Buyer personas are much maligned
In recent years, the buyer persona has become a key foundation stone of many a marketing strategy.
It is, however, not without its haters. For a while now there has been a Prince Charles vs Ozzy Osbourne meme doing the rounds. The whole point was a bit of a gentle kick in the ribs of the buyer persona.
Charlie and Ozzy have lived slightly different lives despite their apparent similarities. Does this mean game over for the buyer persona?
The reports of the death of the buyer persona are greatly exaggerated
Let’s not junk the persona quite yet. The bit that is being ridiculed is the physical descriptors – male, in their 70’s, married with kids etc. And here’s the thing, I believe that this is the bit of the persona which matters the least. It is just window dressing.
The information gleaned from the persona which is usable for a marketer is not the descriptor of the person themselves but the narrative around tasks, challenges, goals and influencers.
So yes, while Charlie and Ozzy are both born in 1948 and have kids, if you compare the two from the point of view of their life experiences, the challenges they’ve been presented with and how they overcame them, the story becomes pretty different. Let’s face it, Ozzy in his heyday would have had little in common with Charlie. (But I would have loved to have been there for that conversation).
How you use it counts
A usable persona is the one which goes beyond the physical description. This makes sense because our task as marketers is to take a walk in our buyers’ shoes and understand what it is they are seeking to do.
Once we understand their world then we are only a step away from building the story of how we can help them.
But what if we have taken that walk and still cannot help them? What if the there is a yawning chasm between what we do and what they need?
There could be all the understanding of the buyer in the world but if your product or service isn’t something they actually need, then it’s fairly unlikely they are going to buy it.
Houston, we have a problem, a product market fit problem
The point is this. Without a product market fit, we are going nowhere. What is product market fit? Well, there are plenty of definitions all over the web but a pretty neat description can be found over at delighted.com, describing it as ‘the ability of a product to satisfy the needs of a good market.’
With a product market fit you should have no problem at all answering questions along the lines of where is the prospect experiencing pain, where does the prospect want to gain, AND where your product can help.
If your product can help relieve those pains and/or speed up those gains then happy days, we have a solid foundation.
But we cannot answer those questions unless we have the understanding of the buyer in the first place. So good news for buyer persona fans, they still have a role to play.
Understanding the buyer is the first step to establishing if there is a good product market fit. And the stronger the product market fit, the better the chances of commercial success.
We’ve established that the buyer persona has a role to play in helping understand if there is product market fit. What practical steps can we take to see if we have the right ingredients?
Here’s the basic process:
- Identify the target customer
- Create the buyer persona
- Tease out the greatest pains and the biggest potential gains for your target customer
- Understand what it is you can offer as a Value Proposition
Are you nodding along while reading this?
Value Proposition, what’s that then?
The value proposition is the expression of how you are going to stand out from the crowd and face up to the competition. The market might be full of similar products or services. The value proposition is tasked with answering the question – what is it that makes your product the right choice?
We’ve now got three constituent parts. Buyer persona, product market fit and value proposition. How can we get these to stitch together in a meaningful way? How can we move from marketing theory to actually getting stuff done?
I am a big fan of the work done by Strategyzer. (I highly recommend their book: Value Proposition Design)
Within all the good stuff from Strategyzer, the most relevant to the discussion here is the Value Proposition Canvas. This is the ideal method to pull together the buyer persona, product market fit and value proposition.
The key point here is the buyer persona aspects, ‘the customer profile,’ is much more weighted to the tasks, challenges and goals of the customer and less interested in demographics, age etc.
The output of this process is an understanding of the customer, the product and services and where the two fit to either relieve pains or create gains. It makes it explicit what matters to customers and where to focus marketing messaging.
Now we can move on to the next stage, the product MVP
Knowing what our customers need and feeling fairly certain that what we have to offer is relevant to them is a place from which to start the process of putting out the version 1.0 product, the Minimum Viable Product feature set.
Of course, ‘knowing’ is a strong word in this context. If the buyer persona work has been done purely by work-shopping with your team (i.e. is pure theory) then there is always a danger that those assumptions are incorrect. If there is sufficient mandate and budget it is a very good idea to take those assumptions and test them with real life potential customers. There is no better feedback.
That feedback is valuable, not just at the buyer persona stage but right the way through from here. Test the MVP, get the feedback, iterate the product. With each iteration that product market fit should be getting just that little bit sweeter.
What this enables
This process is important because many companies fail because they spend time on products or services that are not what the customer actually needs. A complex SaaS product could take months, even years of development. Is it not worth doing this properly at the start? Think of this as part of a due diligence process before committing the time and cash to the project.
By undertaking this process it creates a number of potential benefits. First and foremost it can highlight very early on any gaps between what you are doing and what your customers need. Caught early, this gap could be a simple re-skin of a feature or a quick halt to a bit of development that hasn’t gone too far. The process can also influence the product roadmap, the go to market messaging, price points, and even that sense check of ‘are we chasing the right market.’
There’s a sense of insurance policy here. Do the work early and catch the issues early. Catch this late and it could be a year’s work down the pan.
And no one wants to have that conversation with the team or the investors.