How to create buyer personas that clarify your target market

What is a buyer persona?

Buyer personas are descriptions of each of your target customers, based on customer and consumer research. Each persona describes a different fictional buyer who embodies the demographics, pain points, buying behaviors, and motivations of a specific market segment. They help you see your target market as real people, rather than abstract characteristics.

Each buyer persona puts a name and face to a particular segment of your target audience. It turns a set of characteristics into a fictional buyer like “Busy Bertie,” the customer who never has free time, or “Careful Callie,” the customer who wants to know everything about your product before she makes a purchase. While these fictional personas don’t describe every buyer in a segment, they provide an example of who your customers could be in real life.

Different buyer personas

Why are buyer personas important?

Say you’re planning a camping trip with three friends. To get each friend on board with your plan, you take three different approaches. With one friend, you share pictures of the beautiful location you’ve picked out. With another friend, you emphasize the short walk from the car to the campsite. With the third, you discuss the many opportunities to take photos and videos.

Just as you would emphasize different aspects of a trip to appeal to different friends, your business can emphasize different aspects of its products to appeal to different buyers. Buyer personas let you get to know your target customers like you know your friends, so you can talk to them about your products in a personal way that highlights the benefits that are important to them.

How to use buyer personas in marketing

Buyer personas help your business identify and reach qualified leads, which make them very useful for targeted marketing and sales efforts. With buyer personas, you can uncover the most effective ways to reach out to valuable leads and personalize your marketing and sales messages in a way that speaks to them. 

Buyer personas can also improve the efficiency of marketing and sales by helping you identify negative buyer personas that exemplify the leads your business doesn’t want to pursue. These negative personas either rarely end up making a purchase or drain your business’s customer service resources when they become customers. For example, a negative buyer persona could be “Expert Eddy,” a professional with expertise that’s already too advanced for your product.

How to use buyer personas in customer journey mapping

Buyer personas help you focus on converting the customers who will bring the most lifetime value to your business. Once a customer converts, buyer personas can also guide product development and customer service decisions as you work to increase target customer retention.

Each buyer persona reacts differently to turning points in the customer journey (i.e. purchases, upsells, returns, and other key interactions between your business and its buyers). By fielding input on the customer experience from target customers, you can create a detailed customer journey map that shows the best way to interact with each persona in these critical moments.

Buyer persona survey questions

So what information should you incorporate into your buyer personas? Your buyer persona research will likely include several types of survey questions: demographic questions, behavioral questions, and follow-up questions.

Demographic questions help you screen respondents to make sure they fall into your target market. They also help you categorize your results and identify the makeup of your strongest market segments. Demographic questions in buyer persona surveys might include:

  • Questions about gender, age, or race
  • Questions about education or occupation
  • Questions about location, family, and household income
SurveyMonkey Audience example

Buying behavior questions explore the ways people shop for your product, from the moment they first discover your product to the time they make a purchase. These questions ask respondents to describe how they engage with a purchase decision. They might include:

  • Questions about the place and method of purchase
  • Questions about the thought process behind a purchase decision

Follow-up questions dig deeper into the psychology behind buying behavior. They get respondents to reflect on the motivations behind their purchase decisions and explore related topics that reveal why your target customers make the decisions they do. They might include:

  • Questions about challenges and pain points
  • Questions about hopes, wants, and dreams

How to do buyer persona research

Buyer persona research is usually a combination of customer and consumer research, as well as market segmentation. Your business can use a variety of research methods—including focus groups, experiments, interviews, and surveys—to gather information for your buyer personas. Here’s how that usually goes in practice:

1. Learn about the people who already buy your product.

Your customers are a wealth of information, and many are eager to share their feedback with your business. Customer data is typically the best place to start building your target personas.

Research methods like customer satisfaction surveys and case studies can help your business get insight into important customer characteristics like demographics, preferences, and loyalty. By including both close-ended and open-ended questions, these methods gather quantitative and qualitative metrics from consumers. Both types of data shed light on customer personas.

Strong buyer personas really get into the psychology of the buyer, so be sure to ask follow-up questions that encourage customers to explain the reasoning behind their buying behavior. You can add custom follow-up logic to dive deeper into specific customer survey questions.

2. Gather data from your target market.

The most comprehensive buyer personas bring market segments to life with a combination of customer and consumer insights. While customer research focuses on the customer experience, consumer research looks at buyer experience through the entire customer lifecycle. It gathers data from everyone in your target market, not just those who’ve become customers.

Consumer research methods like consumer behavior surveys generate both quantitative data, like demographics, and qualitative data, like descriptions of major pain points. SurveyMonkey Audience helps you gather input from a representative sample of your target market, so you can generate accurate audience personas and consumer insights.

3. Create market segmentations.

Now combine your customer and consumer research and organize your data so that patterns and correlations emerge in parts of your population. Filter your data by demographic to identify clustered buyer characteristics (i.e. correlations between certain demographic data points) and tease out differences in the buying behavior and motivations of each cluster. 

While some businesses have just one or two market segments, others have dozens. Don’t worry, you don’t need to spend tons of time on market segmentation—you don’t need to identify every single segment to create powerful buyer personas for your most valuable segments.

4. Make a buyer persona for each market segment.

What is the median age of a buyer in the segment? What is the median household income? Do most of the buyers have children or do they live alone? You can calculate the median of any quantitative data point and incorporate that characteristic into your buyer persona. This demographic data is usually (but not always) the basis for creating buyer personas.

Next, add data points that illustrate the typical buying behavior of a person in the segment. How long does it take that buyer to decide whether or not they’ll make a purchase? Do they have to consult others before they decide? How involved are they in the buying process? Do they shop for products online or in store? Try to record all the segment’s dominant buying behaviors.

After that, you’ll want to dive into the psychology of the buyer persona by examining qualitative data. The best strategy for this step is often to let the target customers speak for themselves by including real quotes from your research. For example, you might include a quote like: “I prefer your product, but have a hard time justifying the price to myself when there are cheaper alternatives.”

Fill in the purely fictional elements of persona building (i.e. the buyer’s name and backstory) last. These elements combine your demographic, behavioral, and psychological data points into a coherent and realistic narrative. Adding a name ensures that everyone in your business refers to the persona the same way, so you have a reference point you can use across teams.

A good buyer persona strikes a careful balance between being specific and generic. It connects relevant demographic information like age, location, and income with buying behaviors like making impulse decisions or seeking the approval of peers before purchasing a product. It also dives into the psychology of the buyer to shed light on their behavior and motivations.

Loyal Lola buyer example

Buyer persona examples

Many B2B businesses work with the “Garage Startup” buyer persona. This business persona is typically young and ambitious with big dreams, a small budget, and only a few employees. Garage Startup is often highly price conscious and might be bootstrapping its operations. It's looking for affordable business solutions that let it do a lot with a small entrepreneurial team.

Many B2C businesses have a variation of a “Loyal Lola” buyer persona. This buyer persona was introduced to your brand years ago by someone she trusts, like a family member or close friend. She doesn’t know much about your competitors because she always buys your brand. She’s satisfied with your product and will be for as long as it keeps meeting her expectations.

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