In this post, we’ll take another look at buyer personas or more accurately called customer avatars. We’ve covered the topic before, here. Today, we’d like to take a deeper look at them—why they work and how to create them. Without a doubt, if you want to get an edge over the competition, learning how to use this powerful yet simple tool is one of the most important things you can do.
Today, you’ll learn:
• Why you must identify your best buyers
• How many customer avatars you need, and why you that number may be less than you think
• The limitations of customer avatars—because no tool is perfect
• How to build superior customer avatars
• How to use them to their maximum effect
Along the way, we’ll spill the beans on the single most important aspect of building customer avatars. If you get this wrong, all your work will be for naught. Let’s get started.
Finding Your Best Buyers
A buyer persona, or customer avatar, is a marketing mechanism used by professional marketers and business owners to identify highly profitable customers. You can use customer avatars to understand what makes these highly desirable customers choose you over your competition. In general, building and maintaining customer avatars allows you to create a strong brand proposition. You do this by identifying the problems these ideal customers are trying to solve.
Every business, no matter how large, aims to engage their core customers effectively. Having a detailed profile of your ideal customer can help you do that. What’s more, building a detailed set of customer avatars can help you advertise more effectively, which can save you money.
So What is It?
In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into the various types of customer avatars you can create. But for now, it’s enough to understand this:
A customer avatar is a profile.
It’s a collection of information about your ideal customer.
By creating effective customer avatars, you can:
• Identify novel opportunities in the market
• Understand your customer’s needs and wants
• Better understand why a given demographic is buying from you
• Tailor your offerings to specific demographics, with coupon codes, special offers, etc.
• Customize advertising to specific demographics
In short, a buyer persona is a tool with which you can identify and meet expectations. Over time, of course, this will enable to maximize your profits.
Rational vs Emotional Behavior
Let’s say you sell the Toyota Prius. Are your customers acting rationally or emotionally when they buy from you? You may assume that, overall, your customers are being rational when they buy from you. Consequently, when creating marketing materials, you may focus on the car’s selling points that will resonate with these rational customers.
But if you sell, say, the Tesla Model 3, you might come to the conclusion that your customers are acting emotionally when buying from you. You may then make your marketing materials reflect this, focusing on notions like sex appeal, freedom and luxury.
As you learn how to build customer avatars, keep this in mind: customers are always acting either rationally or emotionally.
Early on in the process, you’ll want to identify which is the case for you, as it informs nearly everything else.
What Is a Best Buyer?
A ‘best buyer’ is a customer who matches—or closely matches—your buyer persona. These folks can provide you with repeat business, but they can also become valuable brand ambassadors, singing your praises to the uninitiated far and wide. Building relationships with such mega fans is important in the age of social media, where everyone is wired up and communicating with one another over vast distances and in real time.
Exactly how you value these best buyers will depend on your business goals. For instance, if you’re a consultant, you might define a best buyer as someone who gets along with and your team, with minimal fuss, and who doesn’t introduce scopecreep into your projects.
But if you sell a physical product, your best buyers might be the folks who generate the most revenue. If, on the other hand, you render some kind of service and give part of your profit away to charity, your best buyer may be someone who is passionate about what you’re doing because they’re likely to help you spread the word.
Whatever the case for you, the fact remains that building a detailed buyer persona will help you get more of these folks in the door.
But according to Julie Schwartz of ITSMA, only around 44 percent of B2B marketers use customer avatars. Therefore, if you learn how to create highly accurate, detailed customer avatars, and your competitors don’t, you’ll have a significant advantage.
What’s more, in a study performed by Relevance, only 15 percent of respondents reported that customer avatars were ‘significantly effective.’ Yet the same survey revealed that only 15 percent of respondents used ‘in-depth, qualitative research’ when creating their customer avatars.
This is unlikely to be a coincidence.
According to a MarketingSherpa case study, customer avatars can add the following value:
• 900 percent increase in length of visit
• 171 percent increase in revenue from marketing
• A 110 percent increase in email open rate
How Many Is Too Many?
Once business owners learn the power of the buyer persona, it’s tempting for them to create several. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find that a business owner has made 10 or more. So before we get into how to create them, we feel it important to drop a reminder of the Pareto principle. The Pareto principle goes something like this:
Roughly 20 percent of your customers will make up around 80 percent of your sales.
