Buyer Personas: Digital Marketing’s Secret Sauce

Trying to sell to your target e-commerce audience without a buyer persona is like seeing in the dark without a flashlight.

You have to resort to potentially wrong perceptions based on inaccurate details and guesswork. Buyer personas — also known as customer, audience, or marketing personas — although fictional, rely on research-based insights collected from prospective customers.

E-commerce and social media platforms like Amazon, Facebook, and Walmart are no different. They need to shine a light on potential buyers, so marketers are not making sales pitches in the dark.

Data-Driven Personas

Buyer personas are generalized characterizations of a type of customer. They do not represent an exact buyer because marketing to one specific person instead of marketing to groups of people with similar interests can eliminate the possibility of reaching wider audiences, according to Data Hawk Head of Marketing Raphaël Menesclou.

DataHawk provides sellers with purpose-built tools to access to 21 Amazon marketplaces around the world. The benefit is a gateway for e-commerce players to no longer try selling in the dark.

Why is data needed to create buyer personas? Creating one without data is like answering a specific question without basing such responses on research, he replied. The result is inaccurate and speculative at best.

“Data is used to substantiate claims. In today’s digital age, data is woven into the fabric of our daily lives. Mostly everything we do leaves behind a digital footprint, and these footprints can be very telling of our behavior,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

By examining such behaviors through data, sellers can target consumers more effectively, he added.

Buyer Persona Beginnings

No, tapping into buyer personas is not some crazy new digital innovation spawned by the latest software tracking mechanisms online. However, the ability of websites to track your every move, gather your financial details, and sell that information to database providers is a big part of the buyer persona picture.

The first buyer persona was called Kathy and was created by software engineer and design consultant Alan Cooper in the late 1990s. Cooper is widely regarded for his books on hypothetical archetypes as a practical interaction design tool.

Kathy was a tool used for design thinking back in the day when software and applications were notoriously difficult to use. The software was burdened with problems related to how a typical user would most frequently interact with it. Cooper worked out those kinks and later succeeded in defining a new product category.

Avoiding Mixed Results

Building personas that trigger shoppers’ accurate responses depends on the type of research that marketers conduct. Personas can be accurate, but they can also be flawed, noted Menesclou.

For example, knowing the kind of shopping behavior of a potential customer is a clue for recognizing when in their customer journey shoppers will be most receptive to buying. It takes extensive qualitative research for marketing teams to successfully curate marketing and advertising strategies to accommodate a particular buyer persona’s shopping behavior.

Accurate research must link up with key persona factors, Menesclou offered. Some of the factors used to create a buyer persona include name, demographic details, interests, goals, pain points, and personality type.

“All of which can influence your marketing strategy,” he said.

Marketers get this information by collecting data through quantitative and qualitative research about existing and prospective customers. The best way to get these insights is through surveys, focus groups, and interviews.

Less Is More

The same customer can be targeted with multiple personas. But more is not necessarily better.

“It is more advantageous to create fewer well-researched personas than multiple broad ones. Ultimately, creating too many buyer personas can cause you to dilute your messaging and lose focus on your initial marketing strategy, explained Menesclou.

Multiple buyer personas are not the only mitigating situation marketers must consider. Personas might differ for the same customer on Amazon versus Walmart marketplaces, for instance.

Studies have shown that the demographics of the average Walmart and Amazon buyer do not differ much and that perhaps the only difference between the two would be a question of income level, he offered.

“It is possible to do too much segmentation when creating a buyer persona for Amazon and one for Walmart,” Menesclou continued.

For example, a buyer persona divided into several segments can potentially ignore other consumers who fall into a similar persona.

How Personas Work

Buyer personas work as marketing tools in the sense that they allow marketing teams to understand their target audience better and subsequently promote to them accordingly. They keep you focused on addressing your customers’ buying priorities instead of your own selling goals.

What drives the personas? The marketer builds a detailed description of someone representing the target audience based on deep research of existing buyers or desired audience.

They help you to align your ad content to the right influencers. They show you how to segment your emails or newsletters, plan the timing of your advertising campaigns, and not waste energy marketing to unqualified prospects.

In essence, buyer personas help brands target customers who are more likely to buy their product, according to Ethan McAfee, founder and CEO of Amify, an Amazon-as-a-service platform.

“For example, if a brand knows you live in California and are 15 to 40 years old, you are much more likely to buy a surfboard than someone living in the Midwest and 70 years old,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Knowing your name or email address enables brands to combine that data to get a wealth of data about where you live, how much you make, if you have kids, and many other statistics that help them narrow down who might buy their product, McAfee explained.

With all this information, they can target customers who are five times, 10 times, or even 100 times more likely to buy their product.

“This is very effective advertising for brands,” he said.

Custom Recommendations

Buyer personas are a primary marketing method for outlets such as Amazon and other online marketplaces, McAfee agreed. For instance, Amazon and Facebook — along with a host of other marketplaces — use buyer personas to target which ads you see on websites.

“Most of us have likely seen an advertisement on the web that recommends certain items to you. Those recommendations are different for each person based on the buyer persona,” he offered.

One person might get a product recommendation for hockey equipment on Amazon. Another person from the same household logged onto a separate Amazon account might get one for a clothing item. That happens because Amazon knows your interests.

Persona software and platform developers drive the process of creating buyer personas through research. But you can find ample sources online that guide you through the process and provide some software support and support materials.

“While there are very sophisticated and expensive software systems you can use to create buyer personas, Facebook and other platforms are trying to make this as easy as possible for you to create and spend money. For instance, if I was an owner of a yoga studio, I could zip code target people in my neighborhood that meet buyer personas that would more likely go to my studio,” he explained.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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