I would like to start with two simple definitions before I share my advice on how to create buyer personas. Personalities and personas are not the same thing. A ‘personality’ is a combination of various qualities and characteristics that make each of us unique. While our ‘persona’, on the other hand is the public face we elect to show.

The word ‘persona’ comes from the acting profession, where personas and roles are the same thing.

Some folk get quite confused about these definitions. They may say, “XXX came across as such a nice person I had no idea they were going to defraud me.” These folk miss the point. A person may have a dishonest streak in their personality, but not wear the attribute on their sleeve.

Personas are artificial things, like the mannequins in clothing stores representing customers’ supposed ideals.

Also Read Why Developing Buyer Personas is Crucial for Business

More About Creating Smart Buyer Personas 

When we speak about creating buyer personas, we are really referring to the averaged-out ‘personalities’ of our ideal customers. These help us to visualize the artificial people we are trying to convince. We even give these ‘people’ names to avoid confusion. Like those fashion mannequins, they almost seem alive.

Thus, when marketing tells sales, “Hey, I have a great Jude for you and he’s really hot” they might really be saying, “I have a 30s-something small business person and they are interested in our Grade A, Class B Feather-Coated Widgets”. However, they could also be saying to a marketing colleague, “This person is allergic to feathers. Let’s delete them from the list.” We have both negative and positive personas in our business lives. We need to get to know them better so we can offer words that resound loudly in their values.

Creating Buyer Personas in 5 Steps

Building buyer personas is not that difficult when we know how. It can even turn out fun as we see ‘Jude’ and the rest of them come to life. This reminds me of the way digital historians bring famous names to life from ancient history. You see, that model is not really Robert the Bruce warts-and-all. It is a representation of his public image born on his face, not a reflection of his true personality. However, if we were selling crowns 700 years ago, we might have given him tips on how to keep his shiny.

We can compare personas, in a way, to the tweaked CV’s we use when targeting particular jobs. They are not untruths per se, but more reflections of the aspects of our lives that relate particularly to a specific role. However, our career history is a better indication of who we really are, because it reveals more about us including interests. I should emphasize that personas are marketing tools and one of the most important aspects of the inbound marketing methodology – or if you like mini-satnavs guiding us in search for true qualified leads who will engage, inquire, and transact.

Our goal is to filter out unqualified leads by using correspondingly negative personas, so we don’t waste effort. When we build positive profiles, we single out those aspects that best match the products we wish to sell.

So for example if we want to sell two-bedroom, two-bathroom condos costing over $1 million on the coast of California, we will target couples with sufficient disposable income to afford the mortgage. We might use clues hidden in their social media profiles suggesting they are in the right economic band. Here are some proven techniques that work.

STEP 1: Look Inward to Discover What You Think

  • Examine your records of successful and unsuccessful leads. What were the touchpoints that worked? Is there a particular demographic? Conversely, were there negative elements in the demographic? Perhaps your product has a gender or age bias. Does this bias spring from your own preferences, or is it a ‘cold hard fact of life’ … 
  • Compare the result with the customer information you hold. Include the fields on your web enquiry form, and your customer data in your search. How well are you doing? There will some discrepancies. If you find you are collecting information irrelevant to your marketing, why is this? How has your market changed since you designed the forms… 
  • Look for patterns in the feedback you get from sales. When your people in the field discuss the leads that they are working on, to what demographic highlights do they refer? Ask them to describe their ideal leads, the types of customers they dream of finding. Look for touchpoints between their thoughts, your historic data, and your forms…

STEP 2: Look Outward to Discover What Your Customers Think

  • We have a reasonable idea of what we think is motivating buyers. We now turn to them, to discover what they think turns them on about our products. If, for example, we are selling clothing they describe as fashionable, we could add ‘fashion’ and ‘clothes’ to our Facebook keyword list.
  • We also want to know what turns them off, in our search for the negative persona. Fortunately, most people love giving advice, so it should not be too hard to find out why our failed leads turned away from us. If we sell nylon socks, but they wanted cotton or wool hosiery, this tells us something we may not have known before.
  • We should build our brand at every opportunity. Nothing comes without a cost. It is better to give incentives to interviewees, than have them begrudge their time. Spring these on them on them immediately after the interview, for maximum effect. They will be in a positive mood if they get a reward. It may cost us a moderate discount, but any sale is better than no sale at all. 

STEP 3: Look Into the Minds of Your Prospects and Referrals

Explain this is not a marketing call when you contact them. You simply want to know what they think. From this, you should learn (a) what brought them into the funnel, and (b) what your referrers think your ideal persona is. After you assemble the jigsaw pieces, you know a lot more about how to create smart buyer personas than when you started. This includes a mind map of your positive and negative ones.

STEP 4: Pull the Threads Together for Your Positive and Negative Personas

It is time to pull the fragments together into a model. We need to look beyond bland demographics like gender, age, education, and income levels. These are merely inputs to the puzzle. We need to discover how these determine decisions. We turn to seeking answers to these questions: 

  • What are the challenges our persona faces in the sphere of our product
  • What goals does our persona have our solution will meaningfully support
  • What are the drivers that will influence our persona’s purchasing decision
  • What are the barriers preventing our persona from responding to our call

When we have these answers, we are in a position to describe our persona in operational terms, perhaps like this:

“Mary and John are both Generation Y. They want to purchase a condo apartment but they are having difficulty affording the price. Several sales have recently fallen through. If we can offer them a basic version they can upgrade later, they may consider a purchase. However right now they do not trust real estate agents.”

STEP 5: Confirm Your Buyer Personas Profile with the Inbound Intelligence Approach

Now, this is where it gets really interesting and effective. Most would be happy with completing steps 1 to 4, but there is a bit more to do to make sure you know as much as you should about your ideal customer.

What better way than gather intelligence? Assumptions will never beat real data.

  • Find 3 to 5 LinkedIn and Twitter profiles that fit with your buyer personas.
  • Filter by job title, geography & industry.
  • Collect Data to verify that the personas you built on paper fit with real profiles on Social Media.
  • Play detective. Investigate those real profiles and look for more information about them. What they post, tweet, share, comment on. Do they belong to groups? Do they consistently use keywords that relate to your industry? Do they regularly mention challenges they face? And so on.

This smart data acquisition strategy will help you to develop detailed and smarter buyer profiles, tapping into the gold mine that are Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the likes.

We Have Built a Persona Together. What Happens Next?

Since personas are tools resulting from inbound intelligence gathering, not interesting distractions, we have a way to go still with the job. We need to use these personas to build a new smart inbound marketing plan. A way to reach out to draw qualified leads to us, while not wasting time with people that do not want our service.

I often build a SWOT chart when I am in a quandary about what to do next. The term is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. SWOT provides a framework for understanding the interplays between these dimensions. It poses the question, “what strengths and opportunities do we have to counter our weaknesses and threats?”

  • Strengths are the attributes that advantage us over over our competition
  • Weaknesses are the factors that give our competition advantage over us
  • Opportunities are the things we have that we could exploit to our advantage
  • Threats are forces in the environment that could put us at a disadvantage These aspects inform us how to navigate to our goal, in this case selling condos to our positive persona.

Our goal is to use our Strengths to overcome our Weaknesses, while we use our Opportunities to discount our Threats.

We are on our way now. We have built a buyer persona, and we have used it to create a smart intelligence marketing plan that is ready to roll. Now you know how to create smart buyer personas you could be on your way soon too, with a program that snipes for leads with greater accuracy, and higher returns.