At what point does a buyer persona mutate from a useful marketing tool into a meaningless collection of bullet points, stock headshots, and random guesses?
Are your buyer personas drowning in details? How much information is too much, and what do we truly need to know about our prospects to motivate them to respond?
Why too much detail does more harm than good
It wastes time
Researching and interviewing customers can take up a lot of time. The more research you need to do, the less likely it is that you’ll get around to actually doing it.
It distracts you from what’s important
Generic persona templates tend to be loaded down with obscure details, and many of them may well be useless for your specific situation. Filler that doesn’t add value to your marketing process steals attention away from the insights that do matter.
It complicates the decision-making process
Unnecessary variables complicate your decisions and make it harder to use personas as a practical day-to-day marketing tool.
It encourages random guessing
How will you find out the number of children your ideal customers have, or where they went to school, or which hobbies they enjoy in their spare time? Unless you’re conducting detailed, statistically relevant surveys or interviewing large numbers of customers, the truth is that you can’t know. “Fleshing out” a persona without detailed research forces you to guess. If your data is simply made up, then what’s the point?
It’s not actionable
Details that won’t have an impact on your marketing decisions are dead weight. If you learn that most of your best customers play golf, and you’re willing to invest in golf-related ad media and sponsorships, then it makes sense to include that detail in your buyer persona. However, if the most you’ll do with that piece of information is write “enjoys golf,” then what value does it add?
It creates false criteria
If your buyer persona states “graduated 15 years ago from Northwestern University with a degree in economics,” does that mean that anyone who graduated with a different degree or from a different school wouldn’t be a good prospect?
It turns a persona into a stereotype
Are all dog lovers, parents, BMW drivers, or volleyball players the same? Of course not. They are all individual people with unique personalities, habits, and values. Lumping groups together into a composite “person” increases the risk that you’ll engage with them based on inaccurate biases and assumptions.
Focus on what matters
The real value of a buyer persona is not the total quantity of information but the relevance of that information to your options as a marketer. The trick is differentiating valuable insights from filler. To do that we need to start with the broader possibilities, then whittle down to the important stuff.
Let’s start with a fairly comprehensive list of questions you could ask about your ideal buyers.
- Are they married, single, divorced?
- How much money do they make?
- Where do they live?
- Are they male or female?
- How old are they?
- Do they have kids? How many? What ages?
- Are they a homeowner or a renter?
- What kind of car do they drive?
- What are their favorite TV shows and movies?
- Where do they like to go shopping?
- What kinds of computers and mobile devices do they own?
- What do they like to do for fun?
- What are their values?
- What level of education did they complete?
- What schools did they attend?
- What did they study or major in?
- In which industry do they work?
- Which industries does their organization serve?
- How large is their organization (employees, revenue)?
- What’s their job title?
- How long have they worked in this position?
- Do they manage other people?
- To whom do they report?
- Who reports to them?
- What outcomes are they responsible for?
- How is success in their role measured?
- What accomplishments are they most proud of?
- What types of busy work do they get bogged down with?
- Do they enjoy their job?
- What is their least favorite part of their job?
- What are the ideal skills for that job?
- Where did they learn those skills?
- Which tools do they use to do their job?
- How comfortable are they with using technology to do their job?
- What work-related products do they love or hate, and why?
- What are their biggest challenges?
- What are the most frustrating parts of their job?
- Which tasks stress them out?
- What makes them nervous?
- How do those problems affect their day-to-day life?
- From where do they consume information (blogs, social media, etc.)?
- How do they research potential vendors, products, and services?
- How do they evaluate a potential purchase?
- How do they prefer to interact and communicate with vendors (in person, phone, email)?
- What are some of their common concerns and objections about your product or service?
- Are they driven by value or by price?
Prioritize your list
Depending on your situation, the answers to some of those questions will be extraordinarily valuable, whereas others will be a complete waste of time. The trick is to understand which is which.
Answer questions like the following for each question on the above lists, and cross off those that don’t apply to your specific market, product, or service. What you’ll be left with is a tighter, more useful set of persona elements to focus your energy on.
- What are we actually trying to learn from this question? Does the answer need to be specific to still be useful, or will reasonable generalizations give us the insights we’re looking for without getting bogged down in minutiae? For example, do we truly need to know the specific college someone graduated from, or are we simply trying to determine whether they’re well-educated?
- Is this specific detail relevant to our particular situation, industry, product, or service? Does it truly matter whether they are male or female, how many kids they have, or what their favorite hobbies are? Will knowing the answer change our marketing strategy, help us create better content, or target our message more precisely? Will we actually segment buyers based on what car they drive or their favorite foods?
- Would we even be able to find out the answer to this question? Are we really going to ask our best customers when they graduated from college, or what they like to do for fun, or whether they enjoy their job?
In short, learn how to differentiate valuable insights from filler, and edit your buyer personas down to the most actionable, relevant details.