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7 Ways to Screw Up Your Buyer Personas — And How to Fix Them

by Carol Ann Tan on May 31, 2017

buyer persona mistakes fixThe good news: More people than ever before understand the value a content marketing strategy informed by buyer personas. They’re invested in creating content that directly addresses the needs, interests, and concerns of their ideal audience.

The bad news: In their rush to jump on this strategic trend, marketers are cutting corners on the effort needed to really flesh out effective buyer personas. Of course, if they’re confused about what buyer personas even are, then they’ll stumble when actually building those personas.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the seven most common mistakes people make when building their buyer personas — and how you can avoid these pitfalls.

Mistake #1: Obsessing over irrelevant information

“I don’t like this stock photo you’ve chosen. Penny-Pinching Petunia is a blonde, not a brunette.”

If you’ve ever found your team debating its personas’ trivial details — such as QA Quentin’s exact age (your boss is absolutely convinced it’s 33 and not 34) — it may be time to take a step back, unwind for the evening with some Disney classic movies, and let it go.

Buyer personas are more than just a name and photo added to a random collection of demographic information. Buyer personas should illustrate why, when, and how your persona makes buying decisions, so you can create targeted content that influences those decisions.

And unless you are selling hair dye, Penny-Pinching Petunia’s hair color is not going to influence her behavior as a customer.

How to fix this: Make sure you double down on data which can actually give you insights into a person’s decision-making process. What are their goals? What challenges do they face in attaining those goals? What criteria do they use when assessing whether to buy?

Mistake #2: Making facts up about your customers

when should you make stuff up?

Okay, so you’ve done some passive research. Maybe you’ve talked to your sales team about your existing customers; established out some basic demographic information (like age, gender, and industry) from your landing page forms; or engaged in some expert Google-fu.

Newsflash: That’s not enough.

You’re writing a buyer persona, not a job description. You need to get qualitative, real-life data from your actual customers and prospects.

If your buyer personas are going to help you stand out from the crowd, they should leverage unique insights that your competitors don’t have. Go deeper than anything that’s readily available online or based on a superficial description your sales rep emailed you.

How to fix this: Talk to real people. Reach out to prospects and customers — both past and present — and ask them to share why they did or didn’t buy from you. Interview them about their buying process, starting with the moment when they first realized they had a problem that needed solving. No one knows your buyers like they know themselves.

If you’re unsure of how to structure your process of building effective buyer personas, check out our step-by-step guide to transitioning from passive research to active interviews.

Mistake #3: Developing too many buyer personas

You don’t have to build a buyer persona for every single type of customer your business has ever attracted. If nothing else, you probably don’t have the resources to create content for 100 unique personas.

Your personas should be clearly differentiated. You’re not accounting for every type of buyer for its own sake; you’re trying to establish how many different angles your marketing strategy needs to cover in order to increase sales for your business.

That’s why we don’t recommend starting with the question, “How many buyer personas do I need?” Instead, ask whether appealing to another audience type will increase your return on investment.

How to fix it: Every time you add a buyer persona, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Will developing content to appeal to this persona help increase revenue for my business in the long run?
  2. Do I have the money and manpower needed to fully flesh out a content strategy that will appeal to this persona?

Look for patterns in your research, and create buyer personas that correspond to them.

Mistake #4: Using buyer personas only for marketing

Buyer personas aren’t just for your marketing team. They offer a common language for your entire team to discuss reaching your business objectives.

Your buyer personas should be implemented through your entire marketing and sales funnel — and beyond!

When your sales team understands your buyer personas, they’ll be able to dedicate their energy and resources to pursuing the strongest leads.

How to fix it: To encourage organization-wide buy-in, start from the top. If executives and other leaders actively use the language and framework set out in your buyer personas, other employees will quickly follow suit.

Mistake #5: Forgetting to use your buyer personas, period

use your buyer personas!

You know how people get really excited about their New Year’s resolutions to hit the gym more, but then they’re canceling their unused gym memberships mid-year?

We’ve all been there.

It’s easy to get after a strategy we initially found exciting — but staying committed is harder once the initial spark wears off and the stressful grind of day-to-day business sets back in.

The only way to really change our old habits for the better is by actively developing new ones.

How to fix it: Your buyer personas should be put up on the walls of your offices — literally and metaphorically. Get into the habit of framing your marketing and sales strategies in terms of the insights you’ve gained from your buyer personas, which means that you have to refer to the personas on a daily basis.

Mistake #6: Not refreshing your personas periodically

Will your business stay the same in the next five years? Of course not.

People’s interests and needs change. The nature of your industry will shift to adapt — and your products and services will naturally evolve to meet new demands.

Your buyer personas will become outdated, too. As your offerings change over time, so will the people who want what you have to offer.

How to fix it: At least once a year, revisit your buyer personas to ensure that they’re still aligned with your business’s priorities. Pull your marketing, sales, and service teams into these check-ins; these team members are best positioned to notice if your buyer personas no longer accurately represent your business’s most qualified leads.

Depending on how much has changed, you may be able to update your personas using information from your team members, or you may need to conduct new interviews altogether.

Mistake #7: Not defining negative personas

define your negative personas!

Ever had a really difficult customer? You know, the one your entire team just hated dealing with — whether they had completely different values from yours, or were simply impossible to please.

Pursuing unrewarding relationships drains resources, detracts from organization-wide morale, and could cost your business in the long run (especially if a disgruntled customer passes on negative reviews).

A negative buyer persona outlines a customer you want to avoid, because you could stand to lose more than you gain from working with them.

Defining negative buyer personas is just as important as defining regular buyer personas. They can identify “red flags” that will allow you to focus on the customers you really want.

Heck, you could even produce content to deter these poor-fit customers!

How to fix it: When setting up your buyer persona interviews, include prospects who did not close the deal, and customers who were not entirely satisfied with your work.

It’s tempting to include only people who will say great things about you, but remember that lost opportunities and poor experiences can offer you valuable insights, too.

Get smart about personas

When used right, buyer personas are more than just a marketing gimmick. Well-researched personas can help you formulate a strategy that addresses your customers’ deepest pain points.

Looking to take that first leap into crafting your own buyer personas? Get it right the first time! Download our free buyer persona interview template, where we’ll walk you through the tricky process of conducting an effective interview.
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