Do you ever feel like the content you’re creating is falling on deaf ears?
I think one of the hardest concepts in marketing to grasp is speaking to a ideal customer, target audience, following a buyer persona – whatever you want to call it.
It’s literally the first thing I take my students through during our Digital Marketing class because if you’re not speaking to the right people, all of your other marketing efforts are a bit moot.
But where in the world do you even begin with creating a persona and following through on that?
Today, I’m going to take you through the exact steps to create a buyer persona, decide on the pieces that you need, the right things to focus on with your personas, and how to discover what your target audience actually wants. The best part? This process will work for your own business and when you help clients with their websites and marketing.
Let’s dive in!
Breaking Down a Buyer Persona
One of the easiest ways that you can start with talking to your ideal audience is to create what’s called a Buyer Persona.
What is a Buyer Persona exactly? Hubspot puts it pretty simply –
“A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”
With a Buyer Persona, you’re basically creating a picture of who you’re talking to. When you know exactly who you’re speaking to, it becomes far easier to create content that they’ll want, need, and will connect with.
The old saying of “if you’re speaking to everyone, you’re speaking to no one” holds true especially in today’s world of digital marketing. If you want your business – or a client’s – to stand out amongst the crowd, the best way to get attention is not through viral videos. It’s by creating content that resonates with the people you’re wanting to buy from you.
Getting specific on who this person(s) is doesn’t mean that you’re going to be cutting out a giant chunk of your market either. Just because you focus on who your ideal customer is doesn’t mean that someone that falls just outside of that will not resonate with your content, too.
In fact, if you focus less on that ideal customer’s demographics and more on the challenges they’re facing, you’ll find that you’re speaking to more people than you think.
Focus More on Problems, Less on Demographics
One of the biggest problems I see when my Digital Marketing students create their first buyer personas is that they’re focusing far more on the simple demographics than they are the WHYs.
Think of it this way. Just because many of your customers tend to be in their 40s, have 3 kids, be a woman, and live in a certain area doesn’t mean that they’re facing the same problems.
I mean really, would you want someone to boil you down to just a few details like that?
There’s actually been a great viral meme floating around the marketing world over the last couple of weeks with a sample buyer persona comparing Prince Charles to Ozzy Osborne. Breaking down a few basic things you’d see in a “normal” buyer persona, the meme points out that both are male, were born in 1948, raise in the UK, married twice, live in a castle, and are wealthy and famous. And yet, I think we can all agree that they’re wildly different men who face different challenges.
It’s for reasons like this that you should focus less on the actual demographics and more about the problems you can solve. That doesn’t mean that you don’t want to know that your customers tend to lean towards the feminine or are parents or are in their 40s, but it’s not the main part of your buyer persona either.
In fact, my main buyer personas focus far more on the person’s careers – business owners and web developers – than it does on the demographics. I know that if I speak to someone’s challenges and problems, I’m going to be far more accurate in the content I’m creating for my customers AND I’m going to capture more people that way, too.
Starting from Scratch
Where do you begin to even put all of this together? Knowing who you’re talking to, especially when your business is brand new, can feel overwhelming.
Some of creating your buyer persona is frankly choosing who you want to talk to.
For example, with my Captain Coder business, I could theoretically build websites for anyone that wants a website. But that’s hard to communicate and that’s incredibly hard to narrow down. How does one business know that I’m the right fit versus someone who’s telling them more clearly that they are?
Instead, I chose to focus my target audience on solopreneurs, coaches, and small businesses that have fewer than 5 employees. The person in that situation has a different set of challenges to a business with 100 employees. It also allows me to work directly with a business owner, which is something that I love to do when working on a website. I narrow down, and focus on the business owner that wants to create more freedom with their business – time and money – and understands what a website can do to help make that happen.
From there, I tweak and have a couple of more demographic based personas that focus on these challenges, using aspects from my real clients as a basis for everything.
But even before I had clients, I knew roughly who I wanted to work with because I’d already worked with people in the past. If you’ve worked with any clients – or your customer knows who their product service should help – then you should have a decent enough picture to start filling in some blanks.
Google & Facebook Are Your Friends
This is where you need to start researching. Part of creating your buyer persona includes answering questions like:
- Where do they spend their free time online?
- How do they like to learn something new?
- What drives them to make a purchase?
- How do they prefer to interact with a vendor?
- What are their biggest challenges?
The problem is, these questions can feel, frankly, overwhelming. How could you possibly know how to answer all of these?
Well, you start by doing some market research! Luckily, there are plenty of larger marketing companies that have come before you to do some of this research, and many of them have written white papers and other resources that you can use. Start by Googling and researching who you think your target market is and combine those with some of the above questions. You’ll be amazed at what you can find already available online.
Another place to do some great research? Jump into a Facebook Group or Slack channel where your target market is already spending their time and just read. Use the group search feature to look for posts about their stated challenges and read all the comments. Make sure you’re taking notes on the commonalities so you know exactly what kind of content might help out the people you’re trying to target.
I’ll be honest in that Facebook Groups from my competitors have been some of the biggest helps for me in narrowing down my target audience. They’re literally in there, talking about their problems already. All you have to do is track how they’re talking about it, see the solutions they like, and start working on creating similar content.
