writingUnderstanding Your Target Market Better than Ever 

Narrative buyer personas are stories of fictional characters that represent particular segments of your marketplace. We tend to give them cute, alliterative names just so that they're easy to remember.You may have, for instance, a Human Resources Helen, who’s a married, forty-something woman with a graduate degree from a respected university. Admin Assistant Amy might be a single, twenty-something recent grad who still enjoys going out at night to meet new people. C-level Chris is in his early fifties, perhaps the father of three kids and a lover of fine cigars and luxury cars. Each segment of your market has different pain points, and it’s your job to address each need with your content by talking to those “characters” directly. Without a full understanding of your buyers, you can’t reach them and may, in fact, drive them away. That’s why a comprehensive buyer persona is so very important.

Narrative buyer personas are different from computational or algorithmic buyer segmentation (such as what Amazon does) in that they use the story of a type of person to allow you and your employees to draw on the context of your own experiences with similar people to answer questions like "will this persona find this content interesting or influential?" They're easier to create, and help you to avoid "Big Data" mistakes by filtering your activities through human logic.

Your buyer personas are some the most important tools you have in your marketing toolbox. Without them, reaching your target audience time and again just can’t happen. With these buyer personas, you can develop content that reaches right in and finds those buyers while they’re living their everyday lives. The only way to do this effectively is to understand those potential buyers even better than you understand yourself.

When you develop buyer personas, you’ll likely have a profile sheet on which you’ll enter the information about potential buyers. This may feel extreme, and writing out a full story may feel silly at first, but as you’ll learn from various authors about character creation, you can never know too much about your target audience.

Buyers Are Not One-Dimensional

“You can never know enough about your characters.”
― W. Somerset Maugham

“In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations!"
― Anton Chekhov 

The people buying your products and services are as real as you and I. They have hopes, dreams, hobbies, families, and strange quirks that make them true individuals. Generalization is fine when you want to cast a wide net, but to really reach your buyers you must go where they are.

The more detailed your buyer personas, the more likely you’ll be to hit upon the pain points in their work and personal lives. You must understand what really makes them tick. When your buyers realize you know them, they’re more likely to listen when you speak. Only then can you ease that pain with your product or service.

Example: Your email marketing should be as personalized as possible. A “Dear Valued Customer” greeting will result in deletion nearly 100% of the time. By knowing your customers, greeting them by name, and touching on their interests within the subject and greeting, you’re more likely to experience higher open and engagement rates.

Buyers are Normal People

“I'd write of people and places like I knew, and I'd make my characters talk everyday English; and I'd let the sun rise and set in the usual quiet way without much fuss over the fact.” ― LM Montgomery
Sure, your buyers are going to do things that surprise everyone, but that’s because they’re people. They’re normal, everyday people. Be careful not to romanticize when creating your buyer personas, even if you’re simply trying to account for every possibility. If you picture all CEOs as whiskey-swilling, golf-club-swinging, cigar-smoking Lotharios, you’ve created a caricature instead of a buyer persona.

Keep them simple. Remember they’re real people who need real things.

Example: If you consider all young adults Cullen-loving gum-chewers with little to no responsibility, you’ll lose most of your readers with your first pop culture-riddled blog. Entertainment is important, but information and value are key.

Buyers Live and Breathe

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” ― William Faulkner
“If they are good characters, they have minds of their own. If they are great characters, they go stomping off into the sunset and leave you to pick up the trash.” ― Wendi Kelly
When you fully understand your buyers, you’ll realize they all have a tendency to do the unexpected. No matter how much you research and plan, wild cards will pop up and go the opposite direction. If you’re prepared with an in-depth buyer persona that takes those differences into account, you could still reach those outlaws and bring them back into the fold.

By conducting interviews with actual people who fit your buyer personas, you have a better chance of locating the inconsistencies. Gather as many as you can for the best results and make note of everything that surprises you. Your profiles will be more complete and more effective with this information.

Example: An ebook targeting C-level executives who take luxury vacations could be a winner—unless a CFO who was very nearly ready to buy your product actually prefers adventure over pampering.

Know Your Buyers Like Yourself

“Sometimes I scare myself at how easily I slip inside my mind and live vicariously through these characters.” ― Teresa Mummert
“By the end, you should be inside your character, actually operating from within somebody else, and knowing him pretty well, as that person knows himself or herself. You're sort of a predator, an invader of people.” ― William Trevor
Once you have your buyer personas set, it’s time to get to know them. Make them your friends. Find pieces of each persona that you can relate to. Maybe you’re a twenty-something, male content marketer trying to get into the head of forty-something Human Resources Helen. It’s not impossible to walk in her shoes for a bit to better understand her hopes and dreams and -- more importantly -- her pain points. When you think as your buyers would, you can create content that really reaches them on their level.

Example: If you use your products with your own experience level and forget to account for the needs of your audience, your product descriptions could be too technical to address their pain points.

Know Your Buyers’ Needs

“When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away - even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

Once you’ve learned your buyers inside and out, you will understand their needs. If your company is a trailblazer, there’s a great chance you’ll not just understand those needs, but you’ll also create more. Remember, however, that just as you have basic wants and wishes, so will your buyers.

Example: A discount or free trial for your service could offer your buyers that drink of water they didn’t know they needed, or they may simply want help researching what features they want. Create that need, and then give them the solution.

While we use quotes about character creation to outline the importance of buyer personas, it’s important to remember your fictional characters are not, in fact, fictional. Your buyers are real, well rounded, flawed, and searching. Just as you couldn’t write a story without fully understanding your characters and their motivations, you also can’t write tailored content without understanding your buyers and their needs. Be thorough; be discerning. And above all, be ready to make changes when your first and second and maybe even third personas don’t hit the mark.

What other pearls of wisdom have you gotten from other writers or novelists? Tell us below in the comments!

Image credit: TheBostonChow

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Originally published Oct 2, 2013 1:00:00 PM, updated January 18 2023


Ecommerce Content Marketing Buyer Personas