Account Manager, Flawless Inbound
The daily business of marketing and selling products can feel like it’s happening in a parallel universe detached from reality. To bridge the gap between the worlds, companies worldwide have been relying on a simple yet powerful tool to tailor product descriptions and sales pitches to the right people: customer personas (a.k.a. buyer persona). Welcome to the 101 of more personal marketing!
Building a persona from scratch
This part is both easy and hard (and what comes easy to some might not be simple for others). Here’s a basic recipe:
- Industry knowledge
- Empathy for people’s challenges and potential pain points
- Imagination to give the persona depth
- Writing skills to put the pieces together
Let’s give it a try. The scenario: a tech company from Texas is expanding into Georgia. They want to introduce a new customer persona for their tech product – in this case, a new computer model. They research the area and find the following: the people most likely to buy (or recommend the purchase of) their product live in the Atlanta area, 30-45 years old, annual income between 75.000-100.000$, college-educated.
The Texas company’s marketing department comes us with Sandra, a 39-year-old senior software developer working for a mid-sized company in Atlanta with 12 years of work experience. She has a double major in Computer Sciences and Industrial & Product Design from the Georgia Institute of Technology and makes 95.000$ annually. Sandra loves travelling to South America, movies, and volunteering for a local library on the weekend where she teaches kids how to code.
Why is it important to know about Sandra’s favourite travel destination or charity work? Sandra is a stand-in for many people who identify with one or several aspects of the persona, and that can be any part of the persona. The goal of a realistic persona is to cover as many key areas of a product’s (semi-realistic) target group as possible to reach an audience because people prefer to be spoken to over being lectured. In short, a cohesive customer persona creates room for empathy on both sides – the company selling a great product or service and the client – the future user of said product or service.
If a prospect is unable to identify with the pain points a company is solving, then they have no incentive to opt for it. That’s the essence of Simon Sinek’s famous What-How-Why concept of inspiring action.
“Talk to me, don’t lecture me”
Here’s a simple example of how a persona can change the messaging of a product pitch:
- “This new computer is two times faster than comparable competitor models. Buy it.”
- “The new generation of processors reduces loading times with double the processing power so that Sandra, the software engineer from Atlanta, can work more efficiently and spend the gained time enjoying the latest movie release in theatre with friends every Friday.”
Do you feel more spoken to by the first or the second option? Fact is, even if you’re name isn’t Sandra, and you grew up on the other side of the country, you’ll probably be able to relate to the feeling of never having enough hours in the day, countless minutes waiting for the computer to boot, and being late for after-work plans because a standard security patch took forever to install.
Most people have been there. It sucks. That’s the point where the magic starts to happen: the moment when people notice the pain point in their own lives and begin to see how the product can help them make it a little bit better, they move into the circle of potential future users.
How many personas is enough?
When it comes to cold hard numbers in personas, there is no right or wrong. Some business portfolios are limited enough to warrant no more than two; others require dozens of different personas. However, there’s a general agreement among many marketeers that three is a good starting point to allow for a reasonable distribution of demographic factors (age, income, gender, professional level).
The “right” answer will depend on your individual business as well as your target audience. A good starting point is to talk to the departments that are in close contact with clients (Sales, Customer Service). In your research, concentrate on pain points, demographic details, or general information. A rich resource is customer reviews, as they can tell you first-hand what people like or dislike about a product or service.
The Exclusion Principle
Sometimes, the best way to narrow your audience down is by excluding people as non-qualified – the principle of the negative persona: a potential customer can, for example, fit the exact description for your business coaching program for senior leadership positions but for one important detail – the person receiving the invite has already retired.
Building such exclusion factors into your personas helps narrow down the potential audience and focus your team’s energy on the more promising candidates.
Build a connection with your client (persona)
At its core, a customer or client persona is designed to help companies relate to their audiences in a more meaningful way and focus their resources on those people who would benefit most from a specific product or service.
As the world is changing, so are personas. If you decide to introduce personas into your business’ marketing and sales strategy, be advised that they need attention like real-life connections. Every few months, check in and see how they’re “doing,” update their interests, inquire what’s changed in their “life.” Put that effort into making your customer personas relatable – your future clients will be the first to notice.