It’s a tough world out there for organizations; increased competition for attention and higher expectations from buyers mean that marketing messages need to be targeted and relevant. Savvy marketers use buyer personas to help them hone those messages, but just because you’re creating personas doesn’t mean that you’re using them correctly. If your personas don’t truly reflect the values and attributes of the intended buyer, then you won’t be able to effectively reach your audiences.

The best way to create an authentic, accurate buyer persona is to conduct a buyer interview with a current consumer to take a pulse on the characteristics and motivations of your current – or ideal – audience. However, many organizations fail to hold meaningful interviews, or fail to conduct them at all.

According to Adele Revella, president of Buyer Persona Institute, some marketers are “taking their existing knowledge of the buyer, and they’re putting it into a template.” Calling that creation the buyer persona is wrong. Marketers need a deep insight into their buyer’s wants, needs, and desires around the product. A real buyer persona begins with interviewing customers.

Many marketers, Revella says, treat buyer interviews as yet another production activity to mark off their to-do list. This flippant attitude leads to a shallow or inaccurate buyer persona. Instead, follow this golden rule when conducting your buyer interviews:

Don’t rely too heavily on a script. You won’t learn anything new from this interview if you create a script; your questions will be focused on your product’s features or services, instead of identifying actual consumer pain points. Scripting the interview too much will create a “confirmation bias,” where you’ll only be reaffirming your own assumptions about the product.

The scripted approach may not reveal what’s truly important to the buyer or even any of the meaningful attributes that can be addressed in your marketing. A scripted interview only means that, according to Revella, you can check off the fact you talked to a buyer.

Instead, hold an organic, free-flowing conversation with your subject. This buyer-driven conversation will give you new insights into what your customers actually need – which allows you to create marketing initiatives that provide that element to them.

“Doing a buyer interview right takes time and a willingness to hear both the good and bad news about your product and company,” says Maribeth Ross, Chief Content Officer of Aberdeen Group. In her roles as a marketer over the last 10 years, Ross has conducted many interviews with business-to-business (B2B) buyers to help better position products, identify the nurture preferences
of prospects, and learn key sales enablement insights.

On the whole, Revella doesn’t blame marketers for the skills gap around buyer interviews. Sales teams, she says, have the permission and the training to influence one buyer at a time. Marketers, on the other hand, are used to influencing an entire marketplace of buyers all at once. They have to learn the skills to conduct a one-on-one discussion that elicits real insights about the buyer.

“It’s harder to persuade a market of buyers than it is to persuade one person a time,” Revella says, which is precisely why having a persona is so critical.

Buyer personas are particularly important in content marketing. Aberdeen Group research conducted for the Alchemy of Intent: Content Marketing in the Lead-to-Revenue Cycle report revealed that 38% of Leaders aligned their content marketing with buyer persona (figure below).

information graph

Source: Aberdeen Group, May 2013

This makes the Leaders a full 90% more likely to align content to buyer persona than all other respondents, which clearly equates this practice to top-flight results.

Don’t imagine that the buyer interview is a once-a-year practice, either. Revella cautions that creating and maintaining accurate buyer personas is going to require a cultural shift at many companies; you have to be committed to how buyers make decisions and invest significantly in persona development.

“We really want this to be an ongoing investment that the company is making,” Revella says. Her goal when training marketers through her buyer persona workshops is to develop buyer-expert marketers that conduct one buyer interview per month for their entire career after the initial push of eight to 10 interviews.

“The point is that this is not alignment for alignment’s sake,” writes Trip Kucera, VP of Client Success at Aberdeen Group in a recent content marketing report, “but rather about getting marketing content right: right content, at the right stage of the funnel, for the right persona.”

So now that you know how to start creating a buyer persona, what type of information should go into your creation? Learn what a detailed buyer persona looks like from this post.

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