Models
Let’s get the basics out of the way.
 
What is a buyer persona?
 
Well, it’s fancy marketing speak for your target audience. A buyer persona is a fictional character that you create which represents your perfect customer. You can have multiple buyer personas but the point is that it should give you a clear idea of the type of person you are trying to target with your marketing. Buyer personas typically take into account factors such as demographic, goals, challenges, processes, amongst others.
 
It all sounds a little bit too ‘textbook’ doesn’t it?
 
Yet another hoop to jump through. Another document that you create, only to store it in a folder that never sees the metaphorical light of day…..let’s face it, you’re not going to create a hard copy.
 
In this guide we’re going to cover the fundamentals, it wouldn’t be a guide if we didn’t. However, we’re also going to:
 
  • Explore why they’re so important.
  • We’re going to discuss how you can develop them into more than your typical “Exercise Ed” type profile.
  • In addition, we’ll look at how we can adapt them for SEO and use them throughout your SEO campaign and beyond. There’s no point investing time or even paying a branding consultant if you’re never going to use them.
 
Ready? Let’s go.

Why are buyer personas so important?

Much like having goals, if you don’t know what you’re aiming at, you’re going to have a hard time hitting it.
 
As already stated, buyer personas help you to define your audience. They allow you to understand the challenges they face and how your product or service can help them solve these challenges. Why is this useful?

Switching from brand-led to customer-led communications

The default setting for a lot of business’ communication is to shout about how great they are. They rightfully evangelise the benefits of their offering and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, this type of marketing and communications is brand-led. There’s a time and a place for it, but without variety it fails to resonate with your audience.
 
Creating defined buyer personas will bring the focus back to the user. At its core, a successful businesses exists to help customers. This aid comes in all shapes and sizes. It could be helping to reduce costs through software that streamlines business processes. It could be a product that helps with a customer’s health, or even a fashion line that helps them look and feel better.
 
Buyer personas identify these problems and challenges, so that you can speak directly to your prospects. They allow you to create communications strategies that resonate with prospects, helping convert them into customers.

Coherent Cross-Channel Messaging

This is pertinent for the SEO industry. We have traditionally been the ugly duckling of the marketing world. Even today, search engine optimisation is viewed by some as a dark art, although admittedly this has got a lot better over the past few years. We aren’t in the main fold of marketing (still). Again, this is getting much better, but for many they are still given the task of increasing organic traffic and left to their own devices.
 
That’s not good for the business. It’s not good for the overall marketing strategy. It creates teams that aren’t collaborating the way they should be. This can result in disjointed communications with customers throughout their buying lifecycle.
 
If you use buyer personas as a base for all marketing, it is a step towards coherent cross-channel messaging.

More than marketing

Buyer personas are primarily used by marketers, but they can deliver value throughout the business.
 
In our opinion, buyer personas should be a fundamental element of any business and brand strategy. They’re your customers after all, and without customers you don’t have a business.
 
As your buyer personas develop and are tailored according to real life data, their influence should be felt throughout the business. Here’s a few examples:
 
  • Sales teams can use them to have more customer centric conversations. If you’ve ever worked in sales you’ll know that it’s as much about asking the right questions and identifying issues as it is selling your product or service.
  • Product development can use buyer personas to create a better product/service for the customer. This is especially effective when buyer personas are adapted according to data and experience in the market.
  • Management can start to identify changes in the market and adapt the business plan to stay relevant and competitive.

What does a great buyer persona look like?

The level of detail required will vary between businesses.
 
For enterprise level sales it can be useful to have lots of detail relating to professional goals, strategy and potentially internal politics. Furthermore, you may need these across multiple buyer personas because of the amount of stakeholders in the process.
 
Alternatively, a boutique fashion brand may need to focus on other elements. There may only be a single decision maker and demographic/lifestyle may be factors that play a larger role.
 
There are two things that make up great buyer personas:

Actionable Insights

We’ve already mentioned ‘Exercise Ed’.
 
Yes, people do give their buyer personas these sorts of names.
 
This is the type of persona that has been created using a very simple template. Age, job, salary, residential status, hobbies. Whilst this is useful information for some businesses, on the whole it’s just fluff.
 
What we want are actionable insights. Here are a few examples:
 
  • What are their goals?
  • Why are they looking for your product/service?
  • What problems are faced by your persona?
  • What do they want from a product?
  • How have they been disappointed in the past?
  • What do they fear?
  • Do they have common objections?
  • What motivates them to purchase?
 
Again, these will vary between businesses.
 
Spend your time investigating and answering these questions. Don’t create an “Exercise Ed” that never gets used. Create personas with genuinely useful information that can influence decisions.

Clear and Concise

There is a balancing act between developing actionable insights and something that is easy to use.
 
We’ve established that we don’t want to create an Exercise Ed which is so light that it offers no value. In the same vein, we don’t want our buyer personas to be so complex that they become unusable.
 
