How well do you know your ideal customer?
What makes them tick? Or rather, what gets them to click and buy your products?
As a consumer, there’s no better feeling than finding a product perfectly made for you. As a business owner, creating that feeling is one of the best things you can do for your business. When a customer feels like a product is a perfect fit, they’re more likely to share it with others, pay a premium, and be more patient with imperfections.
Of course, no product is actually designed for a single person. But many of the best products feel that way because they are designed for—and marketed to—a buyer persona.
Table of contents
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona is a fictionalized characterization of your ideal customer(s) based on information about them and how they use your product or service.
Buyer personas are usually presented as a quick summary of demographic and psychographic information with a fake name and (stock photo) face, making it easier to recall and reference the persona in your decision-making process.
These descriptions mirror your various market segments, with names to match the different types of buyers. You might have Stylish Sally, Practical Polly, and Discount Daphne as personas in your clothing business, all representing different categories of buyers with similar backgrounds and habits.
In this case, Sally might be primarily concerned with looking snazzy at any cost, while Polly is focused on finding more functional, long-lasting outfits, and Daphne only buys when there’s a great sale, but is great for clearing out last season’s merchandise.
But personas are more than just clever names. They provide a description that helps you attract more buyers by personalizing your marketing messaging to attract them.
Personas help you better understand what your customers are:
- Concerned about
Most businesses have multiple buyer personas that they sell to, but there’s no need to go overboard in developing dozens. Start small and expand as you differentiate among your various customer types. One to five personas should be plenty to begin with.
Buyer persona vs target market
A buyer persona is not a target market (sometimes called a target audience or customer). Target markets are large groups of people, typically defined by wide demographic or audience segments. For example, a company selling yoga accessories might say, “Our target market is women aged 35 to 45, in urban areas, who love yoga.”
A buyer persona for this, meanwhile, would be more specific and descriptive: “Our buyer persona is Evelyn. She is a 39-year-old engineer living in Austin. She’s been going to her local yoga studio for eight years, but now that she works remotely, she’s looking for ways to practice while she travels.”
Just as you want to identify buyer personas you hope to attract, you may also come across customer types you do not want to cater to.
Negative personas are buyers who waste your time and resources with no intention to buy or a low possibility of buying. These personas might include, for example, Questioning Quinn, who peppers you with questions about how things fit, your return policy, and whether you can hold something for her, when, in the end, she doesn’t buy anyway.
Or Returning Rachel, who will buy lots of outfits and returns them right before the return period is up. (You suspect she wears the pieces, too, making them harder for you to resell.)
Negative personas reduce your company’s profitability and interfere with your ability to serve your ideal customers. So, you’ll want to keep them in mind as you craft your marketing messaging.
Why create buyer personas?
Buyer personas give you a deeper insight into your customers, what makes them tick, and how they shop, so you can deliver relevant marketing campaigns. Understanding who your audience is, including detailed demographic data (like age and location) and psychographic data (like interests and buying motivations), helps you tailor your content, tweak your messaging, and develop products that will be a hit.
As the internet continues to become more crowded, marketing is less about making the most noise and more about saying the right things to the right people at the right time.
Buyer personas are an easy-to-reference resource for you, your team, and any external people you work with, so you can all be on the same page.
The benefits of buyer personas
A detailed buyer persona allows you to:
Be more intentional with your ad targeting
New customer targeting tools have enabled businesses to run tailored campaigns based on an ever-growing list of various demographic and psychographic traits.
Paid advertising now allows for an incredible degree of advanced targeting based on information like location, age, language, education level, and interests, which you can include, exclude, and layer on top of one another to show ads to a specific audience—even with a small budget and a new online store.
Create more clarity and focus
Creating buyer personas helps businesses talk about their customers with more clarity and focus. By distilling what they know about their customer into a single person, they create a shared understanding of the real people they’re serving.
Often, this becomes part of a business’s internal language. For example, a buyer persona might help a yoga company shift from “How do we reach more women who love yoga?” to the more nuanced “How do we reach more people like Evelyn?”
