I just made an important buying decision. Since Wiley will release my first book on March 9, I wanted to hire a PR firm to do the launch right. I started out the way most buyers do when they initiate a “high consideration” buying decision. I asked my peers for recommendations.

I had phone conversations with three of the agencies they suggested, talked about my book, and received written proposals from all them. They each had good ideas, and I realized that the choice wasn’t going to be easy.

Then my buyer’s journey was disrupted by another buying influencer (something that happens frequently in high consideration decisions). In this case, it was my publisher, John Wiley & Sons, who suggested that I consider one of the firms they had worked with before. I was frustrated to be back at the beginning of a process I had hoped to complete by then.

The interesting thing about selecting an agency to launch my book is that they all do, essentially, the same thing. They contact media, try to get coverage, and help with positioning and messaging for the launch. And of course they are all smart enough to know that they can’t promise results. No one can assure me that the Wall Street Journal, Forbes or any of the other publications I hope to reach will actually interview me or write about my book.

I found myself in the same situation as the buyers we interview every day, relying on the same resources to make a significant investment in a service that is difficult to evaluate. And if I made the wrong choice, I was going to spend a lot of money and miss a big opportunity.

Wiley initially sent me a list of 20 or so agencies to consider, but after a bit of pleading they narrowed it to three. So I visited the agency’s websites.

The first firm had a site that was hyper-focused on their successes in the eBook market, with plenty of detailed case studies from satisfied authors. But I’m not publishing an eBook (although there will be an electronic edition). So that focus turned me off, despite their obvious competence.

The second firm’s site was professional, but generic. The authors and books they’d launched were impressive, but they looked a lot like the other agencies I was already considering.

But when I rthought leaderseached the homepage for the third company, Stern + Associates, my attitude changed in an instant. Right there, in larger text than their company name, was a simple message that spoke directly to me — “We build thought leaders.”

My motivation for writing my book wasn’t to “sell a lot of books,” although that would be nice. I wanted to change the conversation about buyer personas and end the confusion with buyer profiles. I wanted every buyer persona to feature the buying insights that help marketers make better decisions. I wanted to lay a foundation for marketers to become the buyer experts their companies trust to help them win more business.

From my first visit to the Stern home page, through the sales call that followed, I heard about thought leadership. I knew that I had found an agency that understood my motivations and could help me achieve them. My choice was suddenly clear and I was more willing to invest in the budget they suggested.

Stern didn’t use buyer personas to design their messaging or website. It’s clear that their focus on thought leadership is part of their core business strategy and that it was simply fortunate that Wiley referred me to a firm that was a direct match for my needs.

But this story about my buying decision is the precise reason that companies need to break free of the generic messaging that sounds the same for every competitor. It’s the reason that persona interviews must probe for the insights that identify an exact match between our solutions and a buyer’s needs.

We want every buyer to find the solution they’re seeking, and every marketer to know how to make that happen. That’s why I wrote Buyer Personas.

soccer momI like to learn about marketing in unexpected places. The U.S. presidential campaigns are especially fascinating because they represent a “high consideration” decision where, like many B2B products, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get until the deal is done and you “install the solution”.

This isn’t a political blog, but the parallels between political and solution marketing are compelling.

Consider the fact that the goal of every marketing campaign is to shape perception, and  then watch closely as well-funded political marketing machines go to work to convince us that their candidate is an exact match for our expectations around policy and personality.

The majority of votes cast in the American system align candidates in a particular party, so the fraction remaining are referred to as “swing” or undecided voters. The 1996 Presidential elections were centered around a very specific kind of swing voter: the “soccer mom.”

“Soccer moms” were, in short, middle-income working mothers with little time in their day in between their careers and their families. Certainly there were many other personas in the voting ranks and many other swing voters. If you look hard enough, you’ll find references to NASCAR Dads, among others. But in 1996, the Clinton marketing team realized that soccer moms had the power to put their man in the nation’s most important office (or not). So they allocated a disproportionate share of their marketing to campaigns that persuade the soccer mom persona.

