How to Develop a Buyer Persona in 3 Easy Steps

April 18, 2016


Have you ever read something that captivated your attention, as though everything else faded away and it was just you and the words? That kind of engagement doesn’t happen by accident; it occurs through careful planning. The person behind that communication has taken time to understand who you are and what’s important to you. If you really want to take your marketing to the next level, you need to do the same. And that’s where personas come into play.

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. – Hubspot

Without a clear understanding of who you’re selling to, the content, service or product you create will never resonate with your target customer. Your communications need to feel authentic and personal and that can only happen if you’ve developed a profile of who you’re talking to.

A strong persona will provide insight to the following questions:

  • Who am I writing for?
  • What do they want to learn?
  • What do they need to learn in order to make a buying decision?
  • Where will they consume the content?
  • Why will they choose me over competitors?
  • How can I create content that wins?

By following the next three steps, you’ll gain the information needed to answer these questions. And that will make for a much stronger marketing campaign.

1. Interview Your Ideal Customer

When I’m building a buyer persona I like to take my clients out to coffee or lunch. It makes for a casual setting where you can dig deeper into their needs, goals and challenges. During the interview, I ask questions that provoke the right kinds of answers. Here’s a few to get you started:

  • How do you measure progress toward that goal?
  • What does success mean to you?
  • Which social media networks do you use regularly?
  • Do you read any publications or blogs?
  • How do you prefer to communicate (e.g. phone, email, in person)?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What is the biggest obstacle you’re facing right now?
  • How have your failures changed the way you do business?
  • What reasons have clients given for no longer working with you?
  • What steps do you take to evaluate a new service provider?

As an interviewer, you should always try to dig deeper. These questions are just the starting point. Never be afraid to ask why.

2. Develop a Buyer Persona Profile

Once you’ve gathered data from the interviews, it’s time to document the customer persona. Include several elements that create a well-rounded, semi-fictional character:

Choose a Photo to Represent Your “Client”

I’ve found that you’re much more likely to make a connection with the character when you can truly visualize that person. There are a couple of ways to get this image:

  • Take a photo of one of your interviewees. This is ideal because you’ve actually spoken to this person. Your connection is real, not fictional. However, you’ll want to make sure she’s 100% your target customer. Otherwise, you could miss some important aspects of a well-rounded person.
  • Google Images or stock photos. If you don’t know anyone that fits the bill, find someone online that resembles what you target customer looks like. Although this approach doesn’t bring the connection of a real-life photo, it will suffice when building your fictional persona.

The chosen picture will impact the way you view your audience, so make sure it lives up to how they look. For example, you wouldn’t want a stock photo of a 20-something hipster when you’re trying to reach 30-year-olds starting out their corporate career.

Define their Career Roles & Lifestyle

This section is pretty straightforward. What is their role/position, and what company do they work for? Or maybe they’re an entrepreneur and run a growing business – list it here. Do they have any other roles in life (e.g. wife, mother, sister) that are essential to understanding what motivates them?

E.g. Creative Director, videographer, manager of team. Mother, wife, friend.

You want to showcase how this user persona views herself in the world. Which titles resonate with her most? For example, there’s a big difference between someone who does content writing for work and someone that identifies as a writer. What roles share your persona’s identity?

Understand What Goals Motivate Them

Here you want to tap into three types of goals:

  • Short-Term Goals: What does she want to accomplish in business this year?
  • Long-Term Goals: Where does she want to be 10 years from now?
  • Legacy Goals: What legacy does she want to leave behind?

In many ways, the goals we set define our entire personality. Our lives are shaped, changed and molded by the dreams we dare to make a reality. It’s your job to capture the depth of those desires. When you craft content that speaks to someone’s dreams, you’re winning. So, it’s important that you include these goals in your documented persona. Every time you look at it, you’ll be reminded of the dreams you’re helping come true.

Understand What Challenges Stand in Their Way

In contrast, you also need to also know the challenges that stand in the way. What is your customer struggling with on a daily basis? How can your product and the way you market it help alleviate these pain points?

Content marketing is the perfect place to educate your customer on overcoming difficult situations. For example, let’s say you’re a digital marketing company. After a number of interviews, you notice a theme appearing – everyone is struggling with gaining followers on Instagram. Something as simple as that could point to even larger marketing issues – like an inability to connect with a younger audience.

Writing down all these challenges will give you direction and inspiration for what you need to talk about and teach to your audience.

Capture Their Demographic Details

Although demographics can seem a bit dull, documenting them can be very helpful. You’ll be able to evaluate stronger marketing strategies, conduct better ad targeting and even shape the identity of your brand. The demographics section should include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Education
  • Location

If you have a narrow audience, these stats will appear very similar across all interviewees. However, if you notice a broad range of demographics, you may want to consider either narrowing down your target customer even further, or creating several personas for each demographic pattern.

There’s nothing wrong with developing more than one persona. Remember, you want each profile to accurately depict this person. It’s better to make multiple personas than attempt to cram several types of people into one character.

Document a “Typical Day” in Their Life

In this section, you’ll want to create a story that captures the smaller details that you gathered from digging deeper in the interviews. I like to take this area to develop a day-in-the-life view of the persona. By looking at how they go through the day, you can gain valuable insight into how to best reach out through marketing and sales. The story would go through a typical day for my customer, and would include details like:

  • Daily information diet (E.g. social networks, blogs, learning sources)
  • Common obstacles and frustrations
  • Responsibilities within roles
  • Other unique anecdotes and habits

A strong story – combined with the other elements – makes for a comprehensive user persona.

3. Map the Persona’s Sales Journey

Using the information you gathered in the interview – along with a bit of imagination – you should identify the typical buying cycle of your customer. Knowing how, when, where and why they buy will inform the way that you develop and distribute content. I like to imagine a funnel; it’s not a new concept – the sales funnel has been around for years. But it’s still a powerful visualizer in acquisition. A basic sales journey could look something like this:

  • Top-of-Funnel: First made aware of her problem/challenge.
  • Top-of-Funnel: Starts seeking answers and learn what needs fixing.
  • Middle-of-Funnel: Begins to look for various solutions.
  • Middle-of-Funnel: Interested in the expertise you demonstrated.
  • Middle-of-Funnel: Sees you as the strongest provider in the market.
  • Bottom-of-Funnel: Finds validation that you are the best choice for her business.

As you identify the steps your persona takes, content ideas will begin to spark. And when that happens, you can make strategic moves instead of just reacting to the winds of your industry.

Persona Marketing for Exceptional Results

Truly remarkable inbound marketing starts with the basics. Something as simple as buyer personas can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your content. It’s amazing how much easier it is to create content when you’re writing it to just one person.

How are you using personas for content marketing? Have you noticed that they make writing and publishing content much easier? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


about the author

Freelance Contributor Chelsei Henderson is a content marketing consultant helping freelancers and entrepreneurs build successful companies in the digital world.