It’s that moment you’ve been waiting for — the big meet. You and your team have gathered your market research and refined your product. Now that digital marketing agency you hired is ready to introduce you to the people — or rather buyer personas — who are going to buy it. This is where all your hard work finally pays off. Are you ready? Okay. Lights please.
Now I know what you’re thinking.
“Strange… This guy doesn’t look like he needs my help. He doesn’t look like he needs help at all, with his blissed-out smile and strangely specific bio. Three Kids, 20, 16, and 11, huh? That’s some smart child spacing there Ollie. I see history has taught you well.”
You’re absolutely right for thinking this. Ollie doesn’t need help because Ollie isn’t a person. He’s a buyer persona — a fictional representation of an ideal customer. And for some reason it seems that everyone, from the campaign gurus at HubSpot to the freelancing experts at UpWork, just can’t get enough of him.
Seriously though, “Owner Ollie?” “Millennial Meg?” “Maggie the full-time Mom?”
Where did these stereotypes come from, and where are they headed?
Why do marketers insist on bringing these non-existent people, these cheesy advertising memes whose fantasy lives can be reduced just to the year they were born or whether or not they own a home, into strategy meetings?
Are we expected to play along? Or to believe these buyer personas could somehow be listening, and nod our heads musingly when we hear that:
“Ollie wants to streamline his life so he can spend more time with the kids.”
What’s Owner Ollie, with his stock-photo grin and fantasy list of turn-ons even doing in this meeting anyway?
Despite what marketers claim, Stepford Wives stereotyping isn’t going to get you the results you want. The truth is there are more efficient ways to figure out who to target with your content without having to listen to someone waxing lyrical about how “Ollie wants you to help him achieve his perfect work/life balance.”
Ollie and all other buyer personas like him are works of fiction. Your audience is real. We need to identify who they are, where they are, and what they want.
It’s time to say goodbye to buyer personas. They have no needs, and they feel no pain. Your potential customers, on the other hand, do. And to make sure they start coming to you to satisfy their needs and alleviate their pain, you can start by asking yourself these five simple questions.
1: Who’s going to buy from me?
You’ve pulled the plug on buyer personas like Owner Ollie (don’t feel bad: neither he nor his offspring ever existed anyway) and now it’s time to find out who your real customers are.
You’ve got the one-timers, who bought from you once then never came back.
You’ve got the two-timers, who bought from you once before switching allegiance to one of your competitors.
Then there’s that vast ocean of prospective buyers — people angling for a product like yours who saw what you had on offer but decided not to bite. And out there in the murky waters of digital marketing are the crowds of people who have yet to hear of you.
You have your best customers of course — that small number of people who account for the majority of your sales. And these best customers will move in circles with friends and family who are going to be interested in hearing what you’ve got to offer.
But your best customers shouldn’t be the only people buying from you.
They should all be buying from you.
They should be buying from you right now and planning to buy from you again in the future—shouting your name from the rooftops, telling everyone how great you are, spreading your name like wildfire.
These aren’t abstract buyer personas. This isn’t Owner Ollie telling his home-owning friends how you helped streamline his life (or find him his home). These are real people. And when you create content that converts — content that understands these people’s pain and meets their needs — you’ll be well on your way to building relationships that will one day blossom into more purchases, more referrals, and a better bottom line.
2: Who’s going to listen to what I say?
One reason real customers are better than fictional buyer personas is that real customers aren’t just smiling back at you blankly from a PowerPoint projector screen. They’re actually answering your questions.
Before they can do this, though, you’re going to have to get talkative in your market research.
Start by interviewing anyone who might be interested in what you create. Keeping your research to people you’re currently in touch with is a good start, but it’s limiting. Don’t limit yourself to the present. Cast your mind back to like-minded contacts from former social networks. Talk to them: Who do they know who might be interested in your product?
And the million-dollar question: Where do they meet?
3: Where does your target audience hang out online?
Twitter? Instagram? Facebook? LinkedIn? Reddit? Make a note of which sites, blogs and groups your potential customers are visiting; which apps they’re using to drive their daily lives. Before long you’ll have found your target audience. And once you do, immerse yourself in their scene.
Crash their party, just as buyer personas like Owner Ollie crashed your strategy meeting.
Who cares if you weren’t invited? — once you’re contributing to the conversation, it won’t even matter.
Your research needs to go deep, so if you don’t have a profile for one of the sites, create one, and if you don’t have one of their apps, download it. It’s a worthwhile investment; you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time here.
You want to stick around until you’ve got a complete picture of the world your audience inhabits. Get familiar with social networks they scroll through. Become proficient with the apps they rely on. Immerse yourself in the channels where they congregate and the points where they meet.
4: What conversations do they have there?
The more time you spend among your target audience, the better you’ll get a feel for what they’re saying — the discussions, jokes, and banter. This is their language, and if you’re spending enough time with them it’ll soon become yours too.
To be able to reach out to your audience, and address their pain in an engaging way, you’re going to have be fluent in their language.
This might not sound easy. But you know what they say — the best way to learn a language is to live among people who speak it. Think of it like this: you’re treating yourself to an expense-free vacation.
Eventually, you’ll start to get a feel for the conversations your target audience keep coming back to, the jokes they tell, and the memes they throw around. Learn the slang and the banter. Scan the comment sections until you get all the references and are in on all the jokes.
It won’t be long before you start to notice what’s missing in the conversation — where that all-important gap is. This awareness will be crucial when it comes to offering them your solution.
5: Where does your target audience go to stay up to date?
Apart from the main hangout space, your target audience will have other channels where they go to stay up to date on what’s happening in the world. Your job is to find out where these are.
Work out what websites they visit, which feeds they subscribe to, and which publications they engage with and respect. Think about people too. Find out which public figures, celebrities, and influencers they follow, and whose recommendations they take on board when they’re on the lookout for something new.
Then get actively involved. Get chirpy. Retweet their tweets and show up in their timelines.
Be part of their conversation and, with your newfound knowledge, establish yourself within it.
Inhabiting the world of your target audience has never been easier. Spend a week or so with them on a research sabbatical and before long you’ll be able to identify their problems and target them with your solutions.
More importantly, consider how your language makes your audience feel: if you talk to them in a language they understand, it’ll go to their head; if you talk to them in their own language, it’ll go to their heart.
Buyer personas don’t have hearts or minds (or homes, for that matter) to win over. But real people do.
And we can help you find them.
There’s a whole world of people out there — real people — waiting to buy from you. You might already know who they are—and we can help turn your data into actionable insights.
But if you don’t, get in there, enter their world, and learn their language.
If you can adapt your language to pinpoint your target audience’s pain points, and if you can present your solutions in ways that mirror their pain, the battle is basically won.
Leave that to us: playing with language is what we do.
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A 15-year veteran of the journalism and media industries, Ben loves to energize audiences about the frontiers of science, culture and technology — and the ways all these come together.