It’s a problem with these types of exercises. They are embarked upon with the greatest of intentions. The team understand the importance of getting it right. And then they take it too far. The end product is so complex that it becomes a hindrance immediately. It’s not viable in a day to day business environment and as such, it never gets used.
 
Disaster.
 
So, if we focus on clarity and the information that counts, we will have a buyer persona that has real impact…in real life.

How do you create buyer personas?

The questions you ask yourself, existing clients and prospects will be different between industries. They will differ between businesses and personas. Why? The stock templates you can find online are exactly that….templates. Useful, but not specific to your needs. Personas differ, products and services have their own USPs, brands have specific positions within the market.

Understanding this, we’re going to look at the key information and processes that can be used across industries and businesses. Pick what is pertinent to you, not what is easiest to achieve. Think critically about your own business and audience and you’ll soon have valuable personas that help drive your business forward.

There are three points to take note of:

1) We’ve started with internal processes because they provide a benchmark. You can also identify where your internal brand differs from your externally facing brand. Starting with external processes can influence any internal brainstorming or positioning. You can choose a different order, but be aware of the biases that will enter the process.

2) This is not an exhaustive list. Add items that you believe will have an impact on your personas. Remember that we’re looking to create personas that are actionable and concise.

3) We already know the purpose of our buyer personas. As such, we’ll be providing an overview of the processes, rather than granular questions that might unspecific to your needs. This is going to require some adaptation of the core theory as you run through the process, but don’t let that scare you. The better you understand the underlying principles, the more effective you’ll be throughout the process.

Internal Brainstorming/Research

This is where most people start when creating their buyer personas and for good reason. You may already be running marketing campaigns, or have embarked on any brand identity/strategy sessions. As such, you’ll have an existing view of your customers which is a solid starting point.
 
The biggest mistake that we see companies making is to only brainstorm within the marketing teams. Even worse, it might only be those involved in SEO, or another channel. If you do this, you’re not making use of the total collective knowledge of your business. The power of this shouldn’t be underestimated. If you silo it off to a specific team, the process isn’t collaborative and increases the likelihood of confirmation bias.
 
Of course, if you are a small business that doesn’t have multiple departments then this is not possible for you. In that case, it should be an ‘all-hands’ session.
 
We recommend including the following teams where possible:
 
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Customer Service
  • Product/service development
  • Operations
  • Senior Management
 
That’s already quite a few people, so be selective in who you include from these teams. You want experienced members and also those that are bought in to the process. Nothing worse than having someone who offers very little, or doesn’t understand the value of the process.
 
This variety of individuals offers valuable insight that the marketing team may not be exposed to, especially in larger companies. Sales can help to build out common objections. Customer service and operations add knowledge of real life client interactions and insights into their goals (especially for service based businesses). Senior management and product development can ensure that the buyer personas align with strategy. If changes need to be made, it also means that they are involved with the process and have higher levels of buy in because they understand the fundamental reasoning.

Understand your current positioning and your desired position

Where you currently sit in the market and where you want to be as part of a long term strategy might be two different things. If you’re undertaking this buyer persona research, there’s a high likelihood that this is the case.
 
Your research should take this into account. We wouldn’t advise creating two buyer personas (one for the status quo and one for your desired position).
 
That’s not the point of the exercise.
 
More often than not, we’re not trying to confirm your current clients. Although this can still add value in terms of being more targeted (lower cost per acquisition, better retention).
 
We’re creating personas that can be used as part of your strategy. To help enact change and develop a brand identity which will truly resonate with your perfect customer. Marketing is going to be a large part of this but great buyer personas can filter through to other areas of the business.
 
Of course, if you’re happy with your position, your current clients and don’t require change of any sort then that’s awesome. At which point we’d question why you’re over 2000 words into this article…..

Gather information from existing clientele

This is a quantifiable metric. These people have already bought from you and are hopefully very happy with their choices. They’ve gone through the process so can highlight their reasons for choosing you. They can also provide constructive criticism on everything from the sales process, to their experience of your product or service.
 
There are lots of ways in which you can go about getting this feedback. Send out a Typeform survey, call them individually, layer it into review meetings.
 
If possible, it’s great to incentivise this feedback, especially at scale. We’ve all received feedback forms from companies that represent a one-off or irregular purchase. An airline, a hotel, that random shirt you bought. Let’s face it, even if you’re a loyal customer, feedback forms are boring. Life gets in the way.
 
Incentives go a long way.
 
If you can incentivise (e.g with a discount) you not only gather your much needed feedback, but with the right messaging, you could increase their brand loyalty. Make them feel wanted. Make it obvious that you appreciate their custom, as well as the time they take to provide feedback, ultimately to help you grow as a business.
 
A key point here is that this is reactive data. It’s important data and can help you to make improvements in your targeting. However, you have to take into account that these are clients that have bought from your business in its current state. They may not be your perfect client. If they are, then that’s ace. You’re doing something right.
 
