WHY READ THIS BLOG POST?
If you want to build a solid e-commerce business then you need to give your customers what they actually want, not what you think they want. Just because you have a product in stock, it doesn’t mean somebody will part with their hard-earned cash to buy it from you.
In this post, I’m going to teach you how to build a Buyer Persona and how to use it to identify what your customer actually wants so you can drive more sales, higher spend, improved long-term loyalty and more repeat visits to your online store.
“Focus on something your customer wants and then deliver it .”
Sam Walton, Founder of Walmart
Understanding The Changing Consumer
In the days before the internet was invented, shoppers would turn to the local shopkeeper to ask them for more information about a product. Back then, the shopkeepers were the experts and in possession of all the knowledge.
For consumers, it was difficult to find detailed information about a product prior to buying it because that level information wasn’t readily available. This meant you either saw the product on TV, heard about it from a friend, read a review in the newspaper, stumbled across it in a mail order catalogue or you had to trust the good old shopkeeper to give you advice on the best product in their store, for your budget.
The advantage the local shopkeeper had was that he or she was giving you a personal service. Like the local bank manager used to be, they were almost like a friend who imparted (mainly honest) advice to help you make your buying decisions.
Times have changed.
Fast forward 20 years, the internet has taken away the personal element to shopping. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist but it’s a far cry from those days of the local shopkeeper.
The internet has created a 180-degree shift in the consumer-seller dynamic. The customer is now the one that has the power and control of their own purchases. They can now do their own research, find detailed product information, read expert reviews, read customer reviews and watch videos all before they buy.
They can even pick and choose where they buy from, for how much and when. Your customers are now the experts!
So where does that leave us, poor little retailers? How can we convince these customers who know everything to buy from us?
It’s simple. We listen to them, we align ourselves with their needs and we give them the personal service they still crave. We need to become an online version of the old-fashioned shop keeper.
Learning about your customers
Whilst your customers are more fickle than ever before, they have far more choice, they can shop around and they lack loyalty. But this also delivers huge opportunities.
Customers are no longer tied to the big brands they once worshipped. They are willing to try new things. They are now searching out the smaller brands that have something unique or special.
They are looking for the brands that will listen to them and allow them to be part of something. They want to buy brands and products like yours.
Whilst this might be the case, I’m not going to lie to you. It’s hard damn work trying to get someone to spend money with you. They have a ton of choice elsewhere and sometimes, at a cheaper price. But, with the right approach and right understanding, you can tap into what they really want and capture that sale, regardless of price.
I’m going to talk through my 3-part Buyer Persona Strategy that will help to give you a more strategic and focused approach to selling your products. It will also help you to deliver a better customer experience, giving yourself the best chance of converting visitors into customers.
STEP 1. Build a detailed customer persona
The key to selling more to your customers is to really understand their habits, their needs, their motivations and their pain factors. If you can understand the reasons behind why they buy a product then it’s possible to build something of value that will create loyalty further down the line.
Brian Massey from Conversion Sciences explains that a customer persona is essentially a way to summarise and communicate everything you know about a specific customer segment in a way that allows you to make good design and copy decisions.
As you immerse yourself in ‘their world’ it’s important to ask them questions that will help you to build a more detailed profile of who they really are. This information will help you to align your business with their needs so you can deliver a better experience.
Failing to understand what makes them tick means you are literally ‘pissing in the wind’ with your entire marketing effort and wasting the limited money you have to spend.
OK, so assuming you want to do this the right way, you need to start off by identifying:
- Their Likes / Dislikes
- Their Habits (What they do regularly)
- Their Interests (Hobbies and Obsessions)
- Marital Status (Does their other half share the same views?)
- Their Social Views (Are they eco-conscious?, Are charities important to them?, What causes do they follow?)
- What are their goals in life? (Career, Personal, Family – Can you help them achieve these?)
- Their Frustrations (What problems do they need you to fix)
- Where do they hang out online? (What websites do they visit?)
- What are their favourite brands (and why?)
- How much will they pay for a product? (Price sensitive or not?)
- Where do they shop off-line? (This will help you understand the type of customer they are)
FREE Customer Research Tools To Help You
To help you to find this information there are a number of free or low-cost tools available. Tools I’ve used in the past are:
- Survey Monkey – A very easy-to-use research tool that is free for the basic version. Allows many different types of questions for each survey.
- Email – Quick and easy to use but it means you’ll need to do some manual work on collating the feedback.
- Facebook – Very easy to post a question on your page and then boost it to a similar audience. Again, you may have to do some manual work on bringing the results into one place.
- Woobox, Survey Hero or Polldaddy (All Facebook Apps) – Free to use on the basic versions, you can set up surveys in under an hour and set them live on your Facebook page.
With each of these tools, you can simply set a list of questions and ask your existing customers or audience to give you feedback. You’ll be surprised at how many people offer-up information and by how much detail they share. You may also choose to incentivise people to encourage more to take part.
