The rise in popularity of buyer personas has also meant a rise in people getting them wrong. The building awareness of the term and the idea of using buyer personas in marketing on a mass level can be traced to David Meerman’s Scott book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR. My partner Angela Quail and I worked with courageous companies who were early adopters of buyer personas after Goal Centric launched the buyer persona methodology in 2002. I still can recall the look on executive’s faces when we started talking to them about buyer personas back then – as in – “what are you talking about!?” I guess we should have written a book! We give much kudos to David for writing the chapter he did in his book and he is a great ambassador for putting buyer personas into practice.
Here is what is bugging me though of late. While I am extremely excited about the building awareness, I am also seeing with much concern people writing and talking about buyer personas and clearly getting it wrong. I like to add that some going so far to even misquote David from his very own book. Here’s a recommendation I bet David would concur with me on – read the book!
It bothers me for a couple of very good reasons: it devalues buyer personas and it puts up a roadblock for buyer personas to inform strategy. Believe me; if executives of major corporations see buyer personas as a “tool” to profile buyers and not a best practice, then the buyer persona development process will not have much hope of expanding beyond that. The word archetype is used to describe what a buyer persona is, even David used the word in his book however the question missed by most is this: what makes up an archetype?
In my experience over the last ten years, I believe there are 10 rules for creating a buyer persona, an archetype and model of a buyer you wish to deeply understand. Rules garnered from on the ground learning, experience, sweat, tears, many late nights getting it right for a client, meetings with senior executives, deploying their use to hundreds of people in sales and marketing, seeing them in action, and going back to the roots of persona development more than a decade ago. Here is the first:
Rule 1: You can't just make up a buyer persona.
I see this all the time – the idea that all you have to do is look over your customer data, interview a couple of sales reps, and start creating a buyer persona. It doesn’t work that way. You end up creating a bad buyer persona that offers no real insight. They may look nice but they quickly become the shiny new object. A static snapshot that loses its' luster after used a few times. After many interviews with front line people, I've learned that they put little stock in them when buyer personas are created in this way; and may never admit to doing so out of good old fear in corporate culture. You see, many marketing and sales reps will respond with "I could have come up with that; what's the big hoopla all about?" They are right.
Next up: Rule 2