Three brilliant ways to create a buyer persona

Building a persona helps you turn your thinking towards what your customers want to buy, and away from what you’d like to sell them. They're the single most important element of a successful commercial strategy. Here are three ways to build your own.

First let’s be clear what this ‘buyer persona’ thing is because it goes by a few other names. A helpfully descriptive one is ‘ideal target customer’. You may also have heard them being called ‘customer personas’ and ‘ideal customer avatars’.

Whatever you choose to call them, a persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal buyer.

There’s an important semantic difference between someone being a ‘buyer’, which reminds you that it’s their decision to make a purchase from you, or not, and a ‘customer’ which puts the emphasis on you selling them something.

The importance of this distinction may sound surprising. But people with sales responsibilities often have scant idea what motivates people to buy from them. An old-skool salesman is all about the ‘features’ of a product or service: “buy my car because it’s got a huge engine!” But how important is that to someone who wants a car that’s economical on fuel consumption, or an electric car?

Buyer personas help you turn your thinking towards what your potential buyer wants, and they’re a crucial component of any successful sales and marketing campaign. Let’s look at three great formats for creating a buyer persona:

Format one – from the Buyer Persona Institute

This is a simplification of the Buyer Persona Institute’s methodology. It’s quite a short format – just six questions – and I’ve used it successfully for dozens of organisations over many years:The Buyer Persona Institute's logo

  • Start with a name! Giving your persona a name brings them to life as a real person. I like to choose something alliterative or rhyming.
  • Their personal summary: the trick here is to describe why your organisation or product could be relevant to their needs. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming it’s obvious why someone should buy from you; remember they may not be as interested in the features as you are. Try to describe the benefits for them… which of their problems does your product or service solve?
  • A trigger or triggers: what situation, circumstance or event could cause them to need your help or want your information?
  • Their goal: what result or outcome might they expect from visiting your website, engaging with your content or purchasing from you?
  • Their perceived barriers: What attitudes or concerns could prevent them from contacting you or going ahead with your product or service?
  • Influences and resources they trust: who else (e.g. a social worker) or what else (e.g. a page on the council’s website) could play a part in their decision?

Format two – by Helen Pritchard Helen Pritchard's logo

I’ve lurked around on LinkedIn for many years without actively using it much. In 2023 I decided to get my head around it and joined Helen Pritchard’s LinkedIn training programme.

One of the reasons I chose Helen’s programme is because, during a free ‘taster’ session, she got people to work on their buyer personas. I really liked her format and this, amongst a few other reasons, gave me confidence that the rest of her content would be good too.

Helen’s persona process, which goes into a bit more detailed than the one above, starts by gathering a load of demographic information. I don’t find demographic factors (age, gender, marital status, etc) particularly relevant for the personas that many of my clients work with. So, if I was you, I’d stick with the Buyer Persona Institute’s personal summary questions, for now. Helen’s format then asks some scene-setting questions such as ‘what do they believe right now?’, and ‘what’s going on in their world?’ It then gets into the meatier stuff about the buyer’s ‘pain points’ and how your product or service can solve it. Such as:

  • What problems do they have that you can help them solve?
  • Why is the way you deliver your products/services important to them (e.g online, in person, one-to-one, or in a group)?
  • Why are you the person for them (your background, skills and experience)?
  • What’s the emotional connection between you and your persona (your shared values)?
  • What are the three things that keep them awake at night?
  • What is the one big outcome that you can deliver to solve those things that keep them awake at night?
  • Why is now the time for them to make the decision?

Format three – by Rob Da Costa Rob Da Costa's logo

Rob Da Costa is a business coach for people who run marketing agencies. I’ve been engaging with his programme for a while and I can tell you, he’s very good. If you run a marketing agency and want to up your game check out Rob’s programme here.

Rob’s format goes into even more detail than Helen’s. After a load of questions about demographics he dives down into the potential customers’ pain points:

  • What might be making your persona’s life difficult? How does your product or service address this ‘pain’?
  • You’ve assumed they’re interested in your product or service. Where might they be going to find out more? A simple Google search could help you see through your customer’s eyes, and will show you who you’ll be compared to.
  • What are their most common objections to buying your product or service?

The next stage goes into lots of detail about the persona’s work situation:

  • The goals for their organisation and their role
  • The challenges they face (internal and external)
  • Potential objections they’ll face during the purchasing process

He then asks a series of ‘trigger’ questions, such as:

  • What are the main ‘pains’ that they have, that they want to move away from?
  • What are their big issues, concerns, and worries?

Other persona questions that Rob asks include:

  • What are customers looking for most? Are they searching for good design, guarantees, specific or more features?
  • What do customers dream about? What do they aspire to achieve, or what would be a big relief to them?
  • When it comes to their problems that you can solve, how do they measure success and failure? How do they gauge performance or cost?
  • What would increase your customers’ likelihood of choosing your organisation? Do they want lower cost, lower risk, or better quality?

Remember, you don’t have to slavishly answer all these questions. What you do need to do is start seeing the world through your potential customer’s eyes.

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