Entrepreneurs who want to attract the attention of their ideal customer often hear that buyer personas are critical to success.
I first learned to use buyer insights to guide marketing strategies at Regis McKenna, the PR firm that launched Apple and nearly every other tech company that mattered in the '80s. For more than 25 years, I’ve guided my own teams and thousands of workshop participants to use the methodology that underlies buyer personas.
Although buyer personas are extremely valuable, every company is unique. It's important to evaluate to what extent your company is ready to invest in finding out that information.
There’s a lot of confusing advice and hype floating around about buyer personas. There are templates that can be downloaded online and filled in with your own ideas. Many blogs advise you to mine social media platforms to learn about your buyers. Others suggest surveys or interviews.
Here’s the thing to think about: How effective are these strategies? What's the cost-to-profit ratio? What are you hoping to gain from creating and investing in buyer personas?
Just like any other endeavor where you have no prior experience, you need to evaluate your options and consider the relevance to your own circumstances if you want to succeed. Here are the three most important things to think about before you go any further:
1. What’s the cost of being wrong about your product or marketing strategy?
Well-constructed buyer personas allow you to see your proposed solution from your customers’ perspective, revealing the blind spots that could set your business back or shut it down. They tell you what’s likely to happen before you build the wrong product or engage in marketing activities that won’t persuade buyers to choose you.
If you have a business where you must expend considerable time and capital to build and launch a product, it’s essential to know that you’re on the right track. However other companies can make small investments, learn from their mistakes, and try until they get it right.
Consider OXO, the kitchen utensil brand. When they have a new product, they do a limited production run and push it out to a few stores. If it sells, they know they have a winner. If it doesn’t, they move on to test something else. The cost of failure is marginal, so it doesn’t makes sense for OXO to invest in buyer personas.
2. Are you willing to invest in one-on-one interviews with buyers like yours?
Buyer personas do more than describe a fictional buyer. To guide your business strategies, personas need to tell you what real buyers think and do as they evaluate their options to solve the problem you address.
And no, you can’t get these insights by asking scripted questions. A skilled interviewer needs to find the right people and walk them through a specialized, unscripted conversation.
You may learn how to conduct these interviews, but it isn’t something you can do naturally. You’ll need to invest the time to understand how to lead these conversations and mine them for useful insights. Or you will need to hire experts who are certified in this unique methodology.
If your business isn’t at the point where you can make that investment, building buyer personas isn’t going to help.
3. Is it the right time for your business to invest in buyer personas?
If you’re just starting a business and handling sales and marketing yourself, you are controlling every decision. You can hold a picture of your buyer in your head and ensure that everything about your business aligns to solve a specific, high-value problem.
As a business grows, the usefulness of buyer personas grows too. When you begin to hire marketing and salespeople or work with outside agencies, buyer personas help your team make the right decisions. These individuals can work independently and creatively without contradicting each other or compromising your strategic intent.
Buyer personas are a powerful tool when they're well researched and when they explain the choices you want to influence. If your company can afford to do them correctly and the stakes are high, I highly recommend this step. If not, you have better things to do.