When I ask most business owners about their ideal customer, they usually respond with something like this:
“Ummmm…anyone who will buy my product/service, I guess?”
I get it. If you sell home improvement services, you want to reach anyone with a roof over their heads. If you offer financial services, you’re interested in anyone who needs a bank account. If you own a diner, you just want to reach folks who eat out. What’s the problem with targeting a broad group of people?
The problem is that you are in a fierce competition for your audience’s attention. The customers you want to reach consume thousands of marketing messages every day. Their brains are hardwired to filter out ads that aren’t super-relevant to their interests.
Luckily, there’s a tried-and-true way for digital marketers to figure out who to target and what to say to various prospective customers. It’s called developing buyer personas, and despite the fancy-pants name, it’s an easy process to hack.
What is a buyer persona, exactly?
A buyer persona is a representation of your ideal customer. It includes a profile of that customer as well as a strategy for how to communicate with them.
Many businesses have multiple “ideal customers,” and create several buyer personas. Defining your perfect customer in this way can inform your marketing decisions, content ideas, and business practices overall.
In short, it’s a smart thing to do. Just look at how buyer personas are helping other businesses win online:
Here’s our easy step-by-step guide to help you get started.
Step 1: Brainstorm some customer profiles.
Customer profiles are baby versions of buyer personas. They define the more superficial (but still important!) aspects of your target market. To develop a customer profile, you’ll need to answer questions like these:
To start, get a piece of paper or blank document. Write down some of the things you want to define about your ideal customer(s). For Business to Consumer (B2C) buyer profiles, these include:
- Median income
- Family dynamics (Are they dependants? Do they have dependants?)
For Business to Business (B2B) buyer profiles, you might look more at traits like these:
- Company size and market share
- Industry type
- Buyer’s job/position
- Years of experience and skillset of the buyer
- Language used by buyer (Do they like a lot of jargon? Do they prefer plainer, simpler language?)
- Business goals
Once you’ve defined the traits you wish to identify in your customer profile, start filling in the blanks. Picture an ideal customer – just one for now – and write down everything you that comes to mind about their background and demographics. Use the traits you wrote down to guide your thinking, but feel free to add more as they come to mind. Most businesses will develop between two and ten profiles to start.
Remember, not every customer trait might matter for your business. For example, a pub might create profiles that focus more on personality traits or marital/family status. A beauty brand may have a very specific idea about the target age and gender for its product. Try to consider as many angles as you can, but do not feel the need to fill everything in at this point. This is guesswork, nothing more. You will be fine-tuning this brainstorming in the next step.
Step 2: Dig deeper with research.
There are two things you are trying to do in this stage.
First, you are trying to verify whether the customer profiles you brainstormed are accurate. Does the data check out? Can you confirm that someone like this actually buys (or would buy) your product or services?
After that, you want to get deeper information about how that customer truly thinks and shops. You want to know what motivates them, what scares them, what turns them off, and what catches their attention. These details are what turn customer profiles into true buyer personas.
This phase will look different depending on the stage of your business.
If you are starting a new business or launching a new product:
- Market research is your friend. Interview people who fit the customer profiles you defined in step one. Listen to them. Take notes. Be willing to change the traits you originally defined in step one, and pay attention when they discuss their decision-making process.
- Competitive analysis can also help. Who is engaging with businesses similar to yours on social media? What’s working well for your competitors? While you may want to go after a different niche, you can learn a lot about your own target market by watching how established companies in your field and their customers define success.
- Read forums, blogs, reviews, and online discussions. Your target customers are sharing their thoughts, fears, and goals online. All you have to do is find them! Search for communities where people matching your customer profiles hang out online, and pay attention to what they value and discuss.
If you are an established business or brand:
- Use every bit of data you have. Maybe you have a CRM or company database with demographic details about your best customers. Or perhaps your use Google Analytics, Facebook Advertising Insights, or other targeting tools to gather information about your customers. Use every bit of data you can in order to put your assumptions to the test.
- Keep tabs on who your best customers are. Remember, buyer personas are about attracting your ideal When an amazing buyer comes along, check whether you have a persona that reflects this individual. This will help you target and capture more customers just like them!
- And talk to those customers! If you already have ideal buyers on your customer list, interview them for insight into what makes buyers like them tick. Sales reps and customer support staff can also be a wealth of information here, but nothing beats a one-on-one with a real customer.
- Review your social media communities. Sometimes, the people who follow you online are a decent representation of the people who might be interested in your product. Watch who your followers are, what type of content they engage with, and whether they become customers.
Step 3: Create full buyer personas.
Alright – you’ve come up with a few outlines of ideal customers. You’ve fine-tuned them with company data and market research. You’ve talked to a few real people about their fears, values, and motivations. Now it’s time to create personas you can really use.
Your final buyer personas should be high-quality, shareable documents which include the following categories of information:
- Background & demographics. Who is your buyer? Where do they come from?
- What does your buyer believe in? Who do they like doing business with? How can your message relate to them as a person?
- Goals & Challenges. What do they need? Why are they struggling to get it?
- What you can offer them. Why are you the solution they want? How can you help them achieve their goals?
- Common objections. Why might they turn you down? The most common objections are price, difficulty (“it’s too hard to implement your solution”), fit (“do you offer everything I need?”), and trust. Figure out why this particular buyer might say “no,” and how you can turn that into a “yes.”
- Elevator pitch. Rework your message in a way that appeals to this exact person. Make sure you can summarize it into a few short sentences!
Customer profiles are all about defining the buyer. A buyer persona, meanwhile, defines the decision-making process of that buyer. While the data from customer profiles are used, personas elaborate on that basic information and cut to the core of how and why your ideal customers would buy from you.
Step 4: Keep fine-tuning your buyer personas.
Buyer personas are far from a “set it and forget it” tactic. They should develop to reflect any changes in your business, growth in your customer base, and new data you collect.
Business owners and marketers often neglect this important step. Why? Because running a business is a lot of work, and they simply forget or run out of time.
The best way around this problem is to capture lead and customer data automatically. If you collect information about what messages work (and don’t work), you can constantly improve your online presence.
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