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4 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Buyer Personas

Maddie Gentis
May 28, 2020 9:16:41 AM

It's not enough for a website to be pretty. It has to work for your business which means it has to work for your customers. If your customers aren’t happy with what you offer, they leave.  No revenue means no business. Thankfully more and more businesses are moving away from the “If you build it they will come” mentality and are recognizing the need to adjust their digital presence to attract leads and convert them into customers. One of the ways to do this is to build buyer personas to identify the needs and motivations of different customers so that the business can move them through the conversion funnels. 

In this post, we’re going to go over briefly what a buyer persona is, why it’s important, and then jump into four mistakes you should avoid when making buyer personas for your business.

What is a buyer persona and why do I need them?

HubSpot’s definition is pretty straightforward: “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customer.”  In a nutshell, it's a profile that represents one of your ideal customers. 

But why do you need this? Why even bother? Having a picture of who you’re targeting allows you to further tailor your marketing efforts and connect with your audience to meet their needs and solve their problems. Ultimately, if you don’t know who you’re targeting, how are you going to sell your products or services? Equally as important, by implementing the use of buyer personas in your marketing strategy, your efforts become much more efficient because your communications are more effective when they are designed purposefully. 

Mistakes to Avoid

1. Creating personas based off assumptions.

This is an easy trap to fall into, and arguably the most common mistake made when it comes to the personas. Looking at the definition provided above, it's worth it to point out two parts:

1. "Semi-fictional representation"
2. "Real data"

These representations are semi-fictional, not purely fictional. They shouldn’t be based off of who you think or wish they are. They should be based on real data and research. It is so easy for someone to decide they want to target someone and think about similar people in their life and assume the behaviors are the same. Don’t do it. If you use only assumptions and not actual facts, you’re taking a big risk of missing out on the key insights that could make the world of a difference in your messaging. 

At Sauce, we see this happen a lot. People think they know who their customers are and exactly what they need. But when you ask how do they know? Where is the data and research? They pause. Turns out, they assumed they knew their customers but never actually did their due diligence in putting together the data to support their “understanding” of their clients.

Don’t make assumptions about your target customers. Base your personas on real data, behaviors, and demographics. There are a multitude of ways to gather this information which leads us to the second mistake, neglecting market research.

2. Not collecting market and buyer behavior research to build the baseline.

This one is a little personal for me, being a total research nerd. When you're creating buyer personas, there are certain types of information that you need to include to truly identify who your potential customers are. Below is a starting list, but if you'd like your own neat template to organize your data, you can download the template here.

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Job
  • Income level
  • Education level
  • Marital status
  • Number of children
  • Communication preferences
  • Digital usage
  • Goals
  • Challenges/pain points
  • Motivations

I’ve already addressed the fact that you don’t want to make assumptions. But how do you get this information?

Your starting point, which will significantly help the rest of the process, is to go find the research on the market and buyer behaviors. There are so many companies out there that all they do is conduct studies on buyer behavior and identify the differences in consumers due to generational factors, what they are purchasing (B2B, B2C, etc), gender, where they live, and more! These companies have done much of the work for you and they make that information available—in many cases for free!

By utilizing the resources out there, you can easily look at behaviors that are relevant to your business, such as:

  • How much shopping online an older generation does vs. a younger person.
  • Which generation does the window shopping online but goes into the store to buy?
  • What influences brand loyalty the most for each generation? Is it low prices, but quality products? Is it the never-ending sales that brands provides? Maybe it's the fact that it’s easier to find the product online from this brand rather than the competitor's brand.
  • Do they like to receive emails?
  • Do they want text messages? 

The amount of real information available at your fingertips is astounding. So please, do not make the mistake of ignoring it. Then when you’ve got all of that gathered, reach out to your sales team. Marketing and sales need to work together, and your sales people can be important to understanding your customers. Ask them lots of questions about what they know about your audience. They work with them a lot, after all.

3. Believing your personas need to be gender neutral.

I’ve come across marketers in the past that will stand by their notion that a buyer persona must be gender neutral. Their reasoning for this is the concept that websites and interfaces should be designed as user-friendly as possible regardless of age and gender. For the record, I absolutely agree with the fact that they should be built as user friendly as possible and aspects such as accessibility should be put into place even if you’re not targeting elders or people with disabilities. 

However, I do not believe that this should stop you from assigning a gender to your personas. In fact, I believe it’s even more important to do so because then you can ensure that you’re hitting what those genders consider important in your messaging. Why? When you go gather all that market research on consumer behaviors that I mentioned earlier, you’ll see the real data to back the statement: Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. 

Just like age can make a huge difference in how a customer approaches a problem, gender can too. I love the example that Wordstream uses when looking at this variable and the impact it can have on your business. They discuss it from the standpoint of a hypothetical lawn care and landscaping business. By pointing out that their ideal male customer may know or assume he knows more about lawn care than the average person, they can identify the probable resulting behavior to be more direct inquiries about your services or even limit the potential opportunities for up-selling. In a similar fashion, this male customer “might be highly goal-oriented with their purchasing decisions, whereas a female customer might be more aspirational”.

The point is that their gender can make all the difference in their purchase behaviors, and identifying that while building your personas is vital. And with that said, we come to the final big mistake to avoid.

4. Failing to provide the actionable insights that coincide with the data.

When you go through this entire process of gathering all this information regarding your target personas, you’re outlining things like what their communication preferences are, what their pain points are (in other words, what they find extremely frustrating when trying to find a solution to their problem), what motivates them, and of course, what their actual objectives are in the purchasing process. You’ll uncover and include in their profiles things along the lines of the following:

  • Checks their personal email in the evening but hates seeing multiple emails from the same company each day
  • Considers it important for a brand to take a stance on social issues and show actions of corporate social responsibility
  • Prefers brands that offer loyalty programs that offer free shipping and points that are awarded for each purchase
  • Is frustrated by being bombarded by pop-ups on a website
  • Hates not having a clear path-to-purchase
  • Likes to window shop for a while before making a final purchase decision when it comes to larger purchases (i.e. electronics over groceries)

All of this information is great, but is useless without the actionable insights laid out to match them. For example, if you are able to deduce that this persona checks their email in the evening time but doesn’t like having a ton of emails regarding the same thing in their inbox, then you make a note to email them at the beginning of the evening and only once. If you know that they hate being bombarded by pop-ups then don’t put them on your site, or limit to one. If you know they like to window shop for a bit, add a feature that allows them to construct a wishlist that they can come back to, and maybe send a reminder of the items in their wishlist every now and then. 

Knowing how they behave and what they prefer is great. Knowing how to address those points is even better. By creating actions built upon these insights, you’re building a better customer experience and becoming much more effective with your marketing.

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