What buyer personas are vs. what they aren’t

What buyer personas are vs. what they aren’t

As seems to be a semi-regular occurrence, it was when I was writing a post on a different topic for the blog that I discovered (with surprise) that we didn’t have a blog post on this particular topic. We have referred to buyer personas a fair few times, but we’ve never actually gone into detail on the topic of what they actually are and why they’re important in inbound marketing.

…I really should be better at following my own advice about content marketing.
Buyer personas are a very important piece of the inbound marketing puzzle. When we embark on an inbound marketing project with a client, buyer personas are usually the very first thing we discuss in our kick-off meeting with them. 

They are a cornerstone for generating content ideas, ensuring campaigns stay on the right track and reach the right people. But there are also traps that you can easily fall into when creating them that may limit you in terms of getting traffic and attracting your potential customers. 

With all that in mind, let’s get into what a buyer persona is – and what it is isn’t.


A buyer persona is… a snapshot of your ideal customer

A buyer persona is a profile of your ideal customer, the person most likely to be experiencing the challenges that your products or service can solve. Obviously, there are going to be multiple people who buy your products, so it’s typical for a business to have anywhere between 3 to 5 buyer personas. In some cases, it might be relevant to have more, but we’ll get into why that’s not always particularly helpful later on. There’s an absolute plethora of buyer persona templates out there for you to peruse with different questions and prompts. Here are the ones that I use most frequently:

  • Age
  • Job title(s)
  • Salary bracket
  • Education 
  • Are they an influencer or a key decision maker?
  • Industries/vertical markets (N.B. you may just have one vertical market or industry you target – that’s OK! Ignore this prompt)
  • Goals
  • Challenges
  • How they discover and learn 
  • How do they use and interact with social media?


Stepping through those questions and prompts will usually lead you to creating a good picture of your buyer. You can use the prompts to write paragraphs or just bullet points – it’s entirely up to you how much you want to flesh this out, but my personal preference is to create something easily digestible like PowerPoint slides with bullet points where you can easily pick out key details to refer to. 


A buyer persona isn’t… a profile of an actual customer

You are generalising here, so try to keep specific current or past customers out of your mind. They can of course be useful for creating the wider picture, but avoid thinking about a specific client or customer when you’re writing a persona, and definitely avoid thinking about a specific business. You’re not just straying into ABM territory there, you’re stepping brazenly into it – inbound marketing is about casting a wide net. You want to attract similar people from similar businesses, but you don’t want to make your content or messaging so specific that it only appeals to a very small group of people. 


Buyer personas are… a guideline for creating your content

When you’re thinking about buyer personas from an inbound marketing perspective, you’re basically creating a cheat sheet so you can figure out why your ideal customers might be searching or looking for when they come across your product or service. You should refer back to buyer personas when you’re planning content – use them to get in the headspace of that potential customer and think about what problems they might be having and what they might search for to overcome that challenge. 

You can then plug that into a keyword research tool like Google Ads or UberSuggest to give you some keywords and metrics so you can identify good opportunities. This then informs your content – blogs, videos, whitepapers – and keeps you on the right check ensuring you’re producing stuff which is highly relevant and helpful to your audience. 


Buyer personas aren’t… an exhaustive list of everyone who buys your products

It can be very tempting and very easy to go into granular detail with buyer personas. To think about absolutely every single permutation of job title, personality, or background of the buyer and try to create a dedicated profile for each of them. You may find yourself reading through your buyer personas and thinking “well hang on, there was that work experience kid that bought one of our products once. We need to cater for that person.” This isn’t helpful. 

Inbound marketing is about casting a wide net and qualifying or allowing people to self-qualify from there on in – if people are experiencing the symptoms of a problem, search accordingly, and come across your content, it isn’t going to matter whether you strictly had their very specific job role, experience or background in mind when you wrote it – what matters is they found your content and it’s relevant to them. Buyer personas are meant to represent and generalise your ideal customers. 


Bonus! A buyer persona isn’t… always an actual buyer

I touched on this above in my list of prompts and thought it was important to expand on slightly. Sometimes, your path to making a sale within a business doesn’t go through the person who actually ends up making the final purchasing decision. Obviously, if you can reach that person directly, then great! But realistically, particularly when dealing with SMEs, you’ll have to go through another layer before you get to the big kahuna. It’s important to consider these people when you’re creating your buyer personas. Is there a role or department you typically engage with first, who heavily influences the decision to invest in your product or service? If so, then you should absolutely create content that’s relevant to them. There’s no use shooting for the CEO if they’re never going to come across your content. 

As I alluded to earlier in this post, Inflowing have worked with many clients in many industries to put together buyer personas as part of our inbound marketing framework. If you’d like advice or guidance on buyer personas or the wider wonderful word of inbound marketing – get in touch.