Got Buyer Personas? 44% say yes, but 85% aren’t using them effectively.

Adele revellaToday’s post is a guest submission from Adele Revella. Adele is a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator and author of The Buyer Persona Manifesto.  A career marketer with decades of experience in the B2B technology industry, Adele has approached the discipline from all sides: sales and marketing executive, consultant, trainer and entrepreneur. She is currently CEO and founder of Buyer Persona Institute, the company she founded in 2010 to ensure that companies have deep insight into what persuades buyers to choose the solutions they market. 

This disturbing data was reported in a recent ITSMA study. The sample size was relatively small and limited to the services marketing sector, but I’m seeing indicators that this is a widespread issue.

The problem seems to have little to do with the skills needed to leverage buyer personas. Instead, marketers appear to have latched onto a cookie-cutter format for presenting buyer personas, while missing the fact that building them requires unique research. Too many people are simply recycling existing data or pushing out surveys, which virtually ensures that their buyer personas won’t tell them anything they didn’t already know.

Simply put, these buyer personas lack the breadth and depth of insight that is needed to establish the persona as an authority on the decisions marketers need to make. So nothing changes.

An insight, by definition, reveals new information. It’s something you don’t already know. When I see people recommending that marketers build their buyer personas with readily available or insider data, my hackles rise.

Sure, surveys are a quick and easy way to do research, but it’s impossible to get new information from their multiple choice, question and answer format. They’re better suited for validating and quantifying existing knowledge, assumptions or trends.

Other people believe they can build buyer personas from information provided by their marketing automation solutions. These systems contain a lot of useful data about what actions buyers took (among other things), but they don’t reveal why, for example, the buyer responded to a particular marketing piece or sales offer, or what other information would lead that buyer to eliminate a competitor from consideration.

It’s only through a real-time dialogue, through listening to each buyer’s story and posing questions based on their answers, that you can ferret out new insights: What triggers the buyer’s engagement, his barriers to purchase, or which criteria the buyer uses to evaluate competing solutions – to name just a few of the insights that actionable buyer personas reveal.  

Buyer personas based on surveys or existing data are built in an echo chamber where the same theses are endlessly repeated.

To make it easy to share buyer persona best practices with other marketers, we’ve created a new infographic. I’m hoping that people who see it will begin to understand the value of listening to buyers. We want marketers to realize that buyer personas are incomplete when they end with a profile of a person, and that deep buying insights require interviews with the real people they want to influence.  



Once these insights are communicated through buyer personas, marketers will have no trouble putting them to work for effective content marketing, messaging, and sales enablement, to name just a few.

I hope you will attend my session at Content Marketing World, where I’ll share the stage with SAP marketing vice president Joan Sherlock. We’ll show you how SAP is using buyer personas to effectively influence a global audience of marketers and buyers. I look forward to seeing you and meeting you there.

Find Adele on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Join Adele and over 100 other speakers at Content Marketing World. Use SPEAKERGUEST to save $100 on main event registrations and all-access passes! Register today – and we’ll see you in September! 

  • Mike Turner

    Adele, a great article and very helpful infographic. While I completely agree with the approach, small-to-medium size businesses rarely have the skilled personnel or budgets to take all this on. Especially if have a broad product set that can result in 5-10 or more personas. What are your suggestions for such businesses to scale their persona efforts?

    • Adele Revella

      Good question. You mention that you’re in a small-to-medium sized business and also that you need “5-10 or more personas”. I bet you don’t need nearly that many, despite the broad product set. The SAP case study that we’ll present at Content Marketing World resulted in only 10 personas, and they are a huge global company with hundreds of products. I’m hoping you can attend our session and we’ll be sure to tell you how they kept that number down to a manageable few.

  • Melissa Breker

    Great post!

    Personas are only useful if you actually USE them.

    As you pointed out, marketing teams brainstorm different personas but they lack the most important element … research. Without research, they should be called: “Our Best Guess At Who We Think Our Audience Is”.

    Personas set the rules for content decisions so you can make smarter decisions around messaging, topics, formats, and channels.

    We’ve found that focusing on content components, can help shift the
    conversation, so they’re a practical tool for a shared vision about your

    When you’re creating them, look at ways to bring them to life.

    Don’t let them get trapped in a Word document!

    We worked with a financial client to create posters, audience cards and a content matrix to summarize how content can support each audience. The team can now build an editorial calendar based on relevant messaging because they understand their core values, content purpose and channels.

    Done right, personas are a practical tool that can improve customer engagement and better brand decisions.

    • Adele Revella

      Thanks Melissa. Well said.

  • Cas McCullough

    Great post! When I was at CM World Sydney I raised the issue of creating personas not only based on current customers but also on who a company wants to attract. The speaker seemed to think this was a silly idea and yet, my clients who have done this have had bottom line results and they are also happier because they are working with people who resonate with their businesses. I agree that a lot of further research needs to happen beyond the cardboard cutout of a buyer persona but I feel too many companies are stuck with basing their persona on who is buying rather than on who could buy with better, more authentic communication.

    • Adele Revella

      Thanks for the comment, Cas. I am astounded that anyone would think that buyer personas are only about existing customers. Good grief, the biggest part of a marketer’s job is to attract new buyers. So of course a buyer persona needs to focus on non-customers. I am so sorry that someone who was speaking on this topic was so misinformed. We’re working hard to correct these and so many other misunderstandings about buyer personas. Thank you for your help.

  • Stephen Bateman DipM MCIM

    I love the pictograms in this new infographic @cathy – thanks for sharing! I’m a big fan of the work you guys do and can vouch of the efficacy of your process.

    • Adele Revella

      Thank you Stephen. I love to meet our fans and hope to see you at the conference.