Editor’s note: Updated November 2021.

Know thy customer: It is the first commandment of business and a marketing cornerstone. If you don’t know who you’re helping, how can you possibly expect to solve their problem? It sounds simple in theory. 

But here’s the tricky part: actually drilling down and focusing on the types of real people you’re selling to. It requires a particular combination of qualitative and quantitative information to truly get a sense of who your customers are — their pain points, their desires, etc. 

Enter buyer personas. 

What Exactly is a Buyer Persona?

Sometimes used interchangeably with a user persona or customer persona, a buyer persona is a fictional character who represents your ideal customer. This persona has a name, interests, motivations, fears, challenges. 

And unlike Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke, these personas must be rooted in reality to be of any value. Think of them as a made up character who contains all of the key aspects of a particular type of customer you work with.   

The purpose of a persona is to help your marketing team better understand the motivations behind purchasing decisions and the type of messaging that will appeal to certain members of your audience. In most cases, brands need more than one customer persona, but that may not be the case, especially if your offering is very niche.

How is it Different From a Target Audience?

A target audience member isn’t necessarily a buyer. It’s just someone you’re trying to reach with your marketing materials. It certainly could be a buyer, but let’s consider who a toy manufacturer may be trying to reach. For one, they need to get children excited about the toy. So you might say that is one of their key target audiences. As for the actual buyer persona? That’s more likely mom and dad. See the difference?  

Why Do You Need Customer Personas?

Every marketer likes to think that they know who their customers are. And at a high level, most do. But do you possess an in-depth understanding of the things that make your customers tick, or the characteristics that identify your ideal customer? Do you know which of your customers has the highest commercial value, or which customers are influencers and which have decision-making power?

These are all the types of things that your personas can tell you, and these critical insights should be used to shape your messaging to different clients at certain points in their customer journey. You need to be capable of speaking to your customers in a way that aligns with their needs and the pain points they’re looking to solve.

This is where your personas come in. They’re quick-reference guides that help you, your marketing team and your sales team have the best understanding of who your users are, how they’re using your product or service and why they use it. But they also provide orientation about what appeals to them professionally, and when relevant, personally. (By the way: never underestimate the value of knowing your audience’s professional and personal ambitions; if you what helps make them fulfilled, it’s that much easier to demonstrate how your product or service fits into that vision of fulfilment). 

As Marcia Riefer Johnston pointed out for the Content Marketing Institute, some teams have the bad habit of skipping over persona creation in order to get to the meat of a project. Others may have personas available to them, but choose to — GASP! — ignore them.

Once created, personas are an incredibly effective resource that will be consulted over and over again. Businesses that don’t establish their personas or ignore them do so at their own peril — Johnston noted that many of these organisations quite literally go out of business.

What Belongs in a Buyer Persona Template?

Building user personas doesn’t just mean outlining a typical customer’s needs that map to the services you provide. Your buyer personas need to go much further than that. They should put a name to your ideal customer, and outline key details that will shed some light on the sea of unseen faces that is your target audience.

When you’re creating your buyer personas, you’re actually developing fictional characters that represent real market segments of your current and potential customer audience. It’s beneficial to start by creating a persona template that outlines all the types of information you and your team will need to know about your target customer. Once this template is built, you can reuse it again and again to better define market segmentations and drill down into additional audience personas.

Some of the information that your buyer persona template should include:

