Buyer Personas that are Discriminating - And what you can do

Have you ever noticed that most buyer persona descriptions are discriminatory? These fictional individuals aimed at the ideal customer for your business have a name, an image, and traits that you use to exclude large groups of people. People who could have been good customers of yours if you had approached them as your ideal customer. Read what’s wrong with existing buyer persona models and how to fix it.

Buyer Personas that are discriminating- And what you can do about it - MarsConnects

Buyer Persona's that are discriminatory

Meet Judy: a 33-year-old physical therapist who drives an Opel Corsa, enjoys making YouTube videos and spends most of her free time with her 6-year-old daughter. Judy would really like to make more time for herself, but struggles with finding the balance between work and private life. She tries to schedule moments for herself, but these moments are scarce. Judy needs a way to recharge, relax and take care of herself.

Market segmentation alone doesn't tell you why someone is buying something from you

Through this description, you know Judy’s age, occupation, gender, desires, struggles and pain points. All of this information helps you fit her into a market segment and create a buyer persona, but none of this information tells you why she is buying your product. Buyer Personas typically include descriptions like Judy’s, along with other demographics and personal information.

Companies need more than standard buyer personas

For years, this information had been quite sufficient for product development and for creating marketing campaigns. But with rapidly growing markets and heightened consumer awareness, companies need to go beyond standard buyer personas to reach their target audience. If we can apply what we have learned about how people make decisions and how we as companies categorize people, we can reach customers like Judy with empathetic and effective solutions that will help her.

The influence of research on marketing activities

For many years, marketers relied on the target market segmentation defined by Wendell Smith in 1956. His definition of market segmentation was, “The adaptation of market offerings to the requirements of the consumer or user.” Smith knew that creating market segments would lead to higher consumer and user satisfaction.

Today we have much more knowledge of psychology, human behavior, economics, unconscious biases, and deeper knowledge of how to satisfy consumers. We know better now than we did in the last century how people think, rationalize and judge.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos’ Tversky’s examined heuristics and biases in 1974. They gained new insights about how people process information and how they are influenced. This research had a major impact on marketing activities: from advertising to using call-to-actions. However, the research had no influence on the creation of buyer personas, which is why they show systematic and predictable errors in business practices.

Buyer personas that are discriminatory and harmful to your customer relationships

These days we think a lot more about bias and pushing people into pigeonholes. With today’s knowledge, there are three misconceptions about the standard buyer persona that can be damaging to both your marketing and customer relationships.

Misconception 1: Your buyer persona needs a name

Most examples of buyer personas you can find on the Internet use a name, such as “Michael the Marketer” or “Bob the Builder.” Usually these are Western names of white people and depending on the job title, male or female.

Giving your buyer persona a name leaves room for bias that can have far-reaching consequences for your marketing efforts. You deliberately choose a particular persona as your best, ideal customer. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that you also unintentionally exclude people who could be a good fit for your product or service, but don’t resemble the person you’ve given a name to.

If Judy is your best-fit customer, chances are you’re looking for customers who resemble the image you’ve created of her. You then miss the opportunity to find customers who actually want to use your product or service.

People unconsciously tend to choose the familiar rather than what is unfamiliar to them. So you will automatically choose a name that seems familiar to you. But your ideal customer does not necessarily have to have a name which is familiar to you.

Solution: name personas based on segmentation data

Instead of naming your buyer persona after a person, you can name the persona after a market segment or a need. Suppose you have a sportswear store with clothing for all kinds of sports, including swimwear. To promote your swimwear, you create a buyer persona of your ideal customer: an athlete who likes to swim a lot. Then you could call your buyer persona “The Aquarists,” for example. If your target customers are in need of more leisure and relaxation, then you call them “The Unwinding Stars”, for example. In this way, you create buyer personas that are non-discriminatory.

Buyer persona focusing on function, challenges, needs and wants

In my example of a buyer persona, I have not used a name, but the job function instead. There are plenty of companies that offer services and products that are primarily of interest to people in certain functions – especially if they have mandates to purchase new products. So you can create several personas focused on various functions of interests for your company. Marketing activities targeting these functions with similar challenges, needs and desires can be very effective.

