Use buyer personas to improve storytelling

people file-3.jpeg

Everyone is different. But we all have similarities.

I’m going to minimize the storytelling aspect of this post. Instead, most of the content will focus on buyer personas and Adel Revella’s awesome book on the subject. Get personas right, and you have a critical ingredient for your stories.

If stories are not stories without people (in general they are not*) and you want to tell more effective stories, then thoroughly knowing the characters of your story is a good first step. This also goes for your market, your product and how you communicate. Putting people at the center not only helps focus your business and marketing efforts, it also humanizes your company.

Personas are often done wrong. Poor personas are too abstract and include irrelevant garnish that is unnecessary to the persona as a tool. When I was implementing storytelling for Microsoft Dynamics in 2012, I too made this mistake – I had too much information about our CFO’s car and not enough on where she seeks information when making decisions. Personally, I like to think profile vs. persona because it gets closer to the actual person. Persona can feel somewhat abstract and removed – that being said if you follow Revella’s advice, then you will head in the right direction.

*there are some distilled/abstract story tools such as metaphors and quotes which may not explicitly put people at the center. Upon closer inspection however, they do. There is always a person behind a quote, and usually you want to be more like that person after reading their quote. Metaphors are a brain hack that force you to visualize so that you become a part of the metaphor’s story. For example, “Jaws in space” was the log line for the pitch for the movie Alien. You saw and were terrified by Jaws, upon hearing this log line you imagine you are experiencing that terror… in space. Yikes!

Let’s dig in…

1 - Location, Location, Location

Pubs, schools, walkability… it's all about location. Buyer insights for housing is simple, it stares us in the face. Yet when it comes to business, we seem inclined to over complicate things. We add all sorts of demographic, psychographic and firmographic information to the mix. Don't get me wrong, a budding, amateur astronomer's demographic and psychographic are going to affect their interest in a house. They will look for a house in the country, with clear skies and a nice little spot for their telescope. Fundamentally however, it's a location play. Street lights? No thank you.

Revella's book (and lifelong mission) on Buyer Persona's focuses on the equivalent of location for the business decision landscape. It provides a framework and playbook on executing persona gathering, which is great because it means one of two things: number one, if you want to become an expert in personas you can start with this book. Secondly, if your company can't afford the outsourcing you can use the book to bring it in-house, if you have the resources, (and yes, we can help).

2 - Buyer insights matter

At the core of persona work is the concept of "Buyer Insights" - these are the pros and cons of the buying process. They range from where your potential buyer seeks information as they consider a solution, to the problem you help solve, to the execution of selecting a vendor.

Something which struck me in Revella's work is that Occam's razor was well and truly at play. Just like the amateur astronomer's deepest needs of a clear dark sky, the razor helped inform all other decisions. The *least* amount of information needed to make a decision was "in the country, away from settlements". It really doesn't matter that they are an amateur astronomer or just hate noise and crowds.  The house would be appropriate for people in both camps. And you can market to those camps in the same way. You don’t need to over focus on astronomers. A contextual alternative example, would be parents of young children: the core need would translate to "Close to School, Quiet, Safe".

The point here however is at a base level you do not need to go that far to market effectively when utilizing buyer insights.

I hear you cry "Hey, wait a minute - a good realtor will ask questions to identify interests and needs. They will surely talk about astronomy and its associated needs with their client!" Yes! You are correct, and in this analogy the realtor does all the research and digging to find out what matters - what matters is clear skies, not astronomy itself. If you have the additional date you can customize. The point here however is at a base level you do not need to go that far to market effectively when utilizing buyer insights.

Translating this to business means that differences in groups (aka markets) are the most important when they directly relate to the unique value proposition for the product you have on offer. In the school vs. astronomer example the parent will not prioritize the same location of your amateur astronomer. The astronomer may also consider a house near a school - but they would not expect to pay the same premium as a house that meets their priority location needs. Houses near schools often carry a premium due to market demand.

It's critical that you keep your focus on buying insights and ensure that the buyer profile is used to help your team find targets that share your buyer persona's expectations, and thus needs. Being near the school, under clear skies or near the pub (yes, a priority of mine).

For business, these sorts of buying insights may look like the following example;

  • Develops Persona: Experienced and highly technical decision maker (e.g. could be CTO)
  • Builds expertise in the area of technology you sell
  • Educates themselves on all key vendors prior to meeting
  • Challenges colleagues to stress test demos and questions how features meet corporate needs
  • Delegates to subordinates to take part in online communities to triangulate competitive information and get sense for how various technologies are landing in market

3 - Creating the right content

When you think about how much content is churned out by marketing teams at companies worldwide, is it any surprise that the SiriusDecision's statistic of 60-70% content created by B2B marketing departments today sits unused?

It's OK to limit your content generation. Personalization doesn't have to mean creating more content, it can mean better curation - at scale for marketing and white glove treatment that sellers provide to customers. Focus on your buyers’ authentic voice and bring that to bear on the messaging production and curation decisions that your company makes.

As Revella states, you want to audit your content options vs. your competition. What is easy for your competitors to copy? What is difficult? Prioritize those and focus on creating the best possible customer experience for your target. 

Personalization doesn't have to mean creating more content, it can mean better curatio

Returning to the home buying scenario; consider how realtors tend to advertise. Ever sat on a plane as it heads to some popular destination? The Swiss Alps, Scottsdale, NYC? Did you see time share apartments advertised? These go a few steps towards the goal of appealing to buyer insight, it is, however, rather short sighted. I'd propose that in these cases the realtors post a story of someone, like you, who is visiting one of those aforementioned places and ends up buying a timeshare. "Don’t just visit NYC, own property there". Keep it brief and provide a link to continue the story when they land (use for example). If they have inflight internet, they can convert them on the spot. Better yet sweeten the pot with an offer for a dinner at a location relevant to your campaign. These are now measurable and thus growth hackable approaches.


Until we know our buyer insights, everything else will at best be a lucky guess. Worst case, it will have us wasting our resources and not even realize it.

I can't recommend Adele Revella's Buyer Persona's enough. It will help you start to zero in on insights about your buyers. Your action: buy her book and I look forward to connecting with you on your customers buying insights.

Have you tried these approaches? What level of success did you have?


Matthew Woodget