Are Buyer Personas Really Over-hyped or Underused?

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Quick, name the most hyped Marketing practice or process of the last three years. My money is probably on ABM, but a close second might be buyer persona research. At this point, any marketer worth their three-letter acronym vocabulary has thrown together some buyer persona research. But are they over-hyped? Should we move past them in 2020?

My answer is a resounding NO! Primary research into what buyers are thinking, feeling, and doing in each stage of the buyer journey is essential. How else can you create a Marketing plan grounded in reality? I shudder to think about marketers sitting around the old global HQ Marketing table building campaigns based on instinct alone.

When introduced in the early 2000s, persona research was a hot trend that was picked up by many organizations. Marketing departments were conducting the research and ticking it off their to-do list once the research had been completed. Today, we are in the maturity stage of persona research, and decline will set in depending on organizations’ ability to execute their persona research and put it into action.

There are some important caveats we should explore so that you can continue to effectively utilize buyer persona research within your organization. Let’s dive in!

Buyer Journey Mapping is Essential

B2B vendors sell solutions to business problems (or at least many do). Business problems in most organizations are addressed by teams of individuals that are usually involved in the buying process (business evaluators, technical evaluators, influencers, decision-makers, economic sponsors, etc.).

Organizations that use buyer persona research effectively understand that their buyer persona research needs to actually be a series of buyer persona maps across the buyer journey. They identify the key players in the buyer journey and get a view into the role and engagement of each persona in each stage.

They then use these insights to build and implement (with technology such as Marketing Automation and ABM platforms) engagement plans that reflect this complex buying process.

Organizing for Success

Many organizations struggle with who should be responsible for owning buyer persona and buyer journey mapping. While the answer varies depending on organization structure and roles, the best fit in most organizations is segment marketing. Whether organized by industry or by function, they should have a view of the big picture. They should also be accountable for directing the various Marketing teams in operationalizing the research into campaigns.

Sales Can Help. But Only to a Limited Extent

Some organizations try to save money by only doing internal research with their sales teams. The problem is that if the buyer journey was an iceberg, Sales is only seeing the 1/3 of it that is above the water. Today’s B2B buyer engages with marketing content through digital channels for much of their buyer journey. Buyer journey insights from sales reps differ quite remarkably from those provided by actual buyers. 

Keeping Buyer Personas Fresh

Like the leftovers buried in the back of your fridge, buyer personas are perishable. Setting and forgetting your buyer persona research is a sure-fire way to declining results. The way that we educate ourselves in a buying process is constantly changing – new websites, new social media preferences, and new content formats make for short best-before dates. It is important to refresh your buyer persona research at least every 18-24 months.

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