Enterprise Ecommerce / How to Sell Online

Treat Your Customers Like Humans: Build an Effective Buyer Persona Strategy

Susannah Morris / 3 min read

Is your marketing truly connecting with your customers? Are you treating them like real, live people and not just order numbers? If you’re only working with customer data –– orders, returns, etc. –– you aren’t doing as much as you could to ensure that you’re making that human connection. To create truly human (and effective) marketing strategies, you need buyer personas.

What is a buyer persona?

Buyer personas are fictional representations of your ideal customers. Well-crafted personas are more than cardboard cutouts you can throw darts at. Sure, you need basic information that gives them a shape, but there’s other information you need to gather that brings them to life and distinguishes one persona from another.

What kind of data do I need and where do I find it?

Start with the data you have about your existing customers: e.g. age, race, gender, income, their job, where they live, who/what kind of company they work for, etc.

Whatever data you’re missing, use progressive profiling to collect more demographic information here and there.

Then, discover customers’ beliefs, attitudes, lifestyles, opinions, interests, values and motivations –– all the things that make up their psychographics. The best way is to study their actual behavior. Below are the leading ways to collect additional customer behavior and lifestyle data:

  • Monitor social media. What do they like? What do they share? Who are their friends? Just be sure to recognize and account for its limitations as a research source.
  • Study what customers do on your website. Using the right software, like Google Analytics or CrazyEgg, you should be able to see what they’re reading, watching and doing. You can analyze their discovery path, what links they click on, which pages or links cause them to leave the most, what information they download, where they leave comments on products and what they say.
  • Ask your customers. Use surveys, polls, in-person focus groups and even webinars to gauge how they feel about particular topics, ideas and more.

What questions should I ask?

Not sure what to ask your customers? No problem. Here are some ideas to help get you started.

Ask your customers the following:

  • How do you find out about new products?
  • What information sources do you trust?
  • What do you find so appealing about [product category]?
  • Which people do you trust to give you reliable information about [product category]?
  • Before you buy [product category], what criteria are you looking for? How do you find that information?
  • What made you want to buy [your product]?
  • What did you hope [product category] would do? How well did it do it?
  • What’s your biggest frustration with [product category]?
  • What other topics, such as [offer related examples], would you like to learn more about?
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be? Why did you choose that place?
  • What’s your favorite [book/movie/fictional character/superhero/food/city/song] and why?

These of course are somewhat random examples, but you get the idea. Be curious about the people who buy your product — and about those who don’t. Sometimes the biggest insights come from the people who don’t buy.

With the above questions, you’ll be able to determine:

  • Where customers find new products (from friends, on social media, via a search engine, etc.), which will give you direction on where to place ads or on which social networks your brand needs a strong presence.
  • Which publications your customers read (Fashionista, Mashable, Vice, etc.), which will help determine which press outlets you want your brand mentioned in.
  • Their emotional reasonings behind why they like particular product categories (i.e. accessories or t-shirts). Keep in mind that [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]most consumers purchase not based solely on price, but on emotion as well[/inlinetweet]. Understanding the emotion behind why someone likes a particular product category can increase the effectiveness of your marketing and advertising copy.
  • Which influencers beyond their group of friends they rely on for trusted information. You can then reach out to those influencers to help build your brand.
  • The customer decision-making funnel, and use that information to create a more convenient and seamless shopping experience for your customers.
  • Which other shopping interests your customers have beyond the product categories you offer, which can help determine the product categories you include as you scale and diversify your brand.
  • Their interests beyond shopping, which can help determine prize giveaways for offers and contests.

Build the Character

It’s hard to understand someone just by reading their Twitter feed, Facebook posts or Yelp reviews. But, combined with all your other research, you can create a reasonable customer persona or doppelganger that you can add to and improve over time.

Creating the persona gives you a more realistic, 3D picture that helps to emotionally connect your customers with your brand. Here’s a free buyer persona generator you can use to help you organize the information you’ve gleaned from your research.

Now, Put it All Together

Once you have an outline of your buyer personas (yes, you typically have more than one), you can construct the narrative for your persona(s) that brings them to life. As your buyer persona becomes real to you and your team, your marketing will become more effective as your brand language speaks directly to the customer’s online shopping wants and desires.


Susannah Morris

Susannah Morris

As an emerging verticals marketing manager at HubSpot, Susannah works on ecommerce, education, media and nonprofit marketing.

View all posts by Susannah Morris
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