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10 Rules for Buyer Persona Development


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10 Rules that are foundational to the creation of buyer personas. Describes the key prinicples of buyer persona development and how they differ from customer profiling. A soource to help companies in the understanding of how buyer personas help to inform customer strategy.

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10 Rules for Buyer Persona Development

  1. 1. Rules For Buyer Persona By Tony Zambito, President & CEO , Goal Centric Development Copyright 2010 Goal Centric Management, Inc.
  2. 2. Buyer Personas are archetypal representations of customers and buyers that model buyer goals and are derived from qualitative and experiential analysis. They have started to work their way into the mainstream conscious of the marketing realm at an accelerate rate. I have been involved in the persona and buyer persona development movement for over a decade and have witnessed their evolution firsthand. Starting in 2002, our firm Goal Centric carved out a path to transition user persona methodology that informs design strategy to the formulation of buyer persona development methodology that informs customer strategy. Over the years, I have seen many misconceptions about buyer personas in general as well as misunderstanding in how to implement a buyer persona development initiative that informs customer strategy. The following 10 rules are a collection of Buyer Persona Insights blog postings that is intended to provide a foundational understanding of buyer persona development that I hope will help organizations today to realize the full value of buyer persona Introduction development.
  3. 3. You Can’t Make Them Up
  4. 4. The rise in popularity of buyer personas has also meant a rise in people getting them wrong. The building awareness of the term and the idea of using buyer personas in marketing on a mass level can be traced to David Meerman’s Scott book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR. My partner Angela Quail and I worked with courageous companies who were early adopters of buyer personas after Goal Centric launched the buyer persona methodology in 2002. I still can recall the look on executive’s faces when we started talking to them about buyer personas back then – as in – “what are you talking about!?” I guess we should have written a book! We give much kudos to David for writing the chapter he did in his book and he is a great ambassador for putting buyer personas into practice. Here is what is bugging me though of late. While I am extremely excited about the building awareness, I am also seeing with much concern people writing and talking about buyer personas and clearly getting it wrong. I like to add that some going so far to even misquote David from his very own book. Here’s a recommendation I bet David would concur with me on – read the book! It bothers me for a couple of very good reasons: it devalues buyer personas and it puts up a roadblock for buyer personas to inform strategy. Believe me; if executives of major corporations see buyer personas as a “tool” to profile buyers and not a best practice, then the buyer persona development process will not have much hope of expanding beyond that.
  5. 5. The word archetype is used to describe what a buyer persona is, even David used the word in his book however the question missed by most is this: what makes up an archetype? In my experience over the last ten years, I believe there are 10 rules for creating a buyer persona, an archetype and model of a buyer you wish to deeply understand. Rules garnered from on the ground learning, experience, sweat, tears, many late nights getting it right for a client, meetings with senior executives, deploying their use to hundreds of people in sales and marketing, seeing them in action, and going back to the roots of persona development more than a decade ago. Here is the first: Rule 1: You can't just make up a buyer persona. I see this all the time – the idea that all you have to do is look over your customer data, interview a couple of sales reps, and start creating a buyer persona. It doesn’t work that way. You end up creating a bad buyer persona that offers no real insight. They may look nice but they quickly become the shiny new object. A static snapshot that loses its' luster after used a few times. After many interviews with front line people, I've learned that they put little stock in them when buyer personas are created in this way; and may never admit to doing so out of good old fear in corporate culture. You see, many marketing and sales reps will respond with "I could have come up with that; what's the big hoopla all about?" They are right.
  6. 6. Don’t Confuse a Buyer Persona with a Customer Profile
  7. 7. If you’ve visited Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, you’ve undoubtedly encountered the many street vendors. One of the most visible is those who promise to draw your caricature profile on the spot. My answer to them these days when they “bark” at me to sit down and have my profile drawn is – “if you can make me look 10 years younger, I’ll do it!” This next rule has to do with profiling. Customer profiles have been around for a very long time. They crept their way into sales methodologies, CRM, marketing, market research, and etc. They have served their purpose in looking at demographics, psychographics, customer purchasing data, geographic concentrations, and other characteristics. All these data points contribute to drawing up a customer profile that describes the characteristics of targeted customers. Hence the next rule: Rule 2: Don’t Confuse a Buyer Persona with a Customer Profile This is a very common misunderstanding about a buyer persona. I’ve seen many attempted descriptions of a buyer persona that describe them as a profile. A buyer persona can include characteristics common to customer profiles however they are intended to go far beyond that to reveal deep insight into your buyers and customers.