Another important note is that the soccer mom was still very relevant to the outcome of the election in 2000. But by the 2004 Presidential elections, strategists knew that the “soccer mom” persona had changed. With the cataclysmic events of 2001, terrorism on American soil was a reality. Fears of anthrax in the mail and future attacks transformed the “soccer mom” into the “security mom.” These were still the same people, demographically – but their motivations and concerns were different. They were worried about the safety and security of their children in this newly scary world. And it would take entirely new messaging to reach them – messaging that the Bush campaign successfully delivered.

If you’re a B2B marketer who has been concerned about building buyer personas for every influencer you can think of, take a page from the political marketer’s  lesson book. Focus on the buyer who is most likely to swing the vote your way, and don’t be surprised if she changes as a result of significant shifts in market, economic or political conditions.

It’s been ahotoffthepresslmost three years since I published The Buyer Persona Manifesto, and so much has changed.

In 2011, few marketers had even heard about buyer personas. That’s why I devoted a sizable portion of the book to explaining what a buyer persona is about and why they are important.

Fast forward to 2014 and buyer personas are in use or under development by 73% of B2B marketers who completed a recent survey by ITSMA.

The interest in buyer personas has exploded, but the need to understand them hasn’t changed. In fact, at the Buyer Persona Institute we hear from marketers every day who lost their way as they attempted to build or leverage this important tool.

So I decided to publish a Second Edition of The Buyer Persona Manifesto to clear the waters and lay down a proven foundation for using buyer personas to produce reliable, actionable results in marketing.

In this completely updated ebook, I talk about:

  • How to move beyond the buyer’s picture and capture her voice, focusing precisely on the narratives that are crucial to the marketing mission
  • How buyer personas differ based on the amount of consideration a buyer gives to the buying decision
  • How to avoid the traps of too many buyer personas that reveal too little in the way of insights
  • How to interview buyers, including who to interview and what to ask
  • How to put buyer personas to work for marketing and sales enablement

The one thing we didn’t change? All of our buyer persona resources, including this new ebook, our buyer persona templates, and the ebook I co-authored with Maribeth Ross: For Content Marketing, Let Your Buyers Be Your Guide, are still available absolutely free. And the ebook is published under a Creative Commons license to encourage everyone to share it with anyone who might benefit.

I believe that buyer personas are one of the most powerful resources in a marketer’s toolset. I want to make sure that every single person using them has the reaction that inspired the opening sentences of The Buyer Persona Manifesto:

“It’s almost like cheating, like getting the exam paper weeks before the final. Instead of guessing what matters, now I know… not only what the customer wants; I know how she goes about deciding. It’s fantastic!”

So please read, share, and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to ask any questions you might have.

It was 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time on January 28, 1986. This would be my second day as an Account Executive at Regis McKenna, the PR firm that Apple, Intel and most of the successful technology companies at that time trusted for their positioning and marketing strategies. I had a bit of marketing experience from my prior tech company job, but frankly, I was filled with anticipation and nervous about working for a famous PR firm.

I was in a conference room with a few of my new colleagues, preparing to learn more about my first assignment: conducting buyer interviews as a foundation for positioning an upcoming Intel launch.

Before we started our meeting, we decided to watch the televised launch of the Challenger space shuttle. Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher and the first “regular person” to become an astronaut, was among the 7-person crew. Christa’s inclusion was a part of a 1984 presidential initiative to promote the importance of teachers, science, and the space program, which meant that millions of school children were watching as the doomed shuttle exploded just 73 seconds after take-off, killing everyone on board.

Social media and the Internet had not yet been invented, but 85 percent of Americans knew about the tragedy within the first hour. The president’s plan to promote science was shattered, and the shuttle program itself was on hold for 32 long months.

It would be years before I fully appreciated how much I had learned that first week on the job. The research into the cause of the Challenger disaster demonstrated that internal pressure can override reason, resulting in stupid, even fatal, mistakes. Over the decades I spent in executive marketing and consulting, I learned just how critical it is for internal experts to be recognized and appreciated for their knowledge, and how difficult it is to convince an organization that a popular idea is flawed.

