Judging by the current interest in buyer personas, 2010 could be the decade when companies realize the competitive advantage that belongs to those companies that have the deepest insight into their target buyers.
Armed with a well-researched buyer persona, the newly competitive company would know that a technical buyer isn’t impressed when the company’s website or marketing materials simply state that a solution is “interoperable” or “scalable.” These marketers would have detailed knowledge about how the technical buyer has been struggling with specific scalability or integration challenges. Imagine the value of the marketing copy this team could create – connecting the buyer’s needs to the unexplored merits of the company’s approach.
Similarly, our competitive company would know that an economic buyer isn’t impressed by copy that simply announces that a solution will increase revenues or reduce expenses. This marketer has deep insight into what this type of buyer has been doing to manage the bottom line, including how the economic buyer persona perceives the alternatives. So the marketer can now communicate that another approach is available, beginning a relationship that continues when the sales people, who have been well-trained to understand how the economic buyer thinks about these issues, make the first sales call.
This will require real work on buyer personas, of course – not the fluffy stuff that is permeating the blogosphere. Maybe its helpful for some B2C companies to know their buyer’s hair color or hobbies, but for my vision to become reality for B2B companies, marketing needs buyer personas that provide deep insight into
- which problems the target buyers perceive as their highest priority
- the way each type of buyer is currently managing these problems
- why the problems persist in spite of current efforts
- how this type of buyer will respond to the company’s approach or solution
Most buyer personas fall far short of this level – what I call “grokking” – to the detriment of every subsequent step in the marketing process.
If buyer personas aren’t thoroughly developed, marketing activities are inevitably guided by the expectations of product-focused stakeholders. Buyer pain points are reverse-engineered from the capabilities of the solution. Marketing is frequently charged with the task of educating the buyers about the company’s version of their problem.
B2B buyers obviously don’t derive any value from this form of marketing and there is no chance that it can create any competitive advantage for the vendors. Early in the buying process buyers are looking for written content, increasingly sought online, as a next step after a peer referral, or to help a mid-level manager produce a report requested by a senior executive. These buyers are looking for evidence of a close match between their view of the problem and the vendor’s solution, not lengthy explanations of the vendor’s view of “the problems in the industry today.”
With all of the emphasis on buyer personas, I’m looking forward to a year, maybe a decade, with increasingly powerful examples of content that simply and directly demonstrates the company’s ability to answer buyer problems. I’m looking forward to a new definition of competitive advantage where marketing plays a leadership role.