Monday, July 20, 2009

How I Fought 12 Buyer Personas and Survived

Bottom Up Approach to Market Segmentation Using Buyer Personas

My latest post on buyer personas caused quite a strong response from you - the readers. I guess this is a hot topic and a lot of you are involved daily in tasks which require some kind of market understanding. Buyer personas help us understand how our market is segmented and what kind of distinctive problems do buyers from different segments have.

If you want to have a good understanding of the market, the number of personas has to be just right. Have too much personas and you will not see a thing (a pattern) about the market. Have too little personas and your communication will be too general and nobody will listen to it.

When first managing a project involving buyer personas I had two questions in my mind: How do I know which is the right number of personas for my market? Is there a methodology which would lead me to a good number of personas?

I discovered that in my case buyer persona identification is a two dimensional problem. The first dimension is represented by the industries that we want to address and the second dimension is represented by the business roles that buyers have inside industries.

In my case there were four industries and three business roles. Three business roles are quite common, if you are working in B2B market. Usually you need to convey value to three distinctive roles in an organization: commercial buyer, technical buyer and user.

I did a simple sketch, showing my personas in a grid.

A quick look at the grid and a simple math told me I am facing a huge task, if I would really need to create and maintain 12 buyer personas.

With confidence that there must be something along the way to help me overcome this number, I started with buyer persona profiling project.

Luckily, I found out through the process that there are some persona profiles which should be merged, because they represented buyers with equal problems and they also spoke practically the same language. It turned out that technical buyers from all four industries could be effectively represented with a single buyer persona and also that end users from the first three industries had a single persona. I updated my grid immediately like this.

In this stage I had 7 buyer personas. Therefore, I managed to cut initial number almost in half without losing the specificity given our market structure.

During this process, it was also decided that we were going to address industry D through industry C, which removed additional two buyer personas, so I was left with a manageable size of 5 buyer personas.

In conclusion let me answer my initial two questions in short. Start a buyer persona identification process so that each industry and each business role from that industry is represented with an unique buyer persona. Look for similar profiles and merge them. Stop when you cannot find any more profiles to merge without introducing impurity in descriptions of their problems or solutions to their problems.

This method worked well for me, I hope you will find it useful too.


Steve said...

Nice article. I like the matrix approach.

I too have found once you start looking at persona BEHAVIOR and ROLES, you often find that many of the intersections share a persona.

Matjaž Bevk said...

Hi Steve,

It is nice to know that you are following my blog. I found many useful resources at pragmatic marketing web site for my work.

There is also a third dimension to persona profiling, which I did not consider in the blog. When doing business internationally, you'll discover that personas from the same industry and the same business role will have different problems and different criteria for suitable solutions, depending on cultural environment that they operate in. If you discover this phenomena, then your third dimension is culture.

Kevin said...

Persona is SO important. My first introduction to it was an interview on duct tape marketing with the people that Wrote the Book, Face Values.