Personas help you understand the people behind your customers and their problems and think from the customer’s point of view in everything you do. It’s all about clearly understanding your customer’s buying behaviour, explains Tony Zambito, who innovated the concept. This will make your commercial activities much more effective. The chances of a marketing campaign being successful are much higher when it is based on a buyer persona.
Creating a buyer persona is an intensive undertaking. Just like with anything, you can quickly ‘dismiss’ it.
For example, you can:
- work alone,
- not involve customers,
- not analyse data,
- or not interview customers and
- quickly jump to conclusions.
Our approach is different. In the following, we describe a proven and effective approach to creating buyer personas. It may take a bit of work, but we guarantee it will make you think, feel and act differently. This approach is a key step on the path to better commercial results. When it comes to digital marketing and e-commerce in particular, this approach is crucial.
Step 1. Empathising
Try ‘walking in your customer’s shoes’, increasing your empathy.
Step 2. Patterns
Identify the key patterns that play a role within the customer group. Find out what typifies this group.
Step 3. Ideation
How can we help the persona solve his/her problems?
Step 4. Action
Solving the customer’s problem.
The best way to go through the steps is with a team. This ensures higher quality and more support. Our favourite combination includes marketers, sales representatives and account managers as well as a decision-maker such as the commercial director. Have you also got a data analyst or data scientist on your side? Then please include them in the team.
We often notice that sales representatives can talk figuratively about customers. They meet a lot of customers, of course. Their stories do tend to be coloured by their personal experiences over the past few weeks. Marketers (hopefully) will have access to a bit of market data and research. That brings in an entirely different perspective. Commercial directors tend to take a more distant view, call the shots and are able to free up budgets for follow-up steps. That’s good, too.
Step 1: Empathising
During this phase, you gather as much information as possible about who your customer is. You want to know everything about your customer. This allows you to empathise with the person behind your customer.
A. Find your users
Look at existing data in your company, at wholesalers and other available market data. Certainly be sure to look at the size and importance of segments in your customer base. Then look beyond that, for example at your CRM-data and your order data: what roles do the people requesting information have? And those who receive offers? What kind of people do the ordering?
Collect as much data as possible about your customers. How are your customers different? Work together to develop an initial concept of the different customer groups. The working group will then prepare a proposal (hypothesis) on the different customer groups. And remember that we are looking for a ‘person’. In other words, we aren’t looking for ‘party catering’ or ‘pancake restaurant’ as a client group, but, for example, a bartender, chef, menu engineer or F&B manager.
At this stage, try not to keep dissecting everything into smaller and smaller groups. In our experience, 3 to 5 personas works very well.
We typically have working group members test the hypothesis among their close colleagues. This already at least doubles the number of contributors. The outcomes will then be discussed back in the working group a few days later.
The working group can then (tentatively) determine how many buyer personas will be created.
In an actual case of a client from the Netherlands and Belgium, we came to the conclusion that we wanted to focus on three personas:
- In corporate catering: facility managers;
- In hotel chains: head chefs, also responsible for menu engineering;
- In restaurants: creative chefs.
Later, we named these personas: Caring Marian, Economical Eric and Creative Chris.
B. Customer safari
You can’t feel much empathy for data. We go on a customer safari to meet people!
There are several different kinds of customer safaris. It’s all about hearing the opinions and experiences of customers directly. This will prove to be very rewarding for your subsequent work. Once you’ve done it, you’ll see that you want to do it much more often.
One nice option is the customer internship, where you spend a day with your customer. In the previous step, you may have discovered that your company interacts with several roles inside customer organisations. A customer internship like this allows you to spend a few hours in several different places, asking questions.
You can also choose to visit several customers in one tour. But remember to engage! Ask questions, filled with awe at what is happening around you. Keep probing: “Why?” You’ll usually get a different answer than you expect.
We went on a bike ride with a client that focused on bakers. At the first two bakeries, our customers always took the back door. Fascinating! It seemed to be a habit.
We agreed to go through the front door from that point on, so we could first have a look around the shop. Observing your customer with awe and curiosity. It is a fascinating experience every time.
C. In-depth interviews
Once all the members of the working group have completed their customer safaris, it’s time to gather together all of the knowledge gained. What does the data tell us? What did the customer safaris reveal? What do we still need to find out about the customer needs, concerns and motivations? And one layer deeper: do we truly understand why a customer has a particular need?
The topics that we still do not know or understand enough about will be included in the questionnaire for the in-depth interviews. Issues where opinions vary in the working group will also appear in the questionnaire.
Workplace interviews generally work best. In our experience, group meetings that require customers to travel to a central location tend to get cancelled. This happens much less frequently with workplace interviews.
