How do you create an effective marketing plan?
By focusing on the buyer’s needs first.
Most business marketing is an unending cascade of “we’re so great, you must hire us” content with little focus on a potential customer’s concerns.
“This is who we are. This is what we do. And because we do it better than the other guy, you should buy from us.”
This type of marketing is created out of thin air.
And the problem here, and it’s a hefty one, is that the ideal customer’s preferences, wants, and needs are left out.
Simply taking the time to create an ideal customer persona has the power to change everything. To walk a mile in their shoes and see the world from their perspective.
Learning what makes buyers tick is step one to your brand becoming the trustworthy, influential, and likable beacon they’re looking for.
- What is most important to them?
- Where do they go to get the trusted info they need?
- How do they evaluate their options and make a decision to buy?
The fairly simple act of clearly defining the people you can deliver the most value to (your ideal customers) will impact your business like nothing else.
Let me count the ways…
- Taking the time to create an ideal customer persona will make it crystal clear who you should not work with. (Maybe the most valuable revelation ever ;))
- It will be 100 times easier to attract those you should be working with.
- The process of every marketing function, from writing to SEO, will be simplified because you’re focusing on the right buyers.
So, what the heck is an ideal customer persona?
The term “persona” is important because it focuses on a customer’s personality traits and more importantly, their behavior. According to Wikipedia, “a persona in the word’s everyday usage, is a social role or a character played by an actor. The word is derived from Latin, where it originally referred to a theatrical mask.”
So, thinking of a persona as an actor ties in beautifully with your brand story because…
- Your focus is on a protagonist – your ideal customer.
- Your script is written for the hero – your ideal customer.
- Everything you produce is crafted to connect with, you guessed it – your ideal customer.
The persona you’ll be creating is basically a “sketch” providing details on what they do, how they are influenced, and how they buy.
You might name your character say, Owen or Rachel. And get cute with terms like “tech-savvy Owen” or “photography-obsessed Rachel.”
That’s okay, but the important thing to remember is that you’re focusing on their buying behavior. And describing their characteristics clearly enough that you can understand their needs, motivations, and expectations, so you can build marketing that gets them to know, like, and trust you.
An ideal customer persona can become the most powerful instrument you possess – a guide to help you create the most persuasive messaging possible, so people pick you and not your competitors.
What’s the problem with most ideal customer “profiles”?
When creating an ideal buyer persona, many businesses only scratch the surface with a “profile.” They pull a stock image of “tech-savvy Owen”, list a few characteristics beside the photo, including what they think he wants and needs, then declare, “it’s a wrap.”
Do a Google Image search using the term “buyer persona” and you’ll see what I mean.
This is why most personas are ineffective because they lack the depth you need to guide your marketing.
A stock image with a few bullets telling us why “photography-obsessed Rachel” will buy from us has nothing useful to guide you. It’s guesswork.
You’re not just creating a character with a stock image to post to your wall, you’re creating an archetype – the embodiment of your ideal customer.
An ideal customer persona represents the the bona fide peeps you need to target with your marketing (your ideal customers). Most “personas” are really customer “profiles.” Stock images with bullet points that don’t go deep enough into buyer’s decision-making process.
And to gain the awareness you need to help you make the right marketing decisions, you must spend time learning more about the following:
- What sparks your ideal customer to engage?
- How do they evaluate you and your competitors?
- What are the roadblocks they face in their journey?
And yes, it’s important to define the type of customers (businesses) you should be working with. A “profile” built by asking questions like…
- What is the ideal company size?
- What industries or specific groups of people are a good fit?
- Where are they? Are they local, national, or global?
- Am I focusing exclusively on businesses, consumers, or both?
- What type of business is NOT a good fit?
Creating a “profile” by answering the questions above is important. As a business owner I’m sure you know this, but there are a million and one posts on this, and the purpose of this post is to tell you that you need to go deeper to gather the insights you need, and then craft a persona of your ideal buyer to drive your marketing machine!
The best way to collect this vital information is by interviewing the type of people who might buy from you, over and over again. To slowly but surely capture the insights and wisdom you need. Then work to craft a layered, crystal clear window into the world of your ideal customer.
It’s the best way to find out what really matters to this person. And if you get this right, it will completely change your world, in a very good way!
The wizardry of Adele Revella
Adele Revella is president of Buyer Persona Institute and author of the Book Buyer Personas.
And her Institute’s framework, called the 5 Rings of Insight, are the steps needed to accurately craft your ideal customer persona…
1. Priority initiatives – Uncovers what’s important to your buyer. And why some prospects make buying products and/or services like yours a focus, while others choose the status quo.
2. Success factors – Shows what they expect to change after working with you. Basically, what success looks like.
3. Perceived barrier – Shows why certain prospects might not see your product, services, or organization as the best solution. Revealing what is holding them back.
4. Their journey – What is your ideal customer’s journey? Their buying process? And how do they evaluate all options and make a purchase?
5. Decision criteria – How, exactly, do they come to a buying decision? And why?
The best way to get this right is to conduct interviews.
Because you want to avoid making an educated guess. You want some red meat in the form of real information from real people.
This genuine information will help you develop the best messaging possible and get it in front of the right people.
An ideal customer persona will help you rise above the noise
Think about the difficulty of getting eyeballs on your website! Some studies estimate that we mere humans are exposed to as many as 10,000 marketing messages a day.
People are bombarded with marketing, attention is scarce, and competition for eyeballs is fierce.