  8. 8. An analogy that works well is that when an actor takes on a role, that role is described to him or her. The role has a profile of how old the character is, what it might look like, where it fits into the story, and other descriptors. The actor’s and the director’s job is to dig deep to reveal the motivations, the behavior, the mind, and hero-like or villain-like qualities of the role. Some actors reveal insights into a role that were nearly impossible to have figured out before rehearsals began The downside is that this confusion creates a perception among senior executives about buyer personas that is off the mark. Most have experience with customer profiles, which became prominent starting in the ‘80’s. It is problematic in the sense that the value of buyer personas is not seen and the mindset is to dismiss buyer personas as a mere profiling exercise. Anyone who has ever sought executive sponsorship knows what I am talking about. If the mindset is settled about what a concept is perceived to be, then the hurdle is that much harder to jump to gain executive buy-in.
  9. 9. Get the Right People with the Right Attributes and Skills
  10. 10. Did you ever have one of those sleepless nights in a Godforsaken hotel and you find yourself channel flipping? You 100k miles per year executives know exactly what I am talking about. You suddenly hit an infomercial promising you earnings twice to three times what you are making now and you only have to work as little as 10 hours per week. Infomercials are good at this. They are real good at showing you the golf course, the BMW, and the testimonials of people who live the lifestyle of the rich and famous. As you sit there in your catatonic state your mind screams “- why can’t I have that!” This next rule has to do with not falling for the promise that you can have just anybody on your team creating high quality buyer personas after they attend a one-hour workshop: Rule 3: Get the right people with the right attributes and right skill sets Like any new concept that begins to rise in awareness, you start to see workshops promising that in an hour or half-day you will be creating buyer personas and you will be taking them back with you to the office. As mentioned before in this series, this approach seriously devalues buyer personas in the eyes of executives. It takes a certain set of attributes and skill sets to do the qualitative work, distill what you’ve learned, create buyer personas that are reflective of true buyer goals, and are meaningful. Needless to say, to begin to apply attributes and skill sets to actual experience takes more than an hour or a half-day. .
  11. 11. I’ve seen several buyer persona development initiatives fail because they were simply put in the wrong hands. It was just a matter of the wrong set of attributes and skill sets compounded by the lack of adequate knowledge. And as many of you know; this is a recipe for disaster and a failed project. One of the key issues is that there are aspiring marketers who want to learn how to create a buyer persona but the reality is that all may not possess the right attributes and skills to do so or to carry out an in-depth buyer persona development initiative that can last 3 to 4 months. This poses a real dilemma for senior executives to choose the right people to be involved in buyer persona development efforts with the intent to inform strategy and one they must get right. The next time a request to approve sending personnel to a one-hour workshop to become an expert in creating a buyer persona, snap out of the catatonic state traveling has you in and come to your senses – it is impossible for one to learn the expertise required in one hour.
  12. 12. Buyer Personas Are a Translation of Goals
  13. 13. Understanding your customer’s pain points has been a staple of sales and marketing for quite some time. Gaining a solid grasps on their motivations, drivers, personalities, people they interact with, and the likes has led to many programs offering clues on how to reach, sell, and close business with buyers. Anyone who has been through a significant amount of sales training can attest to how each program stresses the need for understanding buyer’s needs and wants as well as the promise of adapting your selling style to that of an analytical or other personality types. The difficulty lies in putting the picture together and making sense of what you have learned. The next rule is one of the cornerstone rules first established by Alan Cooper; many consider being the founding father of personas: Rule 4: Buyer Personas are a Translation of Goals This may sound relatively simple and easy but it is not when you consider that goals, in this framework, are a result of translating all of the findings gathered in qualitative research such as pain points, motivations, drivers, interactions, and personalities. Alan Cooper created user personas for the purpose of informing Goal Directed Design Strategy. My colleague, Angela Quail, and I took this same principle we learned from Cooper to help clients create a Goal Centric Customer Strategy that are informed by buyer personas.
