Buyer personas have become an essential tool to help marketers better understand their customers and craft messaging, campaigns, and outreach that deliver value and foster connections that lead to lasting relationships.
But for all the talk, what exactly is a buyer persona? What is its value, how should one be created, and how should it be used? Here’s how 21 top marketers responded.
Don’t Just Guess
Customer understanding is at the heart of all great marketing. Without the deep understanding and empathy that buyer personas create, you’re really just guessing at what will motivate a potential customer to engage with your brand.
--Michael Lattig, Head of Marketing, Faraday Bicycles
For a buyer persona to be truly helpful, it needs to be based on validated data instead of just making someone up. The persona also needs to be fleshed out completely, so that anyone on the team can ask that buyer a question so you can get answers that everyone agrees on.
--Michael Riley, Co-Founder and CMO, Boxter
CMOs need to know that the buyer persona may be hidden in vast amounts of data that is spread across their organizations, but when you tap into this data, you can not only build personas used by marketing but personas to drive your business success.
--Susan Ganeshan, CMO, Clarabridge
When developing your buyer personas, leverage any data you already have about your customers and prospects in the pipeline. Dig deep to understand who they are--their role in the organization, business needs as well as professional needs--to understand why they did or didn’t select your product for purchase. If they’re still in the decision-making process, understanding their hurdles and motivations will provide a clearer idea of where they are in the buyer’s journey, and even the content development strategy needed to help them move through the funnel to purchase.
--Kate Pietrelli, Managing Director, Path Advisors
Keep Working On It
In order to remain meaningful, useful, and relevant, your buyer personas must be continually refined, based on real-time data. An initial buyer persona is a concept supported by data and must be adaptable. Don’t become so attached to initial concepts that you can’t see the real data results those concepts put in front of you.
--Kara Kamenec, Director of Content Marketing, Gogotech
Jobs, Pains, And Gains
To create the most useful user personas, it’s crucial to understand and rank order the “jobs” that the user must complete to be successful, the "pains" that prevent them from doing jobs, and the "gains" that a solution would result from a job being completed well. Knowing the jobs, pains, and gains ensure your marketing efforts resonate with each customer persona.
--Scott Harris, Director of Marketing, CandleScience
It Takes More Than Personas
As useful as buyer personas and user journeys are, they are a guideline, not a rulebook. Don’t rely on them alone. Everyone is an individual, and every sale is actually a partnership. You still need to get to know your audience.
--Kamal Ahluwalia, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Apttus
Can Using Personas Do Harm?
For years marketers have created personas--fictional characters that embody all the traits of their prospects. But persona work may not be addressing the real decision-making triggers, and it may be leading your messaging astray. Prospects don’t make purchase decisions and change their current approach--or status quo--because of who they are and their characteristics. Instead, prospects respond to messages if they perceive their status quo to be in danger, or if they develop a sense of urgency to change their current approach or behaviors to preserve their best interest. Urgency to change lies more in the buyer’s context, not their character.
Focus on helping your prospects realize that their status quo is limiting their potential and threatening their desired outcomes; forget about you prospects’ titles, segments, or personality traits. Messaging and conversations based on a status-quo profile trump persona-based content when it comes to helping you create messages that drive intent, not just interest.
--Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, Corporate Visions, CMO.com Marketing Messenger Blogger
Make A Connection
In this age of media saturation, it is paramount to grab--and hold--the consumer’s attention. Consumers spend more time with print and digital media when it is meaningful to them--if they can relate to it and if it addresses what motivates them. Brands that employ persona-marketing techniques make strong consumer connections, foster brand loyalty, and may even generate more revenue.
--Lauri Sibert, Director of Marketing Communications, Quad/Graphics
See The Big Picture
In health care, customer journeys begin with engagement--but, in order for marketing spend to ultimately be converted to revenue, it’s imperative for health systems to consider the full customer experience, for each persona, requiring engagements across all points of interaction, not just those under the CMO’s purview. A small example of this is alignment between marketing and patient access departments, ensuring that those people being targeted as potential consumers have a smooth experience getting care. This approach should not be unique to health care; internal stakeholder alignment, within any organization, will help ensure that the dollars spent on marketing, targeting specific customer personas, will ultimately create loyal, return buyers.
--Jamie Gier, CMO, SCI Solutions
Align With Customers
Any successful go-to-market product strategy begins with clearly identifying not only the size of your market but also the demographics and priorities of your market. That’s where persona development and journey mapping is critical. We have developed buyer personas by product based on customer and prospect meetings and market research. These personas and subsequent journey maps are critical for guiding our messaging, sales enablement, regional content, and demand generation investment. Our persona development has helped us avoid making expensive marketing investments that don’t resonate or align with our buyers and influencers.