Ask Your Audience Directly
Another great way to know what your target audience wants? Ask them! Jump in one of those Facebook groups you’ve found and ask to do some simple 10 minute interviews or share a survey link. Just be careful that you’re following the rules and guidelines of the group of course, but talking to your desired target audience is one of the best ways to get faster answers.
If you’re more of an introvert like myself and multiple Zoom interviews sound overwhelming, you can create a simple Survey Monkey or Google Form survey that asks for feedback on the questions you’re trying to answer for yourself.
You don’t just have to focus on Facebook Groups either. If you have friends or acquaintances who would fall under your target audience, start with them. Buy them a cup of coffee and pick their brain for a bit. Ask for introductions to someone they know. Post a link to a survey in your Instagram stories (cause hey, anyone can do that now), or simply post a survey on your Facebook feed and ask the people that fit the bill to fill out the form. There are lots of ways you can get those in your target audience to speak to you; it’ll just take some upfront work. I know that it’s not the most fun upfront work, especially for us introverts either.
Look at Your Competitors
One of the best places to find how your target audience wants to learn and engage? Go straight to your competitors’ social media accounts! What accounts are the most active? What are people liking? What seems to be falling flat?
There are even tools, like Buzzsumo, that you can use to see what content is working for your competitors in the space you want to target. On Buzzsumo, you can simply enter a relevant key phrase for your industry. (You can do a couple of searches for free, but you can create a Free account where you get 10 searches per month, just FYI) With those results, you’ll see a list of the top shared content across social networks, including engagement data. Look for patterns. What formats and channels have worked well for your competitors? If you’ve created an account, you can even head to the Content Analysis tab and find a breakdown of the most popular social media networks in your niche.
Make sure you’re keeping track of the commonalities of what’s working and what’s not, too. Also look for the gaps. What are your competitors not talking about? Are you seeing those challenges come up in the Facebook groups and in the surveys you’re conducting and no one seems to be providing a solution? It’s a gap you can exploit.
When You Have a Customer Base
Doing research into a target audience is a whole lot easier if you’ve already got a customer base. Especially if you want to run any surveys or perform any interviews, this becomes a lot simpler.
The hard part about starting from scratch is there’s a lot of guesswork involved. And honestly, that’s OK. My initial target audience changed over the first year I was in business. There’s nothing wrong with that (we’ll actually talk about that a little later).
When you’ve already made some sales, have some social media and website traffic to analyze, all of this becomes a lot easier. It’s also easier to help you refine your buyer persona and ensure that you’re speaking to the correct people in the right way, too.
If you’re working with a business that has an existing customer base, you want to start with the analytics and the data the business has.
Open up Google Analytics. Take a look at a few things:
- What keywords/key phrases are bringing people to the website?
- What pages are they interacting with most?
- What social media platforms are bringing them to your website?
- What devices are they using?
- What other demographic information is Google showing you? Location, age, gender?
You’ll be able to learn a lot about your website audience through Google Analytics. Take notes of the commonalities here; it’ll help you build up the picture of what’s bringing your target audience to your website but also who is already resonating with your business.
With your social media channels, this can be a little harder, but you can use third-party scheduling tools to provide you analytical data on who’s interacting with your content and when. Facebook Insights can also help you to understand who is already engaging, too.
More than that – take a look at the last 3 months of social media posts. What’s getting clicks? What’s getting engagement? What does your audience seem to connect with and what’s falling flat?
Knowing where you’re failing is almost as important as knowing what’s working. When you know what isn’t working, it’ll help you to know better what will.
Talking to the Sales Team
If you have even a single person devoted to sales, you need to schedule some time with them. They’ll know better than almost anyone else in the business not only what the average customer looks like, but what challenges they’re dealing with and why they’re buying. Some of the best copy I get for websites is by talking to the sales professional(s) about what they’re already saying to get that sale. What’s connecting and driving that purchase? Where does someone go from hesitant to yes?
Frankly, knowing the WHYs behind all of these will do more for improving your buyer persona than pretty much anything else.
Be OK with Being Wrong
One thing to keep in mind when creating your buyer personas – be OK with being completely wrong.
Marketing isn’t that far off from the scientific process. We have a hypothesis and we need to go prove or disprove that hypothesis. If you look for research that backs up your beliefs, you’re likely to find that research. But you don’t want to just back up your assumptions. You need to be open to finding out that you’re completely wrong with what you believed to be true.
Remember how I mentioned that my target audience changed over the first year I was in business as Captain Coder? It’s because I thought I knew how to talk to the audience I’d chosen. I did, but the market wasn’t necessarily there. And the people that were responding were different than what I’d expected. My audience told me what they wanted and I changed with that.
You have to be OK with being wrong and doing the research. You cannot just fill out a buyer persona form and expect that you “know” your audience loves videos and Instagram when maybe they don’t at all.
Be OK with testing for awhile and finding out that you need to change up the game a bit. Your buyer persona isn’t something you create and just shove in a drawer; it’s a document that should be tweaked as you get more information and as your market changes. And that’s totally OK!
And remember, most importantly – that no matter who you’re talking to, it’s just another human being on the other side of the screen.