Buyer Persona – How to Better Understand Your Customer

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How many times have you had your vendors arrive at your office, ready to do their “Dog and Pony” show for the hottest, latest new product that is coming to market? They create an amazing presentation, point out all of the great new features, and tell you that this thing is going to sell through like gangbusters. Energized, you quickly put together a marketing mix of materials to spread the word about this new product, using the vendor-supplied postcards, e-newsletters, and point of purchase displays. Your message is clear to your customers – this is the next must-have product. If you don’t buy now, someone else will trump you. Then, after launching your marketing campaign, you call your vendor back and ask them why they think no one has bought the new product from you. The problem? You were so busy putting together a strong message that sold the benefits of the new product that you forgot to determine who it would actually benefit – who cares? You forgot to evaluate and address your buyer persona.

If you look at the recent presidential election, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin worked hard at attracting hockey moms to the polls. She was going after a buyer persona – a detailed description of a profile that represents the real audience she was trying to attract. In previous years, the buyer persona “soccer mom” morphed into “security mom” when violence and terrorism became big issues in the political arena. Understanding the buyer persona of your customers allows you to build goals, programs, and strategies around your customers’ decision-making process. Do they always wait for a sale? Are some of your customers buying in bulk versus one-offs? How is the economy affecting their budget? What types of marketing materials do they respond to the best? Postcards? E-newsletters? Personal phone calls? All of this information is critical in understanding who your customer is and what makes him or her tick. If you truly understand your buyer – or in this case your customer – then you can put together a targeted plan based on qualified likes and dislikes. It doesn’t matter if you have a great product. If your message isn’t targeted at the customer’s needs, they’ll pass it by.

Here are a few ways to create buyer persona for your existing customers and prospects as well:

– Listen. British Army Officer and founder of the Boy Scouts Sir Robert Baden-Powell once said, “If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.” Proactively contact your customers and ask them what matters to them in today’s economy. What do they need for support? What types of products and services do their consumers need and want? Then listen to the answers. If you get wrapped up in selling your products for the sake of selling, your message will fall on deaf ears. Listening is the first step in understanding your customers.

– Data mine. If you’re not doing this already, you should constantly be mining your database for “likenesses.” After you’ve done some great listening, marry up those customers with like needs and ideas and create a persona for that group. Do you have a number of customers who are located in the same geographic location? That could be another targeted group. Look for similarities within your customer database and you’ll be able to develop different categories to specifically target.

– Ask for the referral. “You can’t get what you don’t ask for” certainly applies here. If you’re having a great experience with a particular customer, ask for a referral. Chances are that one particular customer has “friends” with a similar buyer persona. You can add them to your growing database and target them with messages tailored to their needs.

– Utilize ROI. Like with anything else you dedicate time and financial resources to, creating buyer persona should ultimately provide you with some sort of return on investment. If you create persona and market to them, but don’t see any results, how are you going to measure what worked and what didn’t? What steps will you take to go back and tweak that persona profile until it works for you successfully?

Let’s face it. If you are creating a message to no one in particular, it will fall short. You can’t market to the masses (although some do try). Especially in today’s economy, you must know your customers inside and out and take the time to get to know them better. You must get to the heart of what customers want, and then craft your messages and programs around that. Not everyone wants the same thing. Making that wrong assumption will cost you!

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