I hate to break it to you, but if you’re like 90% of the marketers I know, your buyer personas are all wrong. Sure, we’ve all read the articles and downloaded the guides. Heck, maybe you’ve even really dug in and created an avatar complete with an alliterative name and family history. But if most of us are really honest with ourselves, as soon as we created Manager Mary, we forgot all about her. Why? Because she didn’t work. But it’s not Mary’s fault.
The real problem with following a template to create accurate buyer personas for your business is that the attributes that are critical for one company are completely inconsequential for the next. Your organization’s buyer personas are as unique as the products and services you offer. Less unique? The mistakes you’re making in development. Here are the top three mistakes I see marketers of all experience levels (including yours truly) making with their buyer personas.
Back Up. What’s a buyer persona?
Right. Let’s start with the basics. Personas are representations or characterizations of your target audience(s) based on things like:
business and personal goals,
pain points and challenges,
and even their place in the buyer’s journey.
Many marketers like to create avatars (no, not the tall blue people) that represent the specific segment of the market they are trying to reach so when they sit down to craft messaging, they can speak directly to that person and know they are accurately targeting the right people. The hard part is knowing which attributes are important, and which are just fluff. Which brings me to…
Mistake #1: Focusing on the Wrong Information
So many of the resources I’ve seen on this topic lately encourage marketers and writers to think about their avatars as a single person who you understand down to their family dynamic. The lists of details that usually follow these articles are daunting, to say the least. The last one I checked out came from a source that I really do trust, but as soon as I opened the template, they lost me. This thing was an encyclopedia. I like to think I know my audience pretty well, but I couldn’t say whether you’re married with children or if you’re perfectly content with your seven cats. Why? Because for my business it simply doesn’t matter. But if you’re say…a wedding planner, that detail about the cats becomes very important.
Your goal should always be to learn more about the people you're trying to sell to, and to update your personas accordingly.
The key is to focus on what matters for your business and not to get bogged down in what doesn’t. And to remember that no one customer is exactly alike. That’s not to say that your personas shouldn’t be as detailed and as inclusive as possible – the more you know about your target audience as a whole the better. But you don’t have to have a perfect person in mind before you can write a single word. Personas should be living, breathing things (ahem…like your customers). Your goal should always be to learn more about the people you’re trying to sell to, and to update your personas accordingly. It’s okay to start vague as long as you keep building, and it’s okay to be sure about certain things as long as you don’t let your profiles get stale. Your avatars will become clearer to you over time, just know that starting with some kind of segmentation is better than nothing.
Mistake #2: Being Aspirational
I know, I know. This isn’t usually something that’s on a “mistakes” list. But in the case of building buyer personas, being aspirational is not only ineffective, but it can also be detrimental. Hear me on this: you need to build your avatars based on the people who are already buying from you, not the ones you hope will be customers “someday.”
You need to build your avatars based on the people who are already buying from you, not the ones you hope will be customers "someday."
Of course, we all want to land that unicorn client but consider this. Let’s say your core customer base is made up of companies that gross somewhere between $1 and $5 million per year. If you target all of your marketing and sales efforts to the billion-dollar big, you’re going to accomplish two things. (Spoiler alert: one of them is not landing said big fish.) First, you’re likely shouting into the abyss because you’re out of your depth and you don’t truly know anything about the people you’re chasing. Second, you’re alienating all those businesses in your sweet spot because you’re clearly ignoring them in your messaging in favor of someone else. Not good.
Instead, talk to your existing buyers and dive deep into your customer data. That is where the avatar gold will be found. Make sure you’re being data-driven – if your buyer personas are based on generic or internal ideas about your buyers, your content won’t be any better than it was without them. I try to remember Jerry Belson’s advice – when you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME. (Yes, my parents watched a lot of Odd Couple.)
Mistake #3: Thinking You Don’t Need Personas
There are people out there who believe so firmly that they know who their audience is that building out avatars seems like a total waste of time. They assume (see above for definition) they know exactly who they’re talking to based on what they hear from their sales team and a review of their marketing metrics. And their messaging is completely ineffective as a result. It was me. I was people.
Fortunately, it only took a few months of abject failure for me to change my tune. And when I did finally start building out an avatar to focus my messaging a few things happened. I learned that I had been wrong about a few key details in my target audience. People started to respond. AND. Writing got a lot easier. Have you ever tried to make plans with a person you’ve never met? How does that conversation go compared to making weekend plans with your best friends or family members? That’s what a persona can do for your marketing messaging.
You need personas. Period. And when you do finally sit down to build them (which is hopefully right after reading this article) be sure you’re basing them off of real insights from your real customers. No assumptions, no aspirations. Don’t even talk to your sales team because guess what they’re going to give you?
You need personas. Period.
In creating buyer personas there are no shortcuts. You actually have to talk to your customers and dive deep into the real-world metrics in your CRM to build an accurate representation of the people you’re trying to reach with your particular brand of genius. I know, marketing is tough. Get a helmet.