Issue #008

A practical guide to setting and using buyer personas

The other day I was casually scrolling through Twitter before bed (I know...) and stumbled upon a tweet that had a ridiculous amount of likes.

The gist of it? "Understand your buyer personas. Then speak to each differently."

...And that was pretty much it.

These sort of tweets honestly frustrate the hell out of me.

They don't really say much of anything. They feel good, they sound right. But what are you supposed to do with that?

I started this newsletter because I want to help provide more tactical context around marketing best-practices. And, today, I'd like to share a bit about how I think about buyer personas – and, most importantly, how I use them in my email marketing.

Segments ➡️ Personas ➡️ Relevance

A buyer persona is a high-level "who" and "what" about somebody in your audience.

They allow you to bucket contacts on your list into groups, and each group likely has different underlying motivations for wanting to do business with you.

The big idea is that different things motivate different potential buyers.

So if you can dynamically align, or position, what it is you have to offer differently depending on the person... well, they're more likely to read your emails, click your links, and click the "Buy Now" button.

Image courtesy of this blog post by Stratwell Strategic Solutions.

Underlying each buyer persona is a set of segmentation data.

When someone matches into a segments that align with one of your big personas, you'll then change up the content you deliver to that persona (i.e. the pitch emails / case studies / etc you send.)

The end result is that the content someone gets from you is more relevant to them.... and then more reads, more clicks, more purchases.

Segments ➡️ Personas ➡️ Relevance

How do you bucket contacts into personas?

You probably should never ask someone point-blank to place themselves into a persona (like through a survey.)

Rather, you want a persona to be the sum of their segmentation.

To deconstruct the above "Jake" persona, what we really have is a number of segments:

  • Goal = giving his family a good life

  • Business problem = stagnant website traffic (and, assumed, stagnant sales)

  • Hesitancy = "content marketing won't work for my type of business"

  • Family situation = married with children

Combined, these segments tell the story of someone who is desperately trying to get the online business thing to work for him. He can't seem to get anyone to his website, and the content marketing (read: random blogging) he's done hasn't worked. This is standing in the way of him being able to feel like he has a stable asset that allows him to dedicate most of his time to his growing family.

Capturing these segments is best done at inflection points, like when someone first joins your list or purchases a product.

And the setting of these segments should then compute, or recompute, someone's persona assignment – ensuring that only ONE persona can be assigned to an individual contact.

...But, alas, depending on your email marketing platform of choice this is easier said than done.

Here are a few ways to do this, ranging from easy-but-brittle to advanced:

Method #1: A saved 'segment' or search

Many platforms allow for saved searches, sometimes called segments (confusing, I know), that draw on a contact's segmentation.

For example:

Honestly, this is a total train wreck.

In the above screenshot, I'm attempting to put someone into the "Jake the Family Man" segment if goal=family OR business_problem=traffic while disqualifying anyone who's segmented in such a way that would make them a bad fit for this persona.

Trying to add more complexity to this saved search/segment approach honestly makes me want to rip my hair out, because I know it's not going to work as intended. There will be people who don't match into any of your personas (due to robust exclusionary rules) or who match into multiple (due to lax inclusionary rules.)

I wanted to overview this method but... please don't actually use it.

{% capture t %}{% assign subheadline = "Method #2: A 'function' automation" %}{{ snippet.subheadline }}{% endcapture %}{{ subheadline_output }}

To circumvent the problem where a contact can end up in multiple (or no) personas, we can use an automation that doesn't actually send any email but instead just determines what the value of the persona custom field should be.

The automation is triggered by the setting of any segmentation field that could possibly change someone's persona:

You then set up a gauntlet of if/else's that check to see if someone matches into a specific persona. Your highest precedence personas should be the first you check for:

And then you set the persona field and exit them from the automation.

Finally, if a contact hasn't exited the automation yet at the end of your chain of if/else's, you can set a default persona for them.

This automation can, and should, be run whenever you change up your personas (through a bulk action) or whenever someone's underlying segmentation changes. For example, a year later Jake might decide that now he faces a different challenge after successfully building up his business and affording his family a great lifestyle.

Method #3: Lead scoring contacts into personas

There's an even better way to do this, and it involves a lot of Liquid templating code and a bit of math to determine a score for each persona, and then assigns someone to a persona based on whichever has the highest score.

It's significantly more flexible since it doesn't actually require you to give precedence to some personas over others. This is covered in a brand new in-depth lesson within my course, Mastering ConvertKit.

But Method #2 is a good place to start.

Using your personas to increase engagement and sales

Assuming you've taken my advice and used Method #2 (or #3, if you're a MCK customer), now it's time to put your personas to good use.

Since you have a persona custom field with a few values, this is relatively straightforward.

When you're sending broadcast emails or creating an automation with conditionals, you just need to set the targeting to persona=jakethefamily_man.

Now you'll know that only people who fit into that profile will be delivered those emails, and should someone's underlying segmentation change and warrant a shift in personas, that will happen automatically.

Within an actual email, you can use Liquid conditionals to swap out blocks of text depending on someone's persona. Here's an example:

Subject: Check out this new course I just launched

I just launched a new thing I'd like to share with you!

{% case subscriber.persona %} {% when "entrepreneur" %}Since you want to sell your business, here's how this will help you... {% when "familyoriented" %}I know you're struggling with building a business that'll provide for your family, here's how this will help you... {% else %}No matter your goals, here's how this will help you... {% endcase %}

<rest of the launch email goes here>

Increasing the relevance of your emails doesn't need to be hard, and it doesn't need to be something you're constantly worrying about.

For example, I haven't done any sort of personalization in this email – everyone's getting the same thing.

But for the key emails I'm working on, like my list onboarding and an email course I'm planning, I'll be using the personas I've been mapping out to make the experience of joining my list or going through my email course so much better.