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Content Marketing

How to Optimize Your Buyer Persona Research Process

Formulating your company's marketing message, and its various manifestations, is tricky business. To make sure that your website's user experience and off-site marketing resonate with the people you want to attract, you're likely to find it extremely helpful to use buyer personas.

Personas are essentially fictional profiles that you build to represent your ideal customers. The central principle at play here is that by figuring out what motivates the people who are most likely to benefit from your products, you can tailor your marketing and even the products themselves accordingly.

Persona Research Methods: Simplify

By using personas to hone in on what your desired audience members care about and how they go about making their purchasing decisions, you're taking your marketing to another level. By clarifying and documenting what makes these people tick, you enable yourself to address and resolve the various barriers on their journeys towards conversion.

The challenge, however, is in the execution. The processes of building and mainstreaming personas have the potential to demand far more research time than necessary. Success comes when you find the right balance – hunting down enough data to build personas that are rich and useful, but skipping the bits of research that are unnecessary.

Here are some tips on how to think about the scope of your persona research.

Creating Personas with the Right Scope

A great deal of information is available on creating personas, so you may want to start by familiarizing yourself with how others have successfully tackled these processes in the past. Begin by recognizing that there are most likely a few different types of people whom you'd like to reach. Mock up profiles of three to five distinct fictional personalities who represent your best customers.

Remember, you are not writing a novel or developing a television mini-series about each of your personas. You want detail, but not every last detail.

On the one hand, all of the information about a persona’s daily life, from age and location to personal hobbies, preferred entertainment brands and other lifestyle characteristics might turn out to be useful.

On the other hand, you'll eventually use these personas to address audience members' pain points with content. Start by covering the basics and little more – the emphasis of these sketches should be their preferred media consumption channels, the problems that they need that your products solve, and the issues that keep them from committing to specific business solutions.

As a rule of thumb, you want to encapsulate your potential targets with nuance and depth, but without getting so specific that your personas no longer represent large swaths of your desired customer base.

What Your Persona Profiles Need to Cover

Just remember that your goals with personas are to give you tools to refine your products and your ability to market them, and you'll be fine. Here are the basics of what your personas should include.

  • Know the language that speaks to each persona. What buzzwords do your personas use? Use the same lingo that they use – even when it comes to terms that everyone knows are equivalent. For example, don’t describe internet speed as “broadband” if your personas favor the word “bandwidth.” Make sure to include this kind of detail in your personas, as it directly impacts the resonance potential of your marketing.
  • Know the places your personas frequent that influence their decisions. For example, if they are conference-goers or are partial to reading blogs, you will want to leverage these activities when you market to them. If they are partial to webinars, video, infographics, podcasts, or other specific formats for conveying information, then these are the communication avenues that you want to harness.
  • Know your personas’ triggers. What are the needs that drive them to action? What must they accomplish with which you can help? Be aware of what these concerns feel like through the prism of their experiences and speak to those concerns directly – but always with solutions, or at least discussing the tools they'll need to achieve solutions. Also consider the various circumstances that might have motivated them to look for a solution at this particular moment in time.
  • Know the goals hiding behind your personas’ goals. Are these people looking to buy drills, or are they looking to create precise holes in their walls? Or do they really want to hang paintings in their living rooms? Or are they actually trying to impress their guests with their décor? Naturally, when you know exactly what these people want, you can address it all the more effectively. Demonstrating your familiarity with their concerns encourages mutual empathy and provides an entrance point for meaningful engagement.
  • Know what you have to offer your personas. As they evaluate potential solutions, including those of your competition, you want to be sure that you can deliver what they need. Your unique value proposition should be aligned with what matters most to your personas, as this is what's going to differentiate you from the competition as their product research progresses.

What to Avoid in Your Personas

There are plenty of red herrings out there to distract you from what matters most. Creating personas and not referring them, or not addressing their drives and needs effectively, are common pitfalls. Here are some things to avoid when researching your personas.

  • Don’t focus on irrelevant parameters. While personal details can add color to your personas, the lion's share of these factors simply won't be helpful to you. For example, what kind of car a persona drives, what kind of cuisines he or she enjoys, what sports they track – all of these tidbits are only relevant if they directly enable your messaging. Better to speak to what jobs they seek to accomplish, what hurdles they foresee going forward, and what fears they are grappling with at present. These are real-world angles that will help your persona to connect with your brand.
  • Don’t be too generic in your approach. Personas that are too narrow in scope are just as unhelpful as personas that are too wide. Remember that your ideal audience members are busy people, so the more specific, direct, clear and focused you can be when presenting your solutions, the more your message will resonate. Collect enough data points that you'll be able to convey your value in a targeted and concise manner.
  • Don’t market to the wrong person. The way you describe your solution needs to resonate with the people who actually make the decisions to do business with you, whether that is an Accounts Manager, a CEO, or a spouse. Sometimes a product's end user is completely different from the purchaser, so make sure you focus your profiling research on the one who's actually going to close with you.
  • Don’t make it too big to take in at a glance. You're going to want to print your persona sketches out and affix the hard copies prominently in your office, so that everyone in your team is enabled to optimize messages and products for these fictional characters. If your personas can't fit on one page, then you know you've gone overboard with the research. Keep this formatting limitation in mind from the get-go, and you'll be in great shape.

The Path to Yes

Personas that are created and maintained with the right scope are just the beginning. With this process now optimized, you can take all of the most valuable information about your buyer personas and organize it one step further. Determine the parameters that are most critical and then create a "value proposition map" that relates to the personas' most motivating fears, feelings, needs and wants. This resource should demonstrate how your brand aligns with the most important things your ideal customers are looking for.

A solid, persona-driven value proposition map helps you to present your solution in a customer-centric manner. It ensures that every description of your product line's features and benefits is truly on-message and that common objections to your solutions are addressed efficiently and preemptively.

Marketing is often criticized for allegedly convincing people to make purchases they don't need, but the best marketing connects people with products that actually help them. By keeping your personas, and the processes that go into creating them, focused solely on the drives and goals of the people most likely to benefit from your products, you'll create a situation where everyone wins.

Written by Ben Jacobson / May 13, 2015

A content and social media marketing specialist, Ben Jacobson joined the Lean Labs team in the summer of 2014. Ben has been active as a digital branding professional since the early days of social media, having overseen projects for brands including MTV, National Geographic, Zagat and Wix. His writing has appeared in Social Media Explorer, Search Engine Journal, Techwyse and the Mad Mimi Blog. Ben resides just south of the Carmel Mountain ridge in Israel with his dashing wife and two sprightly descendants.

Articles by Ben Jacobson