How to Bring Flat Buyer Personas to Life

Marketing Tools & Tips

The words “Buyer Persona” make me cringe a little. It sounds like something you’d call a life-sized cardboard cutout of a person, and that’s exactly the opposite of what marketers hope to achieve with buyer personas.

Personas are meant to bring your target customer to life — exemplify the pains, successes and scenarios your prospects are experiencing, so you can make your marketing and your product or service relevant, helpful and needed.

Yet many personas are flat and lifeless (and not just because you’re using stock photos!)

Here are six suggestions to improving your buyer personas, which should also improve your marketing and revenue!


Tip #1: Don’t Assume

You know what they say about assumptions.

You’ve been in business a long time, and you know your customers well. Or at least you think you do.

Way too many many marketers settle for a myopic, second-hand view of customers culled from outdated knowledge, sales rep input and demographic data. It’s all useful information, but it’s only part of the picture.

Do you know your customer?

To add depth and clarity, spend some time following up with customers who bought from you – and leads that didn’t pan out. Ask what led them to research your product and what influenced their decision to buy from you, from a competitor, or not at all.

Really get to understand who they are, what challenges they are facing, their drivers, their budgets and how to help them.


Tip #2: Forget the script

Never forget that buyers are people (even if you are a SaaS tool that sees more credit cards than actual people).

While you should have an idea of what you’re going to ask, don’t rely on a Q & A script.

Talk to your customers

Try developing trust with your customers through real conversation!

Make a call and let the conversation flow naturally. Customers are all too happy to tell you what factors influenced their buying decisions, but scripted questions and stock responses are just annoying. Get chatty.

A side benefit will be building your trust relationship.

Tip #3: Focus on the important elements

Once upon a time, I was given a buyer persona to help me create content for a new website. The persona was impressive. There was a photo, a name, a profession, a salary, hobbies, interests, education level, age… even what magazines he subscribed to.

Obviously, a lot of work had gone into this picture of who the average buyer was.

But, it was totally useless. Why?

Here’s what was missing:

As a content writer, I need to know what factors drive the buying decision. My job is to build trust and authority. To give consumers the answers they need to make a decision.

Of course, it was nice to know that he rides mountain bikes in his spare time and has a neatly trimmed ‘stache. Sounded like a very nice guy – just had no idea why he wanted to buy our product.

Tip #4: Listen in

On the creepy/not creepy scale, listening to what customers talk about among themselves falls right on the line and could go either way. However, in this digital era, conversations are often taking place in the open. For example, social media gives you a direct window into the customer’s opinions, with comments posted for all to see.

social media customer conversation

The key is to focus on information related to your company or product. What topics come up frequently? Is your company included in these conversations? Who are the influencers your customers and prospects are listening to on social? What are they saying about your competition. Can’t hurt to address what your competitors are doing that ticks people off, right?

Gathering information about your prospective buyers, as well as current customers, helps you form a more realistic buyer persona and ensures your marketing messages will resonate with your audience.

Tip #5: Look for patterns

With a ton of random data at your fingertips, some things will just naturally jump out. People will complain or praise the same things; will buy following an event, TV show or commercial; or react to advertising. Patterns of behavior will help you nail down the triggers to inspire purchases.

Did beach ball sales go up the day after Katie Perry sang at the Super Bowl? (unlikely, since most of the country was buried under 8 feet of snow). Did people hate the Nationwide “because I died” ad so much that sales dropped? Just spitballing, here, but you get the point.

Samsung Oscars Selfie

Did Samsung sales go up after this now famous selfie at the Oscars.

When you get the important stuff nailed down, you’ll be thinking about a living, breathing person. You’ll know what to talk to them about and how to address their needs. And that will lead to a higher conversion rate.

Tip #6: Evolve as personas change

In spite of the belief that people don’t change, they do, and your personas should evolve, too. So, revisit your buying personas often. Customers change, needs change, the market changes, your product changes.

Keep your personas up to date as your audience grows… and grows older. Fifty-something millennials will most likely be a completely different prospect than today’s 50ish children of the 60’s and 70’s.


Sharon Black

Sharon Black is a veteran copywriter and marketer. She loves writing about the challenges and rewards of marketing, at least when she's not pondering the challenges facing her on World of Warcraft. She has been known to serve as part of the grammar police force, but mostly when she is in the official role as editor.

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