A little over a year ago, I completed a free course through Hubspot on inbound marketing and learned the role buyer personas play in content marketing. Hubspot defines buyer personas as “semi-fictional representations of your ideal customer based on real data and some select educated speculation about customer demographics, behaviors, motivations, and goals.”
At their best, buyer personas give business owners an informed perception of who they serve and why. At their worst, these personas can become too limiting, even stereotypical.
How, then, do we marketers know if our buyer personas are on track or are missing the mark? In a recent post, Ann Gynn and her team surveyed several marketing experts and asked them to weigh the pros and cons of buyer personas. In particular, they asked these marketers to differentiate between personas and stereotypes.
For the most part, the marketers Gynn and her team interviewed believe that buyer personas become stereotypical when they don’t go far enough. Elliott Brown of Back Office Basics, for instance, argues that marketers should take their buyer personas from “a cardboard cutout to a real persona” with identifiable problems and struggles. Similarly, Kelsey Ferrara of Ink Smith Publishing notes, “You need to acknowledge that you’re selling a product to three-dimensional people who are complicated and have a variety of interests and needs.” Anything less than that smacks of stereotyping.
That doesn’t mean that stereotyping is all bad. As Erica Pierson explains in Gynn’s post, a stereotyped persona can be a good place for marketers to start. But they mustn’t stop there. Marketers risk losing customers if they discount anyone who fails to fit the basic persona mold. For that reason, data collection and frequent testing should always supersede a buyer persona. And marketers shouldn’t just settle. As Mike Schultz states, “The problem with personas is not that they are stereotypes but that some people are lazy and default to them.”
Whether we business owners choose to use buyer personas or not–one of the marketers Gynn interviewed (Hannah Whitehouse) actually doesn’t use buyer personas at all, noting, “In creating a persona, you’re taking a broad ideal, and using your preconceived notions to determine behaviors and interests”–the most important lesson to learn is that our customers are real people with real needs. Only by bringing our buyer personas to life will we be able to connect with our customers. And by carefully selecting the right language, tone, and style, we will communicate with our customers more effectively than we would if we had simply followed a buyer persona alone.