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Content StrategyPodcast

022: Buyer Personas Don’t Have to Suck! with Adrienne Barnes (Best Buyer Persona)

Buyer Personas Don’t Have to Suck! with Adrienne Barnes

Adrienne Barnes is the Founder of Best Buyer Persona, and a B2B SaaS Content Marketing consultant. 

Here’s a staggering statistic. In a survey conducted by Adrienne, 85% of marketers said they create buyer personas. Want to know how often they used them? 77% said never. 

The cold reality is that traditional buyer personas have become a “check the box” marketing practice – and a waste of time. That’s why Adrienne created Best Buyer Persona: to re-imagine how personas are created, and turn them into something informative and actionable. 

In this episode you’ll learn how to conduct customer research the proper way to inform your content marketing strategy, and more.

When she’s not identifying companies’ best buyers, she’s using her customer research skills to create unique and effective content marketing strategies. She’s worked with amazing companies such as: Audiense, Stripe, Demio,, Unbounce, and Smartling.

Connect with Adrienne on LinkedIn or Twitter

Best Buyer Persona was founded in 2018 and helps SaaS companies define their best buyers using the Jobs-To-Be-Done framework. Check out Best Buyer Persona

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Key Takeaways

08:28 –  Personas have become a “check the box” practice

When Adrienne did a poll with the company Audiense, she found that most companies are creating traditional buyer personas, but almost none of them are using them.

“We asked in-house marketers and agencies, how often do you create them? And I think the answer was 85% of companies create a buyer persona. And then I said, okay, how often do you use them? 77% said never. And then I tried to get more specific and say, do you use them when you do a product launch? Or maybe when you’re starting a new campaign? Or all of these really specific instances where I could think this is where a buyer persona should be used. And the answer across the board was no, we don’t use them. We don’t ever refer back to them. We’re not looking at them. It’s not informing business decisions. And so that’s where I decided this has become a check the box marketing practice.”

12:27 – Conduct interviews to create a content strategy

Your buyer’s frustrations and wins should inform the content you create. Adrienne lets customers guide and inspire her to create specific content pieces like case studies and testimonials. 

“In my buyer personas, I have a slide that I call frustrations and aspirations. And then other ones where I have what I call relational keywords, so those words that your customers are using about your product. So their frustrations become, for me, that’s our ‘how-to’ content. If they don’t know how to do something, I need to teach them how to do it in my content marketing. So it really does create a clear connection line between ‘this is what our customers don’t understand, this is what I need to teach them. Aspirations or delight if they’re bragging on something. If they’re like, this was so great, we love this, that’s a case study. That’s a testimonial. You can turn around and turn that into all kinds of things.”

16:12 – Use relational keywords

Relational keywords are the words your customer uses for your product. It’s what you should use in your copy and should inform your content and SEO.

“There’s gotta be a term, something I can say quickly, rather than we’re going to use the words of your customer. I wanted to be able to identify what those were and highlight them and make sure that my clients knew that these were important terms. And so it just kind of occurred to me, oh, relational. Because they’re showing the relationship between the company and the client and their customer. So for instance, I use the sneaker and shoe example. If you are a designer shoe store and you’ve created shoes, and then you do this research and all of your copy on your website is shoes and they’re beautiful and shoes and shoes. And then you do all these interviews and you realize your customers are calling them sneakers. It’s probably time to change your content and your copy to sneakers. Not that people can’t understand that a shoe and a sneaker is a similar thing, but it goes along with that StoryBrand concept of don’t make people overwork. Really give them simplicity.”

17:42 – Build word clouds to pinpoint keywords

Adrienne’s strategy for finding the relational keywords is to build word clouds from the customer interviews she conducts.

“So if I ask a question, like I said, I know that the question is tied to a problem or a piece of content in my head. So I highlight the topics that I’m asking, pull out questions, or pull out the quotes, the responses from the customers, put it underneath the topic that it belongs to. Then I do word clouds. So each topic will get put into a word cloud, and then it becomes really clear and simple. These were the words they use the most. This is the word that most defines their problem. This is the kind of language that they use when they’re discussing how happy or pleased they were with the product or what they still want to learn, or just different things like that. It’s kind of fun and it becomes very clear that’s the language that they’ve used.”

24:25 – Learn the science behind surveys

Many of Adrienne’s freelance clients didn’t have personas or know much about their audience. Adrienne spent a couple of years giving herself a crash course on survey design, data analysis, and interviews so that she could build Best Buyer Persona.

“I asked people to send me their surveys, and then I would just ask them, Hey, how did this go? What was great about it? What failed? And that was fun. And then just doing, I asked a lot of surveys. I sent out surveys for various things and learned via practice. For the qualitative and quantitative data analysis, I basically picked up any book I could find on how to interview. I was reading from social workers, basically the people who do social work, scientists, I was reading from journalists, other kinds of product research people. I’ve got Just Enough Research by Erika Hall by my desk. Just tons, any information I could find out there. I took a few free online courses just to figure out what are the basics of a good interview. How do you gather data from people?”

