Ever-Changing Buyers Mean Evolving Marketing Personas

May 29, 2013

Article ImageBuyer personas have been a part of marketing strategies for years, but they've recently undergone an evolution, making an impact on the way businesses approach digital marketing, including the content sector. Unfortunately, many companies aren't clear on how to develop or adequately use personas to their advantage.

"For the longest time, everyone has been creating personas for a redesign of a website," says Darren Guarnaccia, senior vice president of product marketing at Sitecore, which launched Sitecore 7 last week, expanding the platform to include search parameters for marketers. "You do research and you come up with what you think are the tasks users are coming to you for, and you do the redesign, forming all of the stuff that goes into the web experience. Then you probably throw the information away and never look at it again. At least, that's what's happened over the last 10 to 15 years, but now it's changing."

Ardath Albee, CEO and B2B marketing strategist for Marketing Interaction, Inc., says that the development of the internet transitioned the advantage from the seller to the buyer. Where, before, the seller was the only one with access to information and monopolized that, getting away with blatant sales pitches and company-focused messages that buyers had to endure, it's no longer the case.

"The internet has truly leveled the playing field," she says. "Today's buyers have access to as much-or more-information than they can handle. They can remain anonymous longer, do more research, and make more information-based assumptions and decisions along the way without ever speaking to a company salesperson." Thus, the development and use of buyer personas had to evolve.

Anna Ritchie, writer for Content Marketing Institute believes that with the evolution of content marketing came the realization that a marketer's audience is much broader than originally understood. "There are multiple layers of people who touch our content on any given day, and our content strategy should be developed to adapt accordingly."

Additionally, Ritchie believes that social media amplifies content more than ever. "Rather than just receiving your content, [buyers] are telling you what they want across a variety of platforms. As such, marketers must be prepared to do more than just push messaging to their personas, but engage in conversations with them."

Adele Revella, president of Buyer Persona Institute (a company dedicated to training marketers in developing buyer personas), says that most marketers still need to learn how to really probe the buyer to obtain the requisite answers for developing usable personas. "The first answer to any question asked of the buyer is going to be ‘because it's a good product' and that's not insight," she explains. "When someone tries to present buyer data as a solution to everything, it only captures about five percent of the information you need-it tells you what happened, but it doesn't tell you why."

So, as you approach this new frontier to developing effective buyer personas, keep the following recommendations for their development in mind:

  • Customers Can Switch Personas - "People buy for their kids and then themselves," points out Guarnaccia. "Recognize that they switch personas-that you're not offering a David Hasselhoff CD because they bought one as a gag gift for their friend." Get feedback on whether things are relevant and tune personas accordingly.
  • Know Your Persona Well - "If you can't step into their shoes and write about ‘a day in the life' of your persona that is convincing to outsiders, then you haven't done enough research," says Albee. She also recommends that you avoid going with your gut instincts without obtaining unbiased validation.
  • Keep it Current - "Don't store your personas away in your Strategy Folder," says Ritchie. "Let them live and breathe-as alive as the people that influenced them." This requires constantly reexamining your company's goals and following up with buyers you previously interviewed to see how things changed.
  • Make Personas Real - In an article for CMI, Ritchie also recommends visually displaying photos that represent your personas, so the marketing team sees them as real buyers.
  • Insights are Critical - Revella recommends putting Buyer Persona Institute's Five Rings of Insight into practice, which must be obtained through probing interviews with buyers. Then, she recommends determining the number of personas you need based upon the differences in those insights. "You only build a persona when there's a significant difference," Revella says. "Demographics are a dangerous distraction. If we're trying to capture how the buyer makes a decision and there's no difference between buyers associated with government or finance, then why do we need different personas?"

Guarnaccia points out that personas are very important as an ongoing practice. You have to apply them everywhere-across all channels-in order to develop a successful content strategy that engages buyers.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)