How To Build Personas That Actually Work

Published: February 3, 2017

calibermind 15I hate being the bearer of bad news, but I must tell you something — just about everything you’ve been taught about buyer personas is wrong.

Sure, we can all agree that they help you figure out what content to produce, for whom and offer some general guidelines about where to publish it. But take a step back and think through how you build buyer personas and you’ll quickly realize that one of the most essential parts of marketing and content strategy has been getting the short shrift for years.

Tell me if this persona building process sounds familiar:

  1. Define your customer segments and customer demographics;
  2. Identify multiple or several existing customers that fit segments and demographics and ask to interview them;
  3. Interview customers or possibly prospects who said “no”; and
  4. Compile interview notes about motivation, fears, etc. and other background research from places like LinkedIn, Dun & Bradstreet, ZoomInfo, etc. and, Voila! Buyer Persona.

Simple, right? Even if your process is a bit more in-depth, it’s very likely still not developed fully enough to really make a positive impact in your marketing operations, but you can bet it’s probably already having a negative one. 

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The harsh reality of marketing operations and demand gen these days is that buyers are savvier and more research-oriented than ever. They expect a certain level of transparency, a personalized, painless buying experience, and they’ll see right through some BS, one-size-fits-all piece of content you emailed them.

And if your personas aren’t well-developed, don’t be surprised when your content isn’t opened, conversion rates are lower than expected, sales cycles are too long, or your prospective buyer chooses your competitor.

3 Steps To Better Buyer Personas

In my view, buyer personas are the result of foundational research, not the starting point for your content strategy. Given that, here are three easy steps for improving your persona development process:

Step 1: Get Better At Segmentation — Marketing 101 tells us that segmenting simply describes how you divide your business. However, I view segments as the top-level filter for personas. You can segment in a multitude of ways–by site traffic, by “Named” and “Non-named” accounts in a CRM, by region, number of employees and annual revenue.

But why stop there? Enhance your segmentation (and ostensibly your personas) by also adding company profiles and job profiles. These extra layers force you to look more closely at what your buyers’ daily lives may look like within their organization and make it easier to build more accurate personas. Which brings us to…

Step 2: Create Ideal Customer Profiles — I’ve always believed there should be an intermediary step between segmentation and creating a buyer persona. The Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is a deeper dive into the psyche of prospects most likely to buy from you (or existing customers most likely to buy more/again).

In this step, you’ll need to describe your customers beyond their demographics. Here, you’ll need to start including psychographics — behavioral data — to describe their personality type, preferences, likes and dislikes, sports, hobbies, etc.

In addition, you’ll want to really explore where customers are likeliest to get their information and do their research and understand aspects of their purchase process, like whether they make impulse purchases, if they seek out referrals and references, and if they’ll need approval by a committee before making a purchase.

When combined with well-defined segmentation, the ICP helps you better understand all that your prospect should go through before completing a purchase.

Step 3: Add New Data Points — Everyone has access to D&B, LinkedIn and other secondary data sources. And it’s easy to import and manage these types of structured data. The real power lies in combining this data with less commonly used unstructured data from a prospect’s social media feeds, his or her online presence as a blog writer or commenter, and even from email correspondence or transactions from the past.

Adding these new data points will bring greater context to your persona development efforts. When combined with purpose-built machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) solutions for marketers, you’ll be able to build highly accurate models of various buyers that dynamically change and adapt whenever you add new data.

Deliver Tailored Content That Performs

The biggest problem with the way marketers have traditionally built buyer personas is that they’re completely static and not actionable. Instead of bland PDFs with limited business value, enhance your buyer persona development process with machine-learning platforms that fuel better segmentation, ICP development and incorporate new data streams.

These predictive customer models evolve as your customers do, making it easier for you to map out the buyer journey more accurately and mobilize insights with data science to deliver the content your buyers want, when they want it, in the medium that suits them best.

A second-time Co-Founder with more than 10 years’ experience in product design and marketing technology, Raviv started CaliberMind to help B2B companies better understand buyers and ultimately increase conversion to revenue with dynamic buyer personas and buyer journey analysis. Prior to founding CaliberMind, Raviv was Director of UX at FullContact and VP Product at TapInfluence – an Influencer Marketing SaaS. 

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