  • Name, age, location, interests and other personal, background information.
  • Business information and professional background, including job title, whether they are a decision-maker or someone who can influence decision-makers.
  • Target audience segment that each persona fits into. Be as specific as possible.
  • A first-person description from the persona of themselves. This perspective is where you can really add depth and dimension to your buyer. It’s what will allow a marketer or sales person to really feel like they know the persona.
  • Specific objectives. It’s important to be as focused and targeted here as possible. In other words, don’t just say, “make more money.” Say “eliminate the redundancies and inefficiencies that prevent a fast time-to-market.”
  • Challenges and fears. Again, be specific. What frustrates this buyer persona? What stands in the way of his or her goals? What does a bad outcome look like to them?
  • Orientation toward the job. This part of the customer persona can be incredibly telling. For instance, a young persona who’s new to the job will require more work for awareness and education. A persona who’s been in her career for 15 years and is a confident mentor and leader, on the other hand, will require more of an authoritative, concise tone that tells her what she needs to know quickly without ever talking down to her.
  • Open-ended questions, including those that the persona will ask at different points in their customer journey, and how they relate to his or her personality and, in B2B markets, professional position.
  • Content preferences. Given what we know about the customer persona, how do they prefer to consume content? This includes preferred channels, the tone, style and voice that will most resonate, content formats and more. Always include a few example publications. It’s almost always easier to show an example of content than it is to articulate it.
  • Keywords. This is a tricky one. You want to make sure you create a list of a few seed keywords (meaning keywords that you can plug into tools that help you generate other related search terms). These keywords should align with the persona’s position within the business and the obstacles they’re trying to solve. If you have any intention of using search engine optimisation and content marketing to target your buyer, this step is a must.

After you’ve documented all of this, you and your team can flesh out your personas even further by asking additional open-ended questions about each audience persona and the types of strategies that best connect with their interests. This practice can illuminate other elements and ideas to work into your buyer persona template. Remember: The more detailed your template, the better!

Also, don’t forget to include a place for a photo or avatar within your persona template. Taking the time to include a visual is an incredibly helpful extra step that will enable your team to visualise the person they want to connect with.

Buyer Persona Examples

Let’s take a look at a few real-life personas, and examine the things that work, as well as the items that could use a little improvement:

1. Facilities Manager Fred

Good-old Facilities Manager Fred. This B2B persona from Buffer provides a solid sense of who Fred is. We know he falls into the facility/operations management target audience, that he’s married and that has an undergraduate degree (although the alma mater would have been a nice touch). We can see the kind of role Fred has within his business, as well as details about the company itself.

This persona also does well to outline Fred’s goals and values, as well as the obstacles that stand in his way. However, these could be more specific and well defined. For example, instead of just stating that Fred has difficulty “keeping all balls in the air,” the persona could actually describe this struggle in a little more detail. Does Fred struggle with time management? Or perhaps specific inefficiencies make it difficult for him to multi-task, or get everything done that needs doing?

This same lack of precision can also be seen in his objections. We understand that Fred doesn’t want to look dumb — who does? But what exactly does “looking dumb” look like to Fred? Is it single-dimensional reporting to his CEO? Or is he quite literally looking to be more educated about certain things? Or maybe it’s neither of those things, and it’s that he objects to the use of industry jargon he’s unfamiliar with when plain old language will do?

These are all questions worth asking and answering, and they can help you further drill down your messaging and overall appeal. When applied to your marketing, it also makes a huge difference. If Fred is in fact sick of industry jargon from his customers or partners, you’d certainly want to know that before creating a blog series around his persona. 

2. Director Diane

Next up, we have Director Diane, another Buffer persona. Diane’s B2B persona is much more well-rounded than Fred’s. We see what a day in the life is like for her, the problems she runs into, her goals and aspirations, the experience she’s seeking when searching for products and services and more.

Buffer has also added a mix of bulleted statements, as well as quotes from Diane herself, within the problems section. It’s prudent to let your personas speak for themselves in their own voice. This little flourish demonstrates the individual’s personality and provides a few cues as to the type of language the persona uses and what sort of messaging might resonate with her (something that we’re still not entirely sure of when talking to Fred).

Simply put, it’s worth taking the time to create first-person statements for your personas. Just make sure that these statements are carefully thought out and incorporate his or her experience, pain points and motivations. This is an exercise in empathising and understanding your audience, not in fictional character development. 

3. Brandi Tyler

This B2C persona from Munro provides a good example of the power of the persona design process. Diane’s persona example is very detailed, which is good. However, the amount of information, bullet points and boxes can be overwhelming. Brandi, on the other hand, shows the value that great designers can bring to the table when it comes to persona creation.

Layout and design aside, Brandi’s persona does a few other things to great effect. We have a first-person quote from Brandi herself, but we can also read over quotes from this company’s actual customers. Again: Should you choose to include statements from your real buyers, just make sure they align with, and bring value to, the persona. There should be a good reason to include these quotes; otherwise you’d be splashing reviews on a page where they don’t belong. In Brandi’s case, the reviews make sense. They’re the voices of customers at the other end of Brandi’s initial dilemma, which is that, “It’s SO difficult to buy shoes that fit my feet.”