That doesn’t mean that they are terrible clients. It simply means that you need to be aware of the fact that the data gleaned from them is somewhat anchored to the status quo

Use tools to extract data

Much of the information that we have gathered thus far has been somewhat anecdotal. It’s useful and an essential part of the process.
 
We now want to supplement/verify this information with less anecdotal data. The great news is that we can use the information we have to help guide our research into this data. It helps us avoid the big shiny numbers that may look attractive but are less relevant to the business strategy.
 
There’s lots of tools out there and we’ve already had a look at how SparkToro can be used for audience insights, so jump over there once you’ve finished this. The type of tool you use will depend on the channels that your audience will engage with your brand on (more on this in the sales funnel discussion). As SEOs we’re going to want to understand search volume, difficulty and our competitors. All the major SEO tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, Majestic and Moz are useful in this situation. We can supplement the search data with research from Answer the Public and Buzzsumo as well.

Key questions to ask

As we’ve mentioned, there’s a lot of templates out there for you to use so there’s not a huge amount of additional value for you in us repeating them. If you’re yearning after them we suggest checking out these articles from HubSpot, Buffer, Hootsuite and Single Grain
 
However, if you want some key ‘starter questions’, we’ve included some below, split out into B2B and B2C.
 
Note: We haven’t included basic items like size of company, role responsibilities, what success looks like, etc.
 
B2B
 
  • What are their professional goals? What are the overarching business goals?
  • Are they a decision maker? Where does their role sit in the company structure?
  • Identify the challenges they face in their position. How does your business help them with these?
  • What role does your company play in their position / their team’s goals?
  • What pressures/fears do they have?
  • What is their level of knowledge in relation to your product or service?
  • How would they gain more knowledge?
  • Any common objections? e.g are they price sensitive or goal oriented?
  • How is a tender process structured? How do they go out to market?
  • What are the implications for them making the wrong choice?
  • What are the benefits from them making the right choice?
  • Why would they choose your business?
 

B2C

 
  • Identify key buying motives. For example, is it emotion, status, utility (usefulness)? It may even be knee jerk purchases or even boredom!
  • How important is your product/service in their daily/weekly/monthly lives?
  • Do other customer reviews influence their purchasing decision?
  • Are there any factors that would influence their decision. For example, the opinion of their family or friends.
  • Are there any other products/services that they would buy in conjunction?
  • Are there any other products/services that they would buy instead/replace with?

Create your personas

If you want to go with a descriptive name, don’t let our disdain for them stop you!
 
Teams use these names to make personas more memorable and easy to refer to, which is only positive.
 
Armed with our information we can now go ahead and create our personas. Remember that we want them to be actionable but concise. As such, be critical of the information that is included. Trim the fat. Segment the information and build out your personas so that they can actually be used.
 
Where possible, a great tip is to get them designed and distributed. They need to engage your team (and others) and a Word document doesn’t really cut it.
 
If you’re distributing them company wide it’s worth providing a condensed version of why they’re so important!

Use your Buyer Personas to develop your Sales Funnel

We don’t want to throw a spanner into the works here, but this should all feed into your Sales Funnels. In fact, they should both feed each other.
 
Without going into too much detail (as it is a whole separate article), a sales funnel identifies how a prospect buys your product/service. It accounts for everything from their initial exposure to why they are buying, through any research, decision making and also after sales.
 
Developing your sales funnels and buyer personas is important for both B2B and B2C sales. Having said that, complex enterprise B2B sales processes stand to reap the most rewards. That’s because they tend to have longer sales cycles, more complexity and levels of stakeholders. As such, there can be various cross-platform touch points. They also often require multiple buyer personas, all with different motivations, pressures and goals. Leave out a key decision maker that operates behind the scenes and it could result in a lost deal. Buffer calls them detractors, influencers and anti-personas so check out their stuff here.

Now use them!

Specific to SEO, our personas should be influencing major elements of our campaign. If you’re willing, you can even start to develop additional SEO specific items within your personas to help guide your team.
 
If you can identify areas within the sales funnel and the personas that aren’t being satisfied well, we’d recommend focussing on them first. Once these gaps have been plugged, you can then look to double down on areas where your brand is strongest.
 
The personas should be a driving force behind key SEO activities such as:
 
  • Keyword targeting.
  • Identifying where SEO has the highest impact within the sales funnel.
  • Content creation. What problems are we solving with our content?
  • What content is going to resonate with them, in relation to the sales funnel. Will it influence the purchasing decision? If not, we’ll need to question why we’re creating it.
  • We can use this process to develop personas for link building purposes. What is going to make someone amplify our content? What would the drivers behind this decision?
 
Finally, once your personas have been created, distributed and are in use, set a date to review them. Regular review of personas will mean that they are not only continually used but also remain relevant. Markets, platforms and preferences change over time. Our aim is to avoid our personas gathering dust and to keep them as effective as possible in the growth of the business.

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