Learn how to think like your customers with “buyer personas.”

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Alright folks, it’s time for another exciting installment of our ongoing series, Inbound Now. In today’s installment, we’re going to be getting up close and personal with buyer personas. So get ready to peer under the hood and find out what gets your customers’ engines running!

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“What are buyer personas?” — you might ask. And it would be our pleasure to fill you in!

Maybe you remember your mothers or teachers warning you throughout your childhood not to make broad, sweeping generalizations about people. But the truth is, we all do this. And, often, it’s pretty useful. Surely none of us has actually ever met a blonde who required an audio reminder to inhale and exhale — but there’s a reason we all understand the joke. It’s a handy cultural shorthand for a “type” we all know.

Or, back when I waitressing, many moons ago, we always knew a high-maintenance customer the moment they walked through the doors. That’s part of your job — knowing your customers and anticipating their needs. The same is true of businesses. They need to who their customers are and why they choose to buy your product or service. That’s where buyer personas come in.

Buyer personas are typologies, or rough character profiles of your ideal customers. A strong buyer personashould tell you, at a glance, who that customer type is — both professionally and personally — and what motivates them to give you their business. What are their hopes? What are their dreams? What are the problems they’re looking to you to solve?

“But how do you create a buyer persona?” — you might ask. Wow, you’re just full of good questions today! Well done!

Creating effective buyer personas starts with asking the right questions. Think of what sorts of things of information about your customers would help you get to the heart of their purchasing decisions.

For example…

“What are their professional responsibilities?”

“What does a day in their life look like?”

“What are the biggest challenges they face in their professional/personal life?”

“What are their biggest concerns about your product/service?”

Combine these types of questions with some general biographical and/ordemographic information, and you’ve got a recipe for a killer customer profile.

Once you’ve nailed down the questions you want to ask, the next step is finding people to answer them. Your best bet is to go straight to the source and actually interview some of your current customers. After all, they’re your customers for a reason. But, if that isn’t an option, you can also try glean insights from thecomment threads on relevant blogs and/or social media pages.

What you absolutely should not do, is create buyer personas based on your assumptions about your customers and their motivations. This is almost always a recipe for dismal failure! The whole point of this exercise is to learn things that you don’t already know and wouldn’t anticipate about your customers.

The more response data you’ve compiled ahead of time, the stronger and more effective your buyer personas will be. With that said, you can also always go back and refine your buyer personas, if new insights come to light.

Once you’ve conducted your market research, the next step is to look for trends in customer responses and use these to construct a narrative about this customer “type”. Buyer Personas are kind of like the “Platonic Forms” of your typical customers. These profiles shouldn’t correspond to any of your actual customers exactly, but should serve as a kind of sketch or archetype that draws together the commonalities amongst your ideal customers.

“But what if my business has more than one type of customer?” — you might ask in a somewhat shrill and breathy voice. Never fear, that is perfectly alright.

Sometimes businesses will have more than one buyer persona. That’s okay. Every business is different and there is no hard and fast rule about how many buyer personas a particular business should have.

But, some good guiding principles are:

1) Only create as many buyer personas as you actually need. Quality is better than quantity where buyer personas are concerned.

2) Pick one primary buyer persona on which to focus your efforts.Inbound marketing is all about maximal personalization, so it’s better to really hone in on one persona and really nail it, than to spread yourself too thin. (I guess come to think of it, this rule amounts to pretty much the same thing as the first.)

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“How do I know if I need to create buyer personas?” — you now ask. This may be the easiest question yet.

If you are employed by, volunteers for, or own a company/organization that deals with human beings in any way shape or form, then you need to create buyer personas! Whether you’re a B2B, B2C, or a non-profit, buyer personas will help you to better understand your target audience and increase the efficiency and efficacy of your marketing efforts.

Buyer personas are an indispensible piece of the inbound marketing pie,because every blog that you post,every email you send, and every tweet that you tweet needs to be written with an ear to specific customers you’re trying to attract. What do they want? How do they speak? And where are they looking for information?

At every stage of the inbound marketing sales cycle, the content you create and share with customers should be tailored to their individual needs. And in order to do this, you need to tie all that content back to your corresponding buyer personas.

No one likes a sales pitch. Inbound marketing is more like a good friend giving you some helpful tips over a nice cup of coffee. Effective inbound marketers know their customers slightly better than their customers know themselves and use this knowledge to build relationships of trust over time.

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To learn more about the art of creating buyer personas and to receive some nifty DIY Buyer Persona Templates, download our Buyer Persona Whitepaper!

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