Ad campaigns can have many purposes, but at their core, they are typically used to raise awareness, inform or inspire, or motivate people to take action. But without comprehensive research and planning, campaigns can backfire in spectacular fashion, as was demonstrated by Dolce & Gabbana’s recent video campaign controversy in China.

It’s clear that launching a marketing campaign without understanding your audience is risky business. Fortunately, technology makes the job of investigating and understanding your customers much easier.

To help inform your campaign development, you can use the information you uncover about your customers to create a buyer persona.

Buyer personas are fictional representations of customers with whom you want to build relationships. They are meant to encapsulate as much real data as possible, forming an imaginary customer profile from snippets of real-world information gathered from across the web or in person.

In the past, developing a fully fleshed out persona might have required focus groups and long-form surveys. Even then, such data would be self-reported, bringing its accuracy into question.

But today, we have heaps of data at our fingertips, which means with the right methods of investigation, we can create personas that are more science and less conjecture.

With a robust persona in hand, you can predict where and when to advertise, meeting your customers at the moments that matter, every time, and, perhaps more importantly, you can avoid alienating your customers with poorly thought out campaigns.

So what do you need to build a buyer persona that goes beyond the basics in 2020? A multitude of sources are available, but my main tips for developing a modern-day, advanced buyer persona are to:

  1. Examine your customers’ social accounts
  2. Use demographic information to uncover their media consumption habits
  3. Anticipate how your customers ask questions

Download Your Free Buyer Persona Template

The Basic Elements of Any Buyer Persona

Before you add in the advanced elements (which I’ll discuss in more detail later in the post), you’ll want to include these other essential elements in your persona. All it takes is a sheet of paper (you can make it look pretty later). Optionally, we have a downloadable worksheet available.

  1. Name – I select from easily identifiable names like “Marketing Mike,” or “Designer Daria.”
  2. Picture – Find an image to represent your ideal customer. It will help you visualize your fictional customer as a real person. Pexels and Unsplash both offer free pictures that don’t require attribution.
  3. Age – This can be an age range or an average age.
  4. Sex – If your target market is segmented by sex or gender, you’ll want to include it here.
  5. Income – You can use an income range, or an average income, or a minimum income.
  6. Location – Where does your customer live and/or work?
  7. Employment/Industry – If your ideal customer works in a specific industry or has a particular employer, include it here. You can even create separate sections to include both industry and employer.
  8. Job Title – What is your customer’s role in their industry or at their company?
  9. Frustrations – What pain points does your customer experience?
  10. Motivators – What drives your customer to continue working toward a goal each day?
  11. Goals – What do they hope to accomplish in their personal and/or professional lives?
  12. Key Personality Traits – Is your ideal customer an optimist? A pessimist? Are they messy, or are they highly organized?

If you don’t have insights yet for some of these sections, it’s okay to leave them blank for now. You may find the answers while using the advanced research tactics below.

Advanced Tactic No. 1: Sleuth Out Your Customers Using Social Media

You might be surprised at how well you can get to know your customers via social media. Investigate the public accounts of your existing customers or their lookalikes.

See if you can identify any common trends or uncover common keywords and interests, and then use this information to build your persona into a more vibrant and information-rich document.

Here is how I personally use information from specific platforms when building buyer personas:

Buyer Persona Research on Facebook

During the process of creating a persona for a client last month, I noticed common elements on their clients’ Facebook accounts. So, I added these intangible components to their persona, i.e., “Enjoys nature,” or “Likes visiting the waterfront.”

From my sleuthing, I could see that these customers portray a positive attitude to the public – but that they keep most of their world private.

By adding these atmospheric, almost subliminal elements to our advertising campaigns, we can help test our suspicions using A/B testing or multivariate testing, and perhaps build a more robust persona for the next ad campaign or quarterly promotion.

Buyer Persona Research on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is typically seen as employment or employer-based social channel, but LinkedIn accounts reveal more than employment history and educational background. Pay attention to what your leads post. See what insights you can glean from that information.

I use LinkedIn to develop our personas internally. It’s especially helpful when gathering information about our more reticent leads, the ones who avoid Facebook altogether. One lead announced their plans to attend an industry event I had not seen during my independent research. I added the conference to the persona’s list of engagements, giving the project manager new options for reaching our ideal customers.

