What the bleep is a buyer persona

Thank you for asking – this is definitely my favorite topic.

A buyer persona is a detailed profile of an example buyer that represents the real audience – an archetype of the target buyer. Marketers can use buyer personas to clarify the goals, concerns, preferences and decision process that are most relevant to their prospective customers. Imagine how effective marketers could be if we would all stop making stuff up and start aligning our messages and programs with the way real buyers think.

There are many templates available for buyer personas.  Use whichever template you like, but make sure that the content you include  represents deep insights — non-obvious information that gives you a strategic advantage over your competitors. The Five Rings of Insight are detailed here, including tips and examples.

I certainly didn’t invent the idea of buyer personas — but I’ve worked with thousands of marketers on their development and application and am now a huge advocate.

Don’t confuse buyer personas with user personas. Design engineers frequently build user personas as a part of their product development process. The application of personas for marketing is less common, but hardly without precedent. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush successfully campaigned to the soccer mom persona during the 1992, 1996 and 2000 elections. By 2004, the soccer mom had morphed into a security mom persona as school violence and terrorism became big issues. The Presidents’ campaign staffs used dozens of  personas like these to focus their messages and win more votes.

I hope that my use of political examples doesn’t suggest that you need a huge budget for this to work. I know marketers in companies of every size who are building buyer persona profiles through informal methods that cost next to nothing. They started by seeing every on-line or in-person interaction with a potential buyer as an opportunity to listen and identify patterns. I started this blog so that I could communicate with marketers who are interested in using personas to think more strategically about how to go to market. I’ll be talking about examples and practices that anyone can implement. Please contact me if you find something useful that I can include here.


  1. Web Ink Now says:

    The Buyer Persona Blog

    As I’ve said many times on this blog, smart marketers understand buyers, and many build formal buyer personas for their target demographics. It can be daunting for many of us to consider who, exactly, is visiting our site. But if
    [Read More…]

  2. Jacob Sikais says:

    I first came across the buyer persona a few days ago reading ‘The New Rules of Marketing & PR’… looking forward to learning more on how to properly apply these new sets of rules.

  3. 16 Questions to Ask Before Launching a Content Marketing or Custom Publishing Project

    You cannot hope to implement a successful content marketing or custom publishing strategy without understanding exactly what outcome you require. Equally important is an in-depth understanding of your targeted buyer (buying persona). Only then can you …
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  4. Mimi says:

    Hi Adele, great stuff on the buyer persona. After taking the Pragmatic Marketing class this has really helped open my eyes. Question….I’ve been given a product that is mostly built and my job is to validate the market opportunity. Yes — not quite the right order but we are hoping to approach this with Buyer Personas. Do you think the Buyer persona process still works when the product is mostly built for a suspected target market?

  5. Adele says:

    Great question, Mimi. Don’t worry, you are not alone. In fact many marketers find themselves in the situation you’re in now — working with a product that someone inside the company thought was a good idea. But no one has really worked through the go-to-market implications. This is a perfect example of a place to use the ideas I’m talking about around personas.

  6. Junta42 blog says:

    Custom Publishing vs. Marketing Services: You Decide!

    Interesting post here from Bill Mickey at Folio magazine about the custom publishing industry. The article is targeted to publishers and media professionals, so much of this isn’t relevant to marketers. That said, there are a couple key points here
    [Read More…]

  7. who are your buyers?

    now that you have clearly identified your career goals it’s time to completely focus on your buyers (aka your next employer or the person who might connect you to them) in the context of these goalsa straightforward way of doing…
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  8. David Conrad says:

    This is a great concept and really reminds us all to orient our marketing messages with a particular “consumer” in mind. But my question is what’s the difference between market segmentation and buyer personas? Would you position personas as a sub-category (e.g. each market segment may have several personas), or is this more of a 1:1 mapping? And last question – how does this mapping change between B2C (where I would expect more of a 1:1 association) and B2B (where a single sale often requires approval/satisfaction of several different roles)?

