The evolution online of both B2B and B2C commerce has brought about a profound change in the customer experience for the user/consumer. It has pushed toward an evolution of those who were previously and simply defined as targets, that companies aimed their marketing messages at.
However, user behavior is increasingly shifting from a “multichannel” behavior to an “omnichannel” one, in which every user is simultaneously present on a multitude of channels, performing multiple interactions with each of them. Thanks to the improvement of customer online activity tracking systems, today, a large quantity of data can be obtained, the famous big data, that can be used for all marketing activities (inbound marketing, social media marketing, etc.). As a result, the “old target” has been substituted by the possibility (and need) to define company objectives even more up to the point of creating a real typical customer, the buyer persona.
The procedure for its creation should not be understood as a simple series of phases, but rather as a process of awareness of one’s own company and, especially, of one’s own customers or prospects, as well as of the product or service that we are able to offer them. Through this process, we can achieve a level of knowledge of our own target that is particularly precise and exclude those who, due to the objectives that they set themselves and related restrictions, will not be able to benefit from our service/product.
Obviously, the persona number will depend on the diversification of our products or services and the interest verticals, but also on the precision we want to push for in order to define them. The creation of “negative personas” is also useful to identify those who will not be part of the reference target.
The Creation Steps
The steps necessary to create buyer personas are all focused on trying to understand what the impetus is, the need that makes customers choose us, to achieve the objectives set, bearing in mind the obstacles, costs and issues that may influence decisions. This occurs starting out from real customers, from the experience of all company areas that contribute to the creation of the product/service, and from online data.
1. Indicating the objectives
In this phase, the idea is to identify the aims of each persona, using words and terminology that best describe them in order to avoid misunderstandings and provide useful information to those who will then need to use it.
Each goal that is defined allows for an increase in the persona number and precision, dividing customers/prospects in an ever more “granular” way. Proceeding down this path has an impact on future activities, such as the definition of content marketing strategies, with the creation of ad hoc content to improve potential customer engagement.
This is where it is very useful to identify “negative personas”, or rather, hypothetical individuals who have objectives that are incompatible with our business system and that will allow us to exclude those we don’t want as customers. This may be, for example, because they have an acquisition cost that is too high, or because our product/service will not allow for the achievement of their aims.
Depending on the business area, but also on the company area referred to, goals may be very different because the interested parties or stakeholders will be different. Among these goals, the most common include an increase in turnover, the improvement of brand awareness, and an improvement of marketing expense allocation when faced with an unaltered turnover.
2. Defining the problems
The definition of problems turns out to be a very important step in the creation process of buyer personas. In this phase, the contribution that those who have direct contact with real customers can give is very useful. This is particularly the case for those who can identify with the utmost precision the critical issues that purchasing our product/service will solve.
Indeed, these so-called pain points represent the impetus to search for a specific solution that may lead to the achievement of the initially set objectives.
3. Persona characteristics
This term refers to all those personal characteristics that are needed to create the profile of a real customer. Up until now, we have focused on the definition of all those elements that make an individual one of our prospects or customers. Instead, in this phase, we are concentrating on all those aspects that are needed to really define them and that, in one way or another, influence their choices.
Among these, for example, are age, family status (married, with children, single), hobbies and interests outside of work. You should try to imagine what the life of your persona is like: for example, how they spend their free time and all other elements that may provide more detail. Even their cultural background is decisive, such as their level of education, the type of university attended, etc.
According to the business in which we find ourselves, however, their occupation and role within the working environment becomes of particular importance, especially if we are referring to B2B. Indeed, the needs, expectations and obstacles of an executive director compared with those of a manager are different.
This part of the creation process is fundamental in understanding the obstacles that prevent an individual from directly making a decision or choice. Their identification is an incredibly important marketing lever that can be counted on to redefine strategies. They can help to create specific marketing messages to demonstrate that, with our product, the persona will manage to achieve their objectives, overcoming the obstacles and established constraints. Their implementation in negative personas will be just as useful to exclude those who have insurmountable obstacles, even with the supply of our products/services.
A classic example of an obstacle is certainly price, which, in a marketing activity, can be relegated to second place, enhancing the value of the service, or the costs of transition from one system to another in the case of B2B.
Let’s try to simulate all the possible questions that our persona could ask on the road to achieving the objective. This can be done via the creation of an imaginary dialogue focused on questions and answers that create value. It adds an increasing amount of information that will be useful for a better clarification and definition of the individual.
All the possible doubts that come from real or potential customers must be revealed. This allows for the further outlining of the persona, who will have an increasingly precise profile as more and more information is added. In this phase, support from the sales department is very useful. It is in touch with real customers on a daily basis and has a wide and varied bag full of “whys”: a resource to be taken advantage of.
With a view to a better definition of the environment in which the persona moves, preferences contribute to our understanding of which approaches should be used in marketing to them. Among these, we can mention their inclination or otherwise toward digital and potentially the preferred channels on which they are present (web, social networks, etc.). We can also see on which of these they are more or less active, also to better understand their digital journey. Even their personal style and the channels through which they acquire information are necessary elements to create a buyer persona that is useful for all marketing activities. Obviously, if we consider an individual who is very active on Facebook or social networks, we will have a better return on a social media marketing campaign, even though, by now, the latest trends see customers increasingly present on a multichannel “cloud” or, better still, an “omnichannel” one.
In relation to the product, you should try to understand which correlated searches lead the persona, step by step, to the definition of the final, product-centered search.
The tools present online, such as AdWords Keyword Planner and Suggest and Correlate analysis tools, can help you to understand which phases cause users to formulate queries that are increasingly focused on your product/service. Furthermore, these offer a long series of correlated searches relating to the main keywords. They can help to sharpen our understanding of the customer/prospect and of the way in which they try to solve problems in order to achieve the goals they have set themselves.
Initially, they will be generic searches, based on objectives to be achieved and ways to do so; as their experience gradually increases, they will be increasingly specific up to the point of arriving at a precise search.
The final step leads to the creation of charts and diagrams that try to simulate the actual engagement performance, via interaction with all company content along the various phases.
To this eighth point, the following secret ingredient should be added: “detachment from the obvious”. Indeed, during the abovementioned process, it is easy to tend toward previously ascertained convictions. It will be fundamental, therefore, to continuously reiterate the various points, looking for logical obstacles to be removed and restructured on the basis of “evidence that is no longer evident”!