Do Your Buyer Personas Look Like They Are From 1980?

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Tony Zambito

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An Anthropological Study of the 1980's
An Anthropological Study of the 1980’s (Photo credit: EJP Photo)

It is downright scary.  Pressure is building to come out of the recession and light a fire undergrowth.  Marketers and sellers are responding impulsively.  How?  Slipping back into a time warp of the ‘80’s.  A world filled with focus on product centers, product marketing, selling features and benefits, and the buyer was a target – which bought, not engaged.

Times Have Changed

We know market dynamics, buying behavior, and technology has changed.  Marketers and sellers are in the throes of a buyer revolution.  It is not going to end soon.  The pace of change will accelerate.  It is going in one direction.  The future.  Not back to the ‘80’s.

I listened with rapt attention to a live stream keynote given by Don E. Schultz at Content Marketing World 2013.  One of the astute marketing minds in academia.  Schultz lamented how content marketing is not new per se’.  And, how marketers have not changed much, except adopt technology while the media accessed by buyers have changed drastically.  The traditional TV advertising age is over and new media is solidifying.  Marketers are still doing much as they have – since when?  The 1980’s.

A Connection

Sliding backward is not the direction B2B organizations need to be heading right now.  The approach and thinking taken plays heavily in shaping direction.  If our approach is much like the ‘80’s, there will be a growing disparity with buyers.  This brings me to a connection, which can be made.  If our thinking and approach are much like the ‘80’s, then our thinking of buyers will be of buyers who existed in the ‘80’s.


Why is this important to acknowledge with respect to buyer personas?  The reason is if we use our research and insight gathering to target what we sought in the ‘80’s, this is what we will find.  Reviewing several buyer personas completed recently by companies illuminated this for me.  They were ripe with language and terminology as well as descriptions, which sounded like – well, from the ‘80’s!

These descriptions were similar to traditional product marketing and management as well as sales profiles – pre-Internet.  When companies focused on features, benefits, buying criteria, sales KSF’s, and etc.  The point is this: if you seek traditional product marketing and sales intelligence in your qualitative research efforts, then this is what you will find.  Your buyer personas will then be a reflection of a buyer profile from the 1980’s, and not a buyer persona of the future.  More importantly, you will not have buyer insights, but traditional product marketing and sales intelligence.

Tie Back

Let us tie back to Don E. Schultz.  Schultz message was simple.  To change and be marketers of the future, we must become very good storytellers.  What is the connection to buyer insights and buyer personas?  We cannot be good storytellers with traditional product marketing and sales intelligence.  It is only when we have enlightening as well as deep insights into buyers and their behaviors, can we manifest stories.

What To Do

Focusing on the right buyer insights leads to developing the right buyer personas.  In turn, enables the development of stories which buyers can connect to and take action.  What markets and sellers need to focus alike on are:

Buyer goals: much of buying is directed related to goal-directed behavior.  An important principle often missed when developing buyer personas.

Buyer stories: buyers have multiple ongoing stories in their environments.  What are they?

Buying scenarios: buyers usually do not have events in isolation. They have situations, dynamics, environments, and global challenges.

Buyer behavior: understanding behavior is the key to unlocking stories, as well as storytelling.   Buyers can exhibit different behaviors by markets, segments, and services.

Embedded within these are important information and intelligence.  However, intelligence alone without the deeper layers of these four contextual elements will not provide what is needed to be what Don E. Schultz stated: storytellers.

If your buyer profiles or buyer personas look and sound like the ‘80’s, then they will need reinvention to adapt to the new media consumers and buyers of today.  As the old saying goes: it is time to get with the times.

(Schedule time with me and a conversation to help you make your buyer personas relevant to today.  I am very interested in getting your thoughts and perspectives on how this can help you make content marketing and sales more effective.  Please share widely – your peers and colleagues are trying to get with the times.)

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2 thoughts on “Do Your Buyer Personas Look Like They Are From 1980?”

  1. Well said. Give buyers good reasons to be interested and engaged and they will be without you having to chase after them.

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