Many marketing and sales executives agree the need to understand buyers today is greater than ever. Markets and industries in B2B are still trying to figure out the impact of changing buying behaviors. There is heightened attention on customer acquisition – mainly because it has become a guessing game.
What many executives are discovering is the search for understanding and insights into changing buying behaviors can be confusing and lead to dead ends. One problematic area of confusion is the understanding and terminologies related to buyer profiling and buyer personas. Oftentimes, used interchangeably as if these two vastly different concepts are one and the same.
Choosing The Right Approach
How B2B organizations approach understanding buyers can make a big difference. During the past few years we have seen a rise in the use of the term buyer personas. However, it can be a major source of confusion. This is true when you start mixing terminologies and referring to buyer profiles as buyer persona profiling. Or calling any information related to profiling buyers – buyer personas. Worse yet, I have seen Big Data terminology referring to buyer persona analytics. To me, this is just getting carried way.
How do executives then make the right choices when it comes to understanding buyers? In a recent conversation helping a marketing executive, this very dilemma was posed to me. The dilemma sounds like this:
“Here’s what I am struggling with. You read and hear a lot of information on buyer personas these days. It is all over the map though. In a lot of cases I don’t see much difference from basic customer profiling that we get from our CRM and sales. So, help me understand what am I missing here.” Vice President, Marketing
I get this. There is plenty of incorrect information floating around on buyer personas. It seems anything or anyone related to content marketing has their own way of labeling buyer personas. For marketing and sales executive, it very well could be the case of the more you read and listen, the more confused you are bound to get.
Bringing Clarity To The Differences
With the need to gain deep understanding of buyers today, choosing how to approach doing so is of importance. Making the wrong choice can be a set back. To make the right choice, having clarity on the differences is critical. First, let us take a look at the reference chart:
What should be evident is buyer profiles have a broader focus on buying factors and processes. They are also slanted towards target and account segmentation perspectives. Obviously, a bent towards the traditional sales and product marketing approaches from the past few decades. On the other hand, buyer personas have chartered new territories into buyer insights, buying behaviors, goals, situational context, attitudinal mental modeling, and emotional as well as personal values.
Perhaps the most important clarity to be gained is while buyer profiling has its place for understanding buyers, it is a reflection of highly commoditized business factors – not deep buyer insights. Inadequate for understanding decision-making today heavily weighted towards brand experience and brand values. Simply stated, B2B businesses will not be able to differentiate solely on the basis of understanding commoditized business factors.
Buyer Story Lines
One of the main purposes of buyer personas is to help businesses understand the story of buyers. Delivering key insights into the buyer’s narrative and the impact on their goals, emotions, and personal values. Without this understanding, B2B organizations will have a tough time telling their own story. Their story will be out of context to their buyer’s story line.
When you have buyer profiles masquerading as buyer personas, this only hurts the ability of B2B businesses to tell their story. They wind up messaging buyers on factors as oppose to connecting on compelling insights-based story lines. One mantra I have stated over the years and is worth repeating is – placing a picture on a buyer profile does not make it a buyer persona. Sadly, this is what is occurring in many cases – causing confusion as the marketing executive above states.
There is plenty of evidence lately about the ineffectiveness of content marketing with upwards of 70% considered ineffective depending on which B2B marketing survey you read. At the core is poor understanding of buyers; even after companies have indicated they invested in buyer personas. I have personally been involved remedially with companies whom have previously invested in buyer personas. What is usually found is what were called buyer personas should have been classified as a buyer profiles.
Why It Matters
A compelling downside to getting confused between the two is it results in a lot of noise for your buyers. And, when it is too noisy, buyers will tune out. Buyers today are inundated with non-differentiating content and messaging. This is how buyers are reacting, according to a recent qualitative buyer interview I conducted:
“Look, I am a satisfied customer but I gotta tell you, I don’t read any of their stuff anymore. It is just too much, doesn’t mean anything, and I don’t have time. So, it just gets deleted in my mailbox.” Senior Director
Now, I could wax eloquently on why the differences matter. But, I think this basically makes the point.
Should B2B businesses do both buyer profiling and buyer persona development? Absolutely. What is important is to know is how each approach is designed for distinct purposes. While buyer profiling helps with broader understanding of likely groupings or segments of buyers, buyer personas help us understand the deeper goals and personal values of buyers influencing purchase decisions. And, as stated previously, helps us to understand the story of buyers.
Where confusion, noise, and downsides can occur is when buyer profiling is mistaken for buyer persona development. With plenty at stake in today’s rapidly changing business climates, this is a mistake B2B marketing and sales executives can ill-afford to make.