Prioritize the marketing channels that matter
A common trap in marketing is to try to be everywhere, spreading yourself and your resources thin across several channels. When your buyer persona indicates where your target customer spends their time, it’s easier to determine which channels to focus on and—more importantly—which channels not to focus on.
Ensure your copywriting, design, and content resonate with your audience
When you know who your audience is, you can write sharper headlines, feature imagery your customers see themselves in, and produce content they’ll find helpful, entertaining, or inspiring.
Couple that with the ability to target your audience based on traits like where they live, what industry they work in, and what type of entertainment they enjoy, and you increase the chances your brand reaches and resonates with the right people.
Help teams make quicker, more impactful decisions
The research you do to understand your customer shouldn’t live in a single person’s head or be spread across several lengthy docs. A buyer persona profile consolidates all the need-to-know information about your target customer into a page or two. You want it to be useful to everyone in your business—from marketing to support—who has to interact with your customers.
For example, support teams can now anticipate barriers to purchase, like a prerequisite for using the product or a secondary language that needs to be incorporated to reduce customer pain points.
Note: Your customer personas will evolve over time
When you’re creating personas for a brand-new business, much of your buyer persona may be based on broad market and industry research, supplemented by personal thoughts, feelings, and hunches. As you learn more, don’t forget to go back and continually refine your buyer personas with new insights and feedback as you interact with customers over time.
How to build a buyer persona in 8 steps
1. Interview your current customers
Creating a buyer persona should always start with customer research. If your business is already selling products, you can begin by interviewing or surveying your existing happy customers. This is an important step—don’t skip it. You might have theories about who your customers are and why they buy, but until you hear it from them, you can’t know for sure.
There are plenty of things you could ask these customers to create a robust persona. But there are four questions you absolutely need to ask in a persona interview:
- Why did you buy our product? This will give you information that you’ll use to fill out the “buys for” category and explain the reasoning for making a purchase.
- What alternatives did you choose us over and why? It’s crucial here to ask for alternatives, not competitors. Often when it comes to a purchasing decision, the true alternative won’t be a competitor at all, but a DIY option or a completely different type of product to solve the problem. For example, Evelyn’s alternative to buying another yoga accessory might be spending that money on equipment rental at her studio, or on a yoga retreat.
- Where did you look for information when making this decision? This will help you understand the persona’s “research channels” and ultimately inform where you prioritize your marketing spend.
- Why did you buy this now, as opposed to earlier or later? This will help you understand the critical moments in a customer journey that catalyze a purchase, known as the “buying moment.”
All of these questions are about the customer’s purchasing journey, not just about their broad interests, goals, and other products they buy. Although that type of customer data is useful, it can also be found in market research (see step 2, below). The most important job of a buyer persona is to give clarity on how your business can specifically serve this person.
If you aren’t yet selling, aim to interview customers of products that you feel you’d be competing with. Be wary of interviewing “potential customers”—people who say they “would” buy your product once you launch it—as the only useful customers are the ones who have actually bought something.
When doing this exercise for the first time, aim to talk to five to 10 customers one on one; if that’s not possible, survey at least 20.
2. Gather more general data on your audience
Once you’ve completed your customer research, you can supplement it with industry-level research. Review the audience data available on your website or social media platforms, review industry or market research, and review the types of people your competitors showcase. This can help round out your knowledge of their interests, goals, and overall lifestyle.
3. Define broad buyer personas
After your customer interviews and industry research, you should be able to start identifying your key personas. You should notice patterns and similarities between customers, including their interests, purchasing behavior, and characteristics.
Start by being as broad as possible before drilling down into specifics. Most businesses have multiple buyer personas, so feel free to separate distinct customer types into their individual profiles.
As an example, say you start a fictitious online business that sells dog food, called Sally’s Dog Food. Because you manufacture your own dog food, you can assume two potential customer groups from the jump:
- End customers. People who might buy dog food for their own pets.
- Wholesale accounts. Businesses that may want to sell dog food in their own retail and online stores.
Now that you have two broad buying groups, break them down further.
