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Tracy LewisJuly 30, 20094 min read

How to Determine Your Buyer Personas

Buyer personas are profiles or biographies on the distinct market segments (e.g. customers, prospects, mainstream media, bloggers) you plan to reach and influence. For a successful marketing campaign, it’s important to understand the goals, concerns and preferences of each of your buyer personas and to tailor your content and messaging accordingly. If done correctly, your target audiences will feel like you are speaking directly to them — answering their questions, addressing their concerns and using their language — thus increasing the likelihood that they will want to engage with your business.

To help personalize your buyer personas and make them really come alive, it is often beneficial to give your personas names, distinct traits and even photos. Then, when creating strategy, visualize these archetypical people and direct your messaging to them.

Here’s an example: When I was 16, I worked at a fast-food restaurant. Everyday I saw the same types of people come through my drive-thru. Our clientele could have been broken down into distinct buyer personas. Two very simple examples are:

  • Mommy Melissa” the mother of three who came after coupons were released or during promotions. She usually purchased those items that were on special and was the first to notice when prices were raised. She welcomed healthy alternatives to classic fast-food items.
  • Businessman Bob” the business professional who came every day at lunchtime. He drove a brand new car and prices didn’t phase him. He usually ordered the same items, was always in a hurry to get back to work and got agitated when things took too long.

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Looking at these buyer personas, it is obvious that “Businessman Bob” and “Mommy Melissa” have different motivations, problems, values and interests. For example, messaging about fast service, even during peak hours, would likely appeal to “Businessman Bob,” while messaging about low prices, healthy alternatives and family-friendly options would likely appeal to “Mommy Melissa.”

By defining and building strategy around your buyer personas, you will be able to better target communications and content, while potentially increasing efficiency and profitability.

Better Ingredients Make Better Buyer Personas

Papa John’s knows that better ingredients make better pizza. Well, the same principle applies here: better ingredients make better buyer personas. However, in this case, your ingredients are primary and secondary research.

Therefore, if you have access to primary data on your current customers, analyze it. Tap into the knowledge of sales reps and other individuals who communicate with customers on a daily basis. They can probably provide you with some insight into your regular customers, just like I was able to do in the fast food example.

Find out what your customers’ motivations, concerns and attitudes are. If possible, speak with current customers.

But what if you’re a startup, releasing a new product or venturing into a new market? Or, what if you just don’t have access to historical data? Do a little digging. Research third party sources to gather the information. Here are some suggestions to begin your search:

  • Look at existing publications geared toward your target market segments. What type of language do they use? How do they present their information? Do you see a lot of images, graphs, etc.? What are the hot topics they discuss?
  • Find industry blogs. Who writes them? What are they writing about?
  • Locate and browse social networks and forums that people in your target market segment use. Search for related groups on LinkedIn, Facebook and Ning. Do Twitter searches for keywords. Analyze what people are talking about online. What do they seem interested in? What challenges are they facing? What questions do they ask?
  • Do a quick keyword analysis using a keyword tool. (Google offers a free one.) What words do people search the most often? What related keywords are being used? What long-tail keywords exist and what do they say about your potential buyers?
  • Read analyst reports, news articles, government reports, etc. pertaining to your target market segments. Study related legislation. What laws and proposed legislation issues affect your market?
  • Identify sample companies that fit into your market segment. Look at their Websites. Read their annual reports. Get a good feel for their size, structure, successes and challenges. See what you can learn from them. What can you do better? How can you differentiate yourself to really speak to your potential customers?

Once you have gathered all the ingredients, create your buyer personas by answering questions about your target audiences based on research. For example; here are a few to get started:

  • What are their problems, challenges?
  • What is important to them?
  • What influences their decision to buy or take action? 
  • What sorts of images and information appeal to them?
  • What is their social technographics profile?

So… what do your buyer personas look like?  Share with me the resources you used and the questions you asked when creating them.

Tracy DiMarino is an associate consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency and PR firm. Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDiMarino.

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Photo Credit: Theresa MartellDavid Levitz


Tracy Lewis

Tracy Lewis is the director of talent and a senior consultant at PR 20/20. She is also the community manager for Marketing Agency Insider. She joined the agency in March 2009 after graduating from Ohio University. Full bio.