Jul 18 / Matt Saunders

What Is a Buyer Persona + Build One in 3 Steps

Almost everyone gets this wrong, but when done correctly, buyer personas can be an immensely powerful marketing tool for your business.
Do you keep hearing the term "buyer persona" but you're not sure what it means? Or maybe you've tried to create a buyer persona but you're just not convinced that you need one.

I'm going to cut through the noise for you and whittle this challenging subject down to its core, showing you how to create a buyer persona that will actually drive results for your business.

But before we get started here's a disclaimer: what I'm sharing here is based on my own proven, professional experience. You won't find this anywhere else. And I believe that if you apply what I teach here, there's a good chance it will work for you too.

This buyer persona method is covered in my book, The Dream Client Playbook. It's just £5 and provides an end-to-end framework for bringing high value clients into your service-based business. And if it doesn't, I'll simply refund you. Download it here.

What is a buyer persona in marketing?

Silhouette of man's head
At the most base level a buyer persona is simply a detailed description of a person who is ready to buy from your business. The theory goes that once you have identified the drivers behind their purchase decision - i.e. their pain points and motivations - you can use marketing and sales copy to attract and convert them.

Spoiler: it works.

Don't believe me? Answer this - how can you possibly hope to sell anything to anyone if you don't deeply understand their current state and where they want to be instead?

Without this knowledge, you're flying blind.

Buyer personas enable you to capture the whole buyer experience in a few simple statements that you can apply to your website copy, social media posts and even in sales conversations.

Because when your message resonates, people take action.

The sole purpose of a buyer persona is to inform you about where the customer is on their journey so you can deploy empathetic and effective content at the right time. Let's take a look at a buyer persona example to demonstrate what I'm talking about.

What does a buyer persona look like?

Sticky notes on a wall
The unfortunate truth is that most marketing personas are created through vanity exercises, often at the instruction of somebody in the business who doesn't even know what one is.

I once worked at a design agency and the boss made us spend days building buyer personas for no reason other than he liked the idea of it. We had no data to work with and no real world application for them, so they ended up being thrown in a digital drawer, never to be seen again.

So if you've ever gone through the process of building a buyer persona, only to not actually use it, the unique and proven example I'm about to share will hopefully inspire you to try again.

Buyer persona example

As I said at the top of this article, my approach is designed to be SUPER SIMPLE. Way too many buyer personas go into way too much superfluous detail. In fact, you can get lost when creating personas. You can end up with more questions about your buyer than when you started. Thankfully, in this example we're only asking three questions:

  • What is the current trait, behaviour or state of the buyer?
  • What does this mean to them?
  • How might we respond in order to call them to action?

The secret to crafting effective personas is to get into an empathetic mindset where you are truly serving the buyer. When they feel you've got their best interests at heart, is when they respond positively.

Let's break down each of the above steps.

Step 1: Identify the characteristic

I use the word "characteristic" to capture the trait, behaviour or state of the target customer. A few examples of this might be:

  • Tired
  • Inexperienced
  • Ambitious
  • Overwhelmed
  • Excited

Can you see how by simply thinking about your customers using these terms, it feels like we know them a little better? This baseline trait is what we're working with. Here are some practical examples:

  • Jason is new in his role of CEO
  • Maria is tired and stressed doing everything in her business herself
  • Emily has used a CRM before, but has never set one up

These statements capture the initial situation that our buyer's might find themselves in. I've emboldened the key parts that give away the state. Remember - in order to serve them so they buy our product or service, we've got to understand where they are.

And once we know what we're working with, we can expand each one with a little more detail to add emotional intelligence.

Step 2: What this means

When you know what state your buyer is in, use this next step to go a bit deeper. Believe me - this is where the gold is, and it'll help you create messages that 95% of your competitors will simply miss. When this happens, you'll be the obvious supplier to buy from. Let's expand the examples above:

  • Jason is new in his role of CEO, therefore he is still learning the ropes, grappling with past decisions and might feel a little out of his depth. 
  • Maria is tired and stressed doing everything in her business herself, therefore she probably works long hours and may have trust issues to let go of the reigns and get support.
  • Emily has used a CRM before, but has never set one up. Therefore, she may lack knowledge and confidence. 

As you can see, in this step we are scratching the surface of our core characteristic. We're getting to know our buyers better. The more detail you add to your buyer persona here, the easier the next step - your response - will be.