Depending on the type of product you’re selling, you may break down your personas differently. However, in this particular case, you will divide the customer groups into two distinct personas for each type:
- Dog owners who want to buy kibble for their canine companions
- Veterinarians who stock and sell dog food for their clients
Now that you have all of your initial buyer personas broadly defined, it’s time to identify key details about them.
4. Identify useful details about your buyer personas
There are a lot of ways to approach customer research, but stick to intel you’d actually use to make business decisions. You don’t need to know a customer’s favorite color or what they order at Starbucks to sell dog food.
Since Facebook is one of the largest ad networks, it has a lot of audience targeting capabilities that can be mapped one-to-one with your ideal customer profile. This makes Facebook ads a great place to look for customer persona demographics and psychographics to define.
Here are some of the most common traits included in buyer persona profiles:
- Location: Where do they live?
- Age: What is their general age range?
- Gender: What is the most likely gender of this customer?
- Interests: What interests and hobbies are relevant to your product?
- Education: What is the education level of this persona? If relevant, what did they study in school?
- Job title: What’s their field of work, and what job titles do they have?
- Income: What is the income range and purchasing power of this persona?
- Relationship status: Are they single or married?
- Language: What languages do people in this persona speak?
- Favorite websites: What websites related to your products do they frequent?
- Buying motivations: What is their primary reason for buying your products?
- Buying concerns: What might keep them from buying your products?
Keep in mind you don’t need to answer all of these questions about each of your personas. You may even opt to answer different questions altogether. The goal is to understand your customers so you can communicate with them more effectively.
5. Research your buyer personas
Once you have a core collection of two to three key personas, it’s time for a second research phase. Unlike the first research phase, where you might have interviewed customers and conducted broad industry research, this type of research should tell you more about the personas you’ve identified.
This is less about identifying patterns and more about understanding the buying motivations and psychographic tendencies of customers you know you want to target.
Data can be a treasure trove of insights about your customers, and the best part of it is the more customers you have, the better your data becomes. But there is also value in hearing about your customers’ preferences from your customers themselves.
Here are some great places to look for insights about your ideal customer.
Your own analytics
If you use analytics tools like Shopify Analytics Dashboard or Google Analytics, you can find really cool metrics and information, like what languages your customers speak, which browsers they use, how they found your store, their ages, and genders, whether they’re first-time or returning visitors, how often they visit your site, how much time they spend on it, and even what devices they use.
With Shopify apps like Shop Sense, you can also generate specific personas for individual buyers based on what they browse, search for, and purchase on your website.
If you’ve been selling on Facebook and growing an audience there, Facebook Audiences can be a great place to conduct audience research.
Beyond analyzing your existing following using this tool, it’s useful for building prospective audiences and getting a more detailed picture of their demographic and psychographic profile.
Another method to help you fill in the blanks of your buyer persona is looking at established competitors, especially if you’re still early in your business.
SimilarWeb is a free tool you can use to analyze the traffic of your competitors to understand their audience.
Market Explorer by SEMRush is a paid option that allows you to study the top businesses in your related industry and learn about the types of users that interact with your competitors.
You can also try visiting your competitors’ blogs and social media pages. Dive into the people who are commenting and interacting with their posts. You can also click through to their profiles and learn a lot about them.
Surveys and customer feedback
Quantitative insights are always nice, but to understand your persona’s psychographics, your best bet is to talk to your existing customers.
The most effective way to do this research at scale is to survey your target market with a tool like Survey Monkey or hop on a call with prospective customers.
Since they’ve already purchased from you, understanding what motivated them to purchase and their biggest concerns can help you effectively communicate with people similar to them.
Customer surveys are an excellent way to ask more in-depth questions and get into the minds of your existing customers. Apps like Fairing let you send out post-purchase surveys to your customers.
You can even reward users with incentives like free shipping or gift cards to encourage more people to fill out the surveys. This approach works really well with questions that dig into customer buying motivations, such as “Would you recommend this business to a friend? If so, why?”
Who knows more about your customers than the people who interact with them the most? If you manage a team, talking to the support or sales team about customer pain points, goals, and common behaviors can give you info about your customers closest to the point of purchase.
