How buyer personas differ from target markets
In the early days of consulting many businesses I worked with would bring me in to help stress test their marketing strategy for the year. One of the first places the stress test focused on was the target audience for the plan. In all honesty this is often where things started to creak and groan.
"We want to target architects..."
"We want to target purchasing managers..."
"Well, we think anyone could buy this..."
At least the first two had given a name to their potential target! The last one is patently untrue, not everyone wants your product or service. Unless you sell water or air and even then not everyone will pay the price you want for it.
Drill down into either of the top two answers and quickly I'd get vacant stares or a realisation that their target market was just a job description. So what was missing?
During the consulting sessions I'd often find that it's easier to ask the sales people to define the people with that job description that are terrible customers. Every sales person knows them, they're the people that require the most work for the least amount of reward; the time wasters.
For example you might sell commercial building supplies. In that case, would a residential architect be your target market? Would a student architect be your target? Would an infrastructure architect be your target? Are architects doing government projects ideal for you? Likewise if you sell to a 'residential architect' does that mean high-end properties, large scale developments or architects that work for the likes of A1 Homes or Genius Homes?
Once you've narrowed it down you then need to get into their head. What do they care about? What are their pain points? How do they consume information? Where do they go to discover new things?
Next you need to articulate how you fix their problem.
Throughout this process your website should be providing information that is relevant to your target buyer, and helps you understand who isn't your target buyer. You should use forms to ask the right questions at the right time to know whether a lead should be passed to sales, or should be kept in the marketing funnel.
Creating buyer personas gives you a more in-depth look at your target market. But it goes slightly beyond that.
A target market is as deep as you need to go if all you do is outbound marketing. After all with outbound your main focus is to find outlets that a broad-ish group of your potential buyers engage with. If you've ever looked at radio or newspaper rate cards for advertising they'll often tell you who their audience is. For The Rock there will be a different audience than The Edge. Advertising on either will get your brand to that demographic.
Inbound marketing targets active, rather than passive buyers. That means people that are actively looking for services, or products similar to yours.
Because you want your content to be found by people looking for what you're offering it's important to know even more about them. This means understanding their behavioural patterns, terminology they use in their industry and how they go about seeking information.
This is where a deeper dive helps and where creating buyer personas can be invaluable.
words by Thomas Emmerson