The Secret to Marketing Success: Building a Buyer Persona

Why do you need a buyer persona? Here’s a thought experiment:

Your boss tells you she picked you to represent the company in a fishing competition next weekend. It’s a huge deal, a matter of pride both for your boss personally and for the company, since you’ll be up against contestants from your main business competitors.

You’re excited and not overly worried; after all, you’re a pretty good fisherman and you’ve been fishing for years. You’re confident you can do a good job and represent the company.

You ask your boss for details—what are we trying to catch? Because of course you need to know what fish you’re after so you can choose the right rig, the right bait, the best place to look for the fish, and the best time to find them.

But your boss doesn’t have more details for you; you’re a fisherman, she says, just go out and catch some fish—you’ll be great! You’re in a panic…what are you supposed to do? Try everything you’ve got, throw out dozens of lines, and stand around hoping something will bite? You need to know what you’re fishing for if you expect to beat your competition.

As the fisherman needs information about the fish, the marketer needs a clear picture of the target customers if he expects to reel them in. And that’s where your buyer persona comes in.

Your buyer persona is a roadmap to understanding your customers (and prospective customers) better. It gives you a clear picture of their needs, wants, desires, and pain points; it tells you how, when, and where they consume content so you can meet them there and give them what they need. Your buyer persona is the difference between tossing an empty hook into the ocean and casting a carefully baited line into a school of hungry fish.

What Exactly Is a Buyer Persona?

Now that you know why you need a buyer persona, it’s time to define exactly what one is—and what it is not.

A buyer persona:

√ is a fictional representation of your ideal customer

√ combines data and market research about your existing and prospective customers

√ details the goals, wishes, dreams, and pain points, both professional and personal, of your ideal customer

√ weaves biographic and demographic information into a customer narrative/story

A buyer persona is not:

√ an actual person or specific customer

√ a representative job/role/title in a specific company

√ a description of your target market

When you have a well-developed buyer persona, you have a valuable tool that tells you what your customers think and do when they identify a need or problem, what factors influence their decision-making process, what motivates them to take action, and what drives them to choose you—or one of your competitors—to resolve it.

One thing to keep in mind about buyer personas: While they are primarily a marketing tool, they are useful across your entire funnel strategy. Once you’ve developed a buyer persona, share it across your organization, especially sales and customer service, so your team is better acquainted with your ideal customer and how to best meet her needs.

A Word About Negative Buyer Personas

Just as a buyer persona is an invaluable tool for helping you focus your marketing efforts, a negative, or exclusionary, buyer persona can be useful for helping you recognize and avoid the type of customers you don’t want to target. After all, some leads will never be a good fit for your business, so you shouldn’t waste time, effort, and money trying to attract them. Some examples:

► the person who downloads every free lead magnet you offer but never converts

► the student on a budget who signs up for the free trial but can’t afford the plan

► the lead who converts, but acquisition costs were so high, you’ll never recoup them

Of course, you should always engage with any lead, even in your exclusionary bucket, who expresses interest in your brand, but you don’t want to devote too much energy into converting them.

Researching Your Buyer Persona

Image via Flickr by RaHul Rodriguez

There are basically four sources of information you can use to research your ideal customer:

◼ your CRM/contact database, looking for trends in how customers find you and interact with your web content

◼ your sales team, asking for feedback on their interactions with your customers

◼ website forms, where you collect data from leads

◼ surveys and interviews with customers and prospects

The last item, direct input from customers and potential customers, is your most important source of information in developing a buyer persona.

[thrive_lead_lock id=’15037′]Hidden Content[/thrive_lead_lock]

Finding and Recruiting Interviewees

Your first source of potential interviewees should be your existing customers, and not just your happy, loyal ones. You want the input of your not-so-happy customers, too, because they will provide valuable input about challenges and pain points your customers face. Finally, you want input from prospects, people who have shown interest but have not yet bought from you.

You may also want to go outside your own target audience and reach out to professional networks and social media contacts; LinkedIn is a good source of referrals. Some marketers find using online tools like UserTesting provide useful insight, as well, especially those working with startups and/or small customer bases.

Tips for approaching potential interviewees:

◼ Offer an incentive such as a free product from your store or Visa gift card to encourage participation.

◼ Give interviewees plenty of options to participate; offer several different times and formats (survey, phone call, Google+ hangout, GoToMeeting, etc.).

◼ Make it very clear the interview is not a sales pitch, especially for prospects and non-customers.

Aim for interviewing at least five people for each buyer persona you are developing, including one prospect and one “unhappy” customer.

Sample Buyer Persona Questionnaire

After you collect demographic information such as age, marital status, children, and geographic location (if applicable), ask these questions to drill into key information for your buyer persona. B2C and B2B marketers can adjust the list to suit their business niche.

?What is your job title and area of responsibility?

?What specific skill sets and knowledge are needed to do your job?

?How do you measure success in your job?

?Where do you fit in the organizational chart?

?What size is your company (# of employees, revenue, etc.)?