So, if you’re marketing without knowing the precise wants and needs of your ideal customer, you’ve got a mighty hill to climb.
To rise above the noise you must start interviewing buyers.
If someone has chosen to buy from you, ask if you can interview them.
If someone has recently decided to buy from you, they’ve been through the buying journey and it’s fresh in their mind so they can provide precise details regarding their decision-making process. They can walk you through their steps and the tools they used to make their final choice to buy.
If possible, it’s also great to interview people who chose another company to work with. Or didn’t buy from you or anyone else. THESE interviews are insanely hard to book, but if you can get an interview with these people, do it.
Interviewing ideal customers should be the bedrock of your marketing
If you or your sales team has recently closed a sale, schedule an interview.
If a prospect has gone through your sales process but chose not to buy, try and get them on the phone.
Every buyer, whether they bought from you or not, has a treasure trove of data that will prove invaluable.
If you’re part of a larger organization with a sales team, meet with the sales lead. Detail how critical these Personas are. Explain why truly understanding the buyer journey will fine-tune your branding and marketing, and dramatically improve the sales process.
A clear-cut ideal customer persona is the best way to create the type of marketing message your ideal buyer wants to hear.
How to interview buyers (and start building your persona)
You don’t have to interview 101 people. Five to ten tightly crafted interviews should do the job.
During the interview, avoid a script or survey-like robotic approach. This is the best way to get your interviewee to clam up and try to get you off the phone.
Instead, take a conversational approach. Start slow and let them unveil their own story about the process they just went through.
Ditch the script and build rapport. A friendly, relaxed conversation usually translates to a longer and more valuable interview.
I previously mentioned Adele Revella’s 5 Rings of Insight. Go back to them to help structure your call and inject plenty of your own questions.
How I do interviews
My process is simple. Once I have a call scheduled, I gather some background information on the individual and their stage in the buying process.
Once a call is scheduled I use my Skype credits to dial them at a convenient time (you can also use Zoom) and make sure they have at least 30 minutes for a call.
I also use software called ECamm Call Recorder for Skype and set it to automatically record the call.
I treat every call as a friendly conversation. I first get a little background information then start asking questions about the buying process.
A script is never helpful because each person is describing an experience from their unique perspective.
A the beginning, I tell them this will be relatively quick and painless. And I try to get a feel for their comfort level to conduct the interview in the best way possible.
Use your gut as a guide to drive the conversation.
The most important thing is to keep them talking. Think about every answer as a lead in to another question… “What was your next step?” “How did you go about analyzing that?” “Wow, that sounds amazingly difficult. How did you get past that barrier?” Etc.
And remember, your job as the interviewer is to dig and uncover their impression of the process, where they started and what, exactly they were seeking.
Visualize yourself as a skilled journalist on a mission to uncover the truth. Ask questions to enliven and engage them, and if any questions stall the process, move on.
- Ditch the script.
- Ask open-ended questions to keep things rolling.
- But stay focused and remember your purpose.
After every interview I send the audio to rev.com and within 24 hours I have a full transcript of the call.
With your transcript, you can go through and highlight the most important steps in their buying journey. What were they looking for? How did they evaluate? What did they expect? Did they find it? What was important to them? What did they expect to change after the process? How did they come to a decision. And, if they didn’t buy, what held them back?
Who should you talk with?
List the people who have just decided to work with you, and ask them if they would be available for a short call. Someone who has just made a decision to work with you is ideal because the experience is fresh in their mind.
And if you can, you should interview people who chose one of your competitors. Or someone who didn’t buy from you or anyone else. Yes, these people are hard to get on the phone and they might blow you off, but if you can talk with them, think about the insight you’ll gain, including their answer to one of the most important questions you’ll ever ask – Why did you decide to not work with me?
If you can get an interview with these people, do it. If someone does not buy from me, I at least email them and ask them why they chose to not work with me.
But look through all your resources, from business cards to LinkedIn contacts. Try and find people who might fit the Persona. Once you have a list, craft an email asking if they’d consider a short call.
The more you do this the better you’ll get. You’ll quickly improve your ability to suss out answers that will improve your customer experience and your marketing.
And, an added benefit if you’re talking with someone at a larger company – you’ll probably gain additional contacts for future calls.
Summarizing how to create an ideal customer persona (that will drive your marketing)
Customer interviews are pure gold.
Each interviewee will deliver golden nuggets – insights you need to start building ideal customer personas that will actually help move the needle in your business.
Adele Revella’s site offers this buyer persona template. If her template looks a wee bit overwhelming don’t fret. You don’t have to get this detailed to start, but it is a great guide showing you the type of questions you should be asking. It also shows you the type of persona template you should create.
Don’t get buried in the muck of buyer demographics (age, income, education) and psychographics (values, personality, and lifestyle).
Demographic and psychographic insights are certainly not useless. I’ve just found that it’s way more valuable to instead focus on the steps detailed in this post – interviewing people to gain awareness by asking questions and digging for intel like a crack reporter…
What triggers them to go looking for a company like yours?
What motivates them to buy from you?
What are their primary concerns?
What are their challenges? Barriers?
What are their priorities?
What are they focused on? Price? Responsiveness? Reputation?
What do they read? And how does this influence their buying decisions?
Why do they want to work with us? What, exactly, do they look to gain?
And, how, exactly, do they come to a buying decision? And why?
Interview a few people, build one good ideal customer persona to start with and go from there.
Otherwise, it’s simply guesswork that ignores your most important person – your ideal customer. And there’s nothing as effective as actually talking to your customers.
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