Read this before starting a persona project

I'm seeing a lot of blog and email traffic that is motivating this post -- two earnest requests directed to people who are just beginning to develop buyer personas or put them to work.

Request #1 - Outsource buyer persona creation only when necessary, and then ensure that the company has a permanent spokesperson who will keep the persona's story alive. 

The goal for buyer personas is to make them so real and persuasive that the company will be willing to take direction from them. This won't be easy and it isn't going to happen all at once. The company is accustomed to making decisions based on its own ideas or input from prospects and current customers. The buyer persona spokesperson will need to keep reminding the company to think about the buyers, the people who choose to do business with competitors or to get along without any of the company’s products and services.

Many companies have invested in “voice of the customer” initiatives, resulting in written reports and little in the way of insights that anyone remembers or references. I'm concerned that buyer personas could end up in the same trap -- yet another short-term fad that misses the point in just about every respect.

If limited bandwidth or investigative skills make it necessary to assign persona development to a contractor, so be it. Just make sure that the third-party engagement includes an effective handoff to someone who will persist in being a spokesperson for the buyer.

Request #2 -- Personas should tell their story to the website designers and content people, not the real buyers who find the website. 

Many companies develop buyer personas in support of a website initiative, which frequently results in only a fraction of the insight or commitment that's needed to deal with my number 1 request.  To make matters worse, some of the people involved in these sites have come to expect that a "persona-based website" reveals the buyer persona's story.

Buyers don't visit a website to find out who they are, and if a real buyer finds just one thing wrong with your description of them, that's all they'll remember.

Buyer personas are useful for website designers and content creators precisely because they keep everyone focused on how various types of buyers evaluate the company's solutions. The typical website serves up generic benefits statements or content that is neatly consistent with the company's templates. A persona-based website provides easily accessible answers to the buyers' real questions.

To stay grounded about buyer personas remember that their purpose is to tell a story to internal audiences about how a particular type of buyer views the decision to buy the company's product, service or idea. The story must be real, even though the persona is not. Persona developers need to continuously interact with buyers to keep the story real, reiterating the buyers' perspective whenever an internal decision loses its focus.

Topics: Buyer Personas, Good Use of Personas, Writing

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