Discovering Your Buyer Personas as a Startup

Launching a startup without a target audience in mind is like making enough food for 100 people, then yelling out your front door to some passerby that you’re serving food. You might get a couple people to purchase your product or service (or to enter your home to eat), but most of your work will probably go to waste.

Every business needs a target audience so they know who to market their products or services to. Buyer personas, also known as target or customer personas, narrow a target audience down even further so a business can further personalize their marketing efforts. When launching a startup, it’s important to find your target audience and your buyer personas so you can craft a powerful marketing campaign that touches the right people.

Why You Need Buyer Personas

Buyer personas are fictional characters that represent your target audience. Businesses create them to personify their customers and make it easier to communicate with and sell to them. A buyer, or target, persona profile usually includes:

  • Name
  • Location
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Family status
  • Goals
  • Challenges
  • Level of education
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Purchasing behaviors
  • Interests
  • Life stage

Buyer personas differ from your target audience because they are a more specific representation of your audience. They are beneficial because they help clarify which marketing tactics a business should use. They also remind the marketing team that the consumers are real people with real hopes, dreams, fears, and limitations.

For example, let’s take a look at one buyer persona of a pest control company in Nashville, Tenn. Thrive Pest Control could say that their target audience is families who want to live comfortably and pest-free, or they could say their buyer persona is Michelle, a married mother of four kids who works as a dental hygienist and is married to an accountant. She is strapped for time, but loves spending any extra hours she can at home with her husband and kids. She enjoys a clean home, but finds it hard to maintain it with so much going on in her family’s life. The difference between the depth of information from a target audience versus a buyer persona is astounding. If Thrive Pest Control keeps this fictional Michelle character in mind as it markets its services, it will be able to create a more targeted and successful marketing campaign.

Startups should remember their buyer personas when determining all aspects of a marketing strategy — from which communication channel to use to the words and tone of voice on landing pages, emails, ads, or social media posts.

How to Create Your Buyer Persona

When creating your buyer, or target, personas as a startup, it can be challenging to know where to begin. It helps if you already have a good grasp of your target audience because you can build off of that knowledge. If you are still trying to develop your target audience, don’t worry. These steps will help you further understand your target audience while creating buyer persona profiles:

Start With Where You are Now

Begin by reviewing what your business is and what your goals are. These answers will serve as the foundation as you create your buyer personas. You should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What problems does my product/service solve?
  2. Who are my competitors?
  3. What are my unique value propositions?
  4. What are all the features of my product or service?
  5. What are the values of my business?
  6. What are the goals of my business?

Write down the answers to all of the above questions. Go into as much detail as you can, and remember to include where you want your business to be in the future. Your product/service might not have all the features you want yet, but one day, it will.

Research Your Competitors

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Your competitors have already gone through the process of finding their target audience and buyer personas and going after them. You can learn a lot about your own potential buyer personas by seeing what your competitors are doing.

Follow the social media pages of your competitors so you can see who is following them. Check out the profiles of their followers to learn about their current audience. You can learn a lot about people by viewing their Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Pinterest accounts. Read through some of their posts on their accounts to understand what matters to them, and pay attention to patterns. Do they tend to be single or in committed relationships? Do they tend to post about their personal lives or their professional ones? Do they love funny memes or are they more serious on social media?

Once you browse a few dozen social media profiles, return to the social media pages of your competitors. Read through the comments of their audience to see the types of words they use. Write some of the words down, and mark any repetitive words or phrases. This step will teach you a lot about the demographics you should set for your buyer persona, as well as the psychographics — or the personality, values, and interests — of your buyer persona.

You should also read the reviews of your competitor. This will tell you what your competitor’s audience likes and dislikes about the product/service they are selling. You can use this information to better understand your own target audience and create buyer personas for your startup.

Survey and Interview Your Customers

If you want to know what to put down for the occupation or the level of education for your buyer persona profiles, ask your customers. After all, the fictional buyer persona should be a representation of your real customers.

One simple way to gather a lot of information about your target audience is to send out a survey to current customers. You can ask them most or all of the questions in your buyer persona profile, then find commonalities and create a buyer persona based on the survey responses. You can also collect information on your customers by using form fields on your website. If you have very few customers or no official customers at all, send the survey to potential customers. You could find them on LinkedIn or another social media platform.

Personal interviews are another fantastic way to collect information to create buyer personas. With interviews, especially face-to-face interviews, people are more likely to be honest in their responses. Customer or potential customer interviews allow you to get to know your customers on a deeper level, which will be extremely helpful when it’s time to choose a face and a name for your buyer persona profiles. You should complete between three and five interviews per buyer persona.

When you interview current or potential customers, ask them about:

  • Their job
  • Where they work
  • Their personal and professional goals
  • Where they go to learn or stay informed
  • Their shopping preferences
  • Their family status

You can also show them different images or phrases and ask them which ones they relate to. The goal of the interview is to get a full, rounded picture of the person. One of the best ways to do this is to followup personal questions with “why.” If they tell you they only ever shop online, for example, ask them why. You could assume that it’s because they are too busy to shop in brick-and-mortar stores, but maybe it’s because they don’t have a car or they think online prices are cheaper. During every interview, you should strive to understand what motivates that person.

Do Social Listening

Social listening can tell you a lot about what people think about your business. Unfortunately, if you are a fresh startup with not a lot of followers on social media, this step might not be too helpful. Still, there are aspects of social listening that all businesses can benefit from.

Social listening is when a business observes how customers are talking about their business on social media platforms. It includes monitoring every time the business is mentioned or tagged in a post, as well as the mentions of competitors, or keywords and key phrases related to the business’ industry.

Some businesses also start conversations in social media groups or forums to better understand how people view their business or the problems their customers face. Social listening can be very insightful when creating buyer personas. By understanding who is talking about your industry or business and what they are saying, you can craft more accurate buyer persona profiles.

Create a Negative Buyer Persona

Just like you want to know who your buyer customer is, you should think about who they are not. Your negative buyer persona is someone who would not be suitable for your business. Perhaps your product/service is out of their price range, or maybe they just don’t have a reason to buy it.

It’s good to write a list of people you are not going after. If you’re a couples therapist, for example, you should probably not go after college-age students. Create a buyer persona that depicts someone who is the opposite of your ideal customer so you know who to avoid.

Tips to Remember When Determining Your Buyer Persona

Once you collect a sufficient amount of information on your target audience, it’s time to create your buyer persona profile. As you start creating a profile, you might get stuck and think to yourself “I don’t know this about my target audience.” Pause, and take a look at the other pieces of the character you’re creating. Then, try to come up with an answer. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be close enough. You will likely update this buyer persona or change it completely as you learn more about your startup’s audience.

Keep these tips in mind as you research and write your buyer persona profiles:

  • Remember your values. It’s easier to convert customers who have the same — or similar — values as your business.
  • When learning about your customers, keep asking why. This will help you get to the real motivation behind their actions.
  • Consider the benefits of your product and who those benefits would be most useful or important to.
  • Base your buyer personas off of real customers as much as you can.
  • Always search for patterns.

About the Author:

Carolyn Alder Carolyn Alder is the content manager for Zampi, a Utah-based startup that offers an integrative digital marketing campaign management software for small businesses. She graduated in journalism and anthropology from the University of Utah.

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