Buyer Persona - buzzword, prejudice, stereotyping or true insight?

Posted by Alison Leishman

We’re standing around the braai with a glass of wine in one hand and I hear a friend of a friend say, “Ag, personas. They’re the latest buzz word. I’ve just had this persona document shoved on my desk. Why would anyone see the value in that c*%p? It’s just a bunch of marketers trying to be clever and prove their worth. I don’t believe in personas.”

I’m trying not to be offended, because most marketers aren’t just trying to be clever, they are clever. They have to be, to fill sales funnels with leads and encourage people to get more and more engaged with our product until they’re ready to buy it. I’m also annoyed because people just don’t get personas! What frustrates me even more is that I suspect that my friend of a friend is right, because when personas are done badly, they can be total nonsense.

But they don’t have to be.

So here’s a brief look at why personas exist, what they’re supposed to do and why, when they’re done right they aren’t just believable; they can actually make salespeople’s lives easier and, as a result  , make the whole business more successful.

To get more insights read our lastest blog posts How to build truely insightful buyer personas.. it's magic[Part 1 of 2] and 7 steps to building truly insightful buyer personas[Part 2 of 2].

First, a definition.

What are personas?

Hubspot says that:

“Personas are fictional, generalised characters that encompass the various needs, goals, and observed behaviour patterns among your real and potential customers.”

They also add that, “They help you understand your customers better”. But what happens when personas aren’t properly thought through? Or when they’re just about sociographics (like age, location, gender, income, job title etc.) rather than psychographics (how they think and feel, what drives them to make decisions, what their challenges and ambitions are)? That’s when things go wrong. That’s when, rather than being the bedrock of great marketing and great sales, they become the kind of c*%p that my friend of a friend was slating.


Why do companies need personas?

Let’s go back to the fundamentals of both sales and marketing in order to answer this question…

Firstly, from a marketer’s perspective: if you want to understand your marketing and its effectiveness you have to understand your customers: the people who are buying what you have to offer. From a sales perspective – you need to understand the problem the prospect faces and how you or your offering is able to solve that problem. You should never try sell something that won't deliver on the customer's needs. You might get it right but you won't build any long term loyalty. Personas can solve both of these issues.

They also do a third thing; personas are the bedrock of an effective inbound marketing strategy. To create an effective inbound strategy you have to understand the behaviour of your client. Yes, this differs by industry, country, age and profile but – more importantly – it differs by persona. When done right, in-depth buyer personas can not only help you create more meaningful marketing for your target audience, they can also help you connect with people, emotionally, and make them want to buy from you because you ‘get them’.

For me, a buyer persona is more than just imagining someone like ‘Cruising Carla’ – a retired person who wants to go on a cruise. It needs to go deeper. It’s about understanding where ‘Cruising Carla’ might like to travel, whether she is travelling alone, with a partner or a group of friends, how long she’ll be travelling for (short or long holidays) and what motivates her to cruise - culture, relaxation, luxury? It’s about understanding why she wants to cruise in the first place, which of her desires it will fulfil, and/or which of her fears it will allay. A great persona is about understanding what drives that person, so you can communicate with them.

Why personas suck

Personas can suck for many reasons. They can be:

  • Too superficial
  • Based on job-description only, not a person
  • Based on the wrong kind of customer (your current customer, not your ideal customer)
  • A one-sided version of your customer (i.e. built only by marketing without sales involvement)
  • The result of a box-ticking exercise
  • Something that is just done once and then never touched again.

What makes a great persona?

Non-sucky personas are real and meaningful, however. They are so clear in the minds of those who are using them that they almost feel like an old friend; someone they know and relate to. Personas can be so real that anyone in marketing or sales could look at a piece of content and say, “No, that won’t work for Cruising Carla because she doesn’t think like that”.

Great personas also identify the customers you want to work with, those you should be working with and not just the ones you currently have! Your ideal customer and your current customer have to align with your future business goals. Personas can help you do that.

Great personas are made with care and thought; they are produced by getting a bunch of people – sales, marketing and other relevant stakeholders – in a room together, and arguing. They’re also made by using real-life examples, stories and situations.

Great personas are never done. The more information you can gather about your customers, the more informed your buyer personas will be, and the better you’ll be able to sell to your customers.

How to create great personas

At Spitfire Inbound Marketing we work with our clients to build a long-term marketing strategy by starting with your data, your goals, and your buyer personas. We work together with you to create personas from extensive research – everything from job adverts and job descriptions, to interviews with the sales team. And then we build a personality of the person who will refer you, give you testimonials and bring you repeat business.


Only then, once we know that the persona is clear in the minds of the whole sales and marketing team, will we start producing amazing marketing as part of an inbound marketing strategy.

Let's TalkTo get more insights read our blog post series on buyer personas

 How to build truely insightful buyer personas.. it's magic [Part 1 of 2] 

 7 steps to building truly insightful buyer personas [Part 2 of 2]



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