Buyer Personas Gone Stale? Use Agile Techniques

January 5, 2015

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For most marketers, the buyer persona is one of the first things developed when beginning work on a new campaign. In an ideal world, you have time to carefully craft personas through a combination of internal stakeholder discovery and direct customer interviews.

Unfortunately, timing can sometimes cut the schedule short. The number of customer interviews could be reduced, or maybe eliminated completely. You find yourself relying on internal institutional knowledge for your customer insights because your team already “knows” your customer.

The personas are written up, printed out, and if you’re lucky, posted on the wall in the campaign “war room”. Once completed, the task is checked off the list and it’s onto the next job in the queue.

However, understanding that buyer personas change over time could be an important realization for your marketing team. So, how do you determine the right time to evolve your buyer personas?

I recommend using agile marketing to help solve the problem. You see, with the speed of change in marketplace today, taking an agile approach to your marketing (and in this case, buyer personas) is critical for your program’s ongoing success.

A Brief Overview of Agile

A few years ago, a group of marketers at the SprintZero event in San Francisco developed what they described as the Agile Marketing Manifesto. While every business and campaign is different, there are some central truths in their approach: 

  1. Validated learning over opinions and conventions
  2. Customer focused collaboration over silos and hierarchy
  3. Adaptive and iterative campaigns over Big-Bang campaigns
  4. The process of customer discovery over static prediction
  5. Flexible vs. rigid planning
  6. Responding to change over following a plan
  7. Many small experiments over a few large bets

So for the question of when should you revisit your persona, your answer should be as often as you have the opportunity to gather new insights. So how do you go about acquiring this information? Here are some key areas to examine that will help you understand how to enhance your buyer personas.

1) Use your customer interactions

Just because you didn’t have time to conduct interviews at the beginning of the process doesn’t mean it’s too late to get at the customer voice. Look for opportunities where you can interact with customers to get more insights to help adjust and improve your marketing.

  • Attend a few client meetings with your sales team and look for the “wow” moment that gets the customer’s attention
  • Sit with your customer service teams and listen to customer calls
  • Pay attention to the types of questions that researching buyers are asking

Getting closer to the customer might seem obvious, but it's often overlooked. Invest some time doing so and you'll probably get a few great ideas on how to shape your personas even more.

2) Look for digital cues

By leveraging the data from marketing automation or other sources of analytics on your website, it’s possible to get insights into what does and does not interest a buyer.

  • Which of your content pieces are your personas downloading?
  • What can you draw from the blog articles are they reading?
  • How are they answering the questions on your landing pages? 

Even if you don't have a marketing automation platform, you can still use website analytics to gather how your visitors are interacting with your site. While it might now give you the robust information that an automation platform provides, it'll be a start in better understanding your target audience.

3) Leverage your attribution models

Building marketing attribution models can seem like a mystery to non-analytical marketers. Luckily, marketing automation systems like HubSpot have recently added attribution-reporting right into their dashboards to make this easy.

  • What’s different about how your buyer personas find you? Certain sources, visit days or times of day?
  • Do some personas have different visit behavior versus others? Time first seen vs. first conversion dates?
  • Are there any differences in which pages of your site are in the conversion path for one persona over another?

The beauty of digital marketing is that the platform is perfect for adaptation, learning and continual improvements. Your buyer personas should be reviewed and modified in the same way.

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