Target markets, buyer personas, customer profiles – what’s the difference?

Mark Davis, Thursday 31 August 2017

Target Markets, Profiles, personas-979177-edited.jpg

Anyone who wants to bring a new product to market has one key question to answer - who is the product for? As without a customer who has a need and wants to buy the product, there will be no business.

 

While the behavior of buyers may have changed in recent years, along with the channels and methods now available to influence them, the basic principles of marketing to a specific group haven’t.

 

When determining who to market to, a key factor will be where in the product development cycle you currently are. Some companies will fix on a specific target market first, then figure out what they might offer. Others will do things the opposite way around, by firstly developing a product then working out who to market it to.

 

There’s no right or wrong approach, as long as you are clear who has a need for your product and therefore who you want to reach with your marketing.

Here, we’re going to examine the different types of segmentation that are often used to help define a target audience and what they mean.

 

Science of persona driven content

 

Target markets

 

The first step to audience segmentation for marketers is to try and define the overall market you want to reach.

 

Questions to be addressed here include industry, type of customer (B2B or B2C), geographic constraints and other demographics, such as company size and turnover.

 

B2B or B2C or B2B2C?

 

The sales model will also be very important. You need to decide whether your customers are going to be the end consumer, or an intermediate company. This will have an impact on the tactics you might use, as they’ll need to be reached in very different ways.

 

The number of people you want to reach could also vary greatly, as marketing to a mass audience is a world away from targeting a select group of buyers.

 

Of course, everyone uses the internet in a similar way – we read up, we research and increasingly we ask friends and peers via social channels for their recommendations on what to buy.

 

So, the digital platforms you use to reach people may be very similar, but how you use them will be key.

 

Determining a target market is about figuring out who the group of people is who might want to buy your product and what they have in common. For example, it could be females aged 25-35, or manufacturing companies with a 200+mill turnover. There are endless possibilities.

 

But you’ll need to break this top-level group down much further, if you’re to create a winning marketing campaign. And that’s where buyer personas and customer profiles come in.

 

So what’s the difference?

 

  • A customer profile describes who your ideal customer is and all the characteristics that make them ideal
  • Buyer personas are fictional descriptions that marketing teams can create and use to help them connect with their ideal clients

 

Customer profiles

 

No matter what the product is that you are selling, you need to understand the market and who is most likely to buy from you.

 

If your company is already up and running, then this isn’t going to be too difficult. You could use customer surveys and look at other data you hold.

 

The key here is to dig deep into the information, to ensure you truly understand what it’s telling you and exactly what makes a good customer for you.

 

It’s not always as simple as it seems. You may have a large customer who adds a lot to your turnover but who is one of the worst in terms of margins. In this situation, concentrating on other smaller customer segments may be preferable.

 

If your data reveals that marketing to mid-sized companies is going to be more profitable for you than big companies, then consider shifting your focus. Bring in more mid-sized companies and make up the turnover through higher volumes.

 

Of course, it could work the other way round too. You may find you achieve better margins from landing large corporations. Either way, the idea is to look at your data and to analyze it to make an informed decision.

 

There are now loads of tools and methods you can use to both collect data and examine it. And the bigger your company is, the more data you’re likely to hold, so calling on the services of a professional business analyst may be a good move for you.

 

Buyer personas

 

Most companies will have an ideal customer in mind, but that’s as far as they may go in terms of profiling them. Yet developing buyer personas can be the secret of success.

 

A buyer persona is a fictional character you create, based around the description of your ideal customer.

 

One tactic authors use to help them write their novels, is to imagine they are writing their story for a specific person. That way, they always find the right tone and style for what they’re trying to say.

 

The same technique can be used by sales and marketing teams, if they work on putting some buyer personas together. Each persona is simply a description of a specific person that you can keep in mind when planning and producing content for marketing campaigns.

 

The information you include and the tone of voice will be different depending on the buyer persona you then use. As a very simple example - aiming a piece of content at “Marketing Mary” will be very different to one for “Technical Bill”. Even by that short name you can tell they will respond better to different things.

 

The more you flesh out your buyer personas, the easier it will be to create content your audience reacts to and engages with. Marketing in a digital world means you have multiple touchpoints before a buyer will decide whether to convert on one of your offers. That means you need to provide a multitude of content across various channels, but what needs to stay the same is the style and tone of voice of your content.

 

The single greatest reason why you should spend time developing your buyer personas is this - it will shorten your time to conversion.

 

If you produce content for a broad audience, it’s not going to be specific enough for the exact people you really need to get excited about it. Basically, it will be a waste of time. Narrow down the target audience and your language will be far more tailored and relevant to them.

 

When buyer personas are applied across the whole company, they will also help your sales and customer services teams to change their messaging, according to who they are talking to.

 

Keeping it fluid

 

None of these methods for segmentation are set in stone. Continue to set up KPIs that will help you monitor your customers and reveal data to help you strengthen your ideal customer profile and buyer personas.

 

Ask regularly - is the strategy working? Discuss it with the entire team, as having marketing and sales aligned will make you far more successful. It will all become a lot easier if you can sit down and develop the descriptions and profiles together, so you know who you want to be speaking to.

 

The marketing team may think you need to reach the technical team, but when talking to sales they may discover that leaving out the financial controllers will be a huge problem, as they are in fact the driving force behind company investments. It is only by sharing insights and ideas, that the strongest – and ultimately most profitable - marketing campaigns will be created.


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