When it comes to buyer personas, the expression “if it were only that simple” certainly applies. There has been an abundance of advice on how to create buyer personas – simply. In the past two years alone, there have been numerous articles, postings, books, and templates on how to create buyer personas. Many professed buyer persona experts each promising simple steps towards creating buyer personas.
When I first launched the concept of buyer personas in 2001, the worry then was helping marketing and sales executives to understand what was behind the development of personas. And, how to get past looking at the picture of a buyer persona and into absorbing the relevant buyer insights buyer personas are meant to convey.
In a twist of irony today, my concerns are still valid today as they were when I first launched buyer personas.
Attractive Simplicity To Logic
There is an attractive simplicity to the premise that if we give buyers the information they want, then they will digest it and be able to make informed choices. Of course, the hope being that the marketer’s products or solutions are the logical right choice.
With the content marketing movement still ablaze, it is important to realize today, as in the days buyer personas were founded, buyer decision-making is not just about logical content and information. It also helps to explain, to some degree, why in surveys on content marketing effectiveness, none has pushed past thirty-nine percent (39%) of marketers believing content marketing was effective.
This logic-based perspective has also been applied to buyer personas. Or, more accurately, buyer profiling mislabeled as buyer personas. Implying, from an old product marketing perspective, that if we understand rationally buyer initiatives, objections, buying criteria, buying process, and other sales-related intelligence, then we can give buyers the right content they need to make a logical choice.
We know from various studies done in the social sciences in the past forty years, as well as from fifteen plus years of my being involved with personas, the trio of users/buyers/customers makes decisions based on much more than just content or information. Nor are decisions today based just on logic alone.
The Mind Of The Buyer Is Not Logical
When you shine lenses of goals and goal-directed behaviors on buyer decisions, they begin to shine a light on why a majority of marketing programs are not effective today. These same lenses, however, can also help guide more effective marketing approaches. What the study of goals and goal-directed behaviors has brought to the understanding of buyers is important insights into how and why buyers make choices.
An important distinction made in the fields of understanding buying behaviors through these lenses is buyers rarely make decisions in a mutually independent logical manner. One important distinction is buyer decisions are usually filled with nuances related to the context of their environments and the often-unarticulated thinking residing in the subconscious.
Yes, the above are social sciences-laced mouthful statements! Simply put, buyers have a whole lot of thinking going on in their heads. What buyers say and what buyers think can be vastly different. Meaning, buyer decisions (especially in B2B) are rarely, if ever, made in a logical or deliberate manner. Yet marketers are still relying on logic-based and deliberate sales-related information such as initiatives, product criteria, buying criteria, success or risk factors, and concrete–staged buying processes. Confusing informational criteria factors, such as “easy to use”, as buyer insight. Spending enormous amounts of dollars on messages speaking to these – with very mixed results.
These mixed results have something in common. Which is, buyers are commonly subjected to information about the superiority of one product or service over another. Often, complete with an argument on how this perceived superiority addressees logic-based and sales-related factors. As the constant result of surveys whereby only 39% of marketers feel content is proving to be effective reveal, these messages do not necessarily result in action.
A New Strategic Marketing Perspective
Much of marketing and sales through the past few decades has been focused on demographics, psychographics, firmographics, and other forms of common customer profiling approaches. Thinking in terms of static needs and criteria. The discerning CMO will need to see through the recasting of these same profiling approaches as “buyer personas”, which has become more commonplace in efforts to capitalize on the increase in popularity of the term itself.
The discerning CMO, however, can achieve better marketing by adopting a new perspective regarding dynamic understanding of goals and goal-directed behaviors. Buyers will hold layers of goals, articulated and unarticulated, that influences the behaviors and activities they engage in. Understanding which of these goals is active, in the minds of buyers, helps in understanding the information buyers will pay attention to and ultimately the choices they make.
It has been recognized, through a deep body of research and works on buying behaviors, that the pursuit of a choice or choices is largely goal-directed. In fact, user personas and buyer personas are very much foundational to as well as derivatives of research done on goals and goal-directed behaviors for the past few decades. What this means is if organizations only attempt to reach buyers on static informational factors, as mentioned above, their messages will fall on deaf ears or be a part of a chorus all competitors are singing.
CMOs can achieve better marketing if their buyer personas are authentically goal-directed. Working with buyer profiles, miscast as buyer personas, that are merely a redundant facsimile of information or intelligence sales and product marketing has been gathering for years is wasteful. Thus, I get why some CMOs, not yet fully understanding the true origins of buyer personas lies in goals and goal-directed behaviors, have found misdefined buyer personas to be a waste of resources.
What can CMOs take away from this and how can they achieve better marketing with buyer personas? Here are a few pointers:
- Deploy the right qualitative buyer persona research to gain deep understanding of goals and goal-directed behaviors; do not confuse goals, however, as objectives, criteria, or initiatives – these are static logic-based intelligence
- Learn how different types of goals are shaping and influencing the activities and choices buyers make
- Use buyer persona research to go deeper and beyond facts-based and logic-based intelligence (buyer profiling) commonly redundant with sales and product marketing
- Ensure the outcomes of buyer personas are targeted towards understanding several layers of human goals and the influences they have on buyer behaviors
- Rethink marketing communications from that of addressing strictly logic-based factors but addressing often unarticulated goals, goal-directed behaviors, and beliefs tied to goals
- Design marketing communications that influences and activates positive goals in the minds of buyers as well as sparks goal-directed actions
This new perspective on understanding buyers for CMOs is important for developing a common portrait of customers and buyers. One that can be used to help to make informed decisions about the modern buyer as well as modern strategic marketing.
And, these approaches just may well be what you and your organization may need to break through the seemingly impenetrable thirty-nine percent barrier.
(What follows is a short video where Nobel-Prize Winning Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, one of the world’s most renowned researcher on goals, talks about how goals can influence personal satisfaction and happiness. Listen, learn, and enjoy.)
(Photo Credit: Franco Coluzzi – People In Portrait)