Other FREE tools you can use to find out more information about your customers are:
- Facebook Insights – This will give you a detailed breakdown of the people who have liked your Facebook page.
- Google Analytics – GA tells you key demographic indicators about your site visitors and even drills down as far as device and web browser used to view your site. This can be vital information if your audience has a preference for a particular device. For example, younger audiences tend to spend more time on mobile devices.
Creating Your Buyer Persona
Once you have this information down on paper (or screen) you want to put it into a format you can use. Now, obviously you can’t target every single type of customer you want to serve (especially if you sell lots of products) but you can create a picture of your ‘ideal customer’. That’s what we call your Buyer Persona.
Your ideal customer should be the one who will deliver the most value to your business and who you will want to find more like them. This is the one that will shape your marketing strategy moving forward.
For example, if you sell Yoga Mats then your may have a customer profile like this:
- Gender: Female
- Age: 35-45 (Try to narrow this as much as possible)
- Interests: Healthy eating, Wellbeing, The Outdoors
- Favourite Websites: Lifehacker, Huffington Post
- Favourite Brands: LuLuLemon, Starbucks, Fitbit, Whole Foods
- Social Beliefs: They are vegetarian, they believe in giving to charities in Brazil and recycle religiously.
- Language: They like fitness trends and buzz words, they understand hashtags and like to feel part of a community
A technique that some businesses use to visual their buyer in more details is the ‘party scenario’. This involves pretending you are at a dinner party and meeting your ideal customer there. You need to decide what type of character they are, what they look like, how they act and what type of personality they project.
Give it a go. Think about your customer in that context. You have information about them so what type of person are they? What would they look like? How would they dress? What would they talk about? What would they drink?
Like I said, this information is vital so we can start targeting your ‘ideal customer’ using your buyer persona.
Next step is to engage with them.
STEP 2. Find them. Talk to them. Learn from them.
Now you have created your buyer persona, you need to find more people like them. You need to seek out groups of people with similar characteristics and start to get involved in their conversations.
The beauty of the internet is that there are tools to find and interact with similar customers. These tools are 100% FREE and right at your fingertips. Some examples where you can find them are:
Your Own Email List
I’ve lost track of the number of businesses I speak to who have an email list and do nothing with it. Email lists are like ‘gold mines’ with a ton of information just waiting to be uncovered. You will already have people with the same buyer persona under your nose.
If you haven’t already, segment your email list (customer and prospects) to find those who resemble your target customer and then start sending more targeted emails that encourage them to give you feedback.
Don’t try to do the ‘hard sell’. This isn’t about that. It’s about building a relationship so they become advocates of your brand and tell others about you.
Provide them with updates on what’s going on with your business, tell them how valued they are and ask them for their opinion. You can also get them involved on your blog (e.g featured customer story) or on your social channels.
Believe it or not, your customers want you to talk to them. They want to be asked for an opinion. They want to feel important and they want to be listened to.
A company that listens to their customers is a company that shows it cares. It makes a customer feel special, valued and gives them that warm fuzzy feeling inside. This rarely happens with any other business so make it count.
The more you talk and listen to your customers, the more you can learn from them. This will not only help you to build a closer relationship but it will also help you to create a trusted bond that will result in more store visits and more money spent.
Your Own Facebook Page
If you’ve already built a small following then people obviously like what you do and they want to hear more. Use your Facebook page as a conversation tool instead of a sales tool. Facebook is a social environment, not one where people want to be overtly sold to, so respect that.
Start posting updates about your business and ask for their opinions. When you receive comments, make sure you reply back as quickly as possible and keep the conversation flowing. This will help achieve a greater reach with your post which means more eyeballs and more potentials for interactions.
You could also spend a small amount of marketing budget to boost a particular post or even boost your page using Facebook’s laser-guided ad targeting. Facebook Ads, if you haven’t already used them, can give you access to people who are clones of your target buyer persona.
There are literally tens of thousands of Facebook groups that are FREE to join (some open and some closed). Just enter a keyword in the search box in the top bar and you will see a load of groups you can join.
It may take you a while to find a group that has a decent level of interaction but they are out there. Again, make sure you do not use this opportunity to try to sell because that pisses people off.
Take the opportunity to provide unbiased advice, get involved in discussions and seed questions that you think would create conversation. Remember, we’re trying to build a greater understanding of who our target customer is.
Twitter actually has a very powerful real-time search engine. Simply create a profile (if you haven’t already) and enter keyword searches to find user profiles and conversations people are having about your type of products or things that are relevant.
For example, your product might be Fashion Clothing so why not talk and interact with people on the subject of fashion trends, new arrivals, celebrity fashion, etc? I’ve found it easier to interact with people when I reply to their comments or questions.
Instagram Hashtag Search
This has become the number 1 visual search engine on the web. Everything is hashtag-driven so you can easily find posts and users that relate to your target buyer. Start leaving comments and liking people’s posts so you can get on their radar.
