How to Create Buyer Personas

Kirsten Pickworth, Director of Client Services

Do you feel like there are brands that really “get” you? Do their values, brand imagery, and product messaging inspire you to do more, learn more, or buy more without being too pushy? That brand is focused on helping you meet your goals, learning what you like and don’t like, removing your obstacles, and building a dialogue with people like you as brand loyalists. And it all started with creating and evolving a buyer persona.

Every brand hopes for audiences to find them and stick with them for a lifetime. That’s like hoping your first pecan pie turns out perfectly baked; possible, but not likely without some planning. Personas are the recipe for a well-targeted marketing strategy and can get you closer to the possibility of engaging lifetime customers. Taking the time to understand the different types of personas and then building one that is relevant to your business will help your company focus its marketing budget on the right audiences and channels.

What is a Buyer Persona?

A persona is an overview of a fictitious person who has a background, personality, goals, and behaviors that are similar to your ideal or current user.

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It can be created based on quantitative or qualitative research efforts and used as a foundation for understanding a company’s buyer journey. Many personas include demographic information, job titles, motivations or challenges, and channel preferences of the ideal customer to help guide the marketing and sales teams.

Why Are Buyer Personas Important?

Although this might seem like a fair amount of work to get your marketing engine started, doing your research can save you time, budget, and frustration with your potential customers. Using a persona will help you get in the heads of your target audience and focus your advertising and content strategy plans in the months ahead. If you need help convincing your manager of why you need to pause and create a persona, here’s your short list:

  1. Save time: You can use the personas to develop your initial editorial content around topics your audience wants to read instead of what your company believes is most valuable.
  2. Save budget: You’ll have baseline targeting to work from instead of guesswork or assumptions from leadership, which should result in some early indicators of engagement. Having personas will also give you a foundation to begin A/B testing and learning more specific information about your user’s journey sooner.
  3. Keep your team focused: It’s inevitable that many new projects, innovation, content, and website updates are revenue-driven. Use your persona to remind you and partner teams what new products, features, content, events, or videos are the most important to your users, the current and prospective customers who will actually provide that revenue.

Three Types of Buyer Personas

There are many different types of personas across digital marketing and other industries. When determining what type of persona(s) to develop, you should consider your product lifecycle as well as your access to data and actual users. Let those inputs and your initial research drive the type and quantity of your buyer personas.

For some B2B companies, three researched-backed personas are helpful for engaging marketing and sales teams in communication with end users and leaders/decision-makers. For some B2C companies, one data-supported persona might be enough of a foundation for a marketing plan. What matters most is putting forth the effort to build at least one focal persona that will keep you answering your user’s questions, instead of your own.

At Portent, we keep these three types of buyer personas in mind when building a content strategy and marketing plan for our clients.

Focal Personas

A well-developed focal persona will guide your digital strategy and keep you in conversation with your current customers. One focal persona should be developed to represent each type of user your brand engages with most often.

Think about the people who already advocate for your brand, comment on your social posts, become immersed in your content, and spend money on your products or services again and again. You could gather quantitative insights from them through social media polls or email surveys. Some review of Google Analytics or heatmaps could also provide data on the most consistent conversion paths, device usage, the top landing pages, and the most engaging pieces of content on your website. All of this information can support your persona development and refine your marketing strategy.

Do those followers have similar life and job experience, motivations, and demographics? Or could they be broken into two to four groups with distinct differences that would affect your marketing strategy?

If you need to keep your marketing and sales teams focused, lean into developing and referring back to your focal personas above all else. It will represent the voice and face of your customers who provide ongoing revenue, feedback, and on-site behaviors for A/B testing.

Once you have these personas in mind, you can more confidently prioritize budget, content calendars, new site features, and more.

“Eh” Personas

An “eh” persona could be used to represent a fair-weather customer or an aspirational partner. They are not loyal to your brand, but you hope they might be in the future. They might be the lead type your sales team refers to as “hot and cold,” where extra effort is required to engage them.

You might not have as much quantitative data from your website and paid channels about this audience. Yet, you could utilize some qualitative insights, focus groups, or testing to learn more about them.

These personas could help guide new areas of innovation or audience testing. Or they could be used to identify gaps in your brand’s user journey; why are these customers not engaged? Is our brand not answering their questions?

Overall, ‘eh’ personas are less relevant to your day-to-day marketing strategy. Do not spend a lot of time and money trying to complete this type of persona or reeling in these users first. It will not be worth the effort. Yet, when you’re questioning how to innovate in a new channel or grow your market share, their perspective might be invaluable.