Therefore, at least in the beginning, what you want is quality over quantity. Don’t make 10 customer avatars if you can identify the traits of your most eager customers in 4. By focusing on your whale customers first, you can secure and grow your core revenue streams.
Like any tool, this strategy has a few weaknesses. By pointing out these weak points, we don’t mean to discourage you from using the tool—far from it. But by understanding the limitations, you’ll be able to anticipate potential issues before they arise.
You see, even though customer avatars can have a huge impact on the bottom line, it can be a mistake to assign too much meaning to them. That is to say, once you know how to build them and how to use them, you don’t want to rely on them as your only marketing tool.
According to Harvard Business Review, collecting and analyzing customer data is absolutely essential for success, but raw data alone doesn’t magically reveal everything about your customers. Keep in mind that a buyer persona is a profile built on raw data. This means that, in some sense, these profiles are only as good as the data you collect.
Remember what we said earlier about rational vs emotional buying? Well, it turns out that even though customers are capable of making rational buying decisions, they are—we all are—a bit irrational.
A buyer persona is a lagging indicator. It’s based on data that you’ve collected in the past. With that data, you’re trying to predict future customer behavior. This often works, but sometimes it doesn’t. This limitation will be more relevant if you sell products that are subject to the whims and fancies of the populous, such as fashion items. Just think of how quickly a given style comes and goes.
Additionally, it’s possible to accurately identify your customers’ behavior patterns yet misunderstand why they buy from you in the first place. If you make this basic mistake at the outset, your buyer persona won’t be very accurate.
Another thing to understand early on is that people buy products for different reasons. For instance, a young man who reads Rolling Stone magazine might do so because it reinforces their self-image as a rebel. But another young man may buy the magazine because their girlfriend does. By lumping all customers into a few customer personas, you risk losing sight of the bigger picture. Over time, this can translate into missed opportunities.
To curtail these limitations, remember that branding is not marketing. Nor is it design, per se. Branding is the overall strategy you use to support your entire business. Consequently, when building customer personas, you should keep your brand in mind at all times. You’ll never be able to account for every sale—the motivations of each individual purchaser. But you can think in terms of your brand and why you appeal to certain people.
At the end of the day, this is enough—if done in a systematic and thorough manner.
How to Build Customer Avatars
In terms of their ability to identify, compile and utilize customer data, every business is different. Large tech companies may use sophisticated algorithms to study user interaction while small mom and pop businesses rely on surveys. But don’t fret, wherever you’re at on that scale, you can build powerful personas. In either case, however, the process begins with intensive research.
Step 1: Analyze Your Customers
At its most fundamental, this research involves thinking of your past and present customers and looking for features in common. If you’re a brick and mortar store, this might be asking a lot. After all, you likely see dozens or even hundreds of customers a day. But if you’re a consultant or freelancer, this may not be very difficult. Ask yourself:
• Why do my customers come to me?
• Why didn’t they go to my competitors?
• What is their demographic data?
• How much do they spend per visit on average?
• What do they buy from me?
As you poll your memory or records for this data, write it down so you can begin building a profile.
The next step is to conduct more intensive data mining. This involves:
• Employee surveys. Find out who your employees are interacting with on a day-to-day basis, and what those customers have in common.
• CRM data research. Poll your CRM software, looking for commonalities between your customers. There are SaaS services that can do this sort of data mining for you quickly. If doing this manually, you’ll want to look for common patterns and themes in the data.
• Customer surveys. Want more information about your customers? Simply ask them! Note that this approach works best when you provide a small incentive. For instance, many companies invite their customers to participate in surveys for a chance to win some sort of prize.
• Customer interviews. Your most loyal customers may appreciate the chance to give you feedback. But you can use the interaction as an opportunity to get more information about them.
• Social media research. There is a tremendous amount of free data out there—the various social media networks are a treasure trove for the data miner. Plus, you can use a service like Mention to watch for brand mentions online.
Of course, your go-to tool here will likely be customer surveys and interviews. Why not get data straight from the source? When conducting interviews, you’ll want to do so in person if possible. Your next best bet is a phone call…with email bringing up the rear.
