tip, just along these lines, is to give your buyer persona a name and a face.

We have repeatedly stressed the importance of psychographic data: in order to effectively construct a buyer person you have to describe his ways of thinking and saying, his main personality traits (is he a rational or impulsive person? Is he very anxious?), his system of values and ethical and moral principles that cannot be broken, but also any prejudices, preconceptions, opinions and conventions that characterize him.

It will become clear to you that paying proper attention to psychographic factors serves to improve the features of your products or services but also, and more importantly, their presentation by identifying the right tone of voice to use in all interactions with your customers.


5 rings of buying insight_eng


It is time to return to a more widespread discussion of the “Five Rings of Buyer Insight” described by Adele Revella. “Priority initiatives” refers to what motivates some consumers to invest money in a solution such as the one you offer and what distinguishes, on the other hand, those who are otherwise satisfied with the status quo. Identifying the strongest needs and motivations for consumers to choose you gives you the ability to develop ad hoc strategies to foster similar processes.

By “success factors” we mean expectations regarding the personal and operational results that the buyer can obtain from the purchase of your products or services. Not only that, in the same way, it is also very important to take note of any risks involved in achieving those goals.

Perceived barriers” are the concerns that lead the buyer not to think your solution is the best possible for his or her needs. Keep in mind that barriers to purchase may be related to the very possible preconceptions, opinions, and conventions just mentioned: knowing what they are and, above all, being clear about how to respond to them effectively is crucial.

Knowing the so-called “buyer’s journey“, that is, the “journey” that every customer takes before making a purchase, allows you to understand what or who exerts an influence on a buyer as they evaluate the different options available to them and choose one. Having this kind of information allows you to better allocate resources to meet newly identified needs.

Decision criteria” are the crucial factors that make a buyer choose one product or service and not another. It should be noted that these criteria refer not only to the buyer’s expectations, but also to his or her assessments of the various options available in the market.

We have just reviewed the main data you need to collect in order to create a buyer persona fully and effectively. Keep in mind, however, that among the many pieces of information mentioned above, you need to select those most relevant to you, based on your company’s specific goals. Different needs also translate into different ways of collecting data.


Data collection tools

You probably already guessed it, but here’s confirmation: there are several tools for gathering the information needed to define a buyer persona.

Before we go on to examine them specifically, it is necessary to point out that a buyer persona arises from ongoing discussions with your clientele and involves several areas of the company, from marketing to sales, which is also the area in closest contact with customers. The creation of a buyer persona, after all, cannot be separated from a careful study of the common characteristics within your existing customer base.

Conducting interviews is very important because, in addition to allowing you to obtain various information, it also gives you the opportunity to understand the language the communication style to adopt in order to communicate your offer in the most effective way. Specifically, it is necessary to interview customers (including those who are not dissatisfied) but also so-called prospects, i.e., those consumers who are not yet your customers.

It is not always possible to conduct face-to-face interviews: online questionnaires, via email or dedicated forms, are a viable alternative.

Do not underestimate the power of social media: it is on these platforms that conversations around brands, products and services have shifted in recent years. All popular platforms give the opportunity to observe Insights, through which a great deal of information can be gathered about sociodemographic characteristics and consumer habits and interests.


Data processing

You are probably wondering: once you have gathered all the information to compile the buyer persona, what should you do with all this data? You have to analyze the information in order to identify what are the common characteristics, which are used to outline the sketch of your typical customer(s), to which you can also attribute some of the quotes extracted from the interviews conducted.

This is also the time to figure out and decide how many buyer personas to create: as already pointed out, the choice depends primarily on the company’s objectives and specific characteristics: is it a multinational company? In this case, for example, it may be necessary to create several sketches as many as there are open markets.

It is also important to remember that buyer personas evolve over time, changing their specific characteristics. Take this into account as well when choosing how many buyer personas to create: you should update your buyer personas every 2 years at most.

Some companies are also wont to identify negative buyer personas (or buyer personas to the negative), that is, ideal representations of customers that the company would do well not to have because they are considered unprofitable. They may be such for a number of reasons: because they require an expenditure of time that exceeds the economic return or, for example, because they are customers who show uncertainty throughout the sales process or prospects who, while showing interest in the products or services offered, have never completed a purchase.


