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Know Your Customers: How to Create Data-Driven Buyer Personas

Business.com / Last Modified: March 22, 2018
Image credit: iQoncept/Shutterstock

From goals to application, this article explains steps in gathering and utilizing data to create accurate buyer personas.

Buyer personas are one of the essential building blocks of personalized marketing. These data-backed representations of your buyers should deliver an archetype of who they are. In other words, they tell you what your users are trying to do, why they're doing it, how they think, where and when they buy, and whom they buy from. You can use this to tailor your process for each persona, improving both your lead quality and your leads' marketing experience. 

While the concept of buyer personas is likely engraved in most marketers' brains, the formulation of quality, data-driven buyer personas doesn't just happen. Most marketers know the basics of their buyer personas. For example, someone selling enterprise software should intuitively know the basics of who uses and who procures their software. However, in a competitive marketplace, with throngs of available data, the basics simply aren't good enough.

Below are four steps to go beyond the basics and take a data-driven approach to creating your buyer personas.

1. Set goals.

As with any major project, knowing the endgame is critical. Take time to decide what action you'd like your buyer personas to take. This is going to be a highly personalized decision based on the size of your company, marketing department and sales team. If you're a solo operation, your goal might be a final sale, whereas a large marketing department might be able to break down different goals based on different job requirements. One report lists these as the most common personalization metrics chosen by marketers:

  • Consumption (content views, downloads, etc.) – 55 percent
  • Engagement – 48 percent
  • Financial – 42 percent

Before you set your goals, it might be worth your time to reach out for direct customer feedback. That could come from formal surveys or informal conversations. This will help ensure that your goals are possible and allow you to address particular pain points, whether in the product information or ordering process, and to do A/B tests on different solutions.

2. Gather data.

One of the reasons personas lost potency and credence in some quarters is that, as Dr. David Travis of Userfocus notices, the rise of direct user engagement made personas seem too concrete and inflexible. The truth, however, is that accurate archetypes evolve. Your data should be a regular stream, not a single download. That means regularly tapping into these resources:

  • User surveys. Ask your database relevant questions, and revisit them.
  • Sales insights. Your sales team interacts with customers on a daily basis, and will spot and say things clients won't.
  • Primary data. Mine your user account data for every detail, including correspondence rates, social media platforms used, engagements, and purchases per day, week or month.
  • Secondary/tertiary data. Buy in data about the industry, market or segment you're addressing to supplement profiles.

By assuming that a single action can put someone in the proper place in the marketing cycle, you are simplifying things back to the basics. It's your job as a professional marketer to go beyond the basics and use the data available to you. By not pigeonholing people into a single category, and allowing your nurture streams to be flexible depending on user actions, you'll be able to refine your personas in the long run.

3. Identify key trends and traits.

Identifying data trends goes hand in hand with gathering data. What's the point in having data if you aren't going to use it? This is where you'll utilize your flexibility in lead-nurturing sequences, for example. Use spreadsheets, exploratory factor analysis and pivot tables to explore your data points and the connections between them. With qualitative answers to your surveys, tools like word cloud generators can be handy to give you an overview before you delve into answers individually.

If your team doesn't contain a data expert who can handle these things, it's worth bringing someone in for the project or having someone learn the process. It will pay off in the long run. With your key data identified by various traits and segments, they can be organized into distinct personas. If you don't know where to start, use one of the many templates available online as inspirations.

4. Plan practical applications.

After compiling and reviewing your data, you should have a clearer idea of who is interacting with your content, who is working through the sales funnel, and who you should be concentrating your efforts on reaching. It's at this point that you can begin refining your persona-based marketing messaging. Start by identifying pain points and clogs in the funnel. Then, brainstorm potential solutions that personalization could offer, whether it's providing tailored information via mailouts or auto-completing forms for repeat customers. The further you refine your lead quality, the more your marketing campaigns will resonate with your audience.   

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