The best thing about this persona is that we can understand A LOT about Brandi from her, including her experiences with shoe shopping and the channels she prefers, without feeling like we really have to dig for it. As Brandi demonstrates, personas can be super informative without being wordy.

4. Tobi Day

Meet Tobi Day. She provides us with yet another example of exemplary persona design. The importance of succinctly and effectively communicating the information in your persona cannot be overstated. So I’ll say it again: It’s SUPER important to communicate information in a succinct and efficient manner. What’s particularly interesting about Tobi’s persona is the use of scales and bars to describe her personality while visually reinforcing her affinity for technology. It gives readers a good idea of where Tobi stands and what’s important to her.

Another key takeaway here is the use of Tier and Archetype information, followed by related traits (ambitious, admired, focused). This provides us with an even deeper understanding of the type of person Tobi is, and how she might make purchasing decisions.

5. Semrush’s Adele

persona example adele semrush

At the end of their list of buyer persona examples, Semrush includes a few unconventional characters to get your creativity flowing — and it’s a great exercise in capturing customers on the page. Although you may not be marketing to Adele herself, it can be helpful to use a familiar personality like hers as practice for your own personas. 

While Semrush wrote this particular example with a bit of good humor, there’s still plenty to learn. 

For example, under “Brands and influencers,” you’ll find explanations for each list item. The in-depth details here help you learn the why as well as the what — a practice that can be applied to any part of your persona sheet. This makes it easier to deliver content, products and services that meet a customer’s needs and expectations.

Adele fans might also note that there’s more to the artist than this particular angle. That’s a good reminder to treat your personas holistically. Although they might be driven by 1 or 2 very specific things — in this case, heartbreak — there are other parts of their lives, personalities and personal goals that may come in handy as you build relationships. 

Just don’t get too focused on any single preference, or real customers might feel like you’re oversimplifying to make them fit into predetermined categories.

Using Your Buyer Personas: Walking Through Marketing Scenarios

Framing your personas and endowing them with personality is only the beginning. Your marketing team must be able to use the information you know about your personas to walk them through different scenarios, and apply the resulting lessons to create a deeper connection with customers. To that end, here are a few parting pointers to:

  • A good place to start is within your current marketing campaigns. Examine your personas and the ways in which they would react to your existing marketing efforts — you might be surprised by what you learn, and it could provide the perfect opportunity to shift and improve your activities to better suit your audience segments.
  • Once you’ve used your audience personas to make any necessary adjustments or improvements to your current campaigns, it’s time to inform your team’s work on upcoming content. Your personas can tell you a lot about the types of content that will resonate well with each market segment, and can help you come up with topic ideas that will capture your readers’ attention and provide them with relevant insights.
  • In addition to leveraging your personas to inform your written content, personas are also incredibly beneficial for the design process. Designers can use the details tied to each persona to create visually appealing collateral that maps to the preferences of your specific buyers.
  • Another best practice is to use your personas to build out and support your customer journey maps. These user maps help visualise the connection between your brand and your target customer audience. Pairing these maps with your personas can show you the different touch points each persona will prefer. This way, you and your marketing team can envision the path of least resistance to get particular personas from “I’m just looking,” to “I’m ready to buy.”

Your personas are a critical resource that you’ll use again and again to shape the strategies your brand uses to speak to your ideal customers.

Create your own!

Here at Brafton, we’ve found success with a 6-step persona process that includes:

  1. Discovery.
  2. Review.
  3. Interview.
  4. Research.
  5. Development.
  6. Presentation.

This helps us create in-depth personas that paint a true and accurate picture of specific buyer personas for our clients.

Ready to create your own personas? We’ve put together this handy Persona Development Template to help you get started!

Download the Persona Development Template:

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Jessica Wells is a senior writer and editor at Brafton, working remotely from Hawaii. When she's not writing, Jessica enjoys paddle boarding, snorkeling and enjoying the view (and a cocktail) from her beach chair.