I also learned that marketers are rarely the trusted resource for knowledge that can prevent otherwise successful products from crashing and burning. This has got to change.

The training I got at Regis McKenna during that week in 1986 never mentioned buyer personas. They trained me to conduct “internal and external audits,” a terrible name for a great idea that involved interviewing internal stakeholders to understand their strategy, followed by buyer interviews to understand their point of view. I learned that I could market even seriously obscure technology if I simply listened to both perspectives to find the spot where they intersected. I learned that no one in most companies is a buyer expert, and that only marketers can prevent companies from pursuing a plan that has a good chance of exploding seconds, weeks, even years, after takeoff.

The Regis McKenna experience gave me the confidence and courage, in 1987, to start my own PR and market research company. A few years later, I sold it and accepted a position as VP of Marketing for a company that wanted me to build a market for a seriously obscure new solution.

The story of how buyers led me to a successful strategy in my first role as a VP is where I started my new interview with Matt Grant, managing editor and host of MarketingProfs’s popular Marketing Smarts podcast series.

In my 31 minute interview with Matt Grant, we chat about:

  • Part 1:  Building a market for “seriously obscure” products (1:50)
  • Part 2:  How we identified the buyers who would be receptive (4:00)
  • Part 3:  A story about a product that was doomed to fail (12:15)
  • Part 4:  Ad Age says that Marketers get no respect, the future of Marketing (15:20)
  • Part 5:  What is unique about your approach to interviewing buyers (22:15)
  • Part 6:  Why your Buyer Persona Manifesto recommends radical change (27:16)

Link to ebook and workshop mentioned in the podcast.

I hope you’ll have a listen and enjoy!

I’m excited to see more marketing agencies among our workshop attendees because by training just one agency to develop actionable buyer personas, we can help many more companies.

To get a sense of how agencies are leveraging buyer insights in the messaging, content marketing, advertising and campaigns they deliver for their clients, I interviewed recent Buyer Persona Institute graduate Julie Squires, CEO of Softscribe Inc. Her Atlanta branding, marketing and public relations agency serves clients in hospitality, travel, multifamily housing, and federal government and enterprise markets.

Q:  How did you decide to build buyer personas for your agency clients?

Julie Squires:  “I like to tell the story of Henri Matisse, who didn’t start painting until his late 20s when he was recovering from appendicitis. His first teacher looked at his work and told him, ‘You were born to simplify painting.’ We feel we were born to simplify marketing – that’s what we do for our clients.  Our focus is to increase sales 20 percent to 25 percent through marketing.  And buyer personas give us an effective process to do that.”

Q: How are personas helping you better serve your clients?

Julie: “Messaging is going micro and it’s going visual. If you only have six to eight words [to get a message across], how do you know you’re picking the right words? Buyer personas give us a way to break through the noise level. For us, they’re a discipline for grabbing hold of the voice of the customer.  We hand-build this into persuasive messaging that captures the buyer’s attention.”

Q:  Do you think marketers are getting too caught up with data, forgetting that marketing is both art and science?

Julie: “I do think we’re getting too algorithmically hypnotized. But we’re starting to see a swing back toward incorporating more of the human element and storytelling back into marketing in service of the business goals.”

Q:  What did you do first after attending the buyer persona workshop?

Julie: Our team quickly completed 6-8 solid interviews for a client with buyers who made win or loss purchase decisions within the last 30-90 days. We found that we were able to tap into the voice of the customer at a visceral level and understand the essence of who the buyers are and what they want. Buyer personas are now embedded in our agency culture as part of our BEAM methodology – with the ‘b’ standing for buyer personas.”

Q: Do you think that buyer personas will help you win new business?

Julie: “Yes, it’s one way we’re getting new business…Our clients trust us to lead them into the next new, effective way to communicate to increase sales. So we’re seeing a lot of interest. And it’s already paying big dividends for our existing clients.”

Q: How have buyer personas helped your clients?

