Imagine overhearing a conversation between a little girl named Sarah and someone else you cannot quite identify. Sarah is addressing this other person, telling them to get dressed for the day and eat their breakfast quickly — they don’t want to be late for school.

It sounds as though this other person doesn’t really want to get out of bed. Sarah turns to a more coaxing tone of voice, and you hear her tell this other person that she understands not wanting to confront a mean classmate, but that going and doing it anyway will make her feel better and put an end to the bad treatment.

Finally, you catch a name. Sarah is speaking with someone named Samantha. Wait a minute. Isn’t Samantha Sarah’s doll?

Children and dolls

Have you ever met a little girl who loved her dolls? Most of us have. These small children can come up with elaborate stories about these inanimate figurines. They’ll tell you the doll’s name, her background, what she likes to do, and who her friends are. Most importantly, they’ll tell you how the doll is likely to react in different situations, and they know how to ‘motivate’ their make-believe friend.

As adults, many of us watch children playing with their dolls with a detached amusement, occasionally jumping into the game. The next time you watch a child with their dolls, however, you should stop to think about how much this active imagination is actually teaching you. If you listen closely, you can learn a bit about how to use buyer personas to grow your business.

The common persona mistake

Buyer personas are frequently cited by companies as the best way to market. It makes sense. You need to understand your customers if you want to successfully encourage them to buy. Countless companies will comb through their customer data and develop categories of buyers. They note the approximate age ranges, the budgets, the company size, and what they bought. Then, they distribute folders describing each ‘persona’ to others in the company, expecting to see an enormous jump in sales.

Unfortunately, they’re missing one key detail — bringing their personas to life.

Buyer personas vs. dolls

To maximize the potential for buyer personas, you need to treat them like small children treat their dolls. They have to completely come to life. Start by giving your personas a name and a photo. Understand their back story as though they were a close friend. Most importantly, figure out their motivations and how to encourage them to buy. It’s only when you understand these key points that you can direct your marketing efforts to better address these ideal customers.

How to understand the motivations of customers

To understand why your customers behave the way they do, you need to step back from gathering data and start asking ‘why’ and ‘what.’

  • Why did you pick our company over another?
  • What drove you to buy today?
  • What was your most pressing concern when you were debating between different companies?

Ask your customers about their back stories, so you can understand the stories of future customers.

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