Developing Online Buyer Personas

By Shannon Belew, Joel Elad

Creating truly useful online content starts with understanding as much as possible about the person who is consuming that content. You may have a website that sells to parents, but that’s a very broad category of buyer.

You might have a mom of twin toddlers looking for parenting information on your website. She has very different needs than the father of a 14-year-old teenager who is also searching for parenting advice. But both of these buyers are your target customers. You likely have products that appeal to each of them. However, if all your content is based generally about being a parent, it’s going to be tough to convince these two different buyers to remain interested and shop with you. Your job is to provide both of them specific information that most closely matches their needs or interests.

If you have any type of store (online or off), you already understand the necessity of this customer analysis when stocking up on inventory. If you don’t know who is coming to your store and what they are buying, or why they are buying it, then you’re essentially guessing as to what products you should keep in stock. The same approach is needed when developing buyer personas for the purpose of creating content. If you’re not familiar with the term “buyer personas,” it’s simply a profile of your different types of customers that describes as much as possible about who they are and what they want. You might have only two to three different types of customers, but you may also a dozen different customers.

Getting started developing buyer personas doesn’t need to be complex. Create no more than three to five personas for your most frequent or important buyers.

Before you get started writing a profile of each of your best customers, you must have a substantial amount of information about those customers:

  • Use your gut. If you’ve already been in business for a while, you probably have a general sense of the different types of people that make up your customers. You may talk to them frequently and know a good bit about their personal lives, or you may only know them based on the products they buy from you. Perhaps there are some types of buyers that you tend to sell to more often. Use this general knowledge of your business to start categorizing the different types of existing customers.
  • Analyze all the data. Go digging through all your data sources, from website analytics to CRM (customer relationship management) software records. Look for trends or common traits and buying signals across all your customers. Once you identify patterns, group that information together to form a buyer persona.
  • Check out competitors. It’s probable that some of your competitors have already gone through the process of creating buyer personas. You can tell by the different types of content offered on their website. Spend some time going through the competitor’s website and blog and take note when there are articles, ads, or offers that seems to target a specific type of buyer and then see if you can see similar buyer profiles from your customer base.
  • Talk to your buyers (all of them!). One of the best ways to get detailed information about your customers is to talk to them. And this includes the people who buy from you regularly, those who visit your website and talk to your sales team but never buy, and those customers who bought only once or twice and never came back to you. By talking to the customer directly, you uncover more detailed information about what motivates them, how they found your website, or why they bought from you over someone else. You can access a larger percentage of customers by sending them an online survey, but you also need to call and talk directly to half-a-dozen customers or more to get a better sense of what makes your buyers tick.

You can increase the likelihood of getting customers to speak with you or complete your survey by offering them an incentive for spending time with you. You can give them a gift card for a free cup of coffee or a discount on their next purchase from you. But we almost guarantee that you’ll have better and bigger response rates if you provide some small incentive or thank you for their time.

Speaking of getting your customers to hand over the keys to their personas, you might wonder what type of information you need to know. This can vary a bit depending on whether you sell B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer), but generally you want to segment them into some common types. For example, in B2B, it may be important to know what their job titles are; that’s because IT roles (or technical job roles) might show an interest in your product or service for very different reasons than business owners or executives. In B2C, you may want to know it’s a parent who works full-time outside the home, or a stay-at-home mom or dad. While both of these parents are your customers, they are motivated to buy from you for different reasons. While this is not an extensive list, following are some of the most common data points you might want to know to start creating a buyer persona:

  • Job role or title
  • Industry in which the person works (healthcare, education, and so on)
  • Product interest
  • Geographic location
  • Age
  • Do they have kids (how many, what age)
  • Income range (either individually or by total household income)
  • Own pets (what kinds, what ages)
  • Hobbies or interests
  • Type of car they drive
  • Own or rent a house or lease an apartment
  • How often they buy from you (or from competitors)
  • Why they buy certain products or services (what drives that need or want)
  • What problem they want to solve when considering your website or products or service
  • Role in buying process (in B2B, do they have authority to buy or do they influence the purchase)

Once you have sufficient information, it’s time to create a buyer persona. Start by sorting through all the data and interviews and look for common points of interest or common data points. You should be able to quickly begin grouping buyers into categories based on the similarities you uncovered. A buyer persona is actually a fictional customer who is made up of all the real data you collected from those different customer types you uncovered. So, for each buyer persona, you get to create a character.

Start by giving him or her a name and then identify this customer’s buying category, such as “Serina, working mom of teenagers,” or “Bob, stay-at-home dad of preschoolers.” Another key persona for your online business may be “Geraldine, grandmother.” Then, for each of these named personas, continue adding information that details who they are, describes their lives, and shows details about when or why they might buy from you. You’ll also want to include information about where they go (online and off) to get news, parenting tips, and advice about their households. The objective is to figure out who influences them or what other online communities (forums, social media) or websites they depend on for information.

When trying to decide what or how much information to include in a buyer persona, imagine you are at a party with potential investors for your business. You’ve invited several of your top customers to meet the investors so they have a better idea of who is buying from you.

Consider how you might introduce each buyer to the investors so that they feel confident you know about your target market and your buyers. For example, you might say: “Joe, this is one of our top customers, Mary Steady. She has her hands full working full-time and raising two teenage daughters. Although she considers herself to be very cost conscious, she doesn’t mind spending a little extra to shop with us. In fact, Mary buys from us frequently not only because of the quality of our products, which is super important to her, but also because it’s convenient. She doesn’t have to add another trip to the store to her already busy day. Instead, she orders online and knows everything will be on her doorstep with 2 to 3 days. She first discovered our site after a popular parent blogger mentioned it in an article.”

As you see, a buyer persona contains not only basic facts about the shopper, but also it tells a story about your customer’s life and how your product or service fits into her world. Once you get to know your different types of customers, you can give them content that will be interesting and helpful specific to that buyer persona.