31:38 – View buyer personas with a critical lens

If your buyer personas aren’t helping you to create content or develop other business strategies, they’re wasting your time. 

“If it doesn’t make sense, if we’re not using it, why waste time? Why waste four hours even doing it? So I wanted to make sure that every line of information I put into a buyer persona is going to inform something. So it’s either going to inform a product development or a new feature, or how customer success can help and support a customer on a call, or how a content marketer could take this and say, okay, I’ve now got 28 ideas that I know, pieces of content I can now execute on and go off. Cause that’s where it originated for me was I would get Mary Marketer, 28, lives in this city, is a marketer who struggles with technical implications, has a cat, wants to be Wonder Woman, and loves ramen noodles. Now go create 15 pieces of content that’s going to support her, market to her, reach her in the best, most empathetic way. That doesn’t tell me anything that I can now use to inform a content strategy.”

35:08 – Question content for content’s sake

Customer interviews can help you to figure out if content is really what they want, or if another type of support is needed.

“As a customer, there’s not one product I use – and I use quite a bit to run both businesses – that I’m like, Ooh, I need to check their blog every single week. I’m just itching to hear what Typeform has to say. Or what’s HubSpot said this week, or what Calendly is doing. If I have a problem, I’m like, oh, then I’ll go to them and I’ll try to figure it out. But it’s rarely that we need content for content’s sake. It needs to serve a purpose. It needs to have a means to an end. So definitely in content marketing, there needs to be some just understanding and efficiency. I think we get in a bubble. We as in just marketers in general. And we’re working hard on products, we love our product. We’re ready to do this work. And we kind of get in the bubble where it’s like, of course people are going to want to hear what we have to say. We worked really hard on this and this is good. It’s good, high quality stuff. I’m not saying stuff is crap. It’s really good. And so of course people are going to want it, but it’s harder to say, but do they actually want it?”

43:39 – Get richer answers with empathy

For a great interview, start by seeing what the customer has talked about before on social media, for example. Then dig deeper. If something elicits emotion, show empathy and ask for more information.

“I can say, well, you mentioned this premise over here, can you tell me a little bit more about that? That ‘can you tell me a little bit more about that question’ is my favorite, and the most powerful. One that Michelle Hanson said – she’s about to release a book on qualitative question, customer development discovery. I think it’s called Deploy Empathy. That’s a big plug for her. I pre-purchased it. So I’m excited about it. She says if you’re hearing an emotion, so maybe your podcast interviewee is telling about a hard time or a challenge or something like that, to empathize with their emotions. So, ‘wow, that sounds like that was hard.’ or ‘that sounded very challenging. Would you mind sharing that experience more? Would you mind telling me more about that?’ Having that empathetic response where you’re validating their feelings, they’re safer, they’re more comfortable. You get me, now I’m going to open up a little bit more.”

47:21 – Ways to get interviewees to open up

Adrienne always asks if there’s anything else the interviewee wants to add, and makes sure they’ve been introduced beforehand.

“I ask them, so is there anything else I should know? Is there anything else that you’d like to share? For a customer discovery interview, that’s where they’ll end up giving me the greatest insights, the most concise language. That little question does really, really well. Also I’ve found that I don’t come in cold. So when I’m scheduling interviews and, for instance, with the podcast, like you did, you were asking on social, we were tagged in. So we were already introduced. It wasn’t just like you cold emailed me out of the blue. So what I like to do when I’m setting up customer interviews is the client will then introduce me. So maybe they’ve got somebody that they’ve been emailing within the company, or a company influencer who’s well-known. I’ll have that person intro me. So I’m coming in warm. They know who I am. I’m coming in with the authority and the co-sign from someone that they trust. So that usually is able to start off the conversation with an easier kind of way.”

53:19 – Ask customers how they use your content

To get a better idea of what content customers consume and find useful, ask specific questions about it. Then, put your effort into developing the content they actually want.

“Some of your customers, your best customers, don’t know you have a blog. And they don’t care. Or maybe they’re like, oh yeah, I get a newsletter in my email. I see that. I’ll say, how do you use the blog to help you? Have you ever had an issue and you’ve gone to the blog help you solve it? Things like that that really will inform how are your buyers actually using your content? And sometimes it’s like, oh yeah, I love the white papers. The white papers are amazing. And they spend a lot of time talking about the white papers, but the majority of them didn’t know that we do infographics or that we have a ton of podcasts or fireside chats or whatever other kinds of content we have. So then we’re able to say, okay. Really we’re exhausting a lot of effort in creating a weekly blog post. What we could do is create a monthly white paper and just switch our effort into original research.”

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Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.