Developing buyer personas is a crucial aspect of any marketing strategy. But what is a “buyer persona,” and how are you supposed to create one?

Like most things in marketing, buyer personas (also sometimes known as customer personas) sound more abstract or complicated than they really are. In essence, the concept revolves around the idea that you have to know your target customers before you can successfully sell anything. If your marketing efforts and marketing messages aren’t personalized, you won’t get very far.

But don’t worry, that’s why we’ve created this guide! Keep reading and you’ll know all about what buyer personas are, why they matter, and how your business can create its own buyer personas.

What is a buyer persona?

Let’s start with the basic question. What exactly is a buyer persona?

Buyer personas are fictional representations of your ideal customer. In other words, they represent the kind of person you want to target your marketing towards, because you have high confidence that that person will buy your product.

These representations are constructed using data and research collected by your marketing team. The more high-quality information you collect (the more you know about your potential customers), the more specific and useful your buyer personas will be.

Why are buyer personas important for your business?

Fundamentally, buyer personas help you understand your customers and thereby improve your sales process, especially if your business doesn’t really have a solid customer base yet. Successful companies spend a lot of time, money, and effort trying to craft sophisticated buyer personas precisely because they deliver results!

Think about it like this: you’ve started a subscription box business that provides different high quality whiskeys every month, but you have no information about your target market – you don’t know who tends to drink whiskey instead of, for example, gin or wine, or what concerns might keep people from subscribing.

In this scenario, your company is essentially operating blind. As a result, your marketing efforts will be generic and unsophisticated, and you won’t reach the people who are most likely to represent your core customer group.

Buyer personas fix all that! They greatly improve your marketing strategies and marketing campaigns by giving your business a target audience to aim for. They also make it easier to improve your business over time, as you can compare your target customers to your actual customers.

What this does is provide a snapshot on how your marketing is successfully generating sales, and how it might be falling short. Using this information, you can help your business grow.

Regardless of whether your business is brand-new or established, it is always worthwhile to invest in your buyer personas and ensure they don’t become outdated.

What are the different types of buyer personas?

A buyer persona is extremely specialized, and as such there isn’t really a set of pre-built personas you can choose from. After all, each business is unique, and therefore their ideal customer will also be unique.

However, companies can have more than one buyer persona, depending on how many different products they sell. If your company produces one very specific product, you will likely only have one buyer persona. If your company produces a range of different products, you might have as many as 20, or possibly even more.

We also need to mention negative buyer personas. As the name implies, a “negative persona” is a representation of who you don’t want as a customer.

This can be useful so that your marketing team knows who to exclude from marketing efforts. Maybe you want to exclude students from your ads and messages, because you know that students might be too young to drink.

In summary, buyer personas tell you which customers to target, while negative personas tell you which customers to avoid.

How do you create buyer personas?

Now, with all that said, it’s time we clarify the actual procedure of creating buyer personas. Sure it takes ‘research’ and ‘data,’ but what does that actually look like in practice? What should you do first?

We’re going to approach these questions step-by-step, but don’t think about what follows as a literal sequence: ‘first you do 1, and only then can you tackle 2.’

We just think it’s important to lay out the entire procedure clearly, so that you can come away with a comprehensive understanding of the steps involved.

1. Create a buyer persona template

Before you start collecting all the information and data you’ll need for your buyer persona, you’ll need a sense of what information you’re looking for.

That’s where a buyer persona template can come in handy, because it gives you a concise and visual summary of what boxes you need to tick off to complete your buyer personas.

Moreover, you can hand this template to your marketing and sales teams early on, so that they have a clear idea of what they will be constructing.

There are tons of buyer persona templates online. So feel free to explore some different options and see which works best with your company’s vision. Or you can just create your own from scratch. Remember, the template should include sections for all the various types of information (demographics, professional, background, personality, etc.) your buyer personas will need.

2. Research your audience

Think of your audience as the people most likely to receive your marketing messages. This could be the residents in your local geographic area, for example, especially if you’re planning on doing a lot of physical advertising (billboards, posters, etc.), or another type of person your product is aimed at.

Depending on the age of your business, you might already have a solid base of loyal customers. If you do, you want to know as much about them as possible! Where do they live? How old are they? What do they do? Are they more often men or women? Are they young or old? How did they find your product? And what do they like about your product?

Before you can target additional potential customers, you need to have a rock-solid sense of who your existing customers are. You can thereby build on the existing tendencies of your client base (targeting people who are very similar to your existing customers) and attempt to correct potentially troubling patterns (i.e., if you notice only people in a certain age bracket buy your product, can this be changed?).

Of course, if you don’t have a lot of existing customers, this process of audience research will be more basic and general. But even at an early stage, it will be useful if you can get a sense of the demographic and personal qualities of your audience.

This could even involve market research – what are the general market conditions, are people mostly saving or spending? And where are different types of people spending their money?

Remember, even general information like this can be an important foundational step for creating detailed buyer personas later on.

But all this begs the question: how do you get all this information?

Well, there are lots of ways. You can pay for internet traffic research, send email surveys, conduct telephone surveys, use your contact database, consult your invoice records, etc.

Plus, you can always hire a third-party research team, which is especially useful if you’re looking for broader market or audience information.

At the end of this step, you should have volumes of juicy raw demographic data to work with.

But this won’t necessarily give you the kind of personalized narratives you’ll need to really fill out a buyer persona.

That’s why you should…

3. Interview your current customers

There is a lot of unique information you won’t be able to get from your standard audience research techniques. After all, there is only so much you can find out about a person through browsing data or survey responses.

Ideally, you want to talk to your existing customers to get a comprehensive and personal sense of how they found your product, why they bought it, and what they like and don’t like about your sales process.

