How Well Do You Know Your Customers, Really?
by Aden Andrus • February 7, 2021
Who are your customers, really? More than almost anything else, your ability to answer this question will determine the success or failure of your business.
The archives of the US Patent Office are full of brilliant ideas that never took off. Countless successful companies have gone out of business. Expensive marketing campaigns with beautiful visuals and great products have led to public outcry and derision.
Why did all of these businesses fail? Because they didn’t understand who their customers were.
Your customers are the lifeblood of your business. If you don’t understand your customers, you don’t understand what the need or want from your business. You don’t know how to create products that they’ll love and you don’t know how to market those products in ways that your audience will respond to.
That’s why buyer personas are so important. A good buyer persona gives you a concise, directed way to think about your customers. That way of thinking is critical—especially when it comes to marketing.
In this article, we’re going to talk about how to put together a meaningful, useful buyer persona. This will be something you can use as a reference point in your own marketing and something that you can share with others as your business grows and develops.
Sound like a plan? Let’s get started!
Why Buyer Personas Matter
Most businesses think they know their customers. This is especially true of companies that have been in business for a while. After all, if you don’t have a sense for what your customers want, why would people keep buying from you?
But here’s the thing, while that’s technically true, there’s a big difference between selling something that people want to buy and actually understanding who your customers are and why they buy.
Take the ill-fated Peloton ad from 2019, for example:
From a purely objective standpoint, the Peloton ad wasn’t a bad ad. It’s got a clear value proposition, addresses a very real need and presents the product in a clear and compelling way.
In fact, with a few tweaks, this ad probably would have done quite well.
Unfortunately, what the marketers at Peloton didn’t take into account was the undertone of their ad. As presented, the ad makes it feel like women should get a Peloton to look good for their significant other—who may not be putting in the same effort on their end.
Regardless of whether or not this is actually a real motivating factor for their buyers, Peloton’s (hopefully inadvertent) insinuation that their customers need a Peloton to get in shape for their partner is quite offensive.
Peloton misunderstood how their customers would interpret and respond to their ad and as a result, it blew up in their faces. Peloton’s stock value plummeted 15% in just three days—representing a $1.5 billion loss in the company’s market value.
Peloton is a large, well-established company. You’d think they know their customers pretty well by now.
But clearly, that wasn’t the case. Peloton forgot who their customers were and the results were devastating for their business.
This sort of story isn’t new, either.
Barnes & Noble tried and failed to adapt to how Amazon was changing the book industry. As a result, they’ve been in financial freefall for years.
Yahoo Mail and Hotmail were once the dominant email platforms. They failed to keep up with what their customers wanted, however, and now together their user base is one-third the size of Gmail’s.
Blackberries were once the smartphone. But, they misunderstood what their customers really wanted and today, they represent less than 0.3% of smartphone sales.
To put it simply, the only way to run, market and grow an ecommerce business is to truly know your customers. And for that, you need to create and use effective ecommerce buyer personas.
Creating Ecommerce Buyer Personas
Ever since Alan Cooper first coined the term in his classic book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum, the concept of “buyer personas” has become a marketing staple. If you’re not familiar with the term, a buyer persona is what it sounds like: a detailed profile of a business’s ideal buyer.
Unfortunately, while the concept of “buyer personas” has been around for decades, clearly, most marketers don’t really understand how to build or use them effectively. This is particularly true amongst ecommerce marketers, many of whom have little-to-no actual contact with the people they’re selling to!
But there’s good news in all of this. Since most marketers don’t have a very good feel for their customers, if you can create effective ecommerce buyer personas, you have a huge market advantage.
The better you understand your customers, the better you will be at finding and connecting with potential customers. But that’s only possible if you take the time to get to know your target audience first.
Getting to Know Your Customers
Done right, your buyer personas should sum up each type of potential customer you’re marketing to. But to figure out who those customers are, you need to get to know the very best potential customers you’ve got: the men and women who’ve already made a purchase from you.
However they found your business, these men and women decided that your products were worth the investment. They’re the perfect example of the kind of people you’re hoping to attract with your marketing. After all, your products were the right fit for their needs and goals.
Now the only question is, why?
To answer that question, you will need to pull from a range of different sources. For some of it, you may be able to use your online analytics data, but for most of it, you’ll need to actually talk to people. Talk to your sales team. Talk to your customer service reps. Talk to your customers themselves. Yes, it’ll take some extra effort, but it will all pay off in the long run.
Asking the right people the right questions is the secret to creating an effective buyer persona. Once you understand who your customers are, what they’re like and why they decided to buy from you—instead of a competitor—you can use that information in every aspect of your online marketing.
Demographic data is the simplest part of your buyer persona. It basically answers the question, “who is your persona?” Maybe they’re a 35-year-old white male with a Bachelor’s Degree in Horticulture. Or, they could be a 55-year-old divorced woman with a high school diploma.
