What does an attempt to build a buyer persona have to do with spaghetti? Well … when I was 16 years old, I managed a pasta restaurant in a suburb of Portland, Ore. Unfortunately, business was slow most nights, and we could go for hours without a single customer. All that downtime allowed me to think about how we could drive customers into the restaurant to increase our tips.
I realized that I needed to know our customers in order to figure out how to attract them back again and again. I started taking notes on receipt paper as I served: the size of their party, what they ordered, when they came to eat, etc. Unbeknownst to my younger self, this was my early attempt to build a buyer persona.
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona is a quasi-fictitious character you develop to represent a specific segment of your overall customer base, so you can understand what drives them to buy from you. As with many things in life, the more you put in to build a buyer persona, the more value derive from it. The strongest and most beneficial buyer personas are those based on market research, customer insights and your own objective observations from day-to-day business.
In essence, you take all of the information and data that you collect and build out a character to represent your ideal customer.
Once you have a solid idea of your customers’ wants, needs, behaviors and concerns, you can tailor your marketing content and messaging to play to your customer's specific needs. Depending on how many products or services you offer, you might have as few as one or two buyer personas or as many as 15 or 20 to represent the different groups of customers you encounter in your marketing and sales process.
Here is an example of a buyer persona I created for demonstration purposes. Notice how I added multiple data points about Mary, as well as an image, so I could visualize her when I crafted my marketing and sales approach:
An important note is that when you build a buyer persona, it’s a process. Over time your customer base will change, as will your approach to marketing and sales. You'll need to revisit and redefine your buyer personas on a regular basis.
How can I research my customers?
There are plenty of online resources to help you get a better idea of your customer base — from census data to social media usage. Here are a few of my go-to research sites.
Think with Google (free)
Think with Google is a treasure trove of information and insights collected, analyzed, and shared by Google. From consumer buying habits to mobile device usage, Think with Google will provide data and insights you can use to shape general habits when you build a buyer persona.
Claritas MyBestSegments (free)
MyBestSegments by Claritas provides you with invaluable information about the different segments of residents for a specific zip code. If you own a brick-and-mortar business or are considering starting your own business, this site will help you understand the age, race and ethnicity, income levels, and household composition of your targeted area, which will help you to better define your efforts to build a buyer persona.
Google Analytics (free)
Google Analytics is a powerful tracking tool you install on your website that reports website traffic information. From estimated age range to location of your visitor, to which device they are using to access your site, you can glean a great deal of useful data to build a buyer persona.
If you do not know how to install Google Analytics on your website, I recommend contacting your web design company. Best of all, Google Analytics is free to use — with no strings attached.
Customer surveys (free or premium)
When you're finished snooping around the web, it's time to ask your customers some targeted questions with a survey. From free survey tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms, to an integrated survey tool like Constant Contact, you can ask your customers a series of questions to validate your findings from the resources above and solidify efforts to build a buyer persona.
To increase your response rate, you'll want to incentivize customers to participate in the survey.
The value of the incentive depends on how many questions you ask. You can consider offering a prize drawing for one of the following incentives:
- Gift card to your business
- Free or discounted product
- Free or discounted service
- Visa check card
- Amazon gift card
If you're asking your customers three or four questions, then maybe $25 will sweeten the deal enough. However, if you're asking a substantial number of questions (10+) to really build a buyer persona, the ideal value of your incentive should be around $50 to $100.
What questions do I ask to build a buyer persona?
As mentioned, it’s a process to build a buyer persona, so there is no limit to the number of questions you can ask in striving to make your buyer persona a perfect representation of your ideal customer. That being said, you still need to know what to ask to get started building your buyer persona.
Once you choose a survey tool, here is a list of the top 20 questions to build the ultimate buyer persona:
Buyer persona demographics
- Do you rent or own your home?
- What is your age?
- What is your education level?
- What is your marital status?
- Do you have children? How many?
- What do you do for work?
- What is your household income range?
Buyer persona buying decisions
- Where do you look for product/service recommendations?
- Which do you prefer to learn more about a product?
- Read an article
- Watch a video
- Speak to a live person
- What makes you feel better after a purchase?
- Having a quality product
- Getting a good deal
- Do you consider online reviews when making a purchase?
Buyer persona daily behavior
- Are you an early bird or a night owl?
- When do you first look at your phone?
- When you wake up
- At breakfast
- In the car
- At work
- How long is your commute to work?
- I work from home
- About 30 minutes
- About one hour
- More than one hour
- How much time do you spend at work?
- What do you enjoy doing on your days off?
Buyer persona digging deeper
- What frustrates you most during the day?
- What are your three proudest accomplishments?
- What are three things you want to accomplish in the next year?
- What makes you happy?
With the answers to these questions, you can formulate or refine your marketing approach to build a buyer persona that better meets your needs. Thinking back to my 16-year-old self, I was part manager and part marketer for the pasta restaurant.
After scribbling down my notes, I had a very high-level buyer persona:
- 55 years old
- Married with older children
- Working professional with limited time to cook
- Loves dining with other couples
- Drinks two or more glasses of wine at a sitting
- Loves music
From my rough buyer persona, I even came up with the idea of a Wednesday Wine night with live music to bring in more diners. I could just picture the patrons flowing in, sipping on glass after glass, slurping up spaghetti and tapping their feet to the sounds of smooth jazz — as my pockets overflowed with tips.
Unfortunately, the owner ignored my silly idea to build a buyer persona who would come back for more spaghetti, and we continued with our slow, nearly empty nights until the doors closed for good.
Keep your doors open
Now that you know what a buyer persona is and have some great questions at your disposal, you can go about catering appropriately to your customer segment. Understanding your customers is just the first step in the startup game, so don’t forget to market yourself with, say, a brilliantly designed email campaign, to bring people to your doorstep (virtual or physical).