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[SURVEY] Key learnings from marketers who actively use buyer personas

After the results of our recent survey, created in partnership with Best Buyer Persona, we wanted to dig deeper into how marketers and their teams are creating buyer personas, from the tools in their audience-building arsenal to how personas influence they day-to-day.

We know that 77% of marketers have created them at some point in their careers, but how are they being developed and actioned? We conducted qualitative research with over 40 marketers to understand more about the personas they create and the role these personas play in their marketing strategy. Here’s what we learned!

Focus on quality over quantity

It goes without saying that personas need to reflect the audience you’re trying to target. But often, marketers fall prey to three common mistakes: making them too narrow, making them too generic, or just failing to keep them up-to-date. A common theme amongst our participants of this recent survey is that they all felt confident in the accuracy of the personas they created, with an average rating of 7 out of 10.

The quality of your research is crucial, the more information you can get direct from your existing customers, the better. Elena Iordache, Digital Marketing Strategist at Stoica, said “by speaking to real customers, we get a good feeling of the process they go through”. Saurabh Jindal of Talk Travel also flagged the importance of patience when building personas. It takes time to get to the perfect persona, as Jindal told us “we always talk to a lot of people … they definitely do not start as 7-8 [in terms of accuracy]”.

There is also a middle ground between creating detailed personas and being far too niche in your research. James Doman-Pipe, a product marketer consultant, revealed that one of the ways they create more accurate personas is to focus on “the core components that make up a typical ideal buyer, rather than being too narrow”. Likewise, Kindra Svendsen, VP of Client Partnerships at Speak Creative, told us “it’s nearly impossible to paint a single audience with broad strokes - there will always be outliers”.

Marketing teams should also think carefully about the potential segments in their audience, and focus on the key characteristics. Becky Livingston, CEO of Penheel Marketing, told us that when developing target markets with clients, they often start at the top most level and narrow down from there. “We take time to narrow the market to three segments - (a) target, (b) secondary level, and (3) reach markets”, Livingston told us. “I recommend reviewing personas after large marketing campaigns, annual business goal meetings, and in cases when brands and products change”.

Give your persona a personality

One of the key findings from our previously survey was how many marketers struggled to get to grips with buyer personas, only 6 out of 10 felt that the personas they had were genuinely useful. However, the marketers we spoke to for this blog had very particular ways of working with their personas that made a real impact on their day-to-day.

For example, it was interesting to note how often marketers do refer to their personas and the processes they put in place to ensure the whole team is focused on tailoring their activity to their ideal customer. David Bitton of Doorloop told us that developing “certain personality nuances are important to create an authentic voice that the customers will listen to” - failing to do so results in brands wasting “precious time and resources”.

Two different marketers also told us that they give their buyer personas names and faces to better understand who they’re talking to. Tarah Darge, Head of Marketing and Partnerships at Time To Reply, revealed that her team “refer to each persona by name… almost as if they’re actual, existing customers” to ensure that everybody is on the same page when it comes to accurately targeting audiences. Mark Hayes, Head of Marketing at Kintell, uses a dedicated tool that helps assign photos, names and more to their personas which “humanizes the buyer you’re targeting”.

We also loved this approach from Jonas Skutka, Co-Founder of Alerce Environmental, who told us “I find it helpful to download a stock image of my imaginary persona to better judge my tone when writing, I imagine it as a conversation. The person I’m talking to needs to get me, that means going as far as imagining their expression when I consciously write something that they won’t understand.”

Tap into psychographic data

It is clear there has been a significant shift across the marketing industry in how valuable people consider different elements of traditional audience segmentation. Many of our participants revealed that typical data such as demographics, location and gender were less valuable in how they build buyer personas as much of this information is generic and doesn’t provide any real insight into the person.

Instead, many of them feel affinities, beliefs and interests are vital in unearthing golden nuggets of insight. For example, Neal Taparia of Spider Solitaire Challenge told us that their buyer personas are “entirely data-driven” and rather than focusing on demographics, they consider “attitude, goals, ambitions [and] dreams”. Vince Martellacci of ForgeCollective agreed, emphasising that “may products and most services are unisex”, making gender irrelevant when it comes to defining your buyer personas.

So, how can brands better tap into psychographic data without spending a small fortune on resource-intensive research methods? Brands are turning to tools that can define personas and identify audiences quickly and efficiently. We previously learned that 67% of marketers use social data tools and the marketers we spoke to agree. Doman-Pipe revealed “I’ll always use social data tools - like Audiense or Sparktoro - to understand key publications and influencers”.

Question your own assumptions

As brands and as marketers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our instinct is the most important gauge… and most of the time, your instinct is probably right. As the most customer-centric department, we have a deep understanding of who we’re talking to and our ideal target. But in order to build better buyer personas, we need to forget what we know and listen to what the data and insight is telling us.

Anatolii Ulitovskyi, digital marketer at SEOtools, emphasised the importance of testing when developing your buyer personas. “Nobody knows exactly what works”, he told us. “You might provide the best possible analysis but the reality is far away from that.” This is where data comes in. As Stephen Light, CMO of Nolah Mattress, told us “more data will make buyer personas more representative of the target market, which helps improve the quality of our decision-making”.

Challenging assumptions to paint a clearer picture of your potential customers often requires data from many sources. Harriet Chan, Marketing Director of CocoFinder, believes “it is the perfect time for marketers to adopt the social networking platform [that will] identify their optimum target audience”. Utilising social media and digging into online audiences can help brands gain a deeper, interest-led understanding of their intended audience.

Saurabh Wani, Marketing Association at Automate IO, revealed “most of the time, we use data to back our findings”, but often the process is experimental and requires refining. “We try to understand the buyer’s intent first, see how it goes, and then prepare a persona... using the data we have received from different sources”. This is also fascinating, as it reflects how often buyer personas change and shift. Even if you think your persona is spot-on, changes in the market or even among your customer’s beliefs, can lead to amendments. This was certainly the case for Ed O’Neill at the UK Language Project, who told us that they recently “re-introduced a B2C customer persona that we had previously scrapped”.

Be prepared to work together

In our previous blog, we emphasised the importance of sharing learnings from your personas across the business. 90% of the respondents in our previous survey told us that buyer personas were only created to support marketing. However, marketers we interviewed for this survey told us that personas support a variety of business functions, including sales, PR, R&D and product teams.

Matthew Lally of TheGiftYak told us “I believe customer personas support every function of marketing AND sales, it’s imperative to have the sales team be a part of this process.” Likewise, Shannon Peel of MarketAPeel agrees, claiming that “sales can use personas to better understand who is a good client and what motivates them to want to buy their product or service”.

As we’ve heard from other marketers, personas also help develop tone, which is crucial for copywriters and content marketing teams. “It guides the copywriter to speak the language of the consumer and it steers the artists to depict the proper setting”, says Joe Kiedinger, CEO of Prophit. “[This is] so the customer can visualise its use and relevance in their lives - product, packaging and promotion”.

“Every brief we create links to the persona avatar”, Barbara Carneiro of Word Revolution told us. “We have buyer personas always on-hand and it informs creation, design and strategy”. Clearly, personas are a vital tool across the business, when created and utilised efficiently by the marketing teams. Miguel González, marketer at Dealers League, stressed that buyer personas are not just for marketing, “in our case, the buyer persona is more relevant for the sales and product development team”.

Want to create better audiences to inform your buyer personas? Check out the webinar Learn to Build the Best Buyer Personas that you'll actually use or try diving into Audiense Insights for free.

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