Over the course of your conversation, you should try to craft a detailed narrative of who this person is and what goals, needs, or problems brought them to your business. In turn, you can use these goals, needs, and problems to fill out your buyer personas.

You might even get little insights or perspectives you never even thought to ask about.

Sticking with the earlier example of a whiskey subscription box, maybe your interviewee expresses a desire for an additional product you didn’t think to include. Maybe they suggest a different improvement about how the box looks.

Of course, you don’t necessarily have to implement all of these suggestions. But they still provide valuable information on different aspects of your business – as well as on the buyer persona you are trying to create!

It can be tricky to get people to agree to an interview, and your sales and marketing teams might need to go through a trial and error process.

Maybe you can create an incentive by offering a discount, or launch a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging customers to provide input.

Usually, customers are eager to give feedback about companies they care about, especially if you frame your request as an invitation for both positive and negative feedback – and make it clear that you are not trying to sell anything.

4. Interview your potential customers

Once you have a decent sense of your current customers, it is also important to try and interview your target customers.

Ideally, you only want to conduct these interviews once you have fairly robust audience data and market data.

For this group of interviewees, however, the emphasis of your questions should be more hypothetical and open-ended. For example, focus on asking them what they value in a subscription box, how they would feel about price X over timeline Y, or whether they have any subscriptions already and why.

For more ideas about what to ask during an interview, check out the bottom of this article. Otherwise, let’s proceed with our steps.

5. Research your competitors

What are your competitors doing? Are they having a lot of success with the types of customers you hope to win over?

It is always wise to keep tabs on the other major businesses in your sector or region to see what innovations or sales offers they are trying out. You can do this by making friendly inquiries, studying their advertisements, or simply by checking out their websites.

Maybe you notice that your main competitor always uses young people in their marketing material. This can prompt interesting questions about whether you have considered age a significant factor of your ideal customer.

At the very least, researching the competition should give you ideas on what different personas might be out there, especially if you’re at the stage when your own buyer personas are not quite finished.

6. Understand your customers’ (or subscribers’) goals and pain points

This is a critical sub-category of any buyer persona. Goals are pretty self-explanatory, and ‘pain points’ simply refer to any specific and regular problems faced by customers in your marketplace.

It is important that you note both of these down in your template, because they will give you a sense of what your existing/potential customers want, and what they struggle with. If you know this information, your business will be perfectly placed to fill the void and make your customers’ lives easier.

7. Create a name and a story for your buyer personas

So you’ve started to accumulate information – audience data, market data, existing customer insights, potential customer insights, interview responses, etc.

Now, you need to come up with a name and story for your tentative buyer persona (or several names and stories for your different buyer personas), something to tie it all together.

This can be as simple as a name that matches the buyer persona’s job or background, like Gardener Gary or Businesswoman Brenda. Or it can just be a generic name, like John Edwards.

Once you’ve chosen a name, it is important that you craft a story around the persona, including a short bio and an explanation of why they need or want a particular service or product.

Whatever name and story you chose, they will help personify the buyer persona (no pun intended) and make it easier to engage with and learn from the representation you or your marketing team has created.

8. Fill out the buyer persona template

This step is kind of obvious, but make sure you go over the entire template and fill out all the information. Be as detailed as you can, but also try to communicate facts about your buyer persona concisely and specifically.

If your template ends up being a rambling mess with lots of irrelevant details, it won’t be of use to anyone. Accordingly, try to stick to a 2 or 3 page limit, and have effective summaries at the start and/or end to give your marketing team and sales team (or whoever else may interact with the personas) a clear set of relevant takeaways.

9. Present your buyer personas to your team

The last step remaining is to present your buyer persona(s) to your team. When you do so, be sure to talk over any concerns or questions they might have, so that everyone knows exactly how to use the persona to improve sales or construct marketing strategies.

Helpful questions to ask when developing buyer personas

In terms of process, that’s all there is to it! You now know all the steps to create a buyer persona.

In this section, we’re going to go over some examples of questions you can ask for different categories of customer information.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should provide you a few more concrete ideas on what your buyer personas need to encapsulate.

Demographic information

  • Where are you from?
  • How do you identify yourself (gender, race, etc.)?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children?

Career

  • What is your job title?
  • How satisfied are you with your work?
  • What does a typical day look like?
  • What skills help you succeed at work?
  • What would help you do your job better?
  • What is your management structure like?

Specific industry information

  • What is the size of your company?
  • How does your company compare to others in the industry?
  • What is the most challenging part of your industry?

Consumer habits

  • What are your spending habits like?
  • What sorts of things do you buy most often?
  • Is there a product you can’t live without?
  • How do you like to shop?

Pain points

  • What regularly frustrates you at work?
  • What kinds of problems do you face on a daily basis?
  • What is one key way your life could be made easier?

Goals and challenges

  • Where do you want to be in 5 years?
  • What motivates you most?
  • How do you define success?
  • What is your biggest challenge?
  • What do you find most challenging in life?

Key takeaways

Buyer personas are critical for your business, and after reading this piece there is no reason you can’t create your own!

With your detailed buyer personas in hand, you and your team will operate more efficiently – knowing which customers to target, how to market your products, and how best to interact with your customers.

Your business will reap the benefits in no time.

And if you manage a subscription-based business, this is only one small part of building a working marketing strategy. We actually wrote a whole different guide on that in detail, so check it out!

Whatever your business model and whoever your target audience, finding subscription success is much easier with the right tools. Subbly’s all-in-one platform is designed to put everything you need to run a subscription business in one place — your first 2 weeks are on us — get started now.

By Zaki Gulamani
Сontent creator at Subbly