Step 3: How to respond

Now that we have established and demonstrated a deep understanding of where our target buyers are, the next step is to consider what they need to hear/see/do/feel in order to take action. To clean up these buyer persona examples I've put them into table:
Jason is new in role of CEO.
What this means
He's still learning the ropes, grappling with past decisions and might feel a little out of his depth.
How to respond
Show that we understand his position and that we're not going to push him. Put his mind at ease and demonstrate that by engaging with us, he can enhance his confidence and authority in his role.
Can you see how easy it will be to appeal to Jason now that you know just this one little piece of information about him?

Now identify several more characteristics and add supporting responses to each to build out your whole buyer persona. With this intelligence, you (or your copywriter) will be able to craft messages that are empathetic and prompt action.

To complete this for you so you can visualise it properly, allow me to provide an example of how this might look in a real project. 

We know that Jason is a new CEO. Let's imagine that he wants to start a new web design project because the company website he has inherited is outdated and failing to generate leads. Using what we know, we might use the following strategies in our marketing:

  • Supply him with a free 10 point checklist to improve his website
  • Offer him an audit to spot the weaknesses in his website
  • De-risk working with us by offering a money-back guarantee
  • Explain our working process so he understands what's involved
  • Share our top tips for managing a website project

These ideas are not unique to Jason but if you relate all your marketing decisions back to his needs (to build his confidence in the project, increase his authority in his role etc) your message will resonate more deeply than if you were simply guessing at what to write about.

Buyer personas are all about getting customer-centric.
They help you get inside their heads and tell them what they need to hear to reach out to you. Unfortunately, most businesses talk about themselves, or in very vague terms that make them sound just like everyone else. This is your chance to do better.

What does a buyer persona tell you?

Notepad with squiggly notes
When done with empathy a buyer persona will tell you much more about your ideal client than basic demographic information. Where so many marketing personas fail is that they lean on completely fictional, often useless data. Most personas tell you which city a person lives in and what their level of education is. That can be handy to know, but it won't allow you to craft meaningful messages that cause them to engage with you and ultimately, become your customer. To do that, your buyer personas need to tell a deeper story, one based on emotional experience.

The best way to learn this is to speak with your ideal clients. Listen out for common themes and note down what they are telling you. You only need to speak to a handful of your clients to understand the state they are in (or were in, when you began working with them). Feed this into your personas and use it to inform your copy, and you will have a solid content system help you generate leads consistently.

Why is a buyer persona important?

A buyer persona tells you who you're marketing to. As an accountability coach to freelancers and small business owners, my clients usually tell me they've created an "ideal client avatar" but then failed to put it to use. As with my previous experience, it goes into the proverbial drawer.

But then they tell me their marketing is ineffective. They don't really know who they're speaking to, so they rely on word of mouth recommendations rather than proactively building their business. Subsequently, their income is inconsistent, and they don't know where the next client will come from.

Buyer personas enable you to create a pipeline of interested customers because they empower you to write messages that call them in.
Everything stems from knowing a lot about your ideal customers, and that's why personas are so important in your marketing.
Watch - adding personas to your service enables you to charge more for your work

Tips to create your marketing personas

If you're struggling to know how to create buyer personas for your business, here are a few helpful tips to get started:

  • Think back to any projects which have stood out to you - did your clients display any common problems, situations or characteristics?
  • Think about who you would love to work with - what would their ideal situation be?
  • Get into an impact-first mindset - what impact would you love to have on the lives of your clients?

For me, effective personas are rooted in reality but they are not limited by it. By this I mean that you should be excited to solve your client's problems and move them forward in their lives, taking them from their current reality to a new and appealing destination. After all, isn't that the point of business anyway? To create change?

Be of service, and your service-based business will soar.

Your audience is waiting

With self-employment on the rise and more people on social media than ever before, we are living through very noisy times. As a service provider you can no longer rely on your service to sell itself. Nor you can hope that people stumble upon you. Buyer personas are key to proactively grow your business. So get to it.

And if you're a freelancer looking to put solid foundations in place for your business, be sure to get a copy of my book. You'll find a whole framework on which to build and grow your business, and if you don't like it, I'll give you a 100% refund.

For my daily musings about growing your solo business, follow me on LinkedIn.
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