Don’t forget: you want to interview both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ customers. The information you can gather from unsatisfied customers is invaluable. You’ll come away from the experience with ideas on how to improve your product or service.
But you shouldn’t ignore the other data sources, particularly social media. One thing you can do right now to improve your understanding of your customers is to look for profiles on social media who look like they’d buy from you.
What other products do they talk about? Who else do they follow? What do they complain about? What are their pain points? What groups do they follow? Are they single or married?
Step 2: Structure the Data
None of the data you’ve gleaned so far will do you any good if you can’t give it a usable structure. For that, you’ll need a framework. For that, you’ll need to know the secret we mentioned earlier. What is the single most important concept when building customer avatars? It’s time to find out.
A snowflake forms around a single dust granule in the upper atmosphere.
Similarly, a buyer persona forms around a single defining trait. Remember that a buyer persona is a collection of information about a single semi-fictional individual. Though the individual is fictional, their traits are informed by your real customers.
But simply analyzing your data for commonalities will result in too many traits. Your personas will be unfocused and…well, not very useful.
Instead, find one trait to build a group of customer avatars around.
When looking for that trait, start shaping the data with interests and characteristics in mind. A free mind-mapping application, like FreeMind, comes in handy here. But it’s not required.
Let’s say you own a sporting goods store. Your customers probably have several characteristics in common. Likewise, they probably share many interests. But if you focus on too many of those, your buyer persona will be unfocused. Instead, let’s say you decide to focus on a single trait, like this:
My ideal customer is interested in starting a new hobby.
They may be married, or they may be single. They may be divorced. They may be in their early 20s, or they may be middle aged. For now, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’re coming to your store because they’re interested in taking up hiking, or biking or camping. That’s the dust mote around which your snowflake will take shape.
Once you have that central idea—and only then—you should move on the other bits of data. These are the categories that will make up your buyer persona—the profile:
• Demographic data
• Personal life
• Pain points
• Communication channels
Let’s go back to our central idea, or trait:
My ideal customer is interested in starting a new hobby.
With that core concept in mind, you can fill in the data for each category above. What you’ll immediately find is that you can now create several different customer avatars—different stories, if you will—using that core concept. But keep the Pareto principle in mind. If you’re new to this process, you’ll want to focus on your potential whale clients first.
So our friend who owns the sporting goods store may create a buyer persona focused on well-off retirees who suddenly find they have a lot of time on their hands. Maybe they want to take up fly fishing, or golf.
Hopefully, you can now see how powerful this can be. Can you think of other ways in which you could make powerful customer avatars for this sporting goods store by starting with a different central trait?
My ideal customer is the busy executive who craves new toys.
Trust us, these folks exist. They’ll buy flashy equipment because they can, but they rarely use these toys. Eventually, they come back to buy the next flashy product with the intent to use it. Many gyms and fitness centers actually survive on this model.
The point is, you can use this technique to create customer avatars for targeted marketing campaigns, and you absolutely should.
Step 3: Add an Avatar
In step 2, you wrote a profile using a central trait and several subcategories. In this step, you’ll add a visual avatar to represent your buyer persona. This is an important step because putting a face on your ideal customer will help you—or your marketing team—come up with captivating marketing materials.
Look at any customer avatars you’ve created and then try to visualize what that person looks like. What is their posture like? Their body language?
Then go onto a stock image site and download or buy as many images as you need to complete your profile. As you look for pictures, think of the data categories above, such as career. What does your ideal customer look like while they’re at work? What do they look like when they’re at home?
Seeing the customer from these angles will really help when it comes time to create marketing assets.
How to Use Customer Avatars
Once you have four or more highly targeted customer personas based around a single trait, you can use them to vastly improve the following:
• Content marketing campaigns
• Social media marketing
• Website design
• Advertisement creation
• Homepage or landing page copywriting
Think back to the sporting goods store owner. They’ve decided to attract the rich executive who flits from hobby to hobby. What do they do? They can then use the persona they created to:
• Create a custom landing page on their website that emphasizes their luxury or high-end offerings
• Use Facebook or LinkedIn to target these individuals with relevant ads
• Create content that will appeal to these hobby chasers, funneling visitors to their custom landing page
Your buyer persona should help set the tone for your sales copy. Understanding exactly who you want to attract can help you tailor your copy in such a way that it will have massive appeal. Put another way, quality customer avatars allow you to create captivating copy. What’s more, creating your copy should be easier than ever because you will have already identified the pain points of your ideal customer.
