Digital Marketing – Why Companies Use Buyer Personas And How

The word ‘persona’s is bandied around a lot these days as the new strategic weapon in digital marketing. But what does it exactly mean and how do companies use these to best effect?

What Is A Buyer Persona?

Hubspot’s definition of a buyer persona is:

“A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.””

Whereas Adelle Revera (Adelle specialises in working with brands on buyer persona’s specifically and is the founder of the Buyer Persona Institute) defines them as:

“Buyer personas are examples of the real buyers who influence or make decisions about the products, services or solutions you market. They are a tool that builds confidence in strategies to persuade buyers to choose you rather than a competitor or the status quo.”

Some organisations have several ‘pretend’ customers who represent buyers likely to make up their target market, but you will often see mention of a ‘primary persona’ and ‘secondary persona’, with the ‘primary persona’ taking priority over the ‘secondary persona’ and all other ‘personas’ the company may create in due course as they further segment their market and customer base.

When organisation’s (generally the marketing department) create persona’s (pretend customers), they often give them real names, although of course, they are fictional characters, and refer to them on first name terms when discussing online value propositions with other members of their team and when briefing in agencies. These characters are often at the heart of every marketing campaign that a brand carries out and their opinions (the personas) of the product offering or campaign is carefully considered prior to launch.

Whilst many personas are created by companies based upon broad information about a target market such as gender, age, demographics, likes, aspirations, needs, sites that they visit, (guesswork), other organisations and major brands are investing more heavily in gathering ‘real’ data based upon their current customer database, interviews with buyer groups and intensive market research, often spending several thousand pounds, even tens of thousands of pounds, on gaining insight into a sharply defined type of buyer to whom they can market most effectively.

This type of deep research into buyer persona’s goes far beyond simple demographics.  It allows organisations and more specifically marketing teams, to understanding the drivers and pain points that go into the psychological make up of ‘theoretical’ customers, and the factors which may form their rationales for choosing to make buying decisions (and rejection decisions), when they do.

Once this intelligence is collated the primary persona is ‘tracked down’ online (research carried out as part of the fact finding exercise has provided information about where their targets are likely to hang out online, and when), via a clear view of the various buyer touchpoints, before an offer is presented with high visibility.

For example: the learnings from this level of buyer persona research, allow a brand to know not only the social media platforms that a prospect is likely to use, but the types of ‘likes’ in their Facebook account that person is likely to have.  Their interests are of paramount importance so that the most relevant offering can be proposed, at the right time, with the right message to provoke an action.

Once these personas are attracted to site via the right targetting, savvy organisations set clear ‘scent’ trails and signposts for target market individuals to choose ‘which path’ to take.

At it’s broadest example, ASOS very clearly have their two main site sections ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ designed in a totally different manner to each other to ensure that they appeal to the separate markets.  The women’s categories are much more image based content and designed to appeal to a ‘browsing’ nature, whilst the male section of the site is very much led by single minded ideas.

Whilst this in itself is not an example of a persona (you can be sure that ASOS have make-believe characters much more sharply defined that simply ‘men’ and ‘women’) they represent an organisation who take very seriously the differing online buying behaviour of individual groups and adjust their site and no doubt all other marketing offerings accordingly,

Unite Your Internal Departments With ‘Mutual’ Friends

The creation of persona’s are said by some to aid in bringing together internal departments, each with a common perception of their mutual ‘imaginary friend’, whether it be the sales team, marketing department, or senior management, working together to produce a unified offering with the ideal customer, referred to by first name, centre stage.

Brands Using Personas

Whilst it’s certainly safe to say that the creation of brand personas is now commonplace in both the online and the wider marketing department’s list of to-do’s, when it comes to researching who is using them well and who is even using them at all, it is very difficult to find much information.  Customer personas appear to be kept in the ‘closely guarded secrets’ box by brands, with few clear examples broadcast by companies using them well.

One of the few examples of a clearly defined buyer persona used in a marketing campaign is “Penny”, created for paint manufacturer Dulux, a fictional character who is a 27 year old sales assistant living in North London, and who likes Top Shop, Changing Rooms, socialising and the colour pink.

Other in-depth examples of personas created for The Institute of Healthcare Improvement and Warehouse 1 can be viewed on Hubspot below:

Of course, one can understand this reluctance to share IP.  Not only does high-level persona development take considerable financial investment, but if used by competitors could be disastrous, and why lead competitors directly to your target market?

More Rationale For Persona Development

Persona development works on the basis that “if you’re creating content on the web to speak to everyone, you’re speaking to no-one”.

Your message needs to be relevant to the few that matter, rather than irrelevant to all.

Whilst this type of up-front investment in resources (both financial and man-power / brain-power) is heavy, by clearly defining who it is you want to reach, and tailoring your online product offering to that audience you’re likely to gain a much higher conversion to goal, and less wastage in the longer term.