Julie: Here’s what’s cool. Our first buyer persona initiative resonated so well that our client rolled out the messaging in all their ads, trade show booth verbiage, and videos. At the sales meeting, everyone was enthusiastic and had confidence in the work [because it was based on real interviews with real buyers].”

Q: What advice would you give for others who are considering using buyer personas?

Julie: “Templates, e-Books, webinars and a wealth of other resources can help you get started. It’s a big procedural shift.  You need to invest in training. Teach your team how to incorporate buyer personas into their marketing and PR processes. Also, it’s not enough to talk to in-house experts; interviews with real buyers are essential to gathering competitive and other insights you need to build effective sales-oriented messaging that gets results.”

I want to thank Julie Squires for participating in this interview and sharing her experience. If you have a success story about buyer personas, I’d like to hear from you.

When I ask B2B marketers about their personal priorities, they describe their desire to participate in strategic, high value decisions. Too often, this goal stands in stark contrast with their stories about a typical workday, toiling away with little more autonomy than a production-line factory worker.

No one questions that the finance department is best qualified to keep the books or that the engineers have the authority to build useful products. However, it seems like everyone has a better idea about how marketing should function. From content marketing to launch strategy and messaging, marketing tends to be everyone’s playground.

Why is this? The fundamental problem is that the marketing discipline lacks a perceived core competency: a unique strength that positions marketing as the respected authority on decisions within its own purview.

The Strategic Gap

Until we address this competency question, marketers cannot become the strategic resource that will contribute bottom-line benefits and deliver clear competitive advantages to the organization

In a new article for CMO.com, I offer my proposal for addressing the problem. In my view, the best way for marketers to bridge the gap is to build the necessary skills and knowledge to become buyer experts.

Just check out the invite list whenever executives meet to devise strategies to reach new markets, achieve difficult goals or overcome competitive obstacles. Does anyone at that meeting have the factual insights about how and why different buyers will respond (or not) to a given course of action?

Probably not.

Now imagine a different approach to the role of marketing. By talking to real buyers in 1:1 conversations, marketers would gather the critical insights that would make them among the company’s most valuable competitive assets. (For a brief summary of these buyer insights, see my “Five Rings of Customer Insight” in the July/August 2012 issue of Sales and Marketing Management.)

As a result, marketers would be the source of information to help inform many of the decisions at the highest levels of the company.  After all, the buyer’s perspective should be at the heart of every business decision – from acquisitions to market expansion and product introductions.  It’s also the missing link that would enable marketers to develop effective content and successful campaigns targeting the right buyers with the right messages.

This essential skill – which I teach in my buyer persona workshops and coaching – would help marketers finally close the competency gap, building the credibility and authority to gain a seat and a voice at the strategy table.

What do you think? How can marketers overcome the core competency gap? Please share your perspective with your colleagues here and on the CMO.com forum for my article What is Marketing’s Unique Core Competency?

I’m frequently asked for examples of buyer personas, but my clients never allow me to share their findings publicly. That’s because the insights they discover about their buyers are non-obvious and therefore the source of significant competitive advantage.

So I was astounded when the Wall Street Journal broke the story from travel-site Orbitz that Mac users spend 30% more per hotel night than PC/Windows users.

Orbitz is thrilled that they will now be able to promote pricier properties to the Mac buyer persona, eliminating the cheap stuff that isn’t relevant and providing easy access to the rooms they want. This will result in higher profits for Orbitz and a better customer experience for the Mac user.

But didn’t anyone say, “great job, marketing team, for gleaning this insight. Let’s make those changes to the search function right away and keep this under our hats, as we certainly don’t want Expedia or Kayak to copy us.”

