by Mark Hayes
September 25, 2018

If you’ve been involved in marketing for more than two minutes, chances are you’ve come across a buyer persona before.

Here’s the thing: These revered, crystal-ball-esque documents are stopping your marketing from actually going anywhere. What you need is a practical persona—a fresh, tangible representation of who your customer is, that can be used to inform the story you tell.

The old way isn’t cutting it any more—actually, it never was

Think back to the last buyer persona you read. It probably went a little something like this:

Richard, 55, CEO.

Happily married with three kids.

Plays tennis on the weekends.

Drives an Audi Q7.

Lives in St Heliers, went to Kings College.

Likes long walks on the beach and votes conservative…

…and so the list goes on, for three, if not four more pages!

The trouble with these kind of buyer personas is they’re absolute rubbish.

First of all, nine times out of ten they’re a figment of your marketing team’s imagination, and not grounded in any real research. Bless them, they’re a creative bunch, but now’s not the time for that creative flair to come out.

Secondly, even if you have gone to great lengths to do your research and create a persona grounded in some element of truth, what are the chances such a detailed persona applies to any more than a small handful of your prospective buyers?

Finally, assuming none of this is a major concern to you, here’s the kicker—the information presented in these whopping big personas isn’t even what you need to know about your buyers.

Create practical personas, not crystal balls

What your organisation needs is a practical persona to inform its marketing story… Not a crystal ball that promises everything, and delivers nothing.

You need a cheat sheet, a tangible guide for refreshing your team on the target customer… Not a three-page document bogged down in redundant fluff.

And that starts with asking the right questions.

What channels are your target market living in? Do they prefer LinkedIn, Quora, or Facebook? When they use these mediums, is it for business, or are they just checking out cat videos? What do they click on, and for how long do they engage?

These are the kinds of answers you want in your buyer persona—this way, what you’re forming is a short, simple guide that can directly inform a wider marketing strategy, rather than a stack of waffle.

Beware, the assumptions….

When it’s put this way, it sounds pretty obvious. Trouble is, every business thinks they’re different.

“Oh, us? We know our customers. We know them so well, we don’t need to do any research.”

Just recently, a client of ours declared these famous last words, saying that their customers don’t use Twitter, because, well, they just knew they didn’t. We challenged the assumption, conducting a series of in-depth, three-hour long customer interviews.

These were incredibly insightful—and lo and behold, one of the insights we gathered was that our client’s customers do indeed use Twitter, prolifically. In fact, the only one not using Twitter was the Marketing Manager in question, hence why they assumed their customers also wouldn’t be.

When it comes to creating practical personas, you need to park your ego at the door, right next to your assumptions. Just go do the research, and let validated data drive your marketing, not anecdotal assumptions.

Why bother with personas at all?

If the way personas have been done in the past is such a headache, and there are so many pitfalls along the way, why even bother creating them?

The reality is, it’s the difference between a shotgun and a sniper.

If you have no buyer persona, you’re just spraying content out there, hoping some of it will make an impact. Could work, but chances are, just like a shotgun, you’re going to miss the mark unless it’s an easy one. Better to be a sniper—take your time, choose the target wisely, then never let it leave your sights until you make your move.

Take ROCKETSHP, for example. These articles we write are to generate leads (shock horror, we have an ulterior motive!), and we know those leads live in places like LinkedIn and Quora. That’s why you’re not reading this on Facebook right now—because you don’t log in to Facebook to read an article about buyer personas, you go there to like pictures and tune out.

If we hadn’t done our research and created a set of practical personas, we’d still be firing out content left right and centre, hoping that some of it stuck—and we’d be wasting our time with most of it, rather than focusing on what we do best.

Or look at craft-lovers’ favourite rabbit hole, Etsy. Unlike Amazon, Etsy’s customers don’t come to them for a specific product. Their customers come to discover unique gifts, find creative gems, and uncover beautiful hand-made creations.

As a result, Etsy have designed the website to make sure that every customer can explore and discover exciting finds to suit them – sort of like the Pinterest of online shopping.

In fact, recognising that their customers are the same people trawling Pinterest has been a big part of their success, with most sellers using Pinterest as a key marketing tool for their Etsy shops. But how did they know to do this? By having a clear idea of who their customer is and, more importantly, how they interact with shops, products, and the internet in general. That’s what I call a practical persona.

Focus on the right people

An accurate persona is an enabler—it enables a larger marketing strategy to be set in motion. Knowing that your buyer lives on LinkedIn, and follows so-and-so influencer over on Twitter, you can look to build brand awareness through ads on Twitter, then make the first engagement through organic content on LinkedIn. Follow this process through until the target buyer has been turned into a customer, and that’s the value of a practical persona.

Rather than chasing those prospective customers who are never going to resonate with your brand, instead create practical personas, and focus on the people who want to engage.

That way, you get the best bang for your buck, and save everyone a hell of a lot of frustration!

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