Here’s the simple truth of business: Without customers to buy your products, you’re not going to make any money. Almost every decision you make—what you sell, how much you sell it for, where you’re located, who you hire—is made with the intention of bringing in the maximum number of customers to your store, and to optimize the likelihood that they’ll buy your products while they’re there.
Many businesses develop personas to help them make the right choices as they start, grow, and advertise their business. A buyer or user persona is a fictional character that represents a business’s customers or potential customers, based on what you know about their demographics, behaviors, and what motivates them.
“Buyer” and “user” personas are very similar, but the labels do help to differentiate the kind of persona you are creating. “Buyers” are the people who make the spending decisions while “users” are the people who actually use your product. For many businesses, buyers and users are the same person. But, for some businesses, the person who makes the purchasing decision and the actual user of the product are different.
In this article, we’ll cover:
What is a persona and how do you use one?
Success in marketing and product development comes from a deep understanding of your target customer. Your ability to put yourself into the shoes of your customer, to understand their pain points, needs, wants, aspirations, work and home environments—in fact, every aspect of their lives—will drive your success. Being able to think and behave like your customers is the key to being able to communicate with them effectively.
This is why entrepreneurs are often encouraged to build businesses that solve problems that they have themselves. It’s much easier to develop a product and design marketing content and campaigns when you know exactly who the customer is and how they will react to different kinds of marketing. If you’re marketing to yourself and people just like you, you have a huge advantage because you know exactly how you, and your customers, will react.
But, what if your business is solving a problem that you don’t have? What if the target customer isn’t you? How do you start seeing your business through your customers’ eyes?
In marketing and product development, we can solve this problem by doing the right user research (market research) to create fictional characters that are highly detailed representations of your target customer base. These characters are called personas, and just like in plays and movies they need a full backstory so that you, as a business owner and entrepreneur, can fully understand their goals, motivations, and problems.
There are two commonly-used persona types: buyer (or customer) personas, and user personas. But, depending on what kind of business you are running, you might just need one persona for your entire business. Let’s look at the different types of personas to see if you need several personas or just one.
Buyer (or customer) personas
Buyer personas describe your ideal target customer. The customer, or “buyer,” is the person making the purchasing decision to get your product instead of a competitors. But, this person isn’t always the same person as the one that actually uses your product.
For example, a company that is searching for new customer relationship management (CRM) software might have a senior executive make the purchasing decision, even though she might not be using the software on a daily basis. In this case, you need a persona that describes this type of person who is in charge of making the buying decision.
A buyer persona will help you make decisions about your marketing and sales processes. When you’re thinking about a new marketing campaign, you should be thinking, “will my buyer like this?”
User personas are critical for companies that designing and customizing their own products or services. These companies need to ensure that what they are building is exactly what the user of the product needs and wants. Here at Palo Alto Software, we developed a persona named Garrett who drives the bulk of our product decisions.
Designers—of software, shoes, kitchen appliances, websites, and pretty much everything else—have long relied on user personas for developing products. The idea is two-fold: if you design with a certain user in mind, not only will you design a product that gives that user what they actually want and need, but you will also design a product that that user will actually buy (i.e., a product that gets you customers).
Buyer and user personas are very similar, and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably—especially when the buyer and the user are the same person. But, if your business sells to one person and then your products are used by someone else, you may need both types of personas. That said, the differences between the two types aren’t as important as understanding how to create a buyer (or user) persona, and how to use it to your business’s advantage.
How to create a buyer or user persona for your business
Creating a persona doesn’t have to be hard and it will lead to a better product, better marketing, and a better business. In other words, it’s a small investment that can pay off big time.