Better Targeting Through Buyer Personas

September 7, 2010
Better targeting through buyer personas

The primary goal of a lead-generation-focused content strategy is to get the right content into the right prospect's hands at the right time. That's no small task, and the success of that effort typically rests on how well you've defined your targets; the deeper you dig into your prospects, the better chance you have of determining their needs, motivations, and hangouts.

But where to start? Our practice is to focus on developing buyer personas that represent customers who are most likely to purchase what you offer.

It's easier said than done; developing these things is a healthy mix of art and science and requires continuous improvement. But it's well worth the time and effort, as you'll see.

Buyer personas are not market segments

It's necessary to say that because we tend to see a bit of confusion regarding the difference between the two.

Market segmentation is a tried-and-true marketer's practice, but it's a macro-level perspective on dividing the entire marketplace and — due to sheer numbers — forces generalizations about potential buyer behavior.

A buyer persona, on the other hand, is identified by grouping specific traits or motivations within a market segment to develop a facsimile of someone who is ready to purchase.

How to determine your buyer personas

We can fill several days' worth of meetings on the practice of developing personas for just one client; it can be a lengthy process if you want accurate results. But getting started isn't difficult and can be done by refining any previously established market segments.

The key is to break out and list any discernable physical, emotional, or financial characteristics within your segments that might represent potential buyers.

ThIs could include gender, age, income, marital status, job status, short-term and long-term financial pressures or factors, and more; these should be based on your existing customer pool or reasonable knowledge of a new group you wish to target.

From there, weave together some of those characteristics to create a full-fledged persona and give form to someone with whom you can directly communicate.

It also may help to construct a short, 2-3 paragraph biography of your persona to solidify the concept and make sure everyone on your team understands the details about what type of customer you're targeting.

An example of a buyer persona

Let's say you're operating an insurance agency that sells a full suite of policies, but lately you've wanted to make a major push in the San Antonio market for homeowners' policies. Your primary market segment, then, is San Antonio homeowners with low risk potential.

That represents a potentially large amount of people, and stopping the process there is what has traditionally caused many businesses to spend inordinate amounts of money on high-cost, low-return advertising.

However, the underwriter's aversion to risk means you're shopping your policies only to certain customers, so to whittle down the list you begin to break out characteristics of your segment.

Eventually, you come up with a group of traits that represents a motivated and ideal customer:

  • Age range of 35-45
  • Married with two children
  • College graduate
  • Gross household income from $125,000 to $250,000, potential for more
  • Mid to upper management, white collar industry
  • Likes dealing in person with a single agent
  • Fiscally conservative, prefers dealing in cash
  • Prefers low-premium, high-deductible policies

Using those characteristics, you can construct a simple biography of this persona:

John is 42, has been married to Jane for 15 years, and has two children—Robin, 12, and James, 10. John works as a intellectual property lawyer in a boutique firm in the Stone Oak area and may make partner in the next five years. He and Jane have owned their home for six years and have faced only standard maintenance costs.

Additionally, John prefers to pay out of pocket for most issues and reserve making claims against his insurance policy unless absolutely necessary. For that reason, he likes meeting personally with his agent and feels there should be a good deal of authenticity and trust with someone he's going to buy a policy from. He hasn't been happy with that aspect of his current agent and will ask hard questions about the fine print to ensure he's being dealt a fair hand.

John is also the type to shop around and compare policies, so he's in no hurry to buy, and he scours websites, forums, and other online sources to dig up information on agents and policies. His purchasing frame is within the next 30-45 days. If an agent seems trustworthy and the policy fair, additional coverage options and services might tip the scales.

Ongoing improvement is the key to better personas

A buyer persona, like a piece of content or even an entire content strategy, is only as good as its return.

For the example above, you need to pause at relevant points in your delivery and sales cycles and consider whether John really represents a qualified prospect. It may be that John's purchasing frame is 1-2 weeks; it may be he's purchasing for a new home in Bulverde. Or John may not even represent your most profitable target.

Whatever the case, your goal is ongoing improvement of your buyer personas. Granted, this likely will take more time than you invested in creating the initial persona, but don't be discouraged. The increased ROI will justify the effort needed to develop working and proven buyer personas.

[photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography via photopin cc]