Stop Relying on Demographics Now: 3 Steps to Better B2B Personas

July 12, 2017 Steve Acuna

Take everything you’ve learned about building personas upon traditional demographics, ball it up, and throw it out the metaphorical window. Done? Good. The single BEST way to build your personas is to understand the situation and context for why your customers will purchase your product or services. If you want to create content that motivates them to act you need to understand what their pain points, challenges, and goals are first.

There are heaps of marketers that still focus solely on demographic data; however, this won’t get them the outcome they desire. Today, customers demand more personalized, relevant content than ever. To deliver, your buyer persona strategy should consist of the following three steps.

The Buyer Persona Trifecta

1. Find the “Why” First

One huge component of bringing human back to marketing is the ability to have one-to-the-moment interactions with your buyers. The best way to do this is talking to your buyers directly by setting up an interview, probing for critical details and consolidating your findings. You’ll want to ask questions that help you to determine what problem your buyer is trying to solve—what job he is hiring your product or service to complete. Find out what your buyers’ goals are, his challenges, and his primary concerns. Interviews should be an ongoing process that reveal clear, unexpected insights about why your buyers choose you, your competitors, or to do nothing at all.

Related: How to Create the Most Valuable Interactions

Once you understand the problems buyers are trying to solve, you can begin creating a roadmap for your marketing strategy.

2. Use Behavioral Data

We are living in a digital era, one that has brought an immense capability in collecting data. Today, we’re able to collect customer information derived from past search activity, website browsing or social media interactions that help tweek your marketing message. Online trend tools allow much greater insight into behaviors in real time, and provide the ability to jump on trends far more quickly than demographics.

We should think of behavioral data as “digital bread crumbs” to understand:

  1. Whether or not a customer is actively trying to solve the problems you uncovered in the interviews. 
  2. Understand what stage of the buyer’s journey this customer is in. Are the digital bread crumbs suggesting he is in an early stage of the process and are “browsing” to understand their problem better? Or is he a motivated buyer looking for the best method to acquire a solution to solve his problem?

This combination will inform what type of content to develop and through which channels to promote it.

3. Layer in Traditional Demographics

Back in 2010, AudienceScience reported that 76% of marketers targeted by geographic location, and 75% used demographic information for targeting. The report also found that most marketers believed behavioral and demographic targeting were their best options. They were treating all consumer groups equally, no matter how active they were in a given category, based upon their age, gender, education, and income.

Fast forward to 2017 and it’s widely accepted that solely depending on traditional demographics is an incredibly wasteful and inefficient way to do business.

The downside of building personas solely from traditional demographics is that you only learn who the user is—nothing about why or how they operate. Outside of traditional marketing channels like TV, radio, and print, traditional demographics should only be used to support your customers’ “why.” They’re still important and are not DEAD, as some marketers say; we just recommend not treating them as the marketing ‘holy grail.’ Demographics are a piece of the customer segmentation trifecta—not the whole thing.

The Buyer Persona Trifecta in Action

Let’s imagine the product you are selling is a content production and management platform like Kapost, and you target CMOs in small- to mid-sized businesses. Some of these CMOs may be susceptible to your offer because they are in aggressive growth mode and need to be able to better manage the multiple content marketers they have brought on board to crank out new content against strategy. Others may need your platform because they’ve had another bad quarter and need to significantly improve efficiencies in their marketing processes in order to scale back on staff.

Does it make sense to send the same marketing emails to both of these audiences? Certainly not. Their “why’s” are very different. Instead, create content for these two different personas based on the jobs they are trying to accomplish (better manage growing staff vs. improve efficiencies and save money) and behavioral data that indicates where they sit in the buyer’s journey. Lastly, use traditional demographics to tweak and enhance your marketing efforts built on the first two pieces of the buyer persona trifecta.

A Winning Combination

If you want to enhance your marketing strategy, and create meaningful engagements, ditch relying solely on traditional demographics. Your buyer persona strategy should focus first on your customers’ “why,” then use behavioral data and traditional demographics to complement it. Using these three tactics together will help you create the most accurate buyer persona strategy possible so you can provide your customers with more meaningful content and more direct messaging.

To learn more about creating personas that actually work, check out our 5 Pillar approach to more human marketing.

About the Author

Steve Acuna

Steve Acuna, Director of Segment Marketing, specializes in go-to-market strategy and has been instrumental in developing Harte Hanks’ Game Board approach to market segmentation. He and his team are responsible for determining Harte Hanks target segments and developing and executing on strategic plans to reach these segments. Prior to Harte Hanks, Steve has been integral to developing market strategy at CenturyLink and Cypress Communications.

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