  14. 14. Getting at the goals of buyers can be tough for this reason: buyers may not always be able to articulate their own goals clearly or are yet precise about goals of the organization. Thus it takes some solid qualitative research to arrive at discovering buyer goals that are truly a translation of insight that senior executives can rely on to make sound decisions on customer, sales, and marketing strategies. I believe that this is one of the most important rules in buyer persona development. Keeping the focus on goals will help you and your organization to have meaningful buyer personas that lead to winning strategies.
  15. 15. Buyer Personas Offers Insight Into the Unarticulated and the Not-So-Obvious
  16. 16. When you travel to a foreign country where you are not familiar with the culture or the language, it can be exciting yet very trying. The first few hours are like being in a giant maze and you wonder how you will ever get to find your way around and be able to communicate with the locals. The next few days are a real struggle as you attempt to make sense of all the gestures, facial expressions, and how the local people respond to you as you seek help. If you are there more than a week, you find yourself surprisingly starting to immerse yourself into the culture and you are doing so almost entirely on a non-verbal level. All the funny gestures, expressive motions of the hands, wrinkle of the faces, and the exasperated laughter of those trying to help you suddenly are beginning to make sense. At the very least you now know how to order an espresso nonverbally. This next rule deals with a critical element of buyer persona development that serves executives as they formulate customer strategy: Rule 5: A Buyer Persona Offers Insight into the Unarticulated and Not-So Obvious As in visiting a foreign country, visiting buyers can be akin to going on foreign territory. It is tough to make out specifically what they mean. And what buyers say may not always be what they mean.
  17. 17. While information respective to a customer profile about background, job functions with related titles, reporting, motivations, pain points, needs, fears, and wants can be derived with some degree of research, the real value is in uncovering profound unarticulated insights and not-so obvious goals that lead to a winning customer strategy and a competitive differentiator. This is one of the key rules that separate buyer personas from being a customer profiling exercise to a means of providing senior executives with the informed insights they need to make sound decisions about customer strategy. As mentioned previously, it takes the right people with the right skills to go into this foreign territory. It is my belief that in the near future, organizations will have specialists who are hybrids of customer strategists, ethnographers, and anthropologist who engage in buyer insight for the purpose of informing strategy. The near future is not that far off as forward thinking organizations such as Intel, HP, and Starbucks continuously seek the unarticulated and the not-so obvious.
  18. 18. Buyer Personas is Not a Quantitative Process
  19. 19. The quest for information can be addicting. In organizations where the leadership is mostly analytical in nature, the need for information and analysis can be interwoven into the corporate culture and is a component of every decision. When it comes to markets and customers, quantitative analysis of many shapes and forms are used to arrive at customer data. You may have recently sat in a presentation whereby you reviewed results of online surveys, viewed multiple pie charts segmenting data, analyzed customer data reports generated in multi-variant ways, and purchased industry related reports with a chockfull of relevant data. Several years ago, the futurist John Naisbitt came up with this quote: “ “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” The sixth rule related to buyer persona development is about distinguishing information from insight: Rule 6: Buyer Persona Development is not a Quantitative Process One of the pitfalls of buyer persona development in an analytical oriented organization is that it could be dropped into the market research area and undergoes a transformation into a quantitative research project. A cognitive dissonance occurs over sampling sizes in quantitative areas such as market research. A question that often leads to this transformation is: How could a buyer persona development initiative with a sample size of 40 to 50 possibly offer the same validity of performing surveys on a sample size of 1,000?
