Raise your hand if you use buyer personas in your online marketing plan. Keep your hand raised if you used actual data to create those buyer personas. If your hand is still up, congratulations! You’re way ahead of the curve. According to the author of The Buyer Persona Manifesto, Adele Revella, the majority of buyer personas miss their intended mark. According to her research, 85% of businesses aren’t using personas effectively.

If you don’t use buyer personas now, get ready. It’s time to join 15% of businesses using research-backed personas to target the right buyers for effective online marketing campaigns.

The Definition of Buyer Personas

Personas are simply archetypes of your ideal customers. A good persona accurately reflects your target audience’s age, location, goals, frustrations, and other basic factors that may result in a need for your product or service.

Steve Floyd of AXZM notes one basic benefit of a persona:

[Personas simplify] the project process for team members, as opposed to referring to the demographics that cover “male customers aged 45 to 55 that live in the southern most region of Maryland that have at least two children and make between $90,000 and $120,000 a year,” the team member can simply point out how “Jim Morgan” would be affected.

Before we move on, let’s get one thing clear: The number of personas isn’t important. The quality is. In fact, the more personas you have, the more confusing your marketing efforts become. Focus on quality, not quantity.

Why You Need Buyer Personas

Personas should shape and inform every part of your brand’s marketing efforts. You should always speak directly to one (rarely more than one) of those personas.

Personas should inform all of your content and marketing efforts including: Facebook ad campaigns, Google Adwords campaigns, website copy, landing page copy, blogs, Twitter posts, signage, and events. Personas should even help you decide what platforms are best to engage with potential buyers!

Bottom line? When a persona is effective, it shapes your campaigns and gives your brand a voice that will reach a very targeted audience in order to accomplish your desired goals.

When a persona is not effective, it might “wow” your partners or clients, only to end up sitting in a Google Drive folder while you run the campaign based on hunches and whims.

Unfortunately, as buyer persona guru Tony Zambito’s “State of Buyer Personas 2015” survey showed, only 15% of respondents reported their buyer personas as “very” to “significantly” effective. Even worse, 60% stated they didn’t get any new insights out of personas at all.

Avoid creating unhelpful personas by using the following tips.

How to Make Useful Buyer Personas

1) Don’t assume you know your target audience.

Let’s say one of your friends wants to buy a laptop, and enlists your help to choose one. The only problem is — you’re not even sure about your friend’s favorite color. Which approach would get you the closest to giving your friend the laptop they really want?

  • Choose a laptop you personally like (and believe they would, too)
  • Ask mutual friends what laptop they think your friend would want
  • Sift through your friend’s social profiles and web search history for ideas
  • Interview your friend about their ideal laptop

Now remember, we’re not asking how you can get away with surprising your friend with the best laptop — we’re talking about giving them a laptop they’ll actually love and use. Therefore, #3 and #4 would probably be the most effective methods of gaining useful information.

It’s the same with personas.

Personas can be based on a lot of things — from Google Analytics data (see #3) to competitor research (#2). When it comes down to it, the most accurate way to find the laptop that fits your friend is by going with option #4: a direct interview with your friend. You can find out exactly what their non-negotiables are (do they have to have a great battery life? Are they willing to sacrifice that for a lighter casing?)

It’s also a great way to get a good idea of where they are in the “buyer’s journey.” Do they barely know what a laptop is capable of, or are they already starting to compare the specs on Samsung vs. Dell? That would shape your conversation.

Here are three good ways to start:

  • Talk to your customers. Interview as many of your customers as possible. If you are able to, try to interview those who spoke with you but decided against your service or product. As painful as it might be to hear the truth, those interviews are really the most useful ones.
  • Use focus groups. Later on, you can utilize surveys and other “leading questions.” For now, focus on getting those spontaneous in-person statements about your business that might actually surprise you.
  • Practice good listening skills. Social listening, that is. If you already have social profiles or lots of reviews, scour them for relevant or useful points. Are you overly helpful and attentive in the beginning phase of the buying process, but drop off when customers make a purchase? Are you answering crucial questions, or are customers asking basic questions on your Facebook page? They’ll always let you know.

If you start with the hard part of persona creation — gathering information straight from your customer’s mouths — you’ll be in the top 15% of businesses who do.

2) Don’t get too caught up in the frivolous details.

Definitely use a picture (preferably of an actual customer) in order to get a sense of the person you are targeting. And definitely ask for details.

Sometimes, we go too far. We fall in love with our personas, and we think—to quote Sting lyrics—“every little thing she does is magic.” But not every tiny detail is important. Try to stick with the most important details: demographic information, goals, pain points, social platforms, and brand preferences, to name a view.

Don’t waste time playing Charles Dickens. Some level of creativity is important—we’re marketers, and we need sparks of inspiration. Don’t spend too much time on the “fun” details, or you could lose the important stuff in the fluff. Answer the questions you need to know to create amazing content, then jump back out.

3) Reference your personas when you create content.

Here are two good questions: are your personas accessible to everyone? Do you even look at them after you make them? Well, if they aren’t useful, and they already say what you know, then of course you wouldn’t look at them ever again.

A well-crafted persona is invaluable. Here are some ways good personas change your content:

  • You’ll stop trying to talk to everyone at the party. You’re finally connecting with the small crowd in the corner you’ve been trying to reach. You’re now building relationships that actually mean something. Congratulations!
  • You’ll gain street cred. The more marketing material and content you create that’s tailored for a specific group, the more often they’ll consult you as a resource. And they’ll probably tell their friends about you, too.
  • You’ll be able to tailor content that speaks to buyers where they are. Meaning from Awareness, to Consideration, to Decision stages. Learn more about these stages of the Buyer’s Journey from Hubspot. You’ll be able to map out your marketing methods strategically because you’ll be more aware of the buying process of your persona. Go you!

Side note: personas aren’t just for the content team. They’re for everyone, from the sales team to the CEO to the janitor. (OK, maybe not the janitor.) Make sure everyone has access to these valuable documents, and you’ll be able to speak the same language, which will result in a more consistent brand image.

4) Update your personas frequently.

In the world of marketing, “set it and forget it” basically means a slow and painful death for your business. In today’s rapid-paced viral-video-saturated world, you can’t afford to use the same old content marketing tactics. Now, to be clear, we’re not suggesting jumping on the back of every #trend and gif in the fear that you’re missing out on an audience.

When you have the right persona in mind, you won’t need to fumble over every new trend. However, you will need to update your personas as the market changes. Why? Because the people you’re targeting now won’t be the same people you’re targeting 20 years from now.

70-year-olds don’t care about the same things they did when they were 45. To paraphrase Sandra Piccillo, Senior Marketing Manager at Mitchell International, your target audience right now might not use social media, but the people who replace them in 10 years probably will. You get the picture. Personas are like cars—they require frequent maintenance, and most of us probably don’t do a good enough job of keeping up.

The bottom line? Always start persona creation by talking to your customers. Then, analyze data. You might be surprised by what you find. Create astounding content that hits your buyer right in the nose. Finally, remember that the number of personas isn’t important, the quality is. 

Download The Buyer Persona Guide

Too busy to create your own buyer personas? Hire Flashpoint.Marketing to take care of it for you, and see better results from your marketing efforts. Contact us to get started!