Regardless of the specifics, your demographic data gives you specific insights into the makeup of your target audience—essential information you’ll need as you set up and run your marketing campaigns.
Here are a few questions to answer regarding the demographics of your buyer persona:
- What is the average age range of this type of customer?
- What percent of them are male/female?
- What is their average household income?
- Are they married? Single? Divorced?
- Do they have kids? If so, how many?
- Where are most of the buyers who fit this persona from? Where is home for them?
- What is the highest level of education they’ve achieved?
Most of the time, demographic data is pretty easy to track down. Most of this information can often be found in your analytics data, with some simple Google searches or by checking out a database, so you should be able to get at it without much trouble. If not, a quick survey or two will help you figure things out fairly quickly.
Traits tell you what your buyer persona is like. Maybe most of the potential buyers who fit this persona are outdoorsmen or women who used to work as electricians. Alternatively, they might be single parents who live in their moms’ basement and are juggling jobs at two fast-food restaurants.
Here, your goal is to get a feel for a day-in-the-life of your buyer persona. What are their challenges and dreams? What do they like to do in their free time? What social groups are they a part of? These traits will help you learn how to find and connect with potential customers online.
Here are a few questions that will help you get at the traits of your buyer persona:
- What did/do your current customers do for a living?
- What do they like to do for fun?
- What are their hobbies, passions and interests?
- Do they live in an urban, suburban or rural environment?
- What is the buyer’s daily life like?
- How tech-savvy are your customers?
- Is social media an important part of their life? If so, which social networks do they prefer?
- How does the buyer like to communicate? Text? Email? Social media? Over the phone?
As you can probably imagine, most of this information isn’t available on Google Analytics. To figure out your persona’s traits, you’ll need to talk to or survey customers, sales people and your customer service team.
Finally, we have motivations. Motivations tell you why your buyer persona is interested in your product(s). Maybe most of your customers bought from you because they had a specific problem that your product solved. Maybe they have a friend that they thought would love your product. Maybe they just liked the way it looked.
Motivation is perhaps the most important part of your buyer persona. Demographics data and traits are great, but if you don’t understand why people buy, it’s going to be hard to motivate more people to make the same choice.
When you understand your buyer persona’s motivations, you can create a marketing message that will resonate with your target audience. By addressing their needs, wants, aspirations and/or goals, you’ll speak to them in a way that matters…and motivates them to action.
Apple is a great example of this. Apple understands that their buyers want to feel cool, modern and connected. As a result, all of Apple’s ads are designed to evoke those emotions.
When you watch an Apple ad, you almost can’t help but think, “If I have one of those devices, I’ll be part of the ‘in crowd’. I’ll have the very best tech that money can buy and life will be awesome!”
Say what you want about the actual quality of Apple’s devices and ecosystem, they have created an experience that their customers buy into and love. They know what motivates their customers, and as a result, their buyers keep coming back for years to come.
Unlike demographics and traits, motivation data will require a little more digging. Getting at the why behind people’s actions will require you to think deeply and ask the right questions.
To help get you started, though, here are a few questions you may want to answer regarding the motivations of your buyer persona:
- What problem are your customers trying to solve when they buy your product(s)?
- What positive outcome are your customers expecting/hoping for?
- What are your customers afraid of?
- What do they aspire to?
- Are your buyers primarily motivated by their fears or their goals/aspirations?
- Why did your current customers decide to buy from you? (vs the competition).
Surveys can be a helpful way to get surface-level insights or a broad perspective on a persona’s motivations, but to really get the info you need, you should talk to a variety of customers. Set up interviews. Read and respond to comments on your social media posts. Examine your reviews (good and bad) and the reviews of your competitors.
In the end, the goal of building your buyer personas is to really get to know your customers. The better you know your current customers, the easier it will be to find and market to potential customers online. But, for your buyer personas to be truly useful, you can’t stop with demographics or even traits. You have to understand everything about your customers—the who, what and why.
When you get right down to it, customer buyer personas are really the lifeblood of your business. And nowhere is this more true than in marketing.
Who your customers are, what motivates them and why they buy are critical to running successful marketing campaigns. Can you build a business without understanding your customers? Maybe, for a time at least, but if you don’t truly understand who you’re selling to, eventually that will come back to bite you.
If you want to be successful as a business (and especially as a marketer), you have to know your customers inside and out. Fortunately, now that you’ve read through this article, you should have a good sense for how to do that. Now all you have to do is put in the time and effort to build out truly effective buyer personas.
Oh, and by the way, if you’d like some additional help putting together your personas or marketing your ecommerce business, let us know here or in the comments. We’d love to help!
How do you approach ecommerce marketing? Have any tips to share for creating ecommerce buyer personas? Leave your thoughts in the comments.