Personalized marketing communications drive conversions on every platform you use to engage with leads and customers, including email. To tailor your design, tone, and messaging effectively, you need to know whom you’re sending your emails to. Buyer personas are how you accomplish this.
What is a Buyer Persona?
A buyer persona is a fictional, archetypal customer. You create him or her by doing empirical and qualitative research about the market for your product or service.
Well-established brands with statistically significant sales volumes can emphasize the data they have about their specific product; new and emerging brands can focus on known trends and whatever data they can get about the market they sell to. But however they’re built, buyer personas identify patterns in the characteristics and motivations you see repeated over and over again in customers and leads.
Once established, they’re a roadmap to building targeted email marketing messaging and pinpoint email delivery strategies.
How Do You Build a Buyer Persona?
You build a Buyer Persona by putting yourself into the head of your potential customers and unpacking their motivations, their fears, and their desires.
Start by asking yourself:
What problem does my product or service solve?
Who will be interested in solving that problem?
Why will they be interested in my solution?
Answering these questions establishes the value your product or service offers. Next, think about all the types of people who could want or need that value. These are your potential customers. What attributes, traits, and habits do they have?
Here is a list of questions to ask:
What are their performance goals, and how do they define success?
What pain points do they have?
What would a self-assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of their relevant skill set look like?
What do they fear?
What is their level of responsibility in their organization?
What does their career progression path look like?
What are their career goals?
Do they have any cultural markers?
Where do they get information about their industry and job?
What are the stages of their buying cycle? What questions do they have at each stage? What factors are prominent in their mind?
How do they like to have information conveyed (text/photo/video)?
How much time do they have to research a solution?
Use all relevant data available to you when answering these questions. A few external examples are Google Analytics data, discussions about your product or service on social media, and third-party publication discussions about market trends.
Internal examples include customer demographic data (age/location/gender/company size), psychographic data (questionnaire/interview responses), customer support feedback, and information gleaned from conversations between your sales team and leads.
Why Are Buyer Personas Essential When Building Your Email Marketing Campaign?
You wouldn’t expect to successfully drive a car to its destination blind. You shouldn’t expect anything different from your email marketing campaign.
Buyer personas are essential when building your email marketing campaign because they guide you to create and deliver email content with relevant messaging and resonant tone to the real humans you want to convince to buy something from you.
Here are three reasons why you need buyer personas to accomplish this properly:
1. You’ll base your email marketing strategy on data, not what you “think” will work
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Marketers, and content creators specifically, tend to be creatives with a penchant for intuition. While that’s perfectly fine for thinking of new messaging, leaving intuition to stand alone with no empirical backing is anathema to getting results from iterative email marketing. It ends with sending an email to your whole list not because you have a reasonable expectation of results, but because you “thought of this really cool way to explain our new feature.”
Buyer personas are a failsafe against this mistake. Why? Because they’re built from data. It’s actually a misnomer to say you “create” buyer personas. In reality, you find them by researching your market and customers and discovering patterns and commonalities.
A properly constructed buyer persona always comes with verifiable characteristics attached. It creates a direct link between the reality of your market or customer base and the messaging of your emails, and a specific causal purpose for sending it. Structuring email marketing with buyer personas means being able to say, “We’re sending X email to Y person because of Z.” This data-driven approach is much more effective than the alternative.
2. You can drive conversions by crafting emails around the buyer’s journey
Conversions from email marketing aren’t magic. They occur when the right messaging is consistently delivered to the right person at the right times.
Buyer personas keep the focus on the lead’s journey through your sales pipeline, and removes the guesswork of what that looks like. Emails without persona guidance are inevitably focused on YOU, not your email recipients. They result in copy that reads something like, “Hey there! Our product has this killer feature! Aren’t we great!?” This gets blasted off to all your subscribers, with zero regard to whether they actually need the feature in the first place.
These generic communications mostly get ignored.
By contrast, buyer personas take that generic copy and flip the script to a value-driven message oozing with empathy. Your starting point becomes, “This email is for Mary, a mid-level development manager with ambition for a promotion, who’s spearheading a product upgrade and just starting to collect information. She’s worried about proving she’s capable of finding effective solutions that still keep costs down.”
This is essentially a checklist of talking points relevant to Mary at the moment she reads your email. Just follow the script of messaging you have for each of these characteristics (mid-level manager/ambitious/product upgrade/top of funnel/focus on cost), and you’ll have a highly resonant, personalized message that practically writes itself.
3. You can better segment your list and more effectively target where you send your emails
The leads in your email subscriber list are not a monolith; instead, they comprise a diverse range of backgrounds, personalities, and needs. You should keep this in mind not only when writing content, but also when curating and segmenting your subscriber list. Buyer personas eliminate useless (and spammy) mass-email blasting and generic category classifications, and let you take the mass of interest in your product or service and create segments of subscriberswho have roughly similar traits that are actually relevant to messaging.
You should understand which traits are more important relative to one another. The messaging for all relevant traits should be in the copy of all emails you send, but the decision of which traits to use to segment your subscribers into lists is determined by their hierarchy of importance in getting conversions.
For example, if you sell to different levels of management and to companies of different sizes, buyer personas let you keep track of how they respond to different messaging at different times. Over a sufficient sample size, you’ll learn which trait (lead position or company size) is more important. If your research shows that the same messaging resonates with both C-suite and mid-management leads at medium-sized companies, but that that messaging doesn’t resonate with any leads at large companies, you’ll segment your list by company size.
If the opposite were true, you’d do the opposite.
What Should You Be Aware of When Building a Buyer Persona?
Buyer personas are snapshots in time. They capture what your market or customer cares about, and what problems your product or service can solve for them, at the time they’re created.
Be aware that all of these variables are in a constant state of flux. Research that was valid yesterday is not necessarily valid today. The amount of time that research remains reliable will vary by industry and product, but a good rule of thumb is to do a mini-review at six months, and then a full review once a year.
In between larger reviews, conversion data is your best way to monitor progress along the way. Big changes in conversion rates reflect changes in the effectiveness of your process. If you notice one, see what personas are involved and try to figure out what’s different.
Bottom Line: Have a Plan, Then Execute It
The best email marketing services are useless without an email marketing plan. Buyer personas are data-driven conclusions about who your customer base is and what’s important to them. Use them to consistently deliver relevant messaging to relevant people.
It should also be noted that although creating and maintaining buyer personas is a big job, you don’t have to do it alone. Many of the top content management systems offer tools to help you at every stage of the process, including analytics filters, data visualization charts, and easy-to-use interfaces to build your lists.
Yes, buyer personas are a lot of work. But when done properly, the improvement they make to your email marketing effort’s ROI make them more than worth the effort.
Bethenny eats, sleeps, and breathes digital marketing. She helps clients take charge of brand awareness and create lead generation strategies via a number of marketing channels, including email, social media, SEO, and content. When not a marketing superwoman, you can find her playing with her three dogs on her five-acre property, or planting yummy treats in her vegetable garden. (She is also a bit of a Real Housewives junky, #guiltypleasure!)