How To Build A Buyer Persona (If You Want To Sell A Death Star)
Every good marketing campaign starts with a "buyer persona" - a detailed guide to your ideal customer's hopes, fears and challenges. With a good persona you can sell anything - even a Death Star.
Ah yes, launch day - you’ve got your product, a catchy name and a fancy website. The only question is: “How the hell do I get customers to see it?”.
Say you’re trying to sell a Death Star (and by the way, you probably shouldn’t) - in a galaxy full of wondrous laser weapons and space ads, how will you get the evil Empire to hear about your new and improved planet-killing moon?
Enter the Buyer Persona - the cheat sheet to who your ideal buyer is, what they care about and where they hang out.
I’m gonna tell you all about how to create one for realistic, normal human beings but first let’s look at what space marketers would do if you need to get your space ads in front of someone like Darth Vader:
Outstanding work - he’ll be talking to space sales in no time.
Creating buyer personas is about two things: understanding who your customers are and how the product you’re trying to sell can improve their lives. Done right, persona research will have people wondering how you know exactly what they’re thinking.
I’ll show you how to go about the methodical, yet wonderful process of building a buyer persona, which includes:
● Understanding each component of a buyer persona.
● Using existing customers as guides.
● Mining for reviews, comments, specific patterns... and lawfully “stealing” them.
We’ll have a little chat before we get to the “how to's”. Feel free to skip to action if you’re in a hurry.
What a buyer persona is... and what it isn’t.
A buyer persona isn’t Ruby Sparks. It isn’t a manifestation of your innermost desires. You wish.
Instead, it’s the closest you’ll ever get to your “perfect” buyer...based on real people’s emotions. The quotation marks are there because the persona you create won’t always be spot-on until you’ve made a few tweaks.
Buyer personas aren’t a summer fling, either. Humans go through changes, as well as the world goes through changes. That said, your personas won’t remain the same forever. Their current pain points might not be the same pain points, say, six months from now.
COVID-19 is a great example of that. Suddenly, people striving to grow their brick-and-mortar businesses found themselves switching their worries to I need an online business ASAP, or else I’ll go broke.
And if you don’t market to those pains, they’ll go somewhere else with their money.
Well, how do you keep track of all those changes?
You’ll have to adjust your personas from time to time, according to the knowledge you’ll acquire from both your existing customers and the ones who will start filing in. Maybe even your competitor’s customers. Real people, regardless.
So, twelve words: get ready to conduct lots and lots of surveys and customer interviews.
But the questions don’t end here.
How can you figure out exactly what a persona needs... and market to that?
In other words, how do you make anon-invasive inspection into their brains, hearts, and guts to figure out, as marketers love to say it, what makes them “tick”?
Wait, that’s three organs.
Yep, and let me tell you why. A lot of marketers will tell you a buying decision starts with emotion, and only then moves its way to logic.
That happens quite often. Yet, there’s more than one path towards a buying decision.
Some people may lead with the hard data, as in how many people have bought the product and how many 5-star reviews they can find. Others may connect emotionally with a product because it promises a lasting solution to a long-term struggle.
There’s no straight line here, and not all marketers are aware of that.
Still if there’s ONE SKILL all marketers should master without exception, that skill is empathy. We don’t just say “put yourself in your customer’s shoes” because it sounds pretty.
Tattoo this if you must:
People will walk towards pleasure, but they’ll run from pain. Fast.
Before you even think of creating a persona, ask yourself: “How does my product or service solve an immediate pain, while bringing my (potential) customers closer to pleasure?
To answer that, you’ll need to take a walk in their kicks.
Now, let’s get down to brass tacks.
The anatomy of a buyer persona
If we were to figuratively dissect a buyer persona, we’d be analyzing the following components:
● Their demographic information
● Their lifestyle
● Their professional role
● Their goals and motivations
● Their pain points and frustrations
Now, each of the above components are pivotal for the building of your persona. I don’t know about you, but when I see the word “pivotal” or any variation thereof, I drop everything and pay attention. So don’t skip any of the above when doing your buyer persona research.
Your persona’s demographic information is the surface-level data you’ll need to get started on your research. It encompasses information like their age range, gender, income, and location. Tapping into each, especially their income, will help you understand who your product is best suited for.
