Have you ever had the perfect marketing campaign go out and flop? All your hard work on that campaign went right down the drain. Did you look into why that happened? Did you do the necessary research ahead of time to help ensure success?
In any marketing, it can be easy to listen to peers or go with your gut when it comes to making strategic decisions.
Your gut (or others’) isn’t necessarily wrong, but wouldn’t it be nice to have something to back up your decision other than “It sounded good to us”?
So how do we do this? Where should we start when it comes to marketing research to help inform our marketing strategies?
The first step is customer research. You can do this in a multitude of ways - surveys, industry data, and interviewing existing customers and prospects.
Of the above, the third is my preferred method of customer research. Interviewing existing customers, past customers lost leads, and prospects is the first step to creating something called Buyer Personas.
According to Hubspot, a buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.
Buyer personas can make a huge difference in your marketing strategy because they go beyond merely demographics.
Demographics are great when it comes to setting targeting perimeters and are important, but buyer personas dive deeper into your actual target customer and what drives them.
Why Personas Matter
When you are marketing something that has a long buying decision process, i.e. senior living or buying a car, buyer personas can help craft your strategy. They can help with all marketing but are typically more helpful for purchases that require research.
So why? By creating buyer personas, you can use them as a litmus test for all of your marketing decisions.
When thinking about strategy and tactics, you can look to your buyers and compare their wants and needs to what you are offering.
If you have developed a large email marketing campaign, but your primary buyer persona typically doesn’t check their email because they are so busy - that might not be the best source of your time and resources.
You have to begin with the end in mind. How can you expect anything to be successful if you don’t fully understand what motivates your typical customers?
Long decision processes typically require research which is where providing content comes in - but if you don’t know what your buyer is experiencing, how can you truly help them with their issue?
By taking the time to research and understand your audience beyond just demographics, you will be setting a foundation to build your marketing strategy.
How to Create Buyer Personas
Find who you want to interview
So we know the most effective way to get accurate buyer personas is to hold interviews. Who should you interview?
I recommend starting with existing customers. If you are a company that offers multiple products or services be sure to interview every type of customer. The same should go for if you have different geographic parameters for your company (for example an office in Atlanta, GA, and Seattle, WA)
Once you have your existing customers, then go on to lost leads. Try to find people who almost chose you, but went with a competitor. Understanding what caused them to choose your competitor can go a long way in developing marketing and sales strategies around differentiators.
To go even deeper, you can also interview existing prospects who are in your funnel - just be sure you and sales are on the same page about what you are asking them to do.
If you are limited on time or resources, start with your existing customers. You can also hold more interviews at a later date.
Hold the interviews
Adele’s advice is to come to your interview with one question - take me back to the time you started searching for XX - what caused you to start this journey?
This question helps put the interviewee back where they were when they knew they had a problem that needed to be solved.
By understanding what the problem is and how the customer went about looking for the solution - you can understand what motivates that customer and how they typically find solutions to their problems.
Before you ask that question, be sure to ask permission for recording the conversation and record it - you will want these exact words for later in the process.
After your first question, practice active listening and listen to what your customer is saying about their experience - from there you can ask more clarifying questions to get to the root of the experience - but only prepare that one question.
Transcribe your interviews and look for common themes
Once you have finished your interviews, take the recordings and get them transcribed.
Read through all of the transcripts and start highlighting common themes among the interviews. Did some customers have similar experiences? Why? What makes them different from the other customers you interviewed.
Build out your personas based on those themes
Once you have identified the themes, think through how you want to separate your personas. A lot of people fall into traditional demographic themes like job type. This is fine, but be sure there isn’t a stronger connection between customers. Maybe you have people who are burnt out versus people who have moved away.
By finding that stronger theme, you can speak directly to those pain points for your persona in your content.
From there, take a buyer persona template. You can find my personal template here.
Once you have the template and know what questions you want answered about your persona, dive back into your transcript and use your customer’s real words to answer those questions.
Once everything is filled out, you are done! Share these personas with your entire organization so everyone can be on the same page about who your customers actually are and what problems for them you solve.
How to Use Buyer Personas
Once your personas have been distributed among your organization - you want to be sure they are being used. You put a lot of effort into those, for good reason, and it is important to ensure they don’t just sit on a shelf.
Your buyer personas should be thought of in every aspect of your business - operations, sales, and marketing. You all have to be on the same page to help increase marketing ROI.
Are you doing keyword research for your website? What do your buyer personas tell you are terms they are likely to search for? Developing a new product or service? What would benefit your personas the most?
A way to easily do this is to make your personas as real as you can. Give them names and talk about them like they are real people when you are having discussions.
By integrating buyer research into every aspect of your organization, you will be putting your customers first and your bottom line will benefit. Approach everything as customer-first with the goal to help them and sales will follow.
Buyer personas can be a daunting task, but they are worth it. Speaking from experience, having detailed buyer personas to reference go a long way when you are stuck on something. You also learn so much about your customers during the interviews and that will spark so many ideas for marketing content and campaigns.