Exclusionary Personas

An exclusionary persona defines the users in which you should not invest any additional time. These personas illustrate when there are clear mismatches between users and your brand. Customer audiences represented by these personas could be a waste of time or resources, or they could be a drain on your social media and customer service conversations. Distance from these users and personas will be better for your brand over the long term. This type of persona could be utilized to train your sales team, test new channels, or teach new marketing team members who not to target.

How to Create Buyer Personas

Creating a buyer persona requires time and attention to what’s happening with your users today, what affected their engagement with your brand in the past, and what impact you believe they will have on your organization and priorities in the future. Remember, this persona-building exercise is for learning about your current and potential customers, not just their interaction with your website and advertising. Here are a few layers of engagement to consider before you dive into your research strategy:

  • Who are your users day in and day out? What perspective do they bring?
  • What do they want?
  • How do they interact with you and your competitors?
  • What might make this interaction happen or not happen?
  • How could they affect your organization?

1. Research Personas

Every persona should be developed from research, whether quantitative or qualitative. You cannot skip this step. However, there are a few ways you can save time and energy: ask for help from experts in your field, and work from shared data sets.

Talk to Experts on Your Audience

One of the most valuable resources to a marketing team in their persona creation process is the sales and customer service team, or their “voice of the customer” report. These teams hear the pain points, frustrations, and opportunities of customers every day. They might also recognize trends in types of customers that you may not have insight into.

In a more recent conversion rate optimization (CRO) user research project, we conducted a focus group with a sales team before hosting a focus group with customers. The insight our team gained from the sales team was groundbreaking. It helped us reprioritize the website content development and product education information, as we learned we initially were only evaluating one small part of the potential customer’s buyer journey.

Other in-house experts might include the CMO, content writers, the site development team, or data analysts. In the past, I’ve helped lead empathy mapping workshops for clients to help them better understand the top pain points, fears, and opportunities of their target customers,

If you’re looking for external insights as a counterbalance, you can reach out to groups on LinkedIn or local interest meet-ups, to see if anyone would be willing to connect over the phone or answer questions via email.

Find Statistics on Your Audience

There is a wealth of information already available about your users that you can tap into to write your persona. Here are a few places to start:

  • Review the Google Analytics and Google Search Console data for your website:
    • What are your top landing pages?
    • What are the top queries driving traffic to your website?
    • How long are people staying on your website?
    • What is the average time on site?
    • What channel is driving the most traffic? Revenue?
  • Review keyword data from advertising platforms or tools, such as Adwords, Ahrefs, or Moz.
  • Conduct audience, job title, and geographic research in platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Adwords, and 6sense.
  • Find demographic information on Quantcast.
  • Seek out relevant industry-wide statistics from other marketing agencies or industry leaders. These might be buried in a whitepaper that requires your email address and a trial. In some instances they are worthwhile, if you can use the data for multiple projects.

Once you’ve compiled all of your data in a single document, it’s time to cross-reference it and see how it holds up to what you know about your current customers. Formalizing your research findings as a step before developing the personas can also help you receive feedback from internal stakeholders who could affirm your work or recognize different trends. Overall, use your research to inform how you develop your personas, but don’t let unique trends carry you off course.

2. Define Your Personas With These Questions

Now that you have quantitative and/or qualitative data to reference, it’s time to answer some buyer persona questions. Through this exercise, you’ll draw insights from your internal and external research to define the attributes of your current and high-potential customers. Responding to these questions for each unique user type will help you build the rich content that will bring the personas to life.

Demographic Questions

While answering these demographic questions, think about who your users are day in and day out? What perspective do they bring to the world, their community, and your brand?

  • Where do they live? What’s the climate like there?
  • What is their age group? What generation are they grouped with (e.g., Baby Boomers, Gen X)?
  • What is their gender identity?
  • Are they married or single? Do they have children?
  • What is their job title, salary range and responsibilities?
  • What is their education level? What’s their reading level?
  • What is their nationality and ethnicity?
  • What’s their lifestyle?
  • What groups or hobby communities (cyclists, travelers, skiers, or people who like to cook) might they belong to? What’s their status within that group? Are they leaders, teachers, influencers, or participants?
  • Any special interests? Party affiliations, etc.?
  • What kind of technology do they use for work and home?
  • Any accessibility issues?
  • Are they internet novices? Experts?
  • What are their preferred mediums of communication?
  • What marketing channels do they engage with most often?