Sadly, a LOT of marketers flesh out their persona’s demographic info and call it a day. And then they wonder “why oh why isn’t my product selling?”.
Who’s gonna tell them?
Moving on, you’ve also got to get your persona’s lifestyle right. How’s their routine? Are they busy, or do they have a flexible schedule? How do they enjoy their spare time? How do they spend their money? Are they frugal, or do they enjoy treating themselves with expensive gifts?
These are just a few questions to get you started. Understanding your persona’s lifestyle is key to further target your ideal customers.
Here’s an example: if you’re trying to sell a task management software for busy entrepreneurs, the fact that your potential users don’t have enough time to plan their full day could be the leader of your messaging.
What’s more, it wouldn’t make sense to sell high-end jewelry to someone who wants to look stylish on a budget.
Your persona’s professional role isn’t there to make your persona more “believable”. It’s there to help you achieve a deeper knowledge of what problems your product can solve for them.
For instance, if you’re selling an affordable course on overcoming imposter syndrome at work, your persona better not be a confident and wealthy business executive. Rather, it should be an insecure, yet capable employee who needs the confidence to climb the corporate ladder and make more money. And the course, of course, will help him do just that.
Pain Points and Frustrations
Eyes peeled for this one.
Someone’s pain points and frustrations are the force behind a customer’s urgency to acquire something. In order to add the element of urgency, however, you must address strong enough pains. Pains that, in some cases, may lead potential buyers to increase their budgets just to get rid of them.
For Darth Vader up there, you could probably sell him thermal exhaust vent covers for a cool million a pop.
Think about what problems make your persona jerk awake in a sweat? What are the pains they’re running from? What won’t they stop thinking about?
Is it too much work, and no play? Is it the lack of peace of mind of being a stay-at-home mom, or maybe a workaholic? Is it a poor self-image? Is it a low salary? Rebels?
Whatever they are, your product has a fix. Not necessarily a fast one, but one that will bring them relief. Above all, what you’re selling must solve a real, painful problem. A problem they’re more than willing to fix right away.
Goals and Motivations
Besides solving one or multiple pains, your product must lead your personas toward their goals.
You should not only paint a picture of a desired result in your advertising, but deliver on your promise upon purchase or subscription.
And that promise, hopefully, is the achievement of their goals through their motivations.
Now, the idea of achievement varies from person to person. For one person, it could be finally gaining the confidence to speak in public after years of struggling. For another, it could be buying the latest trendy outfit and looking like a TikTok star. It all depends on who you’re targeting.
These are the things they want. And they’re this close to getting them. The only thing left to do is find a solution they trust - a solution that appears to be made for them.
Your job, then, is to create a customer persona who wants the same things, and who dreams of the same outcomes.
But how do you find all that information?
Do you come up with it?
Do you ask customers?
If yes, where do you find the right people? What if you don’t have customers to talk to?
Questions, questions, questions...
Which leads us to…
How to build a buyer persona?
Let’s start this topic with the biggest, most atrocious mistake when building buyer personas. Some may call it a sin.
Take a wild guess.
The mistake is: drafting a persona that’s solely based on an imaginary human, and using that in your marketing.
While that may be what renowned authors do to develop wonderfully written characters, building personas has more to do with facts than creativity.
Remember, your thoughts betray you. Trusting them alone won’t help you sell.
Think about it: the imaginary person you’ve created has their own worldview, their own struggles, and their own aspirations. But do your actual customers have the same worldview, struggles, and aspirations?
That’s why you have to go straight to the source, whenever possible. That’s the key to bring precious, factual knowledge into your persona document.
How to ask the right questions?
In order to get the right answers, you must gather the right questions from the right places. You’ve got a few options here:
If you already have a handful of customers, using your email campaigns to kindly request a couple of answers is your best bet. A great page to place your surveys is the “thank you” page, which customers get in their inbox right after they’ve purchased a product from your website.
Why the “thank you” page, though?
The answer is: if you’re able to earn prospects' attention at the prime of engagement (right after buying something), you’re far more likely to get detailed responses from them.
Try to focus on open-ended questions like “what almost kept you from buying today?” or “what do you expect from XYZ product now that it’s on its way?”.
There are a lot of questions you could ask. You can even throw multiple choice and “yes” or “no” questions in the mix, but the open-ended questions will give you tons of information in a few words.
