Why marketers need to create distinctive buyer and audience personas for brands

Buyer personas, marketing personas, audience personas—they’re all the same, right? Wrong. Not-so-much-of-a-spoiler alert, but buyer personas and audience personas are not the same things, nor should they be treated that way. Marketers who tell brands otherwise are wrong.

In our minds, too many marketers are using buyer personas as audience personas and vice-versa—it’s harming both your traditional marketing initiatives and content marketing efforts! So we’ve crafted this post defining and detailing the differences between buyer and audience personas and how marketers can effectively use this information to make them distinct from one another.

Why marketers need to create distinctive buyer and audience personas

Any marketing team knows the importance of selling to your audience by understanding who the brand wants to target and how. Thus, marketing materials used to promote and sell your product or business—flyers, banners, ads, discounts, promos—are nothing new. What is new-ish, however, is the internet, or at least, advertising and marketing on the internet. As we all know, the internet isn’t a perfect fit for the banner ads and junk email brands have thrown at us for years. Marketing had to change, and we’ve seen this with the rise of content marketing. Now brands aren’t just creating traditional marketing materials, but they’re creating content for consumers.

In essence, brands are creating two things:

  1. Products and services
  2. Content

And because brands are servicing at least two types of consumers, marketers need to create personas not just for people willing to purchase the brand’s product or service, but for those willing to consume their content. Whether that means reading an article or listening to a podcast or watching a video, brands need to know who is consuming their content marketing so they can fine tune strategy, execution, and distribution in order to fulfill their business goals.

This is where marketers and content marketers come in to create both buyer personas and audience personas.

Defining buyer personas

It’s time for a little marketing 101. “Buyer persona” is a term marketers use all the time to describe the ideal customer. If you type “buyer persona” into Google, you’ll get a dozen excellent definitions. Rather than ripping these off or creating an obvious amalgamation of them, we’ve included our favourites below:

  • “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.” –HubSpot
  • “Buyer personas are research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions. (Today, I now include where they buy as well as when buyers decide to buy.)” –Tony Zambito
  • “A person who acts on or makes a purchase decision, who actively seeks branded content, and who has decided to purchase a product or service.” –Skyword

Notice a general theme in these definitions? It’s that any and every successful brand uses buyer personas to understand who they are trying to target and how to reach them.

Of course, this differs between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) companies. B2B companies use buyer personas at each stage of the sales funnel to target individuals responsible for purchasing services they provide. For B2C companies, buyer personas are drawn from who their actual customers are and how much they spend on their product or services. In a nutshell, marketers use buyer personas to understand the people purchasing their product or service.

Defining audience personas

While there are dozens of excellent definitions of buyer personas, definitions of audience personas are harder to come by for one simple reason: marketers tend to lump buyer personas and audience personas together as the same thing. Which is bad! Mainly because whoever’s reading your content is not necessarily who’s using your product or service, but more on that in a bit.

The audience persona definition we like most comes from Skyword: “A person who influences a purchase decision, who actively seeks interest-based content, and who is considering the purchase of a product or service.”

To understand audience personas, you need to think of them the same way you think about content marketing. Brands create content not only to drive sales, increase traffic, and grow social followings, but also in the hopes of entertaining and informing readers. There’s an additional value there. Thus, content marketing turns brands into publishers who must treat content the same way they would any of their other products or services. The catch is that the people who consume your brand’s content may not be people who will purchase your brand’s products or services. You can think of an audience persona as a type of buyer persona, just exclusively for content.

Buyer personas are used to understand the people purchasing a brand’s product or service. Audience personas must be used to understand the people trying to consume a brand’s content. And they need to be crafted accordingly—though the components of each are remarkably similar, if not the same. If marketers and content marketers take the time to differentiate between their customers and their readers (and whether or not they are one in the same), then everything comes together.

Knowing the difference between buyer personas and audience personas can make a difference in how successful a brand’s content marketing is. Any marketer who says “same difference” to the two isn’t worth the effort.

Image: Gratisography

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