Who’s your buyer persona? Understand your audience


by Marco Lorenzi


by Marco Lorenzi

How well do you know your customers? The answer to this simple question should sit at the heart of the marketing strategy for any organisation. In the subscription business, this becomes key.

Long story short - customers’ attention span nowadays is quite limited, and if you are not able to engage with them in a timely, relevant and straightforward manner, you’ll lose them.

It’s not just a matter of choosing the right digital marketing tools. It’s the “first impression” we are talking about here: there’s never going to be a second one. Restoring trust and interest in a disengaged customer is labour intensive and - most importantly - very expensive.

As part of your marketing strategy, defining a buyer persona is an essential action to take. We tried to round up the main reasons why personas can be your most powerful marketing “weapon” and what it takes to create the right ones.

Who’s your buyer persona and why do you need one?

The buyer persona is a key facet of permission-based marketing. Normally, it’s a fictional version of a  typical customer that the organisation creates as a proxy for their audience. It helps to make decisions, and to think of your audience as a real person, rather than a faceless sea of people.

Establishing a buyer persona is part of a process of dissection, a distillation of more comprehensive audience research. You need to understand problems, challenges, sources of pain and pleasure. Most importantly, the ultimate goal is to identify the business needs, timely and precisely. Identifying those characteristics will make you confident that this individual will want to purchase your product or service.

Defining the right persona is a matter of different elements, like small pieces of a mosaic that is continuously evolving. It’s something that should be written down, distributed across all functions of your business - but bearing in mind that every advancement in the industry or update in technology will determine a shift in your customers’ purchase behaviour.

Why do we need a buyer persona, then? The answer is simple: personas exist to inform business decisions. Defining the profile of the ideal customer will help the organisation work towards attracting, converting and retaining the same type (or types) of clients.

How do you create personas?

The process of building personas mostly needs comprehensive data from a range of sources, asked and observed. An inquisitive mind, able to doubt any single assumption, is necessary to construct a framework that will represent the ‘ideal’ profile of the customer you want to attract. Who would be most interested in what I have to offer?

To understand your target customer what you will need is an unbiased sample representative of your whole audience, and a set of initial questions that will help you define a framework for customer profiles. In a B2C environment such as an OTT subscription business, questions vary from basic details on the background, education and employment to more personal information on habits and behaviours. They will also include questions crucial to get a grasp of a persona’s tech knowledge and experience. 

Obviously, the more you know about the prospect, the better you will be able to tailor your interactions to them. Personas embody likely and ideal customers, so the strategy to approach them will take into consideration many of the shared experiences, personal situations and preferences of the customer in mind.

Finally, when it’s necessary to depict more than one profile for your buyer persona, it’s good to communicate the USPs to each persona in a consistent way. This means have a unique sale positioning statement per persona, focusing on “why” that persona specifically would benefit from your product or service.

Case study: Spotify

Spotify personas have been topic of discussion for a long time among researchers and the communities of UX designers. A thorough case study was recently published by the Stockholm company. It describes the challenge of having to design for an audience without taking the risk of generalising it. Something that is relevant to the landscape of today’s subscription-based services, such as music streaming.

Designing accurate personas was the solution identified, by capturing and clustering the needs, goals, habits, and attitudes of existing and potential users. Spotify’s personas tool resulted in a boundary object, an artefact that is flexible enough to inspire discussions, share information and adapt to the needs generated by a product development process. Looking at complex situations through the lens of boundary objects can help to understand how the various actors involved can cooperate on a project - even if in the presence of different or conflicting interests.

Phase 1

The company underwent two phases of research, initially scoping the analysis of US listeners and using a combination of diary studies and contextual inquiries to collect data. The first results showed consistent needs or reasons for listening to music among people, even in different clusters. What stood out was the attitude towards music consumption: the value associated with the act of paying for music, and behaviours around devices in different contexts.

Phase 2

When listening to music, context matters - this was the key insight to be taken out of Phase 1. The second part of the analysis, deployed in 2018, focused on “how people behave when listening to music together”. The goal was to ensure a variety of situations when more people actually come together to listen to music. The approach was slightly different here, following up to the diary studies and contextual inquiries “with a bottom-up analysis” - we read in the study - “by using the Grounded Theory Approach. Qualitative coding revealed insights that we would have otherwise missed and resulted in the Listening Together Framework™”. Spotify’s tool helped to communicate the outcomes to a broader audience.

How did Spotify represent the listeners? Here sits the trickiest of challenges, as personas need to be relatable, but not 1:1 matches with real people. Genres and names were arbitrarily picked, as well as appearances, to match the range of people interviewed. One goal was kept in mind - make them memorable as people, yet deploying the use of human characteristics. Spotify decided to reduce personas to keywords, colours, symbols and energy levels which reflect their love and enthusiasm for music. Avoiding a too-realistic representation helped to create a more abstract look, easier to reproduce and to refresh and evolve.

A work-in-progress version was shared even before the job was completed within the whole organisation. Internal communication was thought of as soon as the research began. And this was key to understand the importance of sharing ideas and make them accessible via digital and physical assets, plus workshops. A proper learning-by-doing experience that had a huge impact on the teams involved and with very long-lasting results.

In conclusion

Buyer personas can’t replace user research, but - as the Spotify case study demonstrates - can help create a solid hypothesis, reduce doubt assumptions and save time. In intricate business landscapes such as music streaming or OTT for sports and entertainment, a detailed and well-defined set of buyer personas is a fundamental first step to “get it right”.

The bigger your audience, the more difficult it will become to design one specific feature for the entire user-base. The organisations of the future will need the ability to deploy teams and provide them with product roadmaps that are relevant to a specific persona instead.

Follow our OTT & Marketing series (links below) for more insights on the subscription business. Our next chapter will go through customer centricity in your marketing strategy.

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