Granted, not everyone will agree to do interviews, especially if they need to set aside some 30 minutes to talk to you. People are busy. But boy, do interviews work.
Ideally, you’d interview at least five customers. If that’s not possible, interview one, two, or three. That’s a lot better than nothing.
Interviews are perfect opportunities to ask even more open-ended questions, such as:
● What was happening in your life when you decided to seek this product?
● Did you consider or use any alternatives before finding this product, specifically? How were they better/worse?
● What frustrations do you have about the alternative product?
● What problems does this product solve for you?
● Did you have any hesitations prior to buying this product?
● What goals do you wish to achieve by using this product?
If you need more examples on questions themselves, Hubspot has put together a really good list of 20 important questions to ask during a customer interview.
Asking for an interview is simple. Email your list with a subject along the lines of “Can you help me with something?”, and write a short email about why their specific opinion is so important to you. Be brief, and assure them that it won’t take a lot of their time.
Not everyone will open it, and not everyone will agree to it. But take what you can get.
Who to reach out to?
“Customers” isn’t a valid answer. Let’s dig a little deeper. Here are the people who will tell you what you need to know:
The people who have bought your product or service in the past 6 months still have it fresh in their minds. When surveying this section, they’ll be more likely to remember their motivations, as well as the exact steps they took towards the purchase.
If you’re currently working with an email marketing software, it allows you to see the people on your list who open your emails often. Don’t let them go. There’s a reason they’re still lingering, yet haven’t made the move. Ask them what that reason is.
People who have unsubscribed from your mailing list or stopped buying your products probably have something to say. Have they found a better solution? Do they have any objections they haven’t told you about? You’ll only know if you ask them.
What if I don’t have any customers to survey or interview?
That’s no problem at all. Every single product or service had to start from zero.
Even if you do have customers, you can still do review mining to round out your research. The term “review mining” was coined by Joanna Wiebe-Bain from CopyHackers, and works especially if you didn’t get enough interviews or survey responses.
While you don’t have customers yet, your competition does. Looking at what your competitor’s buyers have to say about their products will give you an idea of what they want in a solution, as well as what they’re not pleased with.
Where to mine for answers?
Look for comments in these places and try to find commonalities between the subjects that come up. You’ll find a lot of frustrated customers ranting about why X product didn’t solve their problems, or even satisfied customers praising Y product for saving their lives.
Here are goldmines you probably didn’t realize could help you, until now:
● Forums (Reddit, Quora)
● Social media comments
● Product reviews
● Blog post comments
● Comparison blog posts
● Chat logs and customer tickets
In the book Finding The Right Message, Jennifer Havice advises marketers to pay close attention to phrases that indicate at least one of the following elements:
● A customer’s pain points. “I keep waking up in the middle of the night and have to drag myself through the day.”
● Their journey towards the solution. “After years of struggling with insomnia, I started looking for an organic solution online. I wanted to steer clear from medications that would make me groggy the next morning.”
● Things that get in the way of their purchase. “Is this product vegan?”, “Will it make me sleepy the next day?”. “Is it safe for children?”
● What they like most about your solution. “These tablets are the only ones that actually help me sleep.”
● Their idea of success. “I can finally sleep like a baby”, “I didn’t remember what it was like to sleep soundly throughout the night.”
The important thing here is to use people’s words verbatim, not tweak them to your liking.
Because when you “steal” the information right from their mouths, getting into their minds becomes easy. All too easy. Okay, no more references.
I’ll be honest.
Building complete, multidimensional, alive buyer personas isn’t a job for amateurs.
Deeply understanding a human’s decision process takes work. Above all, it requires empathy--a skill which most, if not all people, need to improve upon.
It’s not an easy process, and that’s why so many so-called marketers skip through this part, praying their conversions will increase. There goes their time and money!
Want to follow a different path? Dive deeper into your buyer persona research. Talk to your customers. If possible, pore over comments and reviews. This way, you’ll enrich your personas with insights you could’ve never come up with alone.
Either do the work yourself, or have someone do it for you. Then, watch something really cool happen to your conversions. Hint: they’ll be sizzling.
You may even sell a Death Star or two. And if you can sell a Death Star, you can sell anything.
This post was written by Laila, a member of our writer community. To see how ContentFly can help you easily find talented freelancers like her, check out our home page!