Manipulating B2B Personas is a Bad Move


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Over the last three years, I’ve helped more than a dozen clients develop 75+ personas. Considering I work mainly for tech companies, and no two of those personas are interchangeable (believe me, I’ve tried) this is an example of the depth that needs to be achieved to create active personas that contribute to the development of specific messaging that will resonate with each one.

But every once in a while, I run into a situation where marketing executives think they know better. They want to manipulate the personas to a place where they feel back in control of the situation. And this just screws up all the research and effort that’s been expended to create them in the first place.

Before I go further, it’s important to understand that a B2B buyer persona is a composite based on the commonalities of a defined segment of your target market. I cannot emphaize emphatically enough that a buyer persona is not a real person.

Buyer personas are a guide. They are an active tool used to help you understand what’s important to people with similar responsibilities and objectives in similar situations. Personas are serving their purpose when they are used to inform content strategy, messaging, value propositions and ideas that mesh with the perspectives of that specific audience. Well constructed personas contribute to producing engagement that motivates activity toward the intent of buying that can be quantified.

Here’s where buyer personas start to go off the rails:

  • You try to impose a specific order on priorities based on what you want to say or promote or to emphasize what your product does
  • You inflict individual experiences you’ve had with individual buyers or customers onto the personas, changing what the research identified, because it makes you more comfortable (remember the commonality part – this is no time to let one-offs come into play)
  • You decide that the personas aren’t quite accurate because they don’t agree wtih what you “know” – so you change them to align with YOUR perspective

No matter how long we’ve been marketers or how much we think we know about our buyers, what we think doesn’t matter in the face of buyer interviews and intensive research to understand them as a group. No matter how much we’d like to think that what appeals to us will appeal to them, it may not.

When’s the last time you actually participated in buying what your company sells? I’ve worked with many people who’ve come over after being a customer to work for a vendor whose product or solution they fell in love with. But the kicker is that they’re still only representative of one buyer in one situation with one company. Some of what they know will definitely come into play for personas, but some will not. Knowing which characteristics to use is key.

Here’s the rub. Marketers are usually working to engage and motivate a group, a target market segment. If we let the experience we have with one buyer or our own perspective influence the development of personas in conflict with the interviews and research, we may push our messaging off enough to limit our success.

And one more thing. We must never forget that we have the curse of knowledge. We know much more than it’s likely our prospects do about what we’re selling. It’s very hard to go back and unlearn that knowledge to the point where we’re truly on level ground with our buyers.

Depending on the complexity of what you sell and how often your persona changes employers, it’s possible that buying your solution may only be something they do 3 to 5 times during their entire career. Think about how much the technology and market environments may have changed from one purchase to another. One purchase will be significantly differnt than another. There are many factors in play.

If you want to test a modification, by all means do so. Personas evolve over time and should not remain static. Use the metrics, do follow-up interviews, talk to your salespeople about the conversations their having to find opportunities for tuning. Testing is okay – manipulation based on your opinion as the determining factor usually doesn’t turn out well.

So be fair to your buyer personas. Try to remain as unbiased as possible and let the research and the commonalities of the actual people they’re modeled to represent hold sway. The success of your programs will reinforce your hands-off position.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee is a B2B Marketing Strategist and the CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions, Inc. She helps B2B companies with complex sales create and use persona-driven content marketing strategies to turn prospects into buyers and convince customers to stay. Ardath is the author of Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results and eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale. She's also an in-demand industry speaker.


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