What is a Buyer Persona?

In the 2001-2002 timeframe, the original definition of a buyer persona was established by Tony Zambito.   The definition was born out of the first lengthy buyer persona development engagement of its kind with Reed Elsevier. 

It has stood the test of time as follows:

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, and why they make buying decisions.

A few years later, we added:

Today, we include where they buy as well as when buyers decide to buy.

Since the mid-2000s, the definition of a buyer persona described in thousands of articles, several books, numerous agencies, and other forms of marketing services has been fraught with many inaccuracies.  To help with such inaccuracies, let’s breakdown this original definition into its essential 5 core insights-based points:

Research-Based:  Fundamental to buyer personas is they are based on qualitative and ethnographic-based interviews with real people.  Buyer personas can only be developed when they are developed on the foundation of conducting buyer research.  That is, research with real buyers.

Archetypal Representations:  A buyer persona(s) represents an archetype(s) modeled from real people interviewed.  The word “fictional” has been used often to describe a buyer persona.  This is a significant inaccuracy as modeled archetypes are representative of real people.  Buyer persona archetypes should model real target buyers.  It is equally important to note that buyer personas cannot be developed or constructed on data alone. 

Goals:  Buyer persona research is centered upon the principle of understanding goals and goal-directed behaviors, choices, and decisions.  An essential research-based framework that seeks to understand the underlying motivations driving the pursuit of accomplishing a goal or set of goals.  What we seek to deeply understand are the goals of buyers and how these goals drive their decisions.

Mental Models:  Crucial to buyer personas is the empathetic understanding of being inside the mind of buyers.  We do this by attempting to understand the mental models of buyers.  Mental models helps us to understand how buyers think and the motivations behind specific thought-processes.  Creating a deeper understanding of how attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, culture, and norms affecting how goals are pursued and how decisions are affected. 

Narrative: Buyer personas should be representative of an authentic research-based narrative of your buyer’s story.  This is where we use various narrative tools to tell the who, what, how, where, when, and why of buyers.  A narrative will help you to understand the goals they are attempting to accomplish, why goals are important, and how they attempt to solve a goal-related problem or reach a specific goal.