By Marcia Riefer Johnston published April 27, 2017

Are Your Buyer Personas Ready to Take on the World?


Customers’ concerns vary, sometimes dramatically, across regions and cultures. Because these variations present business opportunities, you might expect global companies’ buyer personas to reflect those variations. In fact, many organizations miss this opportunity, applying one set of personas everywhere.

Even organizations that have regional or cultural personas may lack the insights they need to succeed across markets.  

Sometimes, even small differences between regional and cultural personas affect the bottom line, according to Cassio Politi. In his talk at 2016 Content Marketing World, he delivered a message for multinational brands:

Often, headquarters comes up with universal personas and tells everyone, ‘Go create content based on these personas.’ This approach may fail.

Cassio knows what works. The winner of the Digitalks’ Brazilian Content Marketer of the Year award in 2015, he wrote the first Portuguese book on content marketing. He also founded Tracto, a consultancy that develops content strategy for big brands, including U.S. companies with operations in South America and Central America – companies like Eli Lilly, Thomson Reuters, and Scup.

Cassio provided three examples of persona lessons his clients have learned the hard way. As you review them, consider what kind of opportunities your company might create by developing regional personas of your own.

Example 1: Tax-software users in Brazil

A Brazilian sales team for a global tax-software company worked with enterprise buyer personas and discovered that customers in their country had unique motivations. Like customers elsewhere, they wanted to be more productive using technology – the primary selling point in the company’s original strategy – but that wasn’t the main thing Brazilian customers were looking for in tax software.

As Cassio explains, Brazil has a complicated economy with over 300 tax changes every year. Brazilian buyers are concerned about complying with these frequent tax changes.


“Imagine a company like Coca-Cola or Visa. They’re everywhere. Suddenly a remote city far away in Amazonia makes a change in a tax detail. The company has to follow every tax change,” Cassio says. “That capability is what people are looking for in tax software for that region.”

If the U.S. strategy was applied in Brazil, it’s probably going to fail, Cassio says. In a case like this – where customer needs, pain points, and behaviors vary enough to affect the way a company should present its products or services – a regional buyer persona is needed.

Example 2: Dairy farmers in Colombia

A pharmaceutical company makes a product that when injected stimulates milk production in cows by an extra gallon every day. The company had two personas for dairy farmers. One persona runs a farm with thousands of cows, and one runs a farm with hundreds of cows. Both personas want their cows to produce as much milk as possible.

Eventually, the marketing manager noticed that the content strategy based on these two personas wasn’t working in Colombia. Upon further investigation, the company discovered that the Colombian government sets limits on milk production and farmers have to pour any excess down the drain. What Colombian farmers care about is keeping their costs down because it’s expensive to feed the animals in a country without much space to produce food for the cows. Discovering that local “particularity” (Cassio’s term) led the company to create a Colombia persona to guide the strategy for the content they distribute in that region.

Example 3: Dog owners in Colombia and Panama

The marketing team at Comfortis, which makes flea-control products for dogs, learned that the content it was creating for its global buyer persona was less effective in Colombia and Panama than elsewhere.

In Colombia and Panama, the global message, “We’re dog lovers, too! Buy our product,” wasn’t convincing people to buy. When the marketers looked more closely at Panama and Colombia, they discovered that owners often spend time with their dogs on farms or in the countryside. When they see a flea on their dog, they wonder if the dog also has ticks?

That question matters to them because, while fleas bother dogs, ticks can kill them.

Comfortis’ competitor, Bravecto, has a product that controls both fleas and ticks. To earn the business of customers in Colombia and Panama, where tick concerns are common, Comfortis needed to create more educational content.

Here’s how Cassio sums up the message needed in this region: “Don’t solve problems you don’t have. If you don’t find ticks with the fleas, don’t buy the competitor’s product that gets rid of fleas and ticks. It could be bad for the dog.”

Until Comfortis discovered it needed a content strategy built around a regional dog-owner persona, it was missing out on business opportunities in Colombia and Panama.


If buyers everywhere cared about the same things, you could get away with using the same personas everywhere. In this world, though, global companies must seize sales opportunities by better understanding regional and cultural variations and creating buyer personas that reflect business-critical differences.

How about you? What lessons has your company learned about the need for regional buyer personas? Please share your insights in a comment.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia Riefer Johnston is the author of Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them) and You Can Say That Again: 750 Redundant Phrases to Think Twice About. As a member of the CMI team, she serves as Managing Editor of Content Strategy. She has run a technical-writing business for … a long time. She taught technical writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program under Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaRJohnston. For more, see Writing.Rocks.

Other posts by Marcia Riefer Johnston

  • Dave Coldwell

    A very interesting article. In many ways my research focuses on the same subject, how companies can deliver content that meets the needs and expectations of a global audience. My approach to the subject is centred around the importance of linguistic quality and cultural awareness in the development of content for multiple locales.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Thanks for your comment, Dave. Do you create regional personas to accomplish those things?

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      • Dave Coldwell

        I have created a Localisation Assessment Model based on the Web Usability Assessment Model of Becker (2002) which was developed as part of a commercially funded research project.

        The original assessment model utilises industry recognised assessment criteria which were extracted from a compilation of usability and accessibility guidelines drafted by experts in the field, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the IEEE Standard 2001-1999.

        My work focuses primarily on the importance of linguistic quality and brand consistency of translated and localised textual website content for companies and institutions endeavouring to create or maintain a global online presence.

        With five website and content assessment factors:

        Design Layout

        Design Consistency


        Information Content


        The model I have created also incorporates two groups of components incorporating the ‘Strategic Goals’ and the ‘user profile’ in the target market.

        The user profile component is broken down further into two groups which are the individual ‘User Profile’ and the ‘Collective Profile’, each consisting of relevant demographic characteristics.

        I have tested the Localisation Assessment Model by conducting
        a number of case studies analysing the websites of a selected group of multinational companies.

        This work, along with empirical data from research into user expectations and perceptions of translated and localised websites, has recently been published.

        The next stage is to take user profiling further and develop
        a model for creating personas or avatars for specific locales.

        • Marcia Riefer Johnston

          Dave, That’s quite a model. I can imagine that you’ll find the personas helpful in the next stage.

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  • Daria

    An interesting topic indeed! While reading it, I was wondering how buyer personas as a tool differs from traditional market segmentation which can be very detailed as well, depending on the case. And why would it be necessary to tailor the research to one imaginary person – can it be then generalized?
    Thank you in advance

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Hi, Daria. Thanks for taking time to comment. I would say that traditional market segmentation and buyer personas as a tool differ in that a persona is a “composite sketch” (Ardath Albee’s phrase) that brings abstractions into concrete, personal form. In that sense, yes, it’s necessary to “tailor the research to one imaginary person. At the same time, as Ardath says, you can build your personas around commonalities, going against “the hyper-individuality that some people expect from a persona.” For more of Ardath’s insights, see this post:

      • Daria

        Thanks a lot for your answer!