Emotional Questions

For a persona to be useful for you and your colleagues in the months ahead, you have to answer questions about what that user wants and needs. Here are some examples:

  • What’s their self-image?
  • What is their personality?
  • What are this person’s beliefs? This isn’t about religion, necessarily.
  • Where would they fit in a typical personality test?
  • What are their day-to-day goals? Survival? Fun? Family? Something else?

Relationship Questions

Evaluating how a user interacts with you and your competitors throughout their buying cycle can help you close gaps in your content and sales cycle to improve the user journey.

  • Has this person used this kind of product/service before?
  • Do they know much about it?
  • When do they use this product or service, or otherwise take action?
  • What’s their role in this interaction? Are they the decision-maker, researcher, planner, or something else?
  • What’s the environment in which they’ll use your product or service? At home? Surrounded by co-workers?
  • How do they feel about it? Is this a product they get excited about? Or is it a necessary evil?

Pitch Questions

Considering what motivates your users to make a decision and how they will need to feel before and during a purchase, it is critical to build a persona that will resonate across marketing and sales teams. The following questions dig into the emotional aspects of a purchasing decision for your user:

  • What’s their goal in buying the product or service, or otherwise taking action? Think of the big and little picture here.
  • During this interaction, should they feel adventurous? Secure? Confident? Luxurious? Empowered? Independent? Relieved?
  • What makes this interaction fun? Memorable? Maddening?
  • How important is confidentiality?
  • How much is trust an issue?
  • What frustrates them about this product or service?
  • What will make them feel they’ve received value from this interaction?
  • What will make them feel like they’ve been listened to throughout their buyer journey?

Business Impact Questions

The persona development process thus far has been about understanding the user, their buying journey, and everything that affects their purchase decision. This last section of questions considers how that user’s behavior can affect your company.

If you’re going to focus your marketing strategy on prospecting and retaining a specific type of customer, you need to make sure you’re investing in the right matches for the brand. Here are some prompts to help evaluate how these users align with your company’s values and your business impact goals:

  • What effect is this person likely to have on the business? Help? Hurt? Earn money? Cost money? A long-term customer?
  • How often will they come back and use this product, service, or interaction?
  • Will you enjoy working with this person?

Next, review your answers and map them into each section of the persona. Use definitive sentences that represent that specific user:

  1. Attributes: This can be a simple list of 5-10 adjectives that describe this user (e.g., Decisive, Organized, Focused, Approachable)
  2. Bio: A brief description of who this user is, their background, what they do for work and for fun, and how they approach day-to-day life. NOTE: This should not include details about how or when they interact with your brand.
  3. Demographics: List out the primary demographics that define this user (e.g., age, job title, gender identity, preferred communication mediums, etc.)
  4. Goals: List out 3-5 goals based on answers in the Emotional Questions section. Example goals are “Gain the approval of leadership and peers for a year-end promotion,” “Increase my brand’s market share by 20%,” or “Find the best pecan pie recipe to impress family and friends.”
  5. Frustrations: Summarize in a list the 3-5 frustrations that stand out to you from the Pitch Questions section.
  6. Motivations: Summarize in a list the 3-5 motivations that stand out to you from the Pitch Questions section.
  7. Preferred Channels: Display in a pie chart or list the marketing channels this user engages with most often.

Now for the fun part: give your persona a name that aligns with their attributes and bio. Then you can share the persona with colleagues for their initial feedback and use it to make decisions about your marketing strategy.

Tips for Using Buyer Personas

The exercise of creating personas is significant. Yet, it’s important to remember all of the research and cross-team collaboration that goes into the initial documents, and that it will need to be maintained for the personas to actually guide marketing strategy. There are two things to remember when using your personas:

  1. Personas should be shared. They should be referenced often when planning your digital marketing strategy, prioritizing channel investments, testing, and evaluating pivots. They can help resolve conflict and keep teams focused on the customers, despite any internal politics.
  2. Personas should be relevant and maintained as channels evolve, products are revised, and as you continue A/B testing and receiving feedback from customers. They should inform additional research on the buyer journey too.

Commit to the two points above before starting your persona project. Then, you’ll have the framework to better understand what your users need and how they can impact your business in the years ahead.

Kirsten Pickworth, Director of Client Services

Kirsten Pickworth

Director of Client Services
Director of Client Services

Kirsten is Portent's director of client services, with nearly a decade of experience spanning integrated marketing, nonprofit fundraising, and international community development fields. She is a marketing nerd who is always learning and looking for ways to empower people with excellent communication strategies. When Kirsten isn't connecting with clients and collaborating with coworkers, you might find her cooking, writing, or outside somewhere soaking up the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

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