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Why Brands Are Failing


Evidence shows that brands are failing to meet some of their customers’ fundamental motivations and concerns.

Here a few stats about customer – brand relationship:

  • According to Edelman’s consumer marketing study among the 11 thousand people surveyed across 8 different countries, 51% feel that brands are underperforming when it comes to asking about their needs.

On a similar note, a survey conducted by Responsys found that:

  • 34% of adults in the U.S. have broken up with a brand (stopped using/ purchasing) due to poor, disruptive or irrelevant marketing messages sent to them.
  • 33% of those who have broken up with a brand say they did so because their messages were generic and obviously sent to everyone.

Persona survey

Customers want brands to know their needs: to tailor messages and speak directly to them, and brands are failing at this, big time.

That’s where buyer personas come in: if properly developed, personas allow you to gain a deeper understanding of your customers’ needs and buyer behaviours.

In essence, buyer personas “put the people behind company decision making in the shoes of the customer.” (Jennifer Havice, ConversionXL)

Defining Buyer Personas

First off, buyer personas are much more than one dimensional profiles of the people you need to influence.

They represent patterns of behaviours that “reveal insights about your buyers’ decisions — the specific attitudes, concerns and criteria that drive prospective customers to choose you, your competitor or the status quo.” –  Buyer Persona Institute

To go more in deep we can refer to Tony Zambito’s definition of buyer personas, which, also, gives us a hint about the key questions to ask to build personas (as we’ll see in a while):

“Buyer personas are research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of:

  • who buyers are,
  • what they are trying to accomplish,
  • what goals drive their behavior,
  • how they think, how they buy,
  • why they make buying decisions,
  • where they buy as well as
  • when buyers decide to buy.”

Tony Zambito – What is a buyer persona.

They can take various forms and can be as detailed as you want, as long as:

  1. They are based on real people, not on stereotypes
  2. They identify behavioural patterns and highlight the motivational drivers underneath

To sum up: to model personas, you need to draw from your available data, taking into account your customers’ goals (what they want to accomplish), their hesitations and concerns, as well as their mindset (any expectations or preconceived notions they could be bringing to the buying experience).

How to Build Your Personas: Qualitative Research.

Qualitative research will help you understand what motivates the different segments in your customer base, and there’s no better way to find out than by asking away.

Who to survey:

  • Current customers / users: reach out to both happy and unhappy ones.
  • Prospects or leads that don’t know much about your company
  • Members of communities related to your industry

Example: our product is a content marketing software. Beside talking to our customers and readers, we look at communities such as Dan Norris’ “Content Machine” to find possible fits for surveys and interviews.

Statistical Relevance

  • Aim for a total between 100 – 200 responses (over 200 responses, answers tend to repeat themselves)
  • If you get more than a 200 responders, randomly choose 200 and analyse those.
  • If you can’t reach 100, you have to make do with you have. 20 is still better than nothing, just  be more careful with your analyses.  

[Ott Niggulis – Everything You Need To Know About Designing Valuable Customer Surveys]

How to Run Surveys

a) Online surveys: you can reach out to your customers / prospects via email inviting them to the survey. In this case:

    • Keep the email short and simple.
    • Use incentives (discounts / bonuses).
    • Consider asking between 7 and 10 questions.
    • Mention how long it will take, or specify the number of questions.
    • Set fairly short deadlines – the majority of answers will come within 24hs.

Tools like Typeform and Google forms work great.

b) Phone & In-Person Interviews: as time consuming as they can get, they provide invaluable information about your users personality.

Experts interviewers will collect data not only from the answers, but also from silences, tones, pauses, facial expressions, body language and so on.

Here some tips to conduct customers interviews like a pro. I’ve linked to the original sources if you want to dive deeper into the subject:

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 10.56.57

Here, the first 3 rules for customer interviews:

  • No ice cream questions: ice cream questions are when you withhold information and don’t reveal all the costs associated with a benefit.
  • Pull don’t push: your goal is to learn about your customers’ problems, you want to pull information out of your interviewee, you don’t want to push your ideas into them.
  • No leading questions: do not phrase the question is a way to suggest the answer.