After a while, you will start to see a picture of how they live their life and what is important to them. This will enable you to craft more visually stimulating marketing communications.
The Old-Fashioned Phone (Yup, people still use it for talking!)
The final tool is the good old-fashioned phone. Some people have got so caught up in social media, instant messaging and texting that they never pick up the phone anymore.
By simply taking the time to talk to your customers and listening to their voice, you can gather a huge amount of intelligence that will fuel your marketing efforts and your on-site messaging.
Set an hour aside each day and make some phone calls to your best customers first. Don’t try to sell to them. Just ask their opinions on your product, your service and your online store.
I guarantee you will find some nuggets of info that you never even thought about and they will probably tell you something that will improve your sales. It’s a great way to build out your buyer persona.
Again, I want to stress that you are talking to these people to learn, not to sell. The selling part comes later.
This is an area I’ve had a ton of success with personally. Chat forums can be massively powerful if you go about it in the right way.
The key to using chat forums is to spend the time to become an authority and add value to everyone else on the forum. It won’t happen overnight but if you can solve people’s problems with your knowledge then you will start learning a whole lot more about them. It will give you the license to probe deeper.
What’s more, chat forums can also send you traffic through your profile that will link to your site. Keep it clean, don’t sell and you can drive a lot of the right visitors to your store.
You will be able to find chat forums for almost every possible product niche. Be clever, think about things outside your immediate product range.
For example, if you sell Vases, think about getting involved in discussions around Home Decor and Home Improvement. You can also go down the route of Flower forums, Office Space Design or even Wellbeing by discussing the importance of having flowers on your desk.
You will also find a number of chat boards on Reddit. If you’ve never seen Reddit then check it out. Whilst it looks very basic and dated, it’s probably the most sophisticated and closely guarded chat forum on the web. Almost every viral email, meme or video would have appeared on Reddit first.
It’s a real goldmine for opinions and customer intelligence.
STEP 3. How to use your Buyer Persona to sell more
Now that you’ve built up some intelligence about your ideal customer you need to ensure all of your on-site communications are tailored to the correct messaging, visual style, language and tone of voice.
This means optimising:
- Your homepage (Create images and copy that will resonate with your customers)
- Your product pages (Product descriptions that address and provide solutions to pain factors.)
- Your sign-up messaging (Give them a reason to sign up. How will you add value to their lives?)
- Your newsletter wording and tone of voice (Swap the sales newsletter to one that engages them and solves their problems)
- Your social channels (Start talking to your audience and give them reasons to get involved in your conversations.)
Every asset in your marketing arsenal needs to align with your customer persona. By that, I mean the way your target customer lives, speaks, eats and breathes. If you don’t align your business with them it will be impossible to tap into their mindset and sell to them. You literally need to live in their shoes!
You also want to make sure your products are addressing the pain factors that you’ve identified during the research phase.
For example, if a customer worships premium brands like Apple and Nespresso, then you know your customer appreciates quality (that they will pay for), they like simplicity and they want a product or brand to make them feel warm and fuzzy inside. They want to know that your product is credible and that they can trust it.
If your online store is littered with discount messages and has lots of bright colours then it’s likely you will alienate your customers because they are not motivated by a cheap and cheerful approach.
You may even need to revamp your site’s appearance to make it look more premium, work harder with your product copy, make your homepage more benefit-led and avoid heavy promotion or offers.
But this is a lot of effort, is it worth it?
Look, it’s a no-brainer. You can’t get people to vote for you if they don’t share your views. It’s the same in the world of online shopping.
You must have a core customer, you must understand what they want and you must shape your online business around them.
This is a sound, calculated strategy that works. It certainly beats throwing everything at the wall, not knowing who you’re talking to and hoping some of it sticks.
The Golden Rule!
Remember that your customers are the most important part of your business. Don’t ever forget that!
Apple, Amazon and Warby Parker are huge brands and they’ve all put their success down to understanding their customers inside out. This has enabled their customers to help them evolve.
These brands now dominate the retail world.
I’m not saying you’ll grow to be quite as big as those guys (although it would obviously be nice) but having a clear buyer persona and a customer-focused strategy will help you to understand how to sell more effectively and will help you to increase your online sales.
YOUR ACTION STEPS – Create Your Buyer Persona
Now you have this strategy in your locker you can adopt a more customer-focused approach to selling. First step, is to download your Customer Persona Template below so you can start to paint a picture of your ‘ideal customer’.
Take your time and be thorough. Make sure you have enough customer feedback to draw a fair conclusion. Don’t create a customer persona that you think or want to believe is right because you won’t sell anything.
Let me hear your thoughts and comments
I hope this post has been helpful in clarifying how to identify your customers and how to tap into the drivers that make them buy. If you have any questions, comments or examples from your own online then please feel free to share below.
We’re all here to help each other.
Cheers guys and girls!