Buyer personas are a staple of the marketing world.
Almost every business has a stashed away spreadsheet where you painstakingly mapped out your ‘Marketing Meg’, ‘Decision Maker Dan’ and ‘Finance Phil’. You carefully craft these marketable specters, torturing yourself over what they eat for breakfast and which memes they love most, in the hope that this clarity on who you’re marketing to will increase your conversion rates.
Whilst I see your hard work, I’d like to be a little controversial for a moment:
It’s time to throw away the buyer persona.
I heard you gasp! How could I retire a cornerstone of marketing? A bastion of customer understanding? A royally useless waste of time?
Did I catch you with that last one? I’m about to get mean and honest about the efficacy of buyer personas, so clutch your pearls - I’ve got my sassy pants on I’m ready to rip off the band aid to make marketing better!
Reason 1 - You’ve not looked at your Buyer Personas once in the last 5 years anyway
One of the biggest problems with buyer personas isn’t really about the document itself. Rather, it’s all about how little it’s used. While you laboured for a full week to get it done in the first place, you’re not coming back to that document and actually using it.
When I ask businesses if I can see their buyer personas the vast majority of the time I get a document that comes with an embarrassing sentence or two about the fact it’s a little out of date.
My argument is simply that if you’re not using it, and you’re not updating it - was it worth the effort you put into it? For precisely this reason, buyer personas are a waste of time 🙁
Reason 2 - It’s all demographics
Part of the reason buyer personas don’t get used is the fact they’re not very useful… Knowing how old your audience is, where they went to school and how many kids they have can be useful for segmentation purposes, but the information is so superficial that it won’t help you actually sell anything.
For a buyer persona to work you need to understand your audience intimately.
This doesn’t mean that you need to know their blood type, favourite type of avocado and the name of their firstborn child - it means you need to know who they are as a person. What do they care about? What are their interests, attitudes and opinions? It’s this information that helps you sell. It’s psychographics.
If you want to dive a little deeper into that check out this blog post on customer profiling.
Psychographics are the human bit, and they tell you how to market to your audience.
Build on psychographics and you can create a buyer persona that’s useful.
Reason 3 - It’s a fantasy
Buyer personas are often referred to as your “ideal customer”. The main premise being that you think about the perfect customer and how they would go about using your product or service. This is a lovely, sweet and incorrect assumption.
Whilst you can get started with “ideal”, if you want your buyer persona to be useful, you should also be bringing in real-life customer experiences, data points and research.
Now it would be fantastic if all of us had access to powerhouses of research information like Forrester and the likes - but that’s not always feasible. Instead, making your personas as realistic as possible means it should be a living breathing document that you add insights to as you learn more about your audience.
Here’s the deal, a good buyer persona can be an invaluable asset to your business. But only if it’s being used, updated and is driven by insight and learnings.
Use the information you gather about conversion successes and failures to add to your persona understanding and you can turn something that should just be binned into something that’s an asset.
Reason 4 - It’s not problem-based
Seeing “pain points” on a buyer persona sheet is one of the things that makes my eye twitch. Pain points are frustratingly vague. They’re great to throw into a sales conversation, or to use in persuasive copy… But they’re not the thing your audience is looking to solve.
Humans are goal-oriented. We’re practical and seek to find solutions to problems. Problem-solving is the thing that got us out of the trees, to the top of the food chain and to where we are today.
Pain points are how we feel about the problem, but the problem is the challenge we’re actually facing. Your leads will research and want to talk about their problems, not their pain points. Your content plans, lead magnets and nurture should all be based on these problems and how your lead can solve them.
Reason 5 - It doesn’t help you make and sales/marketing decisions
Reason 5 is the real rub with buyer personas. I don’t hate them - I am merely frustrated in the way they are created and how poor of a document they are.
When done well they will help you make smarter decisions for your sales and marketing - but because they’re vague, vacuous and lacking in validity, most buyer personas can’t be used to help you make any decisions at all.
If you’re not referring back to your persona to see whether or not the content you’re creating is a good fit for that subsection of your audience - something has gone awry for you.
Is it time to bin buyer personas?
With our 5 reasons in mind - is it time to get rid of the buyer persona in marketing? Honestly? Yes.
If businesses aren’t going to set aside the time to make sure they’re not falling foul of any of these misdemeanours, then it’s time to stop wasting time creating them in the first place.
But… If they’re willing to dedicate their time and effort into making a buyer persona that is a valuable company asset, one that shapes decisions and content creation - then by all means - plough ahead and reap the rewards of powerful personalised marketing.