--Monica Girolami, Regional VP of North America Marketing, NewVoiceMedia
All About Personalization
Great marketing and a great customer experience is all about personalization. And personalization is driven by segmentation--specifically, understanding your buyers and their needs. That’s why buyer personas are pivotal to the success of our business and product. They drive incredibly tailored communications--one-to-one engagements at scale, specific to buyers and their stages of the purchasing process--but they’re just as crucial to the usage of a marketing automation (MA) platform. They’re enriched by the data that MA platforms gather--on the habits and behaviors of buyers--and they, in turn, allow MA users to be skillful and strategic about their outreach so as to build real relationships, versus just conduct transactions.
--Kevin Bobowski, VP of Demand Generation, Act-On Software
Start Small, Then Refine
Start off with a few targeted personas and refine from there. If you are just starting, it can be overwhelming to think about marketing to several different audiences at the same time, but it is well worth it. Starting with a few segments can help you understand how to manage it and, more importantly, refine the process of market research, messaging, and ongoing customer management for each segment. This will maximize your lifetime value across each segment and for your organization as a whole.
--Anuj Agrawal, VP of Marketing, Orchestro
Respect Regional Differences
The biggest mistake an online services company can make when selling to different regions is copying buyer personas across different regional markets--both locally and internationally. ... If a company is looking to accelerate its global sales strategy, it’s vital to look at how the various market nuances, compliance regulations, and competitive climate will affect targeting in that region and to incorporate those sensitivities into an overarching sales strategy.
--Ed Chuang, VP of Marketing, Avangate
Marketing should always start with the customer’s perspective, engaging them in all the places they are, in the ways they want to be engaged, and thinking of the entire life cycle so they constantly see the value of relating with you. This is driven by the buyer persona and user journey--the data and context that ensure you are targeting the right people in the right places and staying relevant to where they are in their relationship with you. The challenge is balancing this with the creative--the ability to cut above the noise--but even that should be customer-centric, with feedback gained directly from the customer and, ultimately, measuring the impact to the bottom line.
--Sydney Sloan, CMO, Alfresco Software
Knowing who we’re talking to--and how to talk to them--is key to bringing on new customers and maintaining their loyalty.
--Allan Jones, CMO, ZipRecruiter
Simply taking the time to create personas heightens organizational awareness. Everything we create to serve, inform, and provide value to the customer fundamentally shifts a marketing team’s thinking from “Here’s what’s important about my product” to “Let me help meet your needs with my product, and, if my products don’t do that, let me change them.”Customers know when you care about them, so leveraging personas and journey maps ensures every effort stays focused on making clients happy. And that absolutely influences retention.
--Keith Brannan, CMO, Kasasa by BancVue
Not Just About The Marketing Department
One of the most powerful reasons to use personas is that they offer you a way to scale good decision-making across the company. Instead of overseeing each decision to make sure it aligns with the company’s goals and target market, educating employees on who you’re solving for ensures that each microdecision they make moves the company in the same direction.
Buyer personas help every department--from marketing to sales to customer service to product development--get into the mind of the customer. Personas help keep your end-user human and keep your teams focused on the people you want using your product.
--Ellie Mirman, VP of Marketing, Toast
Personas Alone Aren’t Enough
Personas aren’t a panacea for getting “instant” results. It’s incumbent on marketing to be able to translate persona insights into an effective go-to-market strategy. For example, you can get the messaging and targeting right, but if you don’t invest in the channels in which buyers ("personas") prefer to consume messaging/content, then your strategy and execution will suffer. Your persona work can’t fix poor media placement decisions. Additionally, companies still need a defensible market positioning strategy, a product/solution that is aligned with buyer needs, and a good customer experience, which personas can inform, but not solve.
--Anthony Christie, CMO, Level 3 Communications
Don’t Forget Existing Customers
Many marketers still spend 80% of their budgets on attracting new customers, despite the fact that an average 80% of a brand’s revenue comes from 20% of their existing customers. While attracting new customers is important, it’s vital that brands identify their most valuable customers and aim to understand and build upon the ways they are being engaged and engaging with the brand in order to maintain their loyalty and build affinity with similar consumers.
--Mark Harrington, VP of Marketing, Clutch
For personas to be successful, they must create empathy in the minds of those consuming it and allow your team to know what a day in the life of this persona is like. That means researching the motivations, challenges, priorities, and obstacles this persona faces, among other attributes. Getting to the heart of this information means getting to know your buyers far deeper than a job title.
--Katie Martell, CMO and Co-Founder, Cintell