In-depth interviews are conducted by a professional researcher, of course. They can bring the real answers to light. When you do the interviewing yourself, your respondents will be much more cautious with their answers. On top of that, it’s also not easy to ask the right questions. Often, your knowledge about your own business will get very much ‘in the way’.
Step 2: Patterns
D. Description of the persona
Once the interview research is completed, the persona can be described. We now have a good idea of who the customer is.
At GROUP7, we use a template for this purpose, most sections of it can already be applied now.
You can now enter demographics, professional details, influencers, goals and challenges.
Here, it’s a good idea not to limit yourself to topics that can be easily associated with your own offer. The motivations (goals, challenges) of your personas that sometimes may seem a bit further removed, influence choices about your products.
- Pressure with margins? Premium products may prove beneficial;
- Lack of skilled staff? Simplify operations in the kitchen;
- Is the focus on costs? Products with low wastage could do well.
Be sure to describe your persona very broadly.
If you are a client of GROUP7, you can also request media usage for many target groups free of charge. You’ve now filled the first two columns on our persona canvas.
Our example shows how we have completed Marketing Maartje.
Your persona canvas is now hopefully brimming with great, astute observations. These are often called ‘customer insights’. But what are these powerful customer insights that will help us move forward? The most meaningful insights are those that the target audience can identify with (‘typical me’), that inspire enthusiasm in your customers and create an AHA! moment.
We will choose those strong insights as a group.
We prefer to express that kind of customer insight like this:
“needs to, because…”
That helps you describe WHAT your persona needs and WHY it needs it in one compact sentence.
Want an example from our practice?
As a chef, I’m concerned about the turnaround time for dishes because I’m short of hands in the kitchen.
Doing this with your team works really well. For instance, working in pairs and having each pair create this kind of problem statement. After 15 or 20 minutes, you collect the results of all the brainwork. The results are then discussed and you choose the best one all together. Or you create a new one as a group based on everyone’s input.
Describe the persona and insights in a way that others can also identify with the description and get a feel for the persona. Testing this again with a ‘peer validation’ often works well here.
Step 3: Ideation
The last step we take for our persona is the ‘ideation’ step. We now ask ourselves how we can help the persona solve his or her problems. To do that, we collect as many ideas as possible: also known as ideation.
G. Idea storm
In this phase, you come up with as many solutions to the problem statement as possible. Start with: How can we… ?
Let’s say that one insight is:
As a chef, I’m concerned about the turnaround time for dishes because I’m short of hands in the kitchen.
We then conduct an ideation session revolving around the question:
How can WE help chefs with the turnaround time for dishes?
And in another session you discuss:
How can WE help chefs with the shortage of hands in the kitchen?
Repeat this until you have covered all the insights.
Think of as many ideas as possible and think as broadly as possible. There are no wrong answers.
Finally, you start to structure your ideas and look at where opportunities lie.
One easy way of ranking your ideas is in the HOW-NOW-WOW Matrix.
In this case, you look at two axes: (1) what is feasible, what is not (yet) feasible, and (2) what are ordinary ideas and what are original ideas?
Identify where opportunities lie and what needs to happen for them to succeed. And finally, you collectively choose which ideas are the best to pursue. The simple ‘dot-voting’ technique often works very well here. This is when each participant can put dots next to the ideas they think should be implemented. Ideally, you will have chosen ideas from all three quadrants.
You also have space on the buyer persona template to write the ideas you’ve selected. Add them to that space.
Your template is now complete. You have not only defined your buyer persona here. You have also figured out in the unique way you are going to help that customer with what they actually need.
In the picture, you can see the buyer persona template for Maartje the marketing manager. Now, the insights section has also been completed. Would this kind of buyer persona description also work for you?
This way of creating a buyer persona is a comprehensive process. We are aware of that.
We frequently see half-complete persona descriptions with our clients. In most cases, only a handful know that the persona exists. Nobody does anything with it.
If you don’t focus on something yourself, others won’t pay attention to it either.
Our persona approach is quite comprehensive. But because of the creative techniques we apply, the entire process does not actually take very long. And there isn’t much time spent in meetings either. But it is intense.
The reasons behind this approach:
– it involves those who will need to work with it;
– the aha moments during the process;
– data-driven method with minimum guesswork;
– the level of acceptance in the organisation;
– it provides customer-focused ideas that you can use to progress.
Want to get started with your own buyer personas? We at GROUP7 have developed a lot of personas by this point. We are now well versed in the process. And we are also happy to help you along the route. Make an appointment and we can discuss your needs.
Want to get started on your own? That’s also fantastic. Then please be sure to download our buyer persona template. It is free of charge and incredibly useful. On top of that, it also includes practical tips to help you complete it.