How and Why to Create Buyer Personas for Your Ecommerce Business
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Think back to English class if you can. Were you ever asked to create a fictional character and assign them every vivid detail you possibly could, imagining everything from their childhood to their favorite song? Or maybe you’ve dabbled in acting and were asked to do the same for the character you were portraying. You might even be a fan of video games that allow you to create an avatar and move through the game as that person. No matter the medium, you’ve probably created or filled in the details of a character at some point. And chances are, the more quirks, aspirations, historical anecdotes, and tastes you assigned your character, the better you understood them – sometimes, in the case of acting, to the point of being them.

If you’re like me, you really love this stuff (when I was a kid, I wrote a story about a talking dolphin and I knew her so well I could trace her lineage back through three generations and that’s something I should probably stop sharing with people). We love it because it’s fun to consider the perspectives of other people, to untangle motivations that are different from our own, and to think in ways that help us appreciate or build relationships with other people. So that’s why I’m happy that buyer personas exist in the business world. As ecommerce marketing professionals at Volusion, we like buyer personas because they help us say, do and build the things our users are likely to respond to the most; but as creative people, we like buyer personas because they’re fun.

A buyer persona is a “character” you create who represents your quintessential target audience. If you have multiple target audiences – and most businesses do – then you can create multiple buyer personas, each one representing a unique demographic. You’ll then ascribe to them as many demographic and psychographic (psychological demographic) details as you find helpful. You can even give them a name, like “Ecommerce Ed” or “Cat Lady Cameron!” From a demographic angle, you should know the following details, at minimum, for each buyer persona:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Educational background and career
From a psychographic angle, things get a little trickier, because there’s so much information that’s relevant to how and why people make their purchasing decisions. Keeping your persona’s aspirations paramount (more on that later), start with the following details:
  • Preferred methods of communication – does your persona hate the phone and prefer to ask questions online, or would they rather “speak to a person” than send an email?
  • Favorite items that aren’t from your shop or a competitor’s shop – you might sell apparel, but it’s helpful to know if your persona is a health nut, loves Apple products, reads fanatically, buys organic food, thinks organic food is a waste of money, sometimes makes “ironic” or humorous purchases, loves school supplies, etc. All of these tastes can shape the look and feel of your online store, how you engage with your users, and how you can help them fit your products into their life. For example, if you’re fairly convinced your audience is comprised of Apple fans, you might consider adopting Apple’s design aesthetic with a sleek, minimalist, and trendy website design.
  • Whether they take risks or play it safe – did your persona move across the country for college or stay close to home? On that note, have they ever moved to a new city on their own? How often do they try new things? Have they ever been on a blind date? Do they order the sea urchin off the sushi menu, or do they steer clear of sushi entirely? In general, the more risk-taking the audience, the more risks you can take with your products or marketing – within reason! Nobody needs to see a grownup human walking around downtown dressed as a cat because of a guerilla marketing stunt.
  • Their motivations for using social media – or if they use social media at all. While this veers into demographic territory (it’s extremely helpful to know what platforms your persona uses), there are some bigger motivations at play here that you can speak to. Some people only use social media to converse with their closest friends, while others are comfortable striking up online conversations with complete strangers. Some use it to share every detail of their life, while others use it more sparingly. Some use it to debate, share opinions, and generate awareness about a politician or cause. Some people enjoy sharing funny memes, others insightful blog posts, others their current Spotify playlist. Some people just use it to be seen or to connect to other people. Each of these motivations can impact the way in which you interact with your audience on social media, the things you share, and the posts you write.
  • Their dreams or higher aspirations – it’s one thing to know the technical or practical specifications of what your audience wants from a product. But there’s usually a bigger motivation at play, and it’s that motivation that often leads to the purchase. People who buy trendy clothes may do so to connect to other trend-seekers, just like people who buy college sweatshirts take pride in belonging to a community or “team.” People who buy professional photography equipment may hope for a breakout career in photography, while people who buy less expensive equipment might just value fitting creativity into their lives. People who buy lawnmowers either care about the state of their surroundings or care what the neighbors think. Uncovering your persona’s higher motives will impact everything from the images you share on social media to the story you tell about your products.
That’s a lot! Just get started with a few demographic details, and the rest will follow. Do start with as much practical research and data as you can, from your Google Analytics account to past purchases to industry research or competitive data. Don’t go so crazy with your persona that it starts to stray from the actual demographic you wish to represent. Knowing your quintessential customer is a Stranger Things fan is helpful, but extrapolating that into a monster-hunting past may be going too far. Unless you sell monster-hunting gear! In that case, go for it.

What’s the benefit to all this, besides taking an interesting break from product uploads? Well, it all goes back to that understanding part. The better you understand your customers, the better you can speak to them. By the time you’re done, you should feel like your personas are close friends, and this will come across in your writing. Warm and friendly website copy and social media posts are refreshing and differentiating, and the more you can prove that you know what your audience values, the more they’ll trust you for return purchases.

Another benefit is that you may discover a persona that you can’t relate to at all, which means it’s a great time to find someone who can before you make any mistakes! Let’s say, for example, that your persona is a teenager, and you haven’t known what teens like since The Backstreet Boys were popular. Hire an intern or have a teen in your life double-check your copy for the “out of touch” factor – or even have them write a list of bullet points about each of your products: what they like about them, where they’d use them, and what they’d use them with. Alternately, spy on Amazon reviews for similar products to monitor what people value in the product.

The last benefit is that as your business grows and you hire marketing staff, introducing them to your buyer personas is one of the quickest and most effective ways to inform their writing, design work, photography, product selection, social media efforts, brand consistency, and much more. This is true if you plan on outsourcing any of your SEM work, too! As an SEO specialist, I love hearing my clients describe who their typical customer is, or who they’d like it to be, and I almost always use this information in my copy. Buyer personas are an absolutely integral part of any relatable, targeted, and cohesive marketing strategy, and the benefits will impact business goals ranging from conversions to repeat customers and brand ambassadors.

But also, they’re fun.