[Check Zachary Cohn’s – 18 Tips on Conducting Killer Customers Interviews for more ]

And 3 additional advice by Sean Murphy:

  • Have Two People Interview: both of you taking notes as you go. The second person can listen more attentively while the first one asks questions. Switch every few questions so that the conversation stays lively and fresh, and it’ll be more time efficient for the person being interviewed.
  • Work From an Outline of 3-5 Key Questions: you need to focus on the essential questions you are trying to answer. E-mail these in advance and also bring a printed copy. The interview may last a few minutes or it may last an hour but set expectations up front about what you want to talk about.
  • Listen. You should be talking 1/6 to 1/4 of the time. This is not a sales call; this is an opportunity to gather symptoms and a prospective customer’s perspective on their needs with respect to a specific problem or capability. There is a strong tendency to talk about your solution or theories of the problem. The more you do that the less that you learn: use your eyes and ears.

[Check Tips for B2B Customer Development Interviews for the rest of the list]

c) Web and Exit Surveys: on-page questions are an extremely effective way to collect your users impressions about the page or software right when they are engaging with it.

“The question to ask depends on your overall goal. Do you want to understand if your site or products/services on your site are meeting their needs? Or do you want to understand what potential sources of friction are keeping customers from buying?” – How To Create Customer Personas With Actual, Real Life Data / Jennifer Havice


Qualaroo, works great for this kind of surveys.   

What questions to ask

As mentioned, with qualitative interviews you are looking to find the drivers behind your customers / prospect actions. The motivators underneath their purchase decisions.

Accordingly, when coming up with questions, make sure you touch on:

  • Customers’ goals and what drove them to your business
  • Perceived obstacles to purchasing
  • Their mindset: expectations and preconceived notions

Here a few examples:

  • What can you tell us about yourself? -> to spot trends of where the majority of our customers come from. If B2B try to get information about industry and position in the company. If demographics matter, ask- If they don’t, don’t bother.
  • What are you using [product] for? -> What problem does it solve for the customer?
  • How is your life better thanks to it? -> end benefit of your product in the words of your customers, great for value proposition.
  • Which doubts and hesitations did you have before completing the purchase? Identify main sources of friction, and address them (or fix them if they’re usability problems).
  • What’s the one thing that nearly stopped you from buying from us? This is about identifying friction again, coming from a different angle.

[For more great questions check Everything You Need To Know About Designing Valuable Customer Surveys and How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business]

Putting It All Together

Once you’ve compiled the information, you’ll have to identify patterns and commonalities from the answers to the questions in the survey and interviews.

This information will help you create at least one primary persona, but if you find enough variation in the answers you can use segmentation to create multiple ones.

Personas should differ based on users goals, behaviours, and attitudes. Make sure that one is differentiated from the other in a way that heavily impacts the way you have to engage with them (this may include communication, the buying cycle, and what they’re looking for).

Simply profiling your buyers results in too many personas that can’t provide you with real guidance.

Depending on the size of your business, you can have anywhere from one to 20+ personas, but it’s worth keeping in mind that you can always start small and add more later.

Create Your Persona

To say it with Hubspot: “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers

You collected and organized data in effort to find hidden behavioural patterns, to create your persona you need to take it one step further.

It’s time to combine and interpret those data to turn a combination of common behaviours into a semi-fictional character with a face, a name and a personality.

Here’s how your persona should look like (credit to Hubspot):

Buyer Persona Hubspot

How Personas Can Impact Your Business

The most successful businesses are those who know their customers inside out and use this knowledge to inform their decisions, at any level.

That’s why, once you finalize your persona, you need to introduce it to the whole company.

Knowing what makes customers tick helps people in all departments do their jobs better.

Personas can help:

  • Copywriters craft better messages
  • Marketers create a more personalized content offer (for that you can use a Content Marketing Matrix)
  • Sales reps conduct more effective sales call
  • Customer support reps be more proactive
  • Product teams optimize the the product

and much, much more.

A series of little tweaks and optimisations which will impact your business for the better.

Negative Personas

As a final note on this topic, you may also want to give “negative personas” some thought.

While buyer personas represent your ideal customers, a negative persona is a “representation of customers you don’t want to attract” (Hubspot).

One of the golden rules of business is being laser focused in engaging and satisfying your target customers, and negative personas can help you in such a task.

An example of customers you may not want to target are those who are too ‘early stage’ to actually make use of your product. They are likely to be too expensive to acquire and maintain.


Now you know:

  • What they are
  • How to build them and
  • How they can impact your business

Don’t forget that personas need to be constantly updated to fit with your organisation’s current demands, and if the size of your business increases, you can always develop more personas.

If you are reading this blog, you are probably looking for the answer to one main question: how can I leverage content marketing to scale my business?

Personas are just one of elements that compose an effective content marketing machine.

Check out this post about the “5 essential elements for a great content marketing strategy” to learn what else you have to do to drive results for your business through content marketing and subscribe to our blog for more great content on the topic.

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