Define Buyer Personas With Research, Not Pseudoscience!

With the increase in complexity of modern marketing practices combined with the addition of technology as a fundamental pillar of the field, marketers are enlisted with more responsibility than ever yet also are under more pressure to develop time-intensive, insightful models to guide their strategy.200px-Icon_pseudoscience.svg

With this pressure in mind, it’s tempting–and often seen as inevitable–to source the information most conveniently available when developing these models. But, as we all know, the path of least resistance isn’t always the correct one.

When it comes to accumulating insights to define buyer personas and target audiences, for instance, many organizations rightfully collect that information from those who have the most direct knowledge and frequent interaction with the buyers of their products and services: the company’s sales staff and sales support team, accessed via interviews.

But the problem with this type of anecdotal information is it can be flawed by misconception, personal bias, company agendas, and other factors. When marketers engage in any type of research – especially that which will contribute to defining its strategy moving forward — they should treat any input not supported by research to be at risk of bias and misinformation, regardless of how reliable the source.

This is why, in an ideal world, any buyer persona development or refinement project should include:

  1. Research – ideally conducted by a third party – that includes quantitative data and interviews with existing and potential customers on their buying habits and behaviors;
  2. A level of skepticism towards any input, especially from internal sources, that cannot be validated by this research.

This is not to discount the valuable insight that can be provided by those within an organization that have the most direct contact with the very people being defined via persona development. Their thoughts and experiences should be harvested and serve as a foundation for the practice. It’s simply relying too much on these insights or taking them “as gospel” that can contribute to false conclusions.

Compounding this issue are marketers who are under pressure to develop and employ new strategies at a rapid pace. Often, the unintentional goal – rather than true research and discovery — becomes confirmation bias, which is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that simply confirms existing theories and practices, rather than reaching the truth.

In a sense, it’s more convenient for marketing research to affirm what’s already being done, than to set into motion a tidal change in process or strategy.

It can be frustrating and, ultimately, time-consuming to learn from persona research that you’ve been going about things the wrong way, and that many of your existing practices and models need to be overhauled. However, the consequences of the alternative – that is, building your marketing and content strategy on faulty science — will be far more costly in the long-run, in the form of unsuccessful campaigns that don’t truly resonate with your potential buyers.


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