Buyer Personas Can Over-Complicate Your Marketing

The promise of the digital age was a more accountable marketing spend. Yes, maybe it would be more complicated because there were more available venues, but we could deploy our efforts and funds more efficiently.

I don't see it, just honestly, especially when it comes to your own marketing efforts. I see you even more confused because there are even more options:

  • Should I pursue a career as a podcast guest...or even as a host?
  • What's the role of outbound?
  • Does email still work?
  • I've heard good things about LinkedIn ads, but I just seem to get spammed on that platform.
  • Does the world need one more blog?

Most firms like yours who don't have the means for broadcasting a regular, forceful point of view are starting at the wrong place. By that I mean that 90% of firms who fail to institute a regular marketing plan end up failing because they don't have a differentiated positioning. I like money as much as the next person, but I'm going to refuse to help you craft a marketing plan on a positioning that's not truly different.

But say you do have a compelling story to tell that most of your competitive set cannot embrace, which is what an increasingly higher percentage of you already have. How will you convert that uniqueness into a magnet that attracts opportunity?

Well, I'm not going to answer that question thoroughly right here, but I do want to assure you that the answer itself should not be complicated. If it is, chances are really good that you won't do what it takes to succeed.

  • If it takes you 9 months to get your website rebuilt, then you're over-thinking it or you have too many cooks in the kitchen.
  • If you are spending two months putting your buyer personas together, you've just spent two months more than you should have on that front.

I was working with a firm last year and we reshaped their positioning to something that was concise, compelling, and just plain perfect. They were thrilled and I was thrilled.

I then suggested that the next step was to get a very simple website up and running in four weeks. (I wanted to say two weeks, but I'd give them a break.) They went nuts at the suggestion and then spent forty minutes explaining how impossible that was.

They are wrong.

It's just not that complicated.

While your digital team debates whether to use WP or Craft or overkill it with Drupal, I'd like to see you do an end run instead:

  • Sit down with a smart copywriter and bang out the key messaging points.
  • Grab a Squarespace template and knock it out over some beer and good music.

If you want to know what to include, start here. And skip personas entirely.

May I pause here and illustrate how personas have complicated marketing unnecessarily?

Doing your buyer personas are a great example of over-complicating marketing. Not only are they not all that necessary, they are not even scientifically helpful. The concept of buyer (or user) personas appeared about 20 years ago. The simple idea was to carefully define your intended buyer so that the messaging would spark the intended CTA.

So far we're good, right? As the principal of a firm in this space, your buyer persona should be someone who:

  • Has used a firm like yours before because breaking the newbies in can be painful.
  • Has full authority over budgeted funds that must be spent on your firm or a firm like yours.
  • Knows this is going to cost more than X and is seeking a sufficiently deep, long relationship to effect results.
  • Is losing sleep over the solution to a problem in their space that should ideally be solved by a specific date.
  • Needs reassurance about the process you'll use to remove some of the uncertainty about working with a new partner.
  • Will be sufficiently impressed with some of the work you've done, confident that you can raise their products/services to the same level of success.

That's it. You don't need to name this buyer "Larry" and imagine what kind of dog he has or whether she drives an M5 or Highlander. All that extra stuff drags you down a wasteful path of needless complication.

I can sum up the problem with modern buyer personas like this:

  • Every step beyond something like that list above creates a smaller segment that has you hyper focused on a very remote target. My list of six things above describes every buyer. If I begin to imagine their kids, their pets, their cars, and their career advancement path, I am becoming LESS relevant because I am MISSING most of the target: someone who hates kids, hates has a pet rat, uses Uber, and no incentive to be promoted.
  • Every step beyond that list has you spending time and money that has no ROI.

But somehow we think we can't do marketing right unless we have four buyer personas that take three weeks and fifty hours to produce. When you are doing that for clients, you are not spending their money well, and when you do it for yourself, you're introducing an unnecessary delay.

If the process were helpful, I'd be all for it, but it's not. It's grown so that now we have a "Buyer Persona Institute", and in their example, we know Amanda's name, where she hangs out, how she'll get promoted, and on and on.

Check out this typical buyer persona by downloading and scanning the PDF. I promise your eyes are going to glaze over.

The more specific you get in imagining your buyer persona beyond the core description, the more you lose sight of the things that matter, and the more likely you are to get lost in the weeds instead of efficiently marketing your firm. For every firm with a perfectly executed marketing plan, there are three firms who never did anything with their overly complicated personas.

My own website is much more complicated than what Squarespace would allow, but it doesn't have to be that complicated. And it got done in a very reasonable amount of time.

We're making two mistakes in marketing ourselves.

The first mistake is underestimating the importance of basing everything on a differentiated positioning and not a "more better" one.

The second is over-thinking how to take that message to the public that we are so eager to help. Start with quick and clear and eventually you can go deeper and clearer.

For an industry that's always trying to convince our clients to do more, maybe we ought to do less...but sooner and smarter.

  • Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Covert Techniques For A Remarkable Practice

    Buy Now