The majority of customer support tools store a conversation log and collect customer satisfaction ratings. Digging through support conversations and identifying pain points and patterns with your customers can lead to crucial persona information, especially when it comes to identifying barriers or challenges customers are experiencing.
6. Bring it all together into a buyer persona profile
Armed with quantitative and qualitative research and the details you want to prioritize in your profile, you’re ready to pull it all together and bring it to life.
You can download the free persona template to organize the information you’ve gathered.
You'll see the example of Sally’s Dog Food, but fill yours in with what you anticipate your ideal buyer might be and what traits you need to cover.
7. Gut-check your personas
When you’re done, you’ll have a buyer persona. However, there is one more important gut check. Go back to your list of customers that you’ve spoken with and ask yourself: Does the persona you’ve created represent at least some of them? And are they the types of customers you think you can best serve? If so, your persona is ready.
8. Translate your buyer persona into business decisions
With a defined buyer persona you can power marketing decisions with your ideal customer in mind.
Here’s an example of a persona called Chloe the veterinarian. You can translate the buyer persona into specific marketing tactics like:
- Targeting audiences who list “veterinarian” as their job title on Facebook, or tapping into the alumni networks for big veterinarian schools
- Focusing on building a presence and posting content suited for Instagram and TikTok
- Deprioritizing LinkedIn, even though it is a popular channel for selling to other businesses
- Identifying expansion signals like opening up new locations that require new inventory as an opportunity to be relevant to Chloe
- Creating comparison pages or sales collateral to show how the brand comes out on top against competitors when it comes to “quality for price”
- Looking up a directory of veterinary clinics in the area and cold calling them or dropping in with samples.
As you can see, not only does the buyer persona help you prioritize channels and tactics, but it also tells us how to effectively communicate with your ideal customer.
Use a buyer persona template
Using a buyer persona template can save time when it comes to creating profiles and ensure you’re including the right information for each persona.
Here are some key data points to use in your templates with an example of how you might answer them, using the example of Chloe the vet again).
Name: Chloe the Veterinarian
Age: 30 years old
Lives in: US
Education: Undergraduate degree
Relationship Status: Single
Job: Veterinarian, owns her own storefront
Role in purchase decision: Makes all purchasing decisions
Biggest challenge: Finding quality dog food to sell at a great price for both her and her clients
Aspirations: Wants to open up a new location within the next year
Online behavior: Spends time on Instagram and TikTok but dislikes LinkedIn
Favorite brands: BarkBox and Whole Foods
Content consumption: Video content (especially cute dog and cat videos 🐱🐶)
You can give your persona a name and assign it a stock photo so the attributes come to life, but the details are what matter most.
This template is just a starting point—add any additional categories you need. Depending on your business, you could have as few as one or two personas, or as many as 10.
The amazing part is even though you went in-depth with one buyer persona, there are thousands of “Chloe the Veterinarian” customers out there you can now market to more effectively because you’ve spent the time to get to know them.
Three buyer persona examples
Buyer personas can take many forms, the most essential of which is a “one-pager”—a single document that captures all the relevant information about them. The examples below present three specific personas with all the key details needed in a buyer persona, based on customer interviews and market/industry research.