Misconception 2: Your buyer personas need a picture to be realistic

Most buyer personas include a picture. This presents the same problem as with naming: using a single headshot to represent a large group of people provides a foundation for bias in your marketing efforts.

Most buyer personas include a picture. This presents the same problem as with naming: using a single headshot to represent a large group of people provides a foundation for bias in your marketing efforts.
Your buyer persona doesn’t need a face to be realistic
A picture of the buyer persona will most likely resemble a person who represents your ideal customer. In most cases, it will not be a good representation of your entire target market.

If you had created a buyer persona of Judy, you will most likely have chosen a picture of a middle-aged, white, western woman. However, your target audience will not consist solely of middle-aged white, western women.

By using a picture, you have created an inaccurate buyer persona. Furthermore, through your buyer persona, you are unintentionally (and often unconsciously) discriminating on racial, gender, beauty, and/or age biases.

Most likely you are not racist, misogynistic or discriminating on age, but there are patterns rooted in your brains that unconsciously affect your decision making.

If you search Google for “Buyer Personas,” you’ll see what the problem is with using names and images. The lack of diversity harms a company’s growth.

Buyer Personas that are discriminating - MarsConnects

Solution: forget the picture in your buyer persona

A buyer persona that doesn’t discriminate is one without a picture. It’s one step in eliminating unconscious prejudice. Instead of using a headshot, go straight to the crucial information.

And no, don’t replace the picture with a caricature, a cartoon character or your favorite animal either, because it won’t get you any closer to your ideal customer. You’re better off focusing on the information that will align you more closely to your customers, so that your business becomes more profitable. When your marketing activities are better aligned with your target audience, you will be more effective in your communication, customer approach, product development, and sales.

Misconception 3: Buyer personas must describe character traits

Most B2B buyer personas are created to inform marketing teams and other people in the organization who have client contact, about who their customers are and to help keep promotional activities consistent. But if you use solely character traits, demographics and socio-graphic information to create your buyer personas, you are limiting your target audience and the ability to reach the right audience.

Buyer personas should tell you why people buy a product or service

The best way to resonate with your target audience is to empathize with and understand their challenges they face.

If you categorize your target audience based on characteristics such as where they live, brands they like to buy, or their daily habits, you are clustering people based on volatile characteristics.

For example, if Judy changes jobs, moves to a new city or no longer likes a brand, then suddenly she is no longer an ideal customer according to your buyer persona. But maybe she is one of your most loyal customers who still wants to buy your product or service, even though things have changed in her life.

Solution: segment by value

Instead of building your personas around demographics and character traits, build your personas based on the purpose your customers have for buying your product or service. What problem does your product or service solve for the customer?

Judy, as we know, is a mother and likes to spend time with her daughter, she regularly takes her to a park or playground and prefers to wear jeans, an easy sweater and a pair of boots. The reason she wears these clothes has nothing to do with her age, place of residence, her job as a physical therapist or her love for her child. Judy always walks in jeans in her free time because she feels comfortable wearing them, because they look good on her and because jeans are strong and easy to wash. She wears jeans because they provide her with comfort and make her feel good.

If you know how to combine the emotional psychographic information of buyer personas with the results that your product or service delivers, you can target your marketing efforts to people from all kinds of segments. Companies that market their products and services in such a way stand a good chance of attracting loyal, returning customers.

Inclusive buyer personas bring profit to your business

With good buyer personas that are non-discriminatory and that won’t make you develop a tunnel vision when it comes to reaching your ideal customer, you can build a healthy and profitable business. Focus on why customers buy your product or service and what problem it will solve for them.

Your marketing efforts will be more inclusive to a wider audience, while remaining focused and empathetic. Creating better buyer personas builds a foundation for better SEO, SEA, PR and other marketing activities that resonate with your target audience and allows your business to grow.

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