Are Buyer Personas Dead?

As marketers, we invest a lot of time and effort into creating buyer personas. Once we have, we put blind faith into the fact that they’re good enough to make hyper-personalization possible. Problem is, that’s just not true.

Are Buyer Personas Dead?

If you’re a marketer like me, I’m sure you hear about hyper-personalization all the time. Creating communications that are tailored for your specific audience is pretty much the end-all-be-all in marketing—the Holy Grail we’d all love to uncover. While that one-to-one vision sounds nice in theory, the question that really matters is this: Is it actually achievable?

Given existing technology and the average marketer’s skillsets, the answer in my view is no.

Some of you will sound the BS alarm. You’ll accuse me of lacking vision. And you might be thinking, “Hey, we’ve got great buyer personas. We know our customers well enough to create hyper-personalized content and campaigns.”

Sure you do. But if that’s true, then answer me this:

Why has ad blocking grown by 41% over the last 12 months? By the way, there are currently 198 million active ad block users around the world. Think any of them are blocking you?

Why do the majority of B2B emails never get read: In case you’re wondering, 63% of people never even open B2B emails, let alone read them. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think those so-called hyper-personalized messages are doing the trick.

Why do I, and why does everyone I know for that matter, screen calls? I’ll give you a hint: We don’t want to talk to your sales guy. Ever.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. As marketers, we invest a lot of time and effort into creating buyer personas. Once we have, we put blind faith into the fact that they’re good enough to make hyper-personalization possible. Problem is, that’s just not true.

Why? Because people are irrational. We make purchasing decisions for all kinds of reasons. Those decisions sometimes align with things like our age, our job title, whether we like to play golf, or any of the other garden-variety details you find in a typical buyer persona. More often than not, however, they don’t.

So where does that leave us? Is it time to declare the end of buyer personas? Sort of, but not quite.

The Death Of Buyer Personas! Long Live Buyer Personas!

So here’s the thing. While today’s buyer personas generally aren’t as useful as most of us would like to believe, they are a good starting point.

I’m not advocating that we get rid of buyer personas, but rather that we rethink our approach to them. Instead of getting caught up in all kinds of details about our buyers that may or may not actually matter, let’s focus on the one thing that actually does. I’m talking about understanding the various triggers that cause people not only to engage with your company, but also to make a purchase.

Easier said than done, right? True, but I think we can get there in a number of different ways. Here are a couple of suggestions:

Start demanding more from your tech vendors: The fact is that tech companies have access to huge amounts of data about folks like you and me. Unfortunately, however, they all know something different and to my knowledge, there’s no all-in-one solution that can help you understand your buyers at a truly individual level. Not yet anyway. But if we start putting more pressure on vendors to find a solution, I’m confident they will. In the meantime, you can cobble together insights using a variety of point solutions. It won’t get you all the way there, but it’s a big help.

Start hiring people who understand human behavior: Let’s be real. A viable, one-stop-shop tech solution is probably still a ways off. Until then, how about building up your team’s capabilities by hiring people with backgrounds in areas like behavioral economics and psychology? I’m talking about folks with the expertise to help you figure out those critical triggers I mentioned earlier. If that’s not in the cards, you could try engaging a third-party consultant or even outsourcing the work to a class of college students.

No matter which path you take, the key is getting to insights that matter. More often than not, finding those insights isn’t something most marketers are very good at. So we’ve got to switch things up. Investing in the right technology—and experimenting with things like behavioral economics and consumer psychology—are good places to start.

The Bottom Line

As marketers, it’s up to us to figure out how to make our customers’ experiences much more personal. If you think the generic buyer personas you’ve got sitting on your shared drive are the solution, it’s time to think again. (Sorry, Manager Mary and Director Dave.)

So take a moment to mourn the death of those buyer personas. Once you’re done, it’s time to get to work.

To learn more about targeted marketing, attend the Adobe Summit, March 20-24. Click here to view the agenda.