?What are your main challenges at work?

?How do you learn about new products, technology, or services?

?What publications and websites do you read on a regular basis?

?What professional and social networks do you participate in?

?What is your educational background? Describe your career trajectory—how did you arrive at your current position?

?How do you search for information about products you are interested in? If you search online, what sites do you use? What influences your opinion most?

?What is your preferred method of contact/interaction with vendors? Email? Phone call? Online chat? In-person sales visit?

?Tell me about a recent purchase: Why did you decide to shop for this particular item? How did you become aware of it? Explain your evaluation and decision-making process—why did you choose this particular item over other options? Who else (coworkers, family members, professional associates, friends, etc.) had input into the purchase decision? What was the most important factor influencing this purchase? What was the least important?

Remember, it’s not enough to know what your customers are doing, you also want to know why, so ask follow-up questions to suss out a more complete picture.

Compile and Analyze Your Research

Image via Flickr by UCL

After you’ve completed your interviews and combed through your CRM and other in-house resources, you’ll have compiled lots of raw data. Look for trends and patterns in demographics, motivators, pain points, influencers, etc. Tools like Evernote or Trello may be useful to organize your data.

Group it into the following categories:

◼ Common demographics (age, education, income, family status if applicable)

◼ Job title, responsibilities, industry, company size—what a typical day looks like for your customer

◼ Motivations, pain points, problems or challenges they need to solve

◼ Where they find information, which sources they trust

◼ Major influences in the purchasing decision

◼ What they expect your product or service to do for them—what goals they want to achieve

As you comb through your data, you may find that more than one “ideal” customer emerges; at this point, however, focus on one primary persona and develop your secondary personas later, as needed.

You’ll use this information to not only describe your fictional (but highly realistic) ideal buyer, but to tell his or her story—to give your persona three-dimensional context that goes beyond a list of facts and data.

Writing Your Buyer Persona Story

Now you’re ready to tell the story, combining information from each of the six categories outlined above. Let’s imagine you own a chain of gyms and yoga studios with snack bars. We’ll call your ideal customer “Healthy Heather.”


Healthy Heather is 36 years old and has two children, 9-year-old Bryce and 6-year-old Ella. She and her husband Jason are both mid-level professionals and have been married for 12 years. While they aren’t spendthrifts, they do have disposable income and will spend more for things they consider important, such as organic food, exercise equipment, and personal development classes.

A Day in the Life:

Healthy Heather is a social worker at a busy hospital; she works varied hours, often on call, in stressful situations—she constantly checks her smartphone to stay on top of everything. Heather prefers to work out in the morning; she and Jason alternate taking the kids to school so she can exercise before work sometimes. Regardless of her schedule, though, she makes time to exercise every day—even weekends. Healthy Heather is active in her children’s school and her local community, and between her work and volunteer commitments, she frequently has 12-hour days.

Motivators and Pain Points:

Healthy Heather doesn’t have a set time for exercise; she has to fit it in where she can. She also doesn’t always have time to prepare and eat healthy, organic meals at work, but she won’t eat fast food or commercial frozen food. She likes working out in a class setting with other enthusiastic, fitness-minded people, but because of her schedule, she can’t commit to regular classes, so she often finds herself alone on a treadmill or elliptical, which she hates. She’d like to get more involved with yoga, but her schedule prevents her from taking classes.

Information Sources:

Healthy Heather relies on information from professional journals and websites related to her job. She has a group of friends, including doctors and nurses, that she often asks for input and advice about her health and fitness. Healthy Heather keeps a profile on LinkedIn and occasionally checks Facebook, although she prefers to keep up with friends and family on Instagram. She likes to browse Pinterest for healthy recipe ideas.

Decision-Making Influences:

Flexible class offerings and extended hours are most important to Heather, as well as the credentials of class instructors. She is willing to drive a little farther and pay a little more for classes that meet her needs.

What Your Product Needs to Do:

Heather expects to find challenging and interesting classes whenever she has time to exercise; she doesn’t want to spend time by herself on a machine. She expects qualified instructors to help her improve her exercise habits and looks forward to healthy, organic snacks and smoothies when she doesn’t have time for a meal after her workout.

This composite tells a story about your buyer persona and helps marketers sharpen their message, identify effective marketing channels, and anticipate obstacles and objections to conversion. It’s a story you can share across your organization to help everyone better meet your customers’ needs. In this example, key takeaways might be:

?Emphasize extended hours and variety of class offerings over fees in marketing materials.

?Highlight and expand organic snack options that are easy to eat on the go.

?Display instructor credentials in studio and in marketing materials.

?Focus on mobile marketing; consider mobile app and/or mobile website.

?Evaluate ad placement in favor of relevant journals and websites.

?Reorder social media; less Facebook, more LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest.

Knowing how to create a buyer persona is the easy part; the challenge is actually walking through the steps to do it well. Once you do, however, you’ve laid the groundwork to a much more successful marketing strategy.


Ian Blair :BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.