Example 1: Online yoga accessories store
This is the example provided above, rounded out into its full form:
- Name: Evelyn Burns
- Picture: (Picture of Evelyn, typically a stock photo)
- Age: 39
- Job title: Engineer at a mid-size technology company
- Lives in: Central Austin
- Income: $140,000 per year
- Family status: Common law with her partner of nine years; no kids; one dog
- Media habits: Podcasts from industry leaders/influencers; Facebook (only groups); Instagram
- Buys for: Brand loyalty/connection; wide selection of products
- Buying frustrations: Reliability for regular use
- Research channels: Recommendations from yoga instructors; Instagram; Google
- Alternatives: Continuing to use existing yoga accessories (i.e., “Do I really need to buy a new one?”); Accessories sold at her studio or endorsed by her instructors online
- Buying moment: A new year or before a retreat
- Virtual shelf: Lululemon mat; Peloton; hiking gear from MEC (in other words, the other products and brands that Evelyn is already interested in or uses)
Example 2: Local juice and smoothie bar
For businesses with brick-and-mortar locations in particular, developing a persona can be helpful in unearthing how your product fits into their daily routines:
- Name: Josh Burnbaum
- Picture: (Picture of Josh, typically a stock photo)
- Age: 28
- Job title: Brand manager
- Lives in: Mission District of San Francisco
- Income: $87,000 per year
- Family status: Single, dating
- Media habits: Instagram; BeReal; group chats
- Buys for: Sense of community and desire to buy local
- Buying frustrations: Juices/smoothies with surprisingly high calories; plus cost of ordering regularly (“If I could afford it, I’d be here every day”)
- Research channels: Google Maps (checks stars; wouldn’t go somewhere with less than 4.5); recommendations from friends
- Alternatives: The other juice bar on Grant Street; making juice/smoothies at home
- Buying moment: Before or after work; before or after the gym
- Virtual shelf: Rainbow Grocery; Equinox; Sweetgreen
Example 3: Project management tool
For B2B companies, you’ll add one extra layer: “Buying role.” In a company, most decisions involve more than one person, so this helps account for this person’s overall buying journey.
- Name: Alison Johnson
- Picture: (Picture of Alison, typically a stock photo)
- Age: 36
- Job title: Senior project manager at a web development agency
- Lives in: Hartford, Connecticut (works remotely)
- Income: $105,000 per year
- Family status: Married, two young children
- Media habits: The Daily podcast; two Substack subscriptions; HBO Max
- Buying Role: Decision maker
- Reports to: VP of operations
- Also Involved: Other project managers (stakeholders and end users); CEO (budget approval); web developers (end users)
- Buys for: Peace of mind that the tools can match her team’s process
- Buying frustrations: Most project management tools aren’t flexible enough to match her company’s bespoke processes
- Research channels: Google; Trust Pilot
- Alternatives: Current tool (Trello); upmarket alternatives (Jira)
- Buying moment: After annual budget is approved
- Virtual shelf: Slack; G Suite; lots of detailed spreadsheets
Buyer personas lead to more focused businesses
Your buyer personas will likely change as you learn new information about your customers, and you may even discover entirely new buyer personas as your audience grows.
With up-to-date buyer personas, decisions about who to target and how to communicate with them become easier for your team. When you use personas you can expect increased engagement on your social media channels and a greater return on investment (ROI) for your online ads.
Taking the time to define your buyer personas can help your business succeed by understanding the customers most likely to buy from you.
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Buyer persona FAQ
What are the 4 types of buyer personas?
Most buyer personas fall into one of four categories:
- Spontaneous buyers. Makes decisions quickly based on emotion.
- Methodical buyers. Reads the fine print and looks for all the details.
- Humanistic buyers. Uses emotion to make decisions slowly and carefully.
- Competitive buyers. Waits until the last minute before buying.
What is an example of a customer buyer persona?
Here’s an example of a customer buyer persona for a yoga accessories brand: “Our buyer persona is Evelyn. She is a 39-year-old engineer living in Austin. She’s been going to her local yoga studio for eight years, but now that she works remotely, she’s looking for ways to practice while she travels.”
How do you build buyer personas?
- Identify your target audience: Before you begin creating your buyer persona, you need to identify who your target audience is. Think about who you’re trying to reach and what their needs and desires are.
- Research your target audience: Once you have identified your target audience, you need to conduct research to gain a better understanding of them. Talk to current customers and potential customers, visit forums and blogs, and look at industry and competitor data.
- Create a profile: Using the data you have collected, create a profile that describes your ideal customer. This should include demographic information, such as age, gender, and occupation, as well as psychographic information, such as values, interests, and goals.
- Identify challenges and pain points: Identify the challenges and pain points that your ideal customer experiences. This will help you understand what motivates them and how you can best serve them.
- Develop a persona: Using the information you have gathered, develop a persona that represents your ideal customer. Give them a name, a photo, and a backstory. This will help you visualize them and create marketing messages that resonate with them.