In an age of hyper-competitive digital marketing, how you market your products or services needs to answer hyper-specific questions. Which exact problems do they solve? How exactly do they stand out from the competition? To answer such questions, marketers need to answer a primary question themselves. Who, exactly, are they marketing to? It’s this question that best highlights the importance of buyer personas in digital marketing, as we’ll discuss today.
What are buyer personas?
Starting with the definition – a buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer. In essence and function, it’s a profile that lets you visualize who you’re marketing to.
Buyer personas delve into many of the factors customer segmentation also hinges on. That is, they will seek to answer such crucial questions as:
- What are their age, race, sex, and other relevant demographic characteristics?
- Which are their major concerns, pain points, and key purchase drivers?
- Where do they look up information, and which types of content do they prefer to consume?
As you can see, buyer personas overlap with demographic, psychographic, technographic, and other types of segmentation filters. However, they also expand to practical, actionable questions like preferred communication channels and ideal content types. They can thus inform your marketing outreach and the content creation process itself.
Buyer personas and customer segmentation
That said, the overlap between the two is substantial. Both offer ample opportunities for better customer journey mapping and customer segmentation, as we’ll cover next. Proper audience breakdown is essential to do so, and both answer the key “who” question. Still, the two are somewhat different in approach and execution.
In brief, buyer personas are:
- Qualitative, based on research and interviews
- Broad, profiling as many customer personas as the marketer targets
- Typically more focused on psychographic elements
Conversely, customer segments are:
- Quantitative, based on customer insights and data
- Specific, segmenting existing customer bases
- Typically more focused on demographics and behavioral patterns
Here, the importance of buyer personas in digital marketing might first become apparent. While customer segmentation will let marketers filter their audiences effectively, buyer personas will inform the initial outreach. In tandem, the two will answer who you’re targeting and how you may best market to them, each in its own way.
The importance of buyer personas in digital marketing
Focusing on buyer personas specifically, let us delve into their benefits in more depth. Of course, the primary, overarching one is identifying your ideal customers before outreach starts. But that core benefit is only where buyer persona applications begin.
#1 Identifying purchase drivers
Beyond the initial question of “who” you’re marketing to, buyer personas help you identify “why” your outreach works or doesn’t. They explore what drives buyers to make a purchase so that you may tailor marketing to those drivers.
Questions in this regard include:
- Which problems are your buyers facing?
- How much do they research their options, and through which channels?
- What do they prioritize when choosing vendors or service providers? Is it price tags, perceived alignment of values, or something else?
Such criteria will vary considerably across industries and businesses. For example, B2C businesses may rely on eliciting emotional responses, while B2B ones will need data-driven problem-solving. Beyond simple truisms and industry best practices, buyer personas pinpoint your unique buyers’ motives and purchasing criteria.
#2 Understanding behavioral patterns
By the same token, customer segmentation can reveal actionable behavioral patterns within specific segments. However, such quantitative data only observes them and doesn’t explain them. Customer analytics will show “what” happens, but not “why” – and thus not how you may address it.
Here the importance of buyer personas in digital marketing emerges again, as you may revisit them to inform hypotheses. Consider such behavioral segments and investigative questions as:
- Recurring customers. What drives their preference and trust in you? How often and why do they become brand advocates? Can you expand these qualities to other segments?
- Lapsed customers. What drives them away? How many of them have become active detractors, and why? Did they have mandatory needs you’re not meeting?
- Returning customers. What draws them back to you? How likely are they to remain or lapse again, and why? What would build their trust?
Focusing such questions on specific buyer personas may more reliably identify what drives their actions. In turn, you may adjust your outreach and customer journeys toward achieving your intended outcomes.
#3 Mapping the customer journey
On that subject, one of the primary applications of buyer personas lies in mapping your customer journeys. With a deeper understanding of your customers’ habits and drivers, you may get a better overview of their conversion paths.
- Awareness stage. Does your outreach involve their preferred communication channels? Does your top-of-the-funnel content speak to their interests and needs to inspire trust?
- Consideration stage. Once they’re aware of you, does your content maintain their interest? Which of their pain points can your middle-of-the-funnel activities and content address?
- Decision stage. Once they’re ready to make a purchase, which of their purchase drivers can you leverage to win them over? How does your bottom-of-the-funnel content elevate you above the competition in their eyes?
For such examinations, the importance of buyer personas in digital marketing cannot be overstressed. Walking through your journeys with a buyer persona in hand will offer much deeper insights than a theoretical overview alone would.
#4 Tailoring content strategies
Finally, having mentioned content manifold, your customer journeys strongly rely on your content strategies. These, of course, you can fuel through customer segmentation and analytics, as well as other quantitative data. Still, buyer personas are no less valuable, as they can help inform:
- Content forms. While visual content typically works well universally, different buyers prefer different forms of content. Do your personas prefer long-form blog posts? Do they value infographics? Do they consume video content on their favorite channels?
- Channels. For that matter, do your content strategies leverage your personas’ preferred channels? Which social media channels are they most active on? Do you target less tech-savvy personas that might prefer traditional, outbound marketing?
- Tone and substance. Finally, what are your personas looking for? Do they prefer educational, informational, or amusing content? Do they prefer embellished language and jargon, or perhaps emotive tones and emojis?
These and many other questions can help adjust your content strategies to best resonate with your ideal customers. However, to answer them, you will need a deep understanding of exactly “who” they are; where they are, what they like, and what they need. And it’s these exact insights that buyer personas can offer.
To summarize, the importance of buyer personas in digital marketing should be evident. These semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers can offer tremendous insights into your buyers’ identities, habits, values, and purchase drivers. With those insights, you may better understand your audience segments, map out their journeys, tailor content to them, and more. In the customer-centric, customer-first digital age, buyer personas can be nothing less than an invaluable business asset.
McCain is the founder and VP of Client Services at Set Fire Creative. When he isn’t busy helping his clients grow their business through digital marketing, you will most likely find him with his nose in a Stephen King book, eating spicy buffalo wings, hanging out with his wife and Blue Heeler Ozzy, or listening to Guns N’ Roses—sometimes all at the same time.