Whether your leads reveal that they’re going to a golf tournament or an industry conference, keep this information for reference. Use it to inform your decisions on contest prizes, sponsorship plans, or to target visitors of specific websites.

Buyer Persona Research on Twitter

When your current leads reply to a post or tweet, they’re revealing their interests and opinions. You can use this information to uncover details like political affiliations, religious views, and even competitors they’re working with. You’ll see if they prefer dogs to cats (or birds to snakes).

Whatever information you uncover, include it on your persona. Even information that may not seem useful at first can help you build a well-crafted advertising campaign. As with the Facebook example above, you can select elements for your landing pages based on the common themes you uncover in your research.

Understanding your customers’ existing affiliations will help you craft messaging that resonates with your customers’ values. Conversely, it will prevent you from unintentionally alienating your audience with controversial content.

Advanced Tactic No. 2: Use Demographics to Uncover Customer Media Consumption

If you know your ideal customers’ age, gender, and income, then you are close to predicting where they spend their time online.

Use the demographics data you have and cross-reference it with traffic reports for websites and publications. You may find that you’ve been sending your advertising budget to the wrong place.

Using Website Traffic Data for Buyer Personas

Audience-behavior platform giant Quantcast measured the traffic of its top 500 tracked websites in the U.S. to find demographics patterns.

From this data, the company discovered that 40% of the audience at Jezebel.com is male, even though the tagline for the site is “Celebrity, Sex, and Fashion for Women.”

You may similarly find during your investigation that your assumptions about where to advertise are not always accurate. For this reason, I suggest using Quantcast as a starting point in your media consumption research.

While creating another buyer persona for a client, I used data from Quantcast to determine which niche websites their customers would be likeliest to visit. The client’s ideal customer was both educated and wealthy.

Based on this research, we were able to uncover Crunchbase.com, which has a substantial percentage of wealthy and educated visitors. This is helpful information to have because (depending on the rest of our research) we may want to consider targeting and testing visitors to this website in our advertising campaigns.

Using Readership Data for Buyer Personas

You can also use demographic information provided by magazine advertising departments to confirm hunches about whether your persona would be a likely subscriber to specific periodicals. For example, if you think your middle-age, high-income persona might read The Wall Street Journal based on your own perception of the newspaper, download a media kit from the website to review a breakdown of readership.

WSJ Online Readership Data

You’ll see an estimated 1.7 million readers are multi-millionaires, and that the average value of liquid assets for the reader’s household is nearly $1.4 million. You’ll also see the average WSJ reader in the U.S. is 49 years old.

From this information, you can confirm that your persona might indeed read The Wall Street Journal. Now you know where you might focus some of your marketing efforts. If your customers do fit this demographic, you can look at the rest of WSJ’s demographics data for other details to include on your persona: Most of their readers are college graduates, and nearly half of their readers earned a postgraduate degree. Most have attended a performing arts show in the past year. Readers spent about 20 days on average playing golf last year.

If you want to get to know your audience better, this information goes a long way.

Advanced Tactic No. 3: Anticipate How Your Customer Asks Questions

Understanding how your buyer asks questions is essential for both personas and for keyword research.

If you think your customer may be searching for the topic “How do I treat dry skin,” go ahead and run a search on Google. Scroll down a bit, and you’ll see a section called “People also ask.” With it, you can see other ways that people ask the same question, along with related questions.

Click on the drop-down questions, and you’ll see even more questions appear below the original suggestions.

This exercise can provide a treasure trove of suggestions for key phrases to target, and it also helps you understand the ways your customers ask questions.

Add these questions to your buyer persona under a new section called, “What they want to know,” and you’ll be better positioned to provide useful information to your real customers.

The Buyer Persona As a Fluid Document

You may find during your investigation that some of your initial assumptions were incorrect. That’s a good thing. Rather than serving as a static document, your buyer persona is meant to undergo refinement based on new information. You’ll likely add new sections I didn’t mention (Product Subscriptions, SaaS Services, Personal Hobbies, etc). Any piece of information that helps you better understand your customers, you’ll want to add to your persona. You’ll want to revisit it regularly and make changes based on new data, products and services, and platforms. Much like your real customers, your buyer persona is continually developing new interests and adopting new technologies.

Keep your personas up to date, and you’ll find that you always speak the language of your customers, which in the end is better for customers and advertisers alike.

Do you have any advanced tactics you use when developing a buyer persona? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

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