Everyone’s Talking About Buyer Personas

9781118961506.pdfAn excerpt from Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business by Adele Revella.

Why Is Everyone Talking about Buyer Personas?

In the simplest terms, buyer personas are examples or archetypes of real buyers that allow marketers to craft strategies to promote products and services to the people who might buy them. During the past decade the term has almost become a marketing mantra. But as this book will show, the growing interest in buyer personas has resulted in confusion about how they are created, how they are used, and their ultimate effectiveness. It’s the intention of this book to provide some much needed clarity.

The marketer’s need to understand the market is hardly new. But the depth of insight required is increasing exponentially as technological advances demand that organizations rethink how they sell everything from music and books to bulldozers and information technology. Michael Gottlieb, a senior director of marketing and business strategy at one of the world’s leading software firms, described it this way: “What we are selling is changing; who we are selling to is changing (some are people we’ve never sold to before); and how these customers want to be engaged, marketed, and sold to is changing, too.”

Buyer personas have a lot to do with attaining that kind of alignment, but not in the way that marketers often use them, which is basically to build a profile of the people who are their intended customers. Rather, the contention of this book is that when buyer personas evolve from authentic stories related by actual buyers—in the form of one-on-one interviewsthe methodology and presentation allows you to capture the buyer’s expectations and the factors that influence them. Then, and only then, can you truly stand in your buyer’s shoes and consider the buying decision from the buyer’s point of view. This goes way beyond buyer profiling—but most marketers don’t realize that.

As a veteran sales and marketing executive, trainer, and researcher, I’ve worked with thousands of marketers in hundreds of companies. Not long ago, I met with executives from a large corporation who had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for research on “buyer personas” that was essentially worthless. The company had purchased profiles about the people who buy from it, but these failed to capture the crucially important stories revealing how buyers make this type of decision. I’ve also seen companies purchase oversegmented research that defined dozens of buyer personas, a number that would be feasibly impossible for them to market to with any effectiveness. In both of these cases, the company had lost its way by focusing on the goal to build buyer personas without a clear plan to ensure that they contain useful findings.

Naturally, it’s far easier to make educated guesses and assumptions about what buyers may be thinking based on extrapolations of your own knowledge or intuition. That’s certainly how large aspects of the marketing community have functioned for decades. But the climate of social and technological change favors companies that embrace a culture of buyer understanding that allows them to adapt to customer needs. Just consider the major technology players that have receded or disappeared: AOL, Digital, Polaroid, Wang, AltaVista, Netscape, Fairchild Semiconductor, Palm, Sun Microsystems. The list could run for pages. Each of these companies was outrun by competitors who possessed greater clarity about their buyers’ expectations.

Will This Approach Work for You?

This book is for marketing executives who wish to avoid that kind of dire scenario, whether they work in the business-to-business (B2B) or the business-to-consumer (B2C) arena. It is specifically aimed at marketers of “medium- and high-consideration” products, services, and solutions—buying decisions that require a considerable investment of your buyers’ thought and time. Examples of high-consideration decisions range from selecting the right vendor of capital equipment or picking which college to attend to carefully choosing a new car or the most appropriate location for office space. This decision-making process differs markedly from impulse purchases made in a grocery store or at the checkout register.

When you consider that we want to interview buyers to capture their story, it is easy to understand why a detailed narrative about a choice between exotic vacation destinations would be immensely useful. In contrast, little insight would be gained as a result of asking a buyer to explain why she decided to purchase a particular pack of gum.

Although the Internet has given us instant access to immense knowledge, even the most sophisticated applications of Big Data won’t reveal what you can learn by listening to your buyers’ stories. Just as there is nothing to acquaint you with a foreign culture as intimately as staying with a native family in their home, the best way to gain deep insight into the mind-set of your buyers is to spend quality time with them.

The buyer persona methodology outlined in this book will help companies avoid the consequences that inevitably engulf organizations that fail to listen intensely to their buyers. In the pages to come I will explain how you can use buyer personas to craft successful marketing strategies based on insight that would otherwise be nearly impossible to acquire. I will show how this can be done without exorbitant investments in money, time, or labor. It just requires adhering to a well-defined process, mastering a few skills, and honing your analytical thinking. This is a craft and a set of skills that can be learned, and this book will serve as your primer for how you or your organization can achieve this.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business by Adele Revella. Copyright (c) 2015 by Buyer Persona Institute. All rights reserved. This book is available at all bookstores and online booksellers.

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