By Aaron Agius published July 10, 2017

Hacking Your Buyer Personas: The Only 3 Questions You Need to Ask

buyer-persona-hacksThere’s something to be said for thorough, extensively researched buyer personas.

When you’ve taken the time to answer 150 questions about your target customers, there’s no way the content written for them and the way you market to them won’t resonate.

The data backs this up. Katie Sweet, writing for IBM’s THINK Marketing blog, shares some insight that proves how important understanding your customers is to your marketing campaign’s success, including this statistic: 63% of consumers say they would think more positively about a brand if it gave them content that was more valuable, interesting, or relevant.

63% of consumers would think more positively about a brand if it gave them valuable #content via @RaptMedia. Click To Tweet

Clearly, customer insight is key. If you have the time for extensive buyer personas, that’s great.
But what if it doesn’t take answering 150 questions to achieve this necessary level of understanding?

There is a better way.

These questions won’t give you the same thorough understanding you’d get by meticulously filling out a customer persona template, but as you’ll see, they will help you dive into the mindset of your target audience members.

The three questions are:

  • What is the first thing my customer thinks about in the morning?
  • What is the last thing my customer thinks about at night?
  • Why?

These might sound overly simplistic, but stick with me. There’s a method to this madness.

Buyer persona hack: What’s first thing customers think in morning, at night, & why, says @IamAaronAgius. Click To Tweet

What is the first thing my customer thinks about in the morning?

Think about the way you wake up in the morning. What do you think about first?

If you’re like most people, chances are you think about what’s on your schedule for the day. Maybe you’re feeling frustrated about going to a job you hate. Maybe you’re stressed about a big presentation. Or maybe you’re excited about spending time with your family or working on a project you love.

What is the last thing my customer thinks about at night?

Now, think about how you typically feel at the end of the day.

Rather than thinking about the micro-events of your upcoming days, night-time thoughts tend to occur on a macro level. You aren’t thinking about the appointments in your planner – you’re reflecting on whether you’re happy with your life or whether you should make changes to everything from your social life to your career and more.

Why?

The “why” question is a bit nebulous; every person has different reasons for making the choices or having the feelings they do. But digging into this question is what makes this exercise so powerful.

Let’s go through an example so you can see what I mean:

Meet Mark

Mark is a member of the target audience for my marketing agency – he’s the marketing manager of an enterprise brand.

What is the first thing Mark thinks about in the morning?

When Mark rolls out of bed, he’s worried.

He has a big meeting coming up with his boss – the vice president of marketing – who is stressed about how the department’s performance looks to other members of the C-suite. There has been talk of spending freezes, and both Mark and his vice president are anxious to justify their work and the choices they’ve made.

What is the last thing Mark thinks about at night?

At the end of the day, Mark is somewhat relieved. His meeting went well, but he can’t shake the nagging feeling that, although he was able to put out one fire, another one will be right around the corner.

He’s frustrated. He took this job because of the great pay, but the stress of it is affecting his time with his family and friends. He wonders if he really can make it work, or if he should start looking elsewhere for new opportunities.

Why?

Mark was worried in the morning because he wasn’t confident in the ability of the agencies he’s hired to drive results – and he’s afraid those decisions will reflect poorly on him.

He wants to do a good job, and he wants his performance to reflect well enough to help him move up the ladder at his company. But at the same time, he’s frustrated because his work is getting in the way of other things in his life he deems important.

Marketing to Mark

I didn’t answer hundreds of questions about whether or not Mark has a dog at home, what his hobbies are, or whether he’s carrying student loan debt.

But I have enough insight to understand what matters to Mark and his current frustrations to build content tailored to his needs and pain points.

Knowing what I know about Mark, I could write company blog posts on titles such as:

  • Selling the C-Suite: Making the Business Case for External Marketing Agencies
  • The 5 Monthly Reports Your Marketing Agency Should Be Providing You
  • 10 Tips for Separating Successful Marketing Agencies from Scam Artists
  • What It Means to Be a Fully Transparent Marketing Agency (And Why You Should Choose One for Your Next Project)
  • Handling Agency Conflict: What to Do When Results Fall Short

Each of these proposed titles supports a concern or pain point I identified in Mark’s life, using the answers to the three questions. (These are hypothetical and somewhat off the cuff; I would refine them based on competitive research data on content already published.)

The topics may not all be winners, but taken together they give the clear impression that I understand Mark’s needs and how they could be met.

When you don’t know your Mark

In the example, I base my assumptions about Mark on past experiences I’ve had with my customers. If you aren’t your target audience, you’ll need to do a bit more digging to find how they would answer the questions.

Sure, you could guess – and you might get close. But why not take the time to look through sites like Quora, Yahoo Answers, public Facebook Groups in your industry, or industry-specific forums to find the questions people are asking and the language they’re using?

Use sites like @quora or @yahoo to find the questions people are asking, says @IAmAaronAgius. Click To Tweet

For example, if I were researching Mark, I might start a query for “routines” on Inbound.org:

search-results-routines

By opening each thread, I could get answers about how marketers structure their days.

Pairing these results with other hot topics (found on Inbound.org under “Top Content”) would give me a better idea of what marketers’ top concerns are and what they’re struggling with:

hot-topics-forums

From here, I can start to answer my three questions:

  • What is the first thing my customer thinks about in the morning?
  • What is the last thing my customer thinks about at night?
  • Why?

I won’t be as confident in the answers as I would if I had real-world experience working with this audience, but the process gives me a starting point to create content without wasting time answering dozens of demographic questions.

Conclusion

Will your content and messaging benefit from more detailed buyer personas rather than ones derived from the three questions? Of course. More information is almost always better when it comes to marketing.

But there are trade-offs to consider. Time spent researching endless details and creating fully fleshed out customer avatars is time you aren’t creating content or actively marketing. And that time has a cost in terms of missed opportunities resulting from your delays.

In my opinion, you need to find a balance. Use the three questions to kick off your content planning and to inform your early marketing messages. As you gather content performance data, use it to further develop your buyer persona.

For example, if multiple articles around a single topic perform poorly, you may need to explore other facets of your audience – add and answer more questions about your buyer. But keep moving forward. Don’t wait to have a perfect understanding of your audience to start creating the content they need to see.

Would you use these three questions in lieu of a full buyer persona? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a note in the comments.

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Cover image by Nick Karvounis via Unsplash

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Author: Aaron Agius

Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world’s largest and most recognized brands to build their online presence. See more from Aaron at Louder Online.

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