Buyer and User Personas

By Pragmatic Marketing

How to develop clarity about the ideal buyer and user.

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Volume 1 Issue 4What is the best car? What is the best movie? The answer: it depends.

"Best" depends completely on the type of person involved. Personas define the ideal profile of a potential buyer or user. A soccer mom or dad, a college student, and a construction worker all have different needs and would choose a different product as "best."

In developing products and creating market messages, product management must have clarity on the ideal user and buyer. The industry has adopted the term "persona" to refer to the ideal profiles of our customers.

In recent years, most product managers and product marketing managers have adopted the practice of creating personas to represent the types of people who buy and use their products. Personas are short descriptions or biographies of fictitious, archetypical customers. A persona definition provides clarity on your target for programming and for communication.

Sarah, the college student

One of my favorite illustrations is Sarah, the college student. She's never not had a mobile phone; she's never not had an ATM card; she's never not had a computer; she's never not had access to the Internet. In almost every way, Sarah is different from her college professors, who had none of these things when they attended college. Professors who understand this disparity can relate their topics to Sarah's college experience instead of their own. The best professors connect with the students--the best marketers do, too. See the Beloit College Mindset List for more on today's college students.

Sarah's college requirements are much different than those of the "buyer," Sarah's Mom & Dad. The buyer wants a safe environment with a minimum of parties. Sarah probably wants more parties and fewer early-morning classes.

Smart product managers are creating innovative products that address specific problems of their personas, instead of just building a glob of features and hoping they will sell. The old "perfuming the pig" approach of marketing has failed, as no amount of perfume can overcome the stench of products that people don't want. We cannot "create the need" for products people don't want to buy.

The buyer persona helps us identify the right approach for reaching those who buy. Should we use twitter, blogs, webinars, trade shows, traditional advertising? The better question is "which of these reach our buyer personas?"

Should we include a book reader, music player, or currency converter? The better question is "which feature set satisfies the user persona?"

Many programmers mistake themselves as ideal programming targets. For that matter, so do many executives, sales people, and marketing people. Employees of your company are rarely good representatives of your customers. On embracing personas, one company realized that their developers of programming tools were not representative of their users of programming tools. While both sets of developers were using Java, the vendor programmers were vastly more advanced than the customer programmers.

A typical product usually has three to five personas, people who regularly buy, use and maintain the product. You must create a persona definition for each type including a name, age, sex, technology environment, education, and job scenario. We often add personal information such as "It was a good day because…" to provide additional context.

The persona concept helps product teams focus on the specific problems of a type of customer. And the concept helps product marketing managers connect with them when they're ready to buy.

Robin, the Product Manager

What is the profile of a product manager? Based on thousands of customer experiences and armed with web stats from pragmaticmarketing.com, we've created "Robin, the product manager."

Robin is a product manager for an enterprise B2B vendor with a direct sales force. She manages all aspects of product management for three products. She is 35 years old with a college degree and some MBA classes. She earns over $100,000 a year and is eligible for a bonus based on company profit, product revenue, and personal quarterly goals. Robin is a power user of Microsoft Office. She runs Internet Explorer and Firefox on the latest version of Microsoft Windows. She has a reasonably new laptop running 1280x1024 resolution or higher. Using Microsoft Outlook, Robin sends and receives over 75 emails each day; she attends a dozen internal meetings each week. A good day is when no one from sales wants her to drop everything she's doing to help them with a deal.

With this profile, a vendor targeting product management has some very clear requirements. They can program to a high screen resolution; they must accommodate a computer not always connected to the Internet; they can see that Robin is technically savvy and is likely to prefer a product based on the "tree" metaphor (in contrast to Sarah, who does not understand hierarchal filing). The power of the profile is that it also gives permission to ignore buyers that do not fit the profile. The vendor can safely ignore Netscape, Safari, and the other browsers; they can ignore Macintosh OSX Linux, and older versions of Windows. This is not a judgment of technology; these environments are simply not statistically relevant among product managers. Every product does NOT have to accommodate every possible environment; instead, products should support and leverage the most likely environment to delight our persona.

Persona documents are not a new idea for many development teams but personas are a rather new concept for marketing and product management professionals. In recent years, the success of using personas in focusing development effort has resulted in the use of personas in marketing communications.

Buyer personas extend the idea to profiling the various buying influences in a sale. A typical sale includes a decision maker or economic buyer plus multiple technology reviewers. Most large-ticket purchases also include user buyers on the evaluation team.

Personas Jon and Cheryl

Consider a Sales Force Automation (SFA) sale: the users are Jon, the account rep (someone who sells) and Cheryl, the director of a sales region (someone who manages sales people). These two personas will use the product on a daily basis. Both are involved in the selection of a SFA tool. But Jon and Cheryl have different product requirements and different listening needs. Both want to simplify status reporting. Cheryl is interested in consolidating all territory data; Jon is opposed to it. Neither Jon nor Cheryl will make the final buying decision but are likely to influence the decision maker. The decision maker (or economic buyer) is Peter, VP of Sales. In addition, the product must pass the technical evaluation for compliance, security, and technical fit, requiring yet another persona definition for the IT buyer.

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About the Authors

  • Pragmatic Marketing

    Pragmatic Marketing, Inc. has continuously delivered thought leadership in technology product management and marketing since it was founded in 1993. Today, we provide training and present at industry events around the world, conduct the industry’s largest annual survey and produce respected publications that are read by more than 100,000 product management and marketing professionals. Our thought-leadership portfolio includes the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, eBooks, blogs, webinars, podcasts, newsletters, The Pragmatic Marketer magazine and the bestseller “Tuned In.”

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