  9. Great question, David, but unfortunately this one isn’t easily answered in a brief format. I’ll probably generate as many questions as I do answers with this reply, but the short version is that traditional segmentation (by industry, company size or other demographic data) is not generally advisable for marketing. Marketing needs to identify groups of buyers (or buying influencers) who have a similar view of their problem and the criteria they have for a solution (buying criteria). Our goal for segmentation (unlike the sales organization’s goals) is to find groups of buyers who will respond to the same messages and marketing activities.
    Most B2B buyers are more readily grouped when we create segments based on their role in the buying process (e.g. the economic buyer, technical buyer, or user buyer). This isn’t universally true – there will still be differences based on traditional segmentation or industry data, but this is a better starting point for defining marketing-oriented segments than pure demographics.

  10. David Wesson says:

    hi there
    Iam interested in how to put buyer personas together do you have a list of questions you ask yourself of question you ask yourself when putting one together you would like to share

  11. Ann says:

    I find your blog to be a wonderful and insightful resource. I wanted to do a sanity check on a situation I am currently working on. I am working on an enterprise software product that will be used by certain business users, but the decision maker is the business mgmt and the benefits are ultimately most realized when the product is being used by the organization as a whole, rather than by an individual user. In that case, my working assumption is that my buyer persona is the business mgr, i.e. the buying decision maker. The individual users I would consider influencers. But if we could afford to only develop one buyer persona and corresponding VP, then we are going after mgmt.
    Would you agree?

  12. Ann — Since your goal is to have a persona tool that leads to a finely tuned messaging and program strategy, the likely answer in your case is the economic buyer, or business management. But you must also consider whether that buyer persona is likely to be receptive to your message and programs. This has a lot to do with the target buyer’s top priorities and their fit with your solution.
    It’s rare, but I have seen instances where the better strategy is to develop a buyer persona for the users, target them in the initial phases of the buying process, and then get the users to bring the economic buyer to the table.
    So think about both types of buyers and identify the one who is most likely to initiate the buying process with you. Then go deep on a buyer persona for that individual.

  13. Ann says:

    Hi Adele,
    I am intrigued by your discussion of the “win/lose” analysis. I understand conceptualy the ideas behind this. I was curious if there is somewhere I could read more about the methodology behind it?

  14. Renee Staples says:

    Have so enjoyed reading through your blog today on the concept of the Buyer persona in B2B marketing. For 25+ years I sold various technology solutions to enterprise, networking and telecom markets. An early adoptor of the Miller Heiman strategic selling approach I not only developed ideal customer profiles, I developed profiles (buyer personas) for all the buying influences I’d find in these accounts. It was very effective in consultative – relationship sales in which I specialized. Your description of Krystina’s approach resonated especially with me. Today I teach B2B marketing at a local college. This morning, not happy with the course selected textbook’s treatment of B2B market segmentation, I uncovered your blog. Very refreshing..I’ll be sure to cite you properly in the lecture:-)

  15. Gogodropship says:

    Thanks, I linked to this article because I think you did a great job of explaining what a buyer persona is. When a company knows their customers they can better serve them and in return the happy customers will bring in revenue for that company.

  16. Sean says:

    Great article, thanks for posting. I work for a small software company selling business software to med/large corporations. I have been having trouble creating B2B technology buyer personas and uncovering their true motivations, If anyone can shed any insights it would be much appreciated.

  17. Adele Revella says:

    Hi Sean:

    The best way to understand your buyer personas is to conduct interviews with people who have recently evaluated your solutions. These interviews involve unscripted questions and a bit of probing to get the buyer to reveal a lot of detail about the insights that are key to the marketing decisions you want to make.

    Does this sound difficult? It isn’t, but there is a bit of skill involved. With a few hours of training, you can learn how to conduct these interviews. Or if you don’t have the time or inclination, we can help you with that.

    Feel free to contact me (click on the Contact me link) if you want to talk.

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