Note: it’s okay to have more than one landing page. If you have four core customer avatars, you should have four landing pages, and each page should have copy targeting that particular buyer.
Before proceeding to the next section, answer the following questions:
• Is your current brand strategy informed by specific, detailed customer avatars?
• Is your copy informed by your buyer persona/s?
• Do you have at least four customer avatars?
• How many core traits can you think of—keeping in mind that one trait can result in many different customer avatars?
• When making decisions regarding your product or service, do you take your customer’s point of view into account?
The 8 Power Plays
So far, we’ve given you a powerful method for creating several customer avatars from a single common trait. In this section, we’ll give you more tools that will take your customer avatars to the next level.
#1 Use Quotes
When you interview customers, save their most insightful comments as quotes. Then you can add those quotes to your customer personas to give them a bit more weight and realism. One way to gather quotes without conducting lengthy interviews is to have a box in your online survey in which customers can leave feedback.
#2 Write a Fictional First Person Statement
Your persona should include a fictional first person statement that illustrates the customer’s perspective. Writing a first person statement is a stellar way to break out of the rut of relying on bullet points. Try to step into the customer’s shoes and see things from their point of view.
#3 Tell Stories
In the same vein, creating fictional stories for your persona can be a powerful way to get into the head of your ideal customer. A fictional buyer persona story should center around your ideal customer’s interaction with you and your brand.
Have fun with this and try not to self-edit. Just write free form. You might be surprised by the insights you come up with.
#4 Imagine a Day in the Life
Consider adding a section to your buyer persona that summarizes a day in the life of your ideal customer. How does their day start? How does it end? What stresses do they deal with between those two points?
A day in the life analysis can help you identify pain points.
#5 Describe Why the Persona Is the Decision Maker
It’s crucial that your ideal customer be the decision maker. If there’s some other gatekeeper between you and the sale, you’re in trouble. So, in a separate section, describe how and why your ideal customer is the ultimate decision maker. For a $15 information product, this may not be a big deal. But for a $1,500 product, it certainly becomes important.
Remember: if your ideal customer isn’t the ultimate decision maker, you’ll have to do substantially more work to get the sale.
Even if your ideal customer is the ultimate decision maker, there may be other people who can influence their decision. Try to list at least five such people. Common examples include:
The more people who can influence their decision, the more objections you’ll need to be ready to counter.
#7 The Eight Paragraph Description
The eight paragraph description is a powerful technique. It ensures that you’ve developed a well fleshed out buyer persona. The theory is that if you haven’t, you won’t be able to write eight paragraphs about the customer, keeping in mind that a paragraph is at least 75 words.
#8 The How We Help Section
Finally, consider writing a How We Help Section at the bottom. This section ensures that you’ve thought of all the ways you can help the customer solve their problem. Ask yourself:
• How can I address this customer’s pain point?
• What is the minimum I can charge to do so?
• Am I providing value?
• Am I providing a superior service?
• Is this customer likely to come back?
So there you have it. You now have a complete toolkit with which to create powerful customer avatars. Let’s look at the complete template now that we have all the information.
Each buyer persona starts with a central trait, so let’s write that in.
[Put Central Trait Here]
In our example above, it was:
My ideal customer is the busy executive who craves new toys.
Then, there are several categories you need to fill in.
• Demographic data
• Personal life
• Pain points
• Communication channels
These are followed by several optional, but highly recommended, additional categories.
• Fictional First Person Statement
• A Story
• A Day In The Life
• Why Is the Persona the Decision Maker?
• Who Are the Influencers?
• The Eight Paragraph Description
• How We Help
This may seem like a lot of work, but once you get the knack, you can knock these out fairly quickly. Plus, imagine the advantage you’ll have your competitors who don’t go through this process. So get to it.
Let me know in the comments section how it goes! If you found this post helpful, why not share it with your like-minded friends and fellow entrepreneurs?