The WSJ story set off a flurry of press coverage, including ABC’s Good Morning America and endless social media discussion. People are arguing about whether Mac users are profligate spenders and PC users are cheap. The privacy folks are concerned that this data was even available to Orbitz. And there was the obvious worry that Orbitz would mark up prices on a hotel if they see that the user is on a Mac. Here’s the company’s response as reported by MSNBC:

“If you carefully read the WSJ, it never says Orbitz charges Mac users more. Because we do not. This story grew out of our observation that Mac users tend to like 4-5 star hotels more than PC users. We make recommendations about hotels along a number of variables, i.e., traveling with or without children. Just as Mac users are willing to pay more for higher end computers, at Orbitz we have seen that Mac users are 40% more likely to book 4 or 5 star hotels as compared to Windows users.  What we are doing is reflecting that insight in our recommendations. Our recommendation module has extremely high levels of consumer engagement, indicating that it is a feature that our users really appreciate.”

Good idea Orbitz. But I’d have advised you to keep this persona insight locked up in the same vault where Coke keeps their secret formula. I’m sure your competitors are happy for your help.

And I’m pleased to have a buyer persona success story that isn’t subject to my customers’ non-disclosure agreements.

Watching the Grammys last week, I was captivated by the acclaim for Adele, who dominated the night with six awards, including best song, best record and best album.

I love her music and was anxiously awaiting Adele’s post-surgery performance Sunday night. I was unprepared, however, for how surreal it would be to hear ‘my’ name spoken again and again, and under such auspicious circumstances!

But what really stood out was the contrast in the way Adele presents herself. Unlike my usual audio-only experience of her, it was easy to see so many other ways that she differs from the ‘typical’ star.

Am I the only one who thought her dress was a bit tacky? And while she is a beautiful woman, Adele lacks the movie-star attributes of Carrie Underwood or even the slimmed-down version of Jennifer Hudson (who knocked me out with her tribute to Whitney Houston).

The staging of Adele’s performance was unique, too. She just stood on the stage and sang, without all of the acrobatics and fancy staging that dominated performances by almost everyone else (Did you catch Katy Perry?).

In Adele’s acceptance of the biggest prize, the album of the year, she apologized for the “snot” as she wiped away her tears. Can you imagine Lady Gaga swiping her arm across her nose and making such a statement (note that Lady Gaga won nothing at last week’s Grammys!)

I’m hardly a music expert, but I see all “products” through a marketing lens, and I can’t help but think that Adele has absolutely nailed her buyer persona, and that a big part of her appeal is how well she has instinctively matched her presentation, and her story, to her target audience’s needs.

Every marketer knows that conflict and tension are central to engaging any audience. How could an Adele fan fail to notice when damaged vocal cords rendered her silent?

The tension grew as we waited to learn whether the surgery would work . . . whether her voice could possibly be as powerful afterwards. We’d seen enough press to anticipate a positive outcome, but still, when she sang on Sunday night, it was a thrill for all. No special effects needed.

Just as we were feeling some relief, we hear an announcement that we may lose her again, as she is thinking about taking the next few years “off” to focus on her personal life. Say it ain’t so, Adele!

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that anything about Adele’s story has been staged or contrived to win awards or sell music. I am certain that she is the genuine person she appears to be, in absolutely every respect.

But I do think that those of us who are marketing more banal products can learn from her.

1)      Don’t take shortcuts. As I discuss in my e-book, The Buyer Persona Manifesto, it’s tempting to make stuff up about buyers. For example, it would be easy for us to guess that the music buyer persona is a 30-something who plays video games, multi-tasks constantly, and craves theatrics, staging and sex appeal along with his or her music.  But Adele’s success tells us something very different is going on.

2)      The power of story. However perfect your product, you need to build a story around it that resonates with your persona. Building conflict and scarcity into the story increases its appeal.

3)      Be real. All buyers are craving authenticity and humanity. Could it be that we actually get more credibility with our target audiences when we don’t pretend to be perfect?

I’ll talk more about the secrets of building and applying buyer personas at my MarketingProfs online seminar this week. Please join me Feb. 23, 2012, at 12 p.m. EST (9 a.m. PST) for How to Build Personas that Persuade Buyers and Increase Sales.

Today David Meerman Scott launched his 8th book, “Newsjacking: How to Inject Your Ideas into a Breaking News Story and Generate Tons of Media Coverage.” I’ve just read it and am confident that it will be another huge success for David, who is best known for the bestseller “The New Rules of Marketing and PR”.

