How many buyer personas can you afford to engage with unique messaging and campaigns?

That’s my answer when people ask me how many buyer personas they need. It probably isn’t satisfying when I answer a question with another question, especially when the expected answer is a number -- three, five, ten or whatever.

But I always caution that most companies create far too many buyer personas.

The marketers I meet are incredibly enthusiastic about buyer personas – who wouldn’t love to have deep insight into how buyers think. But a little restraint is needed. It’s counter-productive to create more buyer personas than the company can support with differentiated marketing activities.

I suggest listing the job titles of each of the personas that influence the decision to buy and then ranking their importance. This can be accomplished by considering the extent to which each type of buyer is:

  • influencing decisions that significantly impact the success of an upcoming launch, revenue goal, or marketing campaign
  • unlikely to be excited by something that is unique about the product, service or solution
  • in an organizational role that the sales people do not currently engage for sales of other products or services

The tendency to create too many buyer personas starts when people simply layer them on top of their current view that messages, sales tools and campaigns need to be built for each product, service or solution. In large companies I’ve found product marketers working on personas for their products, service or solution marketers reproducing the effort for their solutions, and industry or regional marketers who are wondering how they fit into the puzzle.

The biggest payback from buyer personas occurs when the company starts with the most important buyers, and then assigns a single owner for each, regardless of what the company hopes to market or sell to them. These companies create a collaborative home (such as a wiki or Sharepoint site) and encourage people throughout the company to post their observations of real buyers. The owner has the final say about what is included in the persona, but the opportunity to contribute to the effort is distributed across the company.

I’m working with companies where it is standard operating procedure for marketers to rely on personas to see the problem and solution through their buyers’ eyes. These personas are the organizing principle for decisions about whom to target and how to build relevant messaging, content, campaigns, and sales tools. Many of these companies have the senior management buy-in to quickly adopt this culture, and the results are astonishing.

For those who lack top-down support, try using the ideas above to prioritize and create the fewest possible personas. Then rely on them to:

  • identify and target the types of buyers who are most likely to be engaged by your product, service or solution
  • Build messages and content that match the buyers’ criteria for choosing a solution
  • Tell the sales people the buyers’ stories, proving that you know these buyers and that they need your solution
  • Deliver the message in the places your buyer frequents

It won’t be long before someone notices the difference and asks you how you pulled it off.

Topics: Buyer Personas, Buying Criteria, Good Use of Personas, Market Research, Positioning & Messaging, product marketing, Product Marketing Redefined

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