A Buyer Persona is a segment of people within a particular target market that share common demographics and interests.

The idea behind creating a buyer persona is to understand the wants and needs of a specific demographic. Once you understand what’s important to any particular persona, you stand a much better chance of communicating and persuading them to take some defined action.

In my work with small companies, I find that there is some confusion as to the difference between a target market and a buyer persona. Think of a target market as a grouping of customers with a similar problem. The Buyer Persona then goes one level deeper and tries to group customers within a target market by a particular set of demographics and needs.

Buyer Persona Attributes

An important element in defining buyer personas is to identify any physical and emotional characteristics within that group. For example, you may uncover certain buying habits or needs based on any one of the following:

Gender

Education

Income

Marital Status

Occupation

Employment Status

You may also be able to uncover certain emotional characteristics that will help you further define your personas. These types of emotional characteristics might include fears, desires and values. Although emotional characteristics can be difficult to uncover, they can also give powerful indicators as to how to best deliver your marketing message. The personas you create must be based on actual research from your existing customers and prospects.

If you sell mostly to other businesses, then it may make better sense for you to create corporate personas instead of buyer personas. A corporate persona can be segmented based on industry, number of employees, revenue levels, and so on.

Quality Not Quantity

You may find your business only has one or two buyer personas. That’s fine. The quantity is not important. What is important is your ability to define the needs of each persona clearly.

You know your customers better than anyone so add any characteristic that you feel belongs in a particular persona. Essentially, you will be writing a type of composite biography since the persona is not based on any single person, but a group of people with common characteristics and needs.

Only by segmenting and defining the needs of these personas will you be able to create value, trust and persuasion to purchase. It’s truly one of the keys to growing your small business.

Don’t overcomplicate the process of defining your markets and personas. The process is simple even if it does take some time. The process can be best summarized in this simple 3-step plan.

Define your distinct target market areas.

Within these defined target markets, look for distinct ways to group customers with similar buying patterns, demographics, personalities, needs, goals and motivations.

Create short Buyer Persona Biographies for each of these customer groups.

If you’re still a bit unsure as to the difference between a target market and a buyer persona, take a look at the following graphical relationship between the two.

In the above example, even though one of my target markets may be Grade Schools, I have 3 definable Buyer Personas within that target market; teachers, PTA parents, and principals. Once I have defined my personas within a specific target market, I would then write up a Buyer Persona Biography, listing as much specific information about each persona as possible. Remember, these biographies do not represent a single person within that persona. Instead, the buyer persona description is a composite of all the people that make up that persona.

While defining your target market and buyer personas may seem like a lot of work, it is an essential exercise if you want to focus your marketing energy for maximum persuasion.

Defining and refining your personas is a process that never quite ends. As a business owner, you should always be getting feedback from your customers. There are many ways to do this depending on your type of business.

I have listed a few below to give you some ideas.

Phone, website, or mail-in surveys

Focus groups

Tradeshows

Networking through associations

One of the best ways to learn about your customers is to contact them right after they have made a transaction. If they purchased something from your website, offer a small discount on their next purchase if they fill out a survey form. The idea here is to simply look for ways to obtain information from your customers in a non-threatening manner.

Understanding and refining your customer segments takes time. Don’t feel you have to accomplish it in a month.

Two Buyer Persona Examples

My website is devoted to existing small business owners and people that are interested in starting a small business. Below are two of my own personas. Notice that I’ve given my personas a title and have described them in as much detail as possible. In addition, as I speak to more of my customers and prospects, I will edit and add to my personas in order to keep them accurate and up to date.

Persona #1: Jane the Retail Store Owner

Jane is a 37-year old retail store owner in a small suburban city. Her store relies on actual foot traffic from the surrounding communities. Jane has been disappointed with the results of her business website. She spent several thousand dollars outsourcing all the design work and yet, as far as she can tell, it has had no impact on increasing her business, which has remained flat for the past few years.

Jane knows that she needs to improve her site and that it could be a way to entice local visitors to actually visit her store, but she’s not sure how to accomplish this. Jane needs to be educated on how her business website could be an extension of her current business and how, through website analytics and page testing, her site could be tuned and optimized to provide a source of targeted traffic.

Jane can be convinced to make an additional investment into her business site, but needs the reassurance that her investment will translate into additional business and foot traffic to her physical store.

Persona #2: Bob the Chiropractor (Service Business Owner)

Bob is a 45-year old chiropractor (or doctor, or lawyer, or insurance agent, etc.) in a large suburban community. With the addition of two new chiropractors in the same community, Bob has seen a 15% reduction of business within the past year. He thinks that this might be due to customer defection.

Bob knows that he needs a marketing edge to win back old customers and to set himself apart from his new local competition. He has tried a few mailings, but didn’t get the results he expected.

Bob wants to build a more comprehensive marketing program that includes incentives for customers to send him referrals, but he’s unsure how to launch an effective program. He needs help, but doesn’t know where to turn.

In the above two examples, do you see how I might change the focus of my marketing message depending on who I was communicating with? Although they both can benefit from a marketing program, Jane the Retail Store Owner has very different motivations and requirements than the Bob the Chiropractor. You’ll stand a much better chance of crafting a marketing communications that persuades if you are able to speak directly to your major personas.

Be careful that your personas do not degenerate into stereotypes. As an example, the Soccer Mom and the Nascar Dad started as actual buyer personas, but have since degenerated into practically unusable stereotypes.

While the typical description of a “Soccer Mom” is one of a busy and overburdened mother constantly running her kids from event to event in a minivan, there is no information in that description that tells you how soccer moms might approach a purchasing decision. In other words, the soccer mom is a one dimensional stereotype that does not provide enough information for you to craft a persuasive marketing message!

I want to stress once again that defining your buyer personas is a job that really never ends. Keep your personas in a word processing document and go back to update them when you uncover new information. While it may seem strange keeping “biographies” on your personas, the value is in your deeper understanding of how your customer groups fit into your overall business strategy.

Image credits: capslist.com

Image credits: capslist.com