Buyer persona documents are a sacred text for marketers. They define audiences, they guide strategies, and they promise that everything will be just fine as long as we follow them religiously.
Buyer personas are the cornerstone of inbound marketing. They’re also dangerous, deceitful and damaging. When done wrong, that is...
Your business may leap enthusiastically into a full-day persona planning session. You start with your best judgement, add just a pinch of actual data, and stir with generous quantities of sweeping assumptions to cook up your semi-fictional ideal buyers. Yet in reality, defining your buyers is a monumental task which is rarely achieved with a loosely-planned brainstorm.
Unfortunately, designing a strategy around ill-founded buyer personas is swimming in the wrong direction, and will inevitably lead to drowning results.
But there’s a better recipe to follow. One that yields an accurate picture of your audience that is constantly evolving. After all, the way your prospects use the web is changing as rapidly as the web itself.
The Persona Problem
Buyer personas are built on assumptions. At their best, they can be well-researched and even data-driven assumptions that form a detailed profile of an audience segment. At their worst, they can be simply made up, with only very loose bearings in reality.
The ramifications of an entirely fictional persona on a marketing strategy are obvious:
- You’re spending money attracting the wrong people
- Those wrong people aren’t converting on your product, because your product is completely irrelevant to them.
Other disciplines like product and web design can also find themselves misled by false assumptions. Trying to sell cameras to the blind doesn’t only make no sense, it costs a lot of money.
For inbound marketers, marching to the tune of an off-kilter buyer persona can mean:
- Your content isn’t reaching your desired audience
- Your message isn’t resonating with the right people
- Your calls-to-action are irrelevant to your current audience.
The Goalposts Have Moved
Let’s say you got it right. Your personas are well-research, supported by data and used to guide an innovative, ultra-targeted strategy. You’re kicking goals, but goalposts move.
Web users change. The way they search changes. The ads they block change. The sites they visit change. The content they consume changes. Your prospects change, so your personas should, too. Unfortunately, nothing will stunt your results like strategies designed around obsolete personas.
One obvious example of digital disruption is the proliferation of ad blocking, with hundreds of millions of web browsers using the software each month. If your two-year-old data indicated that Persona A was receptive to banner advertisements, what’s not to say that Persona A hasn’t been served enough poor quality ads to install a blocker since that time? Outdated data means outdated strategies, which means a swathe of wasted spending.
Personas Must Continuously Evolve
The answer to these problems is constant analysis and iteration of your personas. 46% of businesses make formal updates to their personas every 1-4 years, but to respond to the rapidly-changing digital environment, a bi-annual revision is recommended. That said, it’s important that you don’t fall into analysis paralysis and spend a disproportionate amount of time creating your personas over implementing your strategy.
Revisions to your personas must be data-driven, whether qualitative or quantitative. Making a revision based on purely an assumption is counterintuitive, and won’t steer you closer to an accurate picture of your ideal buyer.
Data will paint a better picture of your buyers than vague assumptions ever could, so ensure you have a diversity of analytics and a sustainable framework to collect and segment the information. The alternative is an ineffective strategy that is governed by obsolete personas, stunting your business growth.