Funny_disguise_maskSo often we are asked if buyer personas are really useful. The answer is yes, and no.

Developing a useful buyer persona is critical to an effective marketing program. After all, if you don’t know who your customer is then how in the world can you connect with them? But when your buyer personas are poorly developed, or they are carefully developed but never used, then no, they are of little value.

Here are the dos and don’ts of developing a highly effective buyer persona – one you will use every day.

Do focus on what matters. Details matter when developing a buying persona, but don’t be ridiculous. Don’t waste precious time arguing over whether or not to name your persona Audrey vs. Aubrey. Don’t worry about whether or not Aubrey owns a dog (unless you’re marketing pet-related products or services, in which case that information is critical). Do think about what Aubrey’s goals are – at work if you’re marketing business products, and at home if you’re marketing consumer products.

Don’t stop at the description. Ineffective buyer personas are those that end with the description of the target customer. It’s not enough to know that Aubrey is a woman in her mid-30s, working in middle management, married with 2.5 kids and living in Florida. Effective personas go beyond the who, what and where and answer the how and the why. How can your brand help Aubrey and why would Aubrey choose you? Effective buyer personas get inside your customer’s head.

Don’t fabricate your personas. Not every brand has budget set aside for market research and some brands are hindered in persona development by a lack of existing clients from which they can create personas. If that’s the case, reallocate some marketing dollars toward customer research. It will be more effective to do less marketing to the right targets rather than more marketing to the wrong audience. No customers? No problem. Hold focus groups. Sponsor surveys. Whether you have an extensive customer database or you’re just starting out, you have to talk to real people in order to develop an effective buyer persona.

But do start somewhere. If all you have to start with is a handful of family and friends who believe in your product and mission, that’s where you should begin. Find out what those people like, what their needs are, what their objections will be, and start building your persona one potential customer at a time.

A buyer persona, like your marketing plan, should get smarter as your business grows.

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