Buyer personas: The inbound marketer’s best friend or fading fad?

Variety of unknown people standing in a line

Creating Buyer Personas, like a lot of things in marketing, isn’t universally agreed upon. In fact, at a conference of 50+ marketing agency owners I attended just last month, a number of seasoned marketers were suggesting that Buyer Personas were nothing more than a “passing fad based on lemming advice”, to recall one particular comment verbatim. Not exactly high praise.

So what should you do as you create your inbound marketing strategy? Skip the buyer persona step entirely or drink the inbound marketing Kool-aid? Well, before you dismiss Buyer Personas as a passing fad, let’s dig into them a bit further. But first, a story. 

You in advertising?

A good friend of mine used to own an advertising agency back when advertising agencies were something worth owning (i.e. the 80s and early 90s). He once told me a story about he and his wife heading off to Acadia National Park for a day of hiking.

They had arrived at the trailhead in their shiny new Subaru wagon, ready for a day of hiking in the fresh Maine autumn air. Suitable to the occasion, they were decked out in down-filled Patagonia vests, complete with Gore-Tex shells contrasting boldly against their plaid long-sleeved shirts.

As they exited the wagon to fetch their wheaten terrier from the back hatch, they noticed another Subaru pulling into the parking area. Moments later, two people emerged from the second Subaru, their bold Patagonia-branded vests shining brightly as they too opened the rear of their wagon. As you might by now be expecting, out jumped a jovial wheaten terrier, keen to embrace the hike and possibly make a new friend or two.

As the man locked the car doors and adjusted the terrier’s leash, he made eye contact with my friend. Without missing a beat, he simply looked at my friend and asked: You in advertising?

And just like that, some 30 years before the words Buyer Persona  were ever spoken, two 1980s ad guys found out they weren’t so unique and creative after all. And that maybe—just maybe—buyer personas could help brands sell.

Different Users, Different Conversion Paths, Different Requirements… Different.

It seems rather obvious, but the simple fact is that almost every website and inbound marketing strategy must serve different masters.

As you define your website’s information architecture and conversion flow, it is critical that you are mindful of the different people using the site and the variances in where they’re starting from, what they’re seeking, and how they will use what they find. And of course, the persona mix will be different for every organization.

For example, if you’re a B2B organization with a long, complex sales cycle, your site may need to serve a wide range of visitors along the path to nurturing a sale. Perhaps the sale starts with research as project administrator-level staff look for various providers, options, etc.  From there, your site may need to serve the primary buyer—a senior level manager with budget authority who is hands-on in her decision making. As a final step, perhaps the purchase decision will need approval from the C-suite, who checks the website as a quick point of validation prior to signing on the dotted line.

Each of these Buyer Personas would have very different information requirements and are likely to engage with very different content. Their goals are different. Their questions are different. And by extension, you’re best results will be found when you treat them differently.

Asking the Tough Questions

I have found that creating Buyer Personas often gives marketing and sales organizations the opportunity to ask questions that have thus far gone unasked and unanswered.

As foundational as these questions are, “What are the marketing triggers that this persona experiences that leads them to seek out your product or service?”… or “What are the objections your salespeople face early in a potential deal?” are often being considered for the first time as an organization details their Buyer Personas.

Not only can the answers to these questions dramatically change the inbound customer journeys you’re creating, they can also inform meaningful operational changes and enhance your organization’s customer focus. And while it’s easy to say that these questions should be being answered and these conversations should be happening already, the reality is that they’re often not. Creating Buyer Personas are as good an excuse as any to spark the discussions that need to happen to take your organization to the next level.

Give your Content a North Star

As you work week in, week out creating fresh content to fuel your inbound marketing strategy, it can sometimes be tempting to… shall we say… drift a bit. Without a clear sense of who you’re creating content for, it’s far too easy to start writing for the wrong people, using the wrong vocabulary, in the wrong tone, etc. And these problems only get worse as more cooks enter the kitchen.

Buyer Personas help keep marketing teams, agency partners, freelance writers, and others on the same page. Too often, organizations spend countless hours crafting visual brand guidelines, and ignore creating a similar level of consistency around their brand voice and customer / persona understanding. So the next time somebody tries to tell you that Buyer Personas are a waste of time, have a look at how focused the content is that they’re creating for their own customers. Chances are, they’re either not producing much or it’s all over the place.

To keep your content creation heading in the right direction, give it the north star it deserves. Your focus will be rewarded with more conversions and less wasted time.


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