As a consumer, there’s no better feeling than finding a product perfectly made for you. As a business owner, creating that feeling for your customers is one of the best things you can do for your business. When a customer feels like a product is a perfect fit for them, they’re more likely to pay more, be more patient with imperfections, and share it with others.
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.
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona, also called a customer persona, is a collection of traits (behaviors, pain points, goals, personality traits, demographic information, and more) that collectively make up a single hypothetical customer. Businesses use this hypothetical customer to represent their overall customer base when making decisions.
A buyer persona is not a target market, sometimes also 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.”
Why create buyer personas?
Buyer personas help 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. Oftentimes, this becomes part of a business’s internal language. In the example above, a buyer persona might help the 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?”
Buyer personas are primarily used by marketing teams. They can help you choose your marketing channels, messaging, and more. Moreover, buyer personas can help your sales team, product team, or customer service team make decisions as well. The yoga business’s teams might ask themselves, “What would Evelyn expect out of a refund experience?”
How to create a buyer persona
- Interview your current customers
- Gather more general data on your audience
- Summarize your findings into a single, hypothetical person
- Gut-check the persona
Any business owner or marketer can create a buyer persona by following these four 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 populate in the category of “buys for,” and explains 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 in making their 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 to show up in them.
- 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 journey toward purchasing your product, 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), and the most important job of a buyer persona is to give clarity on how your business specifically can 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—the only real customers are the ones who have actually bought something.
When doing this exercise for the first time, aim to talk to either 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 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. Summarize your findings into a single, hypothetical person
The third step is less objective and more artful: synthesizing these features into a single hypothetical person. This should involve naming, narrative-building, and motivation-creating. Write this all down on one to two pages, and think of it as a fictional character study you might give an actor playing this role in a movie about your business.
4. Gut check the persona
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.
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 FAQ
How do you write a buyer persona?
To write a buyer persona, start by conducting customer interviews and market research. Then, synthesize that knowledge into a series of organized traits. These traits include a hypothetical name, demographics (age and gender, for example), and psychographics, which is a categorization as to why customers would buy products like yours.
What is the purpose of a buyer persona?
Buyer personas help businesses better understand—and get alignment on—their customer. They can help inform marketing strategies and unearth people’s assumptions about who the marketing team should target. For example, sometimes a marketing team thinks their customer buys for peace of mind, but the sales team thinks they buy to look good to their boss. Buyer personas help everyone get on the same page.
What should be included in a buyer persona profile?
There is no “perfect” number of traits to include in a buyer persona—it will depend on your business and customer. However, at minimum, a buyer persona profile should include the following:
- Job title
- Buys for
- Buying frustrations
- Research channels