I first met David in 2005 when he was a relatively obscure marketing consultant. At the time I was leading the seminar I built for Pragmatic Marketing and we had recently won a very large contract. I was overwhelmed with too much work, so I put the word out that I was looking for someone who could take on a few classes. Jon Bachman suggested his friend David.

A quick talk on the phone and we struck up an agreement. For the next few months, David and I traveled and taught the seminar together.  He frequently talked about his blog, but I was barely listening. The marketers in the seminar were not exactly engaged either. We had to work just to explain the concept and people fretted about whether it was a good idea for B2B marketers.

Then David released a little ebook entitled “The New Rules of PR”. Three months later, applying only his new rules to spread the word, more than 150,000 people had downloaded the book. A few months passed before Wiley Publishing asked David to write a “real” book that would expand on the ideas.

I thought that was very cool, but never anticipated the breakthrough that David was about to experience. A short six years later, The New Rules of Marketing and PR has sold over 250,000 copies, was recently released in its third edition, and is available in 25 languages. David is one of the industry’s leading keynote speakers, commanding a very impressive five-figure honorarium for a single hour’s work. CEOs and CMOs in the largest and most famous companies in the world meet with him and seek his advice.

And now David has published his 8th book, with another breakthrough idea that will soon be mainstream.

Watching David’s rise to fame and fortune has taught me a lot about the value of focus. In whatever topic they pursue, experts are always watching for a high-value issue that is not well-understood. Experts don’t wait around for anyone to tell them to solve the problem – they take the initiative before someone else can grab the opportunity.

Initially, the expert’s goal is to assimilate as much as they can from the information that already exists about their topic. This doesn’t seem to create more work for the emerging expert; it is simply a matter of prioritizing their thinking. Every activity is an opportunity to observe, to gain a fresh perspective or insight on the chosen subject. Every meeting is a chance to ask questions and listen. These people aren’t creating new ideas (yet), they are a central point of information for knowledge that is all around them but not aggregated, analyzed or appreciated.

Are you an expert on a topic that, in your company, is perceived to be both high value and rare? If you are in a tactical role, consider how much focus you have given to mastering a skill that can be readily outsourced or that few  people respect. Or maybe you have devoted your energies to product expertise, which is more valued but certainly not unique.

Whether your company has identified the problem or not, it needs (and lacks) deep insight into the motivations, preferences and influences that drive buyers to choose your solutions, your competitors’, or to maintain the status quo. The role I call buyer persona expert describes a marketer who can articulate their target buyers’ priorities and perceptions with confidence and clarity. Is anyone in your company focused on this expertise?  Can anyone predict, based on factual data, the likely outcome of a product or marketing strategy that has yet to be implemented?

David and his publisher know that his new book will be a huge success. David has so much focus on his buyer personas that winning is a foregone conclusion.

My friend David Meerman Scott has done it again — he's written another book that is perfectly aligned with the needs of his buyer persona. The new book is "World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories."

You probably know about "The New Rules of Marketing and PR," the book that David wrote two years ago. But you may not know that David's success as an acclaimed author and speaker all started with a short ebook that he made available through his blog. Over a hundred thousand people downloaded that ebook in a few short months — the beginnings of a World Wide Rave that caught the attention of a big publisher.  That connection resulted in the print book that is now published in 22 languages.

Because David wrote content that connected with the needs of his buyers and made it freely available, they told each other about it. He didn't have to pay anyone to market the book. In fact, David's customers pay him to spread his ideas through keynotes that continuously grow his own World Wide Rave.

Best of all, David's success has made him a magnet for a continuous stream of new content and stories that resonate with his target buyers. David doesn't have to go out of his way to study his buyers or create content they want to share with each other, his immersion in the issues that resonate with his buyers ensures constant access to new material and ideas.

If you want to learn how to create content for social media sites and blogs that gets buyers raving about what they heard, check out his video.  David knows this stuff — he lives it.



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