How to use the buyer persona in the inbound campaign

You should now have a clearer idea of how to create a buyer persona and why. We have listed the many benefits this tool ensures, but there is still one aspect to consider here: you need to know how to use the buyer persona in your inbound campaign.

Let’s be clear right off the bat: Inbound Marketing refers to a marketing approach focused on the creation of quality content, designed and created for the specific purpose of attracting the attention and arousing the interest of customers in the company and its products or services. It is a particular approach that has overturned the paradigm of traditional marketing (also called Outbound Marketing), which is focused on finding new customers: Inbound Marketing, on the other hand, aims to be found by customers, attracting them in a natural way by providing them with useful content on the very channels where they might be looking for it.

With this in mind, simply creating buyer personas and offering content designed and tailored only on the basis of their characteristics may not be enough. In fact, one must take into consideration the entire buyer’s journey and the different behaviors of typical customers at each stage of the buying process. There are 3: the “awareness” phase, which is when the consumer is focused on finding a solution to his problem; the “consideration” phase, when he analyzes the various solutions available to him; and the “decision” phase, when he delves into the details of a solution and arrives at the final decision.

By doing so, by leveraging the buyer persona tool within your inbound campaigns, you can deliver content that is highly targeted and, therefore, able to ensure more conversions.


Creating content suitable for the buyer persona

Creating different buyer personas, paying close attention to specific stages of the buyer’s journey, allows you to package specific and more effective content. People who come into contact with your company do so with different motivations and, in all likelihood, expect to receive different information. It is important, therefore, to assess whether a particular piece of your content may be ineffective, out of place, or even inappropriate for someone, so that you offer it only to the “right” customers.

Knowing to whom to target your content, as mentioned, also means knowing where to distribute it: in order for the recipients of your content to enjoy it and, therefore, for your content to be truly effective, you need to distribute it on precisely those channels populated by your target customers.

Not only that, as pointed out earlier, language plays an important role. When creating your buyer personas pay attention to the typical idioms and expressions of your target clientele, because using that kind of language in your content allows you to attract attention sooner and better, forging even stronger bonds.


Common mistakes and faqs

At the beginning of this analysis you were quickly warned about the first big mistake you must not make if you really want to achieve success: don’t start your business before you know who you are addressing.

You must have realized by now the importance of properly identifying the right buyer personas and implementing them in marketing campaigns. A question that, often, is asked by those who find themselves having to build a buyer persona is: is it better to keep it generic or, conversely, to be very specific?

Defining the customer-type (very) precisely is crucial because this points the way for a series of operational activities that would otherwise proceed “blindly”. Be careful, however, not to overdo it: in the transition from the abstract model to reality, narrowing the circle around your audience too much risks precluding you from seizing opportunities that perhaps, at first, you had not even assumed. The real challenge, then, is to find the right middle ground for your specific business. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: remember Seth Godin‘s famous quote?

“Waiting for perfection has never been a good way to make progress.”

You are probably wondering at this point: okay, but what is the absolutely relevant information that cannot be missing from a buyer persona? As already pointed out, creating the ideal representation of the buyer persona depends on the characteristics and goals of the company, but you must be careful not to fall into an unfortunately very common mistake: building the buyer persona only around demographic data, not paying proper attention to psychographic factors.

Psychographic analysis provides crucial information about how the customer interacts with the company and the triggers and emotions behind each purchase. Knowing how to listen to your target audience and empathize with your customer-type is crucial. Think about it: very rarely do people make a purchase impulsively. Understanding what event generated a specific need or desire in them, which then drove them to look for a product or service that could fill that void, is crucial.

It is now necessary to warn you again about another potential excess to avoid during the creation of a buyer persona: focusing all attention on the triggering event that started the buyer’s journey, neglecting all the other steps, is another serious mistake. For it to be truly effective, in the buyer persona each step (awareness, consideration, and decision) has its proper focus because different needs and specific solutions are linked to different moments, as by now you will be definitively clear.

Tags: Strategy

Nicola Zanetti

Founder B-PlanNow® | Startup mentor | Startup consulting & marketing strategist | Leading startup to scaleup | Private angel investor | Ecommerce Manager | Professional trainer | Book writer

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