If you have read "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, you will be able to answer the question: Why did the Little Prince leave his planet? If not, you would have to turn to the internet, ask someone who knows the answer, watch the movie or read the book. In any of these scenarios, there is no way for you to understand his decision on your own.
The Buyer Persona has often been a demographic and psychographic characterization. For example, "How old is the Little Prince?" "What planet does he come from?" "What does he like to do?" "What are his values?" But this information still doesn't help you understand why he traveled from planet to planet until he found what made him want to return to his own. This blog will tell you a little about Buyer Personas and the right way to build them to make your business successful.
What is a Buyer Persona?
The Buyer Persona is a semi-fictional character. It is built based on formulating hypotheses in ethnographic, psychological, and behavioral aspects, becoming the pattern of an ideal customer for our company. His profiling incorporates data about his daily environment, his behavior as a person, as a professional, and, in today's world, as a digital media user. For all these reasons, it is not enough to stay with hypotheses. It would be best to validate the Buyer Persona by conducting surveys and interviews, collecting data, and analyzing it to have accurate conclusions about our customers.
This persona represents the person for whom solutions are designed in the form of products and services and is also the pillar of contemporary marketing strategies. Understanding it will help us know why, how, where, and when a person might seek help from a business.
What is the current challenge?
Building a Buyer Persona often only results in a visual way of representing what we already know. These contain demographic information (age, gender, place of residence, occupation, income) in the same way as it was done in 1960, in the heyday of mass product sales. This methodology is currently only helpful to retailers of consumer products, where practically only general information about market segments is needed.
Slightly more modern designs include psychographic data (values, hobbies, opinions, personality), which can give a better perspective of who our ideal customers are when combined with the former. However, these patterns still do not help us understand the real way in which buyers make decisions.
In other words, many companies find it challenging to describe their customers. The Buyer Personas they design are incomplete, and they can only say what they already know about them. Mainly because when thinking about the design of a new product or service and the buying experience they want to have, we still have to guess for what reasons a person decides whether or not to buy it.
What is the correct way to build it?
In short, it is not wrong for Buyer Personas to have demographic and psychographic information; this data is necessary. We simply need to complement them with a story. And the best way to internalize a story is by living it or talking to the people who tell it firsthand. So, in addition to market research, we need to get close to our customers and listen to them.
For example, I have suffered from chronic gastritis for as long as I can remember. Depending on the situation, I can suffer from symptoms for days at a time, or they can last only an afternoon. Many of the medications I have used throughout my life to treat other illnesses have come at the cost of sacrifice, depression, and stomach upsets that have caused me to need additional drugs to counteract the first effects. One day I contracted a virus for which I was not prepared. So I called a family member who was a medical graduate and told him about my symptoms.
Based on that situation, he recommended a couple of products that my parents quickly found in a pharmacy and helped me feel better with no side effects that I could perceive. This person had known me all my life. He knew my medical history and told me that he had taken my condition into account when making his decision, recommending a drug that was not so aggressive for my stomach and another that, just in case, would counteract the effects of gastritis, which is why I would not feel nauseous and would not force me to lie down.
It is of no use for the pharmacy to have a general record of me; my name, the amount of my salary, my address, and my hobbies, if at the end of the day, they are going to end up selling me the same product as someone that contracted the same virus, who lives on the other side of the country. My particular story made me buy that specific product and not any of the others that also attacked those symptoms.
The Buyer Persona represents our customers and allows us to see that they are real people with real families, real bosses, real friends, real concerns, and actual problems. To know why they make decisions, you have to go beyond mass characterizations and identify why they might decide to buy one product over another. In other words, the right way to create a Buyer Persona is to validate it, identify those people represented by the fictitious character you are creating, ask them questions, interview them, and listen to them. Otherwise, you are making a severe mistake by adapting your Buyer Persona to the product when it should be the other way around.
Types of Buyer Persona
When profiling an ideal customer, we must know how to choose who we will try to draw strategically. According to our objectives, we can develop different types of Buyer Persona:
- The decision-maker: is the one who buys the product. In "business to customer" purchases, it can be the final consumer, but in "business to business" cases, it can be a manager, buyer, maintenance, engineer, etc.
- The recommender: There are cases where the decision-maker relies on someone else's technical expertise. For example, when remodeling a kitchen, homeowners buy their products from a materials vendor but look to designers for recommendations on the best options for finishes and how specific colors help change the perception of the space. In this case, content generation must reach both the consumer and the person advising them.
- The influencer: in other situations, the buyer may decide based on emotional or affective elements coming from close people or customer groups. For example, a vegan daughter will ask her parents to go to a restaurant where they have options for her. And as an example of the "business to business" case, an environmentally responsible market segment may be the reason for a textile maquila to look for a recycled or bio-based polyester supplier to replace virgin fibers.
The products and services we sell mature, the people we sell to evolve (plus every day we sell to someone we haven't sold to before), and how those people expect to be approached. To give you a couple of practical examples, Adelle Revella published a book in 2015 (I recommend it, it's called "Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight Into Your Customer's Expectations, Align Your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business") where she tells some use cases, which demonstrate the importance of knowing our Buyer Personas:
- Apple: the first launch of the iPhone in 2007 was a global boom, boosting the brand as never before. However, in Japan, this product was not received as expected, covering only 0.4% of the market in the cell phone category and being purchased almost exclusively by people who were already customers of the brand. It was not until a few years later that they studied and corrected their mistakes. In the first attempt, they did not consider that the Japanese needed quality cameras and options to watch TV programs from their phones, as they could already do with the ones they already had.
In addition, their cell phones already allowed them to integrate debit card chips to pay for train passes instead of hardly accepted credit cards. Thanks to a better understanding of their market, the iPhone 5s, launched four years later, allowed them to recover and reach 34% of the market in the same category.
- A second case is Beko, a Turkish company that manufactures household appliances. In 2013 they received recognition for innovation. Knowing that the diet depends mostly on rice in China, they designed a special refrigerator for the people of this country, with an extra compartment where they could store the grain at the ideal temperature for preservation. At the same time, it had a controller to regulate humidity.
The Buyer Persona is ideal for understanding the socio-economic context of your customers, so you need to know who to profile, but the exercise should also allow you to understand their stories to identify how and why they make their decisions. It is a living tool that you must constantly revisit to adapt to changes in product/service behavior, competition, and consumers. Finally, I recommend you to look for more information about Customer Journey and Customer Experience, which need the Buyer Persona to devise a successful methodology to achieve your strategic objectives.