  20. 20. What happens is that you wind up with reams and reams of information but the knowledgeable insights that are gleamed from qualitative and experiential analysis is missing. Thus, the results lack contextual reference of exactly what the goals of the buyer personas may be. My colleague Angela Quail and I saw this happen firsthand. Six figures were dropped onto such a project in an organization we helped afterwards. Buyer persona “profiles” were created and they consisted of many data points pulled from a quantitative effort of sending out surveys as well as creating online surveys. It was clear that there were usability issues with the crafted profiles since sales and portions of marketing rejected them. A hard lesson learned. However, it is important to note that the qualitative aspects of buyer persona development complement the quantitative aspects of market research in two ways. First, insights derived during buyer persona development can point the way towards opportunities that need to be explored and validated quantitatively. For example, during the insights gathering, uncovered is a promising new market potential. Market research can go to work then trying to figure out what the size of the market may be and validate the potential. The second can be when market research has identified a market with valid potential but the picture of the identified buyer segment is blurry. Executives can utilize buyer persona development to “humanize” the buyer segment, gain clarity on buyer goals, and determine what the appropriate strategies for customer engagement are.
  21. 21. Avoid Building a Wire Mesh of Data Points
  22. 22. When MS Excel came into existence many years ago, it was a significant leap in computing power. The uses for MS Excel have grown far beyond the basic computations it was designed for. Graphs, tables, charts, matrixes and the likes are all very common to what people can now do with MS Excel. You can add data into many rows and columns almost infinitum it seems. It also seems that in the concept of buyer personas, there has been misguided efforts to engage in an oversimplified process of creating a composite of many data points. The outcome being buyer personas resembling a wire mesh of columns and rows that have every conceivable bit of information on the “what” of a buyer persona. This leads me to the next rule: Rule 7: Avoid Building a Wire Mesh of Data Points When Creating Buyer Personas It is a natural tendency to layer data on top of data. We desire to find out as much as possible about a buyer persona. When the wire mesh effect happens it is a result of three problems: Buyer persona creation is viewed as a composite profiling exercise and not a development process with distinct stages. There is a lack of qualitative and experiential analysis that provides deep insight thus a reliance on finding as many data points as possible via internal or survey oriented vehicles.
  23. 23. An over emphasis on what buyer personas do versus on the insight that can inform customer strategy. The downside to the wire mesh effect is that it perpetuates the attempt to fit buyers and segments into neat boxes. This type of approach creates a counter to the value of buyer personas which is to gain deep insights into buyer’s goals that are translated into informing customer strategies. The wire mesh effect on building buyer personas as oppose to viewing buyer personas as a development process results in a poor foundation on which to make informed decisions in many areas. Both the B2C and the B2B world are changing extremely fast as digital marketing and social media evolves. Creating buyer personas resembling a wire mesh can leave you on the outside looking in.
  24. 24. Qualitative and Experiential Analysis is the Foundation
  25. 25. An interesting show to watch is Extreme Makeover Home Addition. It is quite an amazing process when they can take what looks like hopeless situations and turn dilapidated houses into dream homes. Have you ever noticed where they typically start with a house about to be made over? Ty Pennington, one of the stars and host of Extreme Makeover, can often be found starting the show in the basement of the house selected for an Extreme Makeover episode. Ty is checking for structural issues, leaks, shifts in the soil, the wiring, and many other areas related to the determining how solid the foundation is for the house. It is not surprising that in many episodes, they wind up razing the entire house and building new as a result of the foundation being weak. When it comes to the process of buyer persona development, one of the rules that are foundational to creating a buyer persona is: Rule 8: Goal-Centered Qualitative and Experiential Analysis is the Foundation of Buyer Persona Development To redo a house as in Extreme Makeover, it begins as a process with very distinct stages. In other words you cannot put up a roof until you have a foundation and the frame of the house has been established. Similarly, with buyer personas, they can be created with tremendous meaning when they are grounded in qualitative and experiential analysis that is focused on buyer goals and have been created through a process-oriented methodology that also has distinct stages.
  26. 26. The buyer persona itself is meant to be an archetype of buyer goals that are derived from foundational qualitative and experiential analysis with real and potential customers. They in of themselves are not the end means. In many ways, the process of creating them is far more relevant to informing goal centered customer strategy than the actual buyer persona itself. This concept is very foundational to the origins of personas as well when personas were a means to inform goal directed design strategy and served as the communication vehicle and archetype of user goals. In the next few years, it is my belief that the need for buyer persona strategists will grow and that the pendulum will swing back to the origins of a goal centered approach to buyer persona development. Executives will see tremendous value in the foundation of qualitative and experiential analysis in informing them on evolving buyer goals and behaviors. Which will serve as foundational guidance for making important decisions respective to customer strategy. Buyer persona strategists of the future will become a unique specialty in the sense that it will require the convergence of attributes and skill sets in the areas of strategy, ethnography, anthropology, sociology, and qualitative analysis.
