Sometimes, authors do a fabulous job of developing characters, and readers feel like they understand a fictional person’s attitudes, motivations, and actions. If they could encounter this person in real life, avid readers believe they know what the character would do or how they’d react in any situation. These lifelike characters engage readers with stories even after they’ve finished reading. Similarly, our marketing research company strives to develop buyer personas that accurately represent target markets to give us a clear picture of potential buyers. This practice keeps us engaged with the audience. In turn, it gives us the tools to ensure buyers stay engaged with a business.
Why are buyer personas important for marketing?
Even though the buyers profiled don’t exactly exist, consumers with similar essential characteristics are out there shopping for products. Instead of developing these characters purely from our imaginations, we gather and analyze information about real people to uncover common traits.
Thus, a description of a semi-fictional character in a buyer persona helps marketers understand real-life consumers’ motivations, preferences, and potential actions. This important brief will provide an essential tool for developing marketing materials, segmenting audiences, choosing advertising platforms, and setting goals for testing and tuning.
Developing useful buyer personas for marketing
Our customer-focused process involves science, craft, and considerable testing, similar to developing a compelling story. To better understand our process, step through the methods we use to help clients understand their markets.
Step 1: Define the anticipated target market
Inc. Magazine observed that all marketers should define target markets to build a solid foundation for marketing. Understanding the market matters if the business intends to produce buyer personas or not. Primarily, most companies don’t have the budget to target everybody, and that’s probably a wasteful exercise anyway. Targeting general subsections of the population, like seniors, stay-at-home parents, or busy professionals, might prove too broad.
Instead of casting a wide net, we prefer to select two or three tightly defined audiences to start. For example:
- Our research for a natural skincare company might uncover that the products appeal to women with concerns about dry skin and women who want to support natural, sustainable products and packaging.
- After digging deeper, our research could reveal that members of this population between ages 35 to 50 who live in dry or cold climates appear receptive to the products and the online subscription sales model the business employs.
- Just as valuable, surveys and interviews found that almost half of the women concerned about dry skin follow beauty bloggers and content producers on Instagram or YouTube. Members of the other market tend to consume news about ways to run a more eco-friendly household.
Sometimes, an existing company’s customer base provides plenty of information. Other times, startups don’t have a large pool of current customers. We may need to conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups or rely on market research from other sources. Sometimes, the angles potential competitors use in their ads offer inspiration. In any case, we make data-based choices to fill in the details.
Step 2: Craft buyer personas to represent the audience
How do marketers take the information they gather about their potential audience and turn it into one of these semi-fictional descriptions? According to HubSpot, marketers should begin by looking for common traits shared by many people in the audience.
The basic helpful traits could include:
- Such demographic information as age ranges, ZIP codes, incomes, family status, education level, or professions
- Communication and entertainment preferences, like social networks, texting vs. email, favorite sports, or publications
- Challenges the individual might face that hinder meeting personal or career goals
More in-depth information should prove helpful in developing a complete picture of the person. Examples of psychographics, more personal than simple demographics, include personality traits and motivations. For instance:
- Might the individual belong to organizations for networking, charitable causes, or fitness?
- Do they subscribe to blogs, publications, or Youtube channels that provide information about social matters, finance, health, the environment, or cooking?
- Would this person prefer to spend time off riding a bike, reading, or going to a club or concert? Do they view themselves as outgoing or reserved? How would the individual prefer to shop and gather information about shopping choices?
The better the persona describes things this semi-fictional person already does and cares about, the more it can help predict how they’ll react and what they’ll do in the future. The details can also provide important clues about media consumed and messages or even tones that would make the audience receptive.
The information can help businesses avoid missteps that might offend audience segments. For instance, an Audi commercial from a few years ago attempted to use humor to attract attention. At the same time, the advertisement compared buying a car to choosing a wife by having the mother-in-law at a wedding “inspect” the bride.
Unsurprisingly, this advertisement made many viewers uncomfortable. Indeed, the ad failed to attract female car buyers. Meanwhile, surveys in the US find that women play a role in 85 percent of auto buying decisions.
Step 3: Find marketing platforms the audience already consumes
No matter how well a market research company narrows down audiences and crafts buyer personas, they won’t help their clients if the audience isn’t listening to the message they want to broadcast. That’s why we seek information about how audiences consume media and communicate.
The better job we do of finding out where our audience “listens,” the greater chance we can ensure they will hear us. These days, businesses have plenty of platforms to choose from, including the internet, smartphones, radio, TV, print, and physical spaces. Each of these media types consists of countless outlets and platforms. Few businesses have the resources to test all of them, so we must use our research to choose the best candidates.
Ideally, customers or prospects will fill out surveys, directly communicating their preferences. Without direct information, marketers can look for trends regarding the typical habits of the general population. For instance:
- Typical Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram users tend to be older than typical TikTok and Twitter viewers.
- Twitter attracts more men, but TikTok appeals to more women. In contrast, LinkedIn, the social site for business, draws a roughly equal percentage of men and women.
- Beyond the basic demographics of these social sites, savvy marketers will look for specific content, influencers, or tags that can attract the right sets of eyeballs.
Step 4: Set goals, test, and optimize
Despite their best efforts, few marketers have ever developed a perfectly optimized marketing plan on their first try. Businesses should look at testing and tuning as a way to improve as they learn more about their market. Sometimes, companies get lucky, and a well-considered but untested marketing campaign might succeed, but nobody will ever know if the lack of testing led to missed opportunities to improve. Sometimes, slight improvements in engagement and conversion rates can differentiate between profits and losses or growth and stagnation.
Productive testing should begin with a theory to prove or disprove, measurable goals to measure success, and a test plan. Tests with narrow scopes may take more patients but can often yield valuable information for a low cost.
The essential components of a test plan can include:
- Audience: Use one of the audiences used to develop buyer personas.
- Theory: A stated hypothesis about a change to marketing that could improve some aspects of marketing, like post engagement, website visitors, brand recognition, conversion rates, or sales.
- Goals: Include measurable goals for improvement based upon the theory.
- Metrics: KPIs, like post reactions, website visitors, filled shopping carts, conversion rates, and revenue, can measure results at various points of the sales funnel.
- Test type: A/B testing against the current advertising or another test ad that supports a competing theory.
These tests will do more than prove or disprove theories if done correctly. Marketers can find weak spots in their overall plan. For instance, the current advertisement might do an excellent job of engaging the audience and attracting visitors to a website. Still, a problem with an online shopping cart or the sales page could hinder sales. Thus, these tests can help identify additional weak spots that need further testing.
Consider market research and testing an ongoing process
As a marketing research company, we don’t consider research, developing buyer personas, ad platform selection, or testing a one-and-done deal. Besides believing that we can constantly improve, we know that our client’s businesses can change quickly. Economic or political changes, new technology, and competitors can transform or even disrupt markets at any time. Thus, we may cycle through the four steps described above multiple times.
We don’t just strive to help our clients keep up but to thrive by constantly seeking to add new audiences and expand their markets. Our efforts center on getting to know the audience very well, as if they’re our family, acquaintances, and friends. Since these people support our clients, we value them like friends, even if they’re semi-fictional representations developed into buyer personas.