  27. 27. Purpose is to Inform Goal Centered Customer Strategies
  28. 28. When the compass was invented by the Chinese during the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C), it radically changed civilizations and ushered in many years later the Age of Exploration in the 15th century. Just as the invention of the printing press created the advent of knowledge and information being made available to the masses, the compass meant civilizations were given the tool to explore. The compass allowed travelers and explorers to know what direction they were headed with a good degree of certainty. This simple tool spurred on civilizations coming in contact with each other, trade, and the introduction of goods never before seen. In the modern world, GPS Technology is now becoming so commonplace that we not only know in what direction to go, we also know where others are. The buyer persona development process has an important rule related to the compass: Rule 9: The Purpose of the Buyer Persona Development Process is to Inform on Goal Centered Customer Strategies For senior executives today, there is a vast wilderness of the digital and social world yet to be explored fully. Buyer behaviors and buyer goals are changing rapidly with many changes happening around the globe by the time you finish reading this sentence.
  29. 29. The buyer persona development process is meant to be informing and exploratory. The process of buyer persona development provides insights and direction for senior planners to create strategies for customer engagement that meet buyer’s goals and also meet buyers where they are located in the digital world. A few years ago we were working with an organization that was perplexed by a drop in revenues from a specific segment of their customer base. What we now know as being a part of buyer behavior in the modern world, we saw a glimpse of back then. That is, those buyers wanted available resources to do research on a product/service to meet specific goals before the intervention of sales. The company implemented a unique content and subject matter expertise strategy that met buyer’s need for information and resources available at their fingertips. This early adoption of content marketing turned the tide and they saw revenues regained and grow. The buyer persona development process gave them insightful information on where buyers were headed, how it was impacting their business, and what strategies they could incorporate to meet buyer’s goals. The buyer persona development process holds the promise of being a senior executive’s compass for shaping future strategies for customer engagement, digital marketing, and for growing top line revenues.
  30. 30. Buyer Persona Development Serves as a Way to Tell Stories About Customers
  31. 31. Some of the great orators of our time had the gifted ability to communicate as well as rally an entire nation. One of the most gifted was Winston Churchill. His “we shall fight them on the beaches” and “this is our finest hour” speeches rallied the entire British nation and Allied forces in the epic fight against Nazi domination in World War II. Those speeches were born out of Winston Churchill’s many years of political service and his intimate knowledge of the British people. He knew how to tell a story about his own people. For senior level executives today, the need for a rallying speech of the century may not be that pressing but they need to rally personnel around a deep understanding of customers and buyers like never before. The 10th and final rule: Rule 10: Buyer Persona Development Serves as a Communications Platform to Tell the Story of Customers and Buyers 10 A struggle for any CEO is to communicate the story of how the organization can and will best serve the goals of it’s’ buyers. How to interweave this story into the daily mechanisms of an entity can be a challenge and an epic one at that. Buyer personas, derived from a rich and robust process of getting to know customers and buyers experientially, can serve as the media for executives to tell the story about their buyers and how their company will help to continue the story.
  32. 32. It has been a privilege to tell the story of the 10 rules for creating a buyer persona. These rules are a reflection of over a decade of contributing to persona development in general and taking the first step in 2002 towards making persona development a useful process for sales and marketing when I asked the question: “why not buyer personas?” (See article The Origins of Buyer Personas) The term “buyer persona” has been popularized over the last four years in particular and taking on many different meanings. It is my hope that these rules will serve as guidance for understanding the foundational principles of buyer persona development as a process and methodology for understanding buyers. 10
  33. 33. Produced By: Tony Zambito 10 Rules President & CEO For Goal Centric Buyer Copyright 2010 Persona Goal Centric Management, Inc. Development