go ahead - stereotype your audience.

But Mom said it was rude to stereotype? Trust me, it's a-ok in marketing. It's an essential step to create buyer's personas. Anyone who has ever worked with me knows that I get up on a soapbox when it comes to really knowing your audience. My most successful marketing campaigns were born from authentic audience insights. Are you on a similar mission? There are a multitude of reasons to do this kind of research (this recent blog post highlights a few).

Sounds interesting, but you don't know where to begin? Here are some simple steps to get you started:

STEP 1: Create a list of questions that you want to get answers to.
While it sounds remedial, I actually write “who, what, where, when, and why” at the top of the paper to start. Heck, I'm nothing if not creative. I draft my questions from there. Make them open-ended, so you don’t just get a silly “yes” or “no” answer in return. For example:

“Where do you go for professional information?”
“What do you like to do in your free time?”
“Who do you follow on social media?”

At the end, I ask if there are any questions that I haven’t asked that I should have. The interviewee will tell you what’s really on their mind. 

STEP 2: Reach out to contacts, prospects and customers.
Ask them if they’d be open to having a 20-30 minute conversation. Emphasize that you aren’t trying to sell them a vacuum or a set of stainless steel knives. There's no commitment to buy. Suggest a few times, or even better…send them a link to a scheduling app to make it easy for them (Calendly is my go-to).

STEP 3: Have delightful conversations and capture the insights.
Ask a colleague to take rock-star notes so you can focus on leading the conversation. I keep a list of questions at my side for easy reference. Recording the conversation is tempting, but it’s illegal if you don’t get the person’s permission first. Don't say I didn't teach you nothin'. Please, please, please don’t ask your questions in the order that you’ve written them down. You’ll be mistaken for a robot and you’re just too cool for that. Just let the conversation flow naturally. Knowing what questions to ask when can be tricky at first, but it gets easier with time.

STEP 4: Be polite and thank your contacts for their time. 
They've given you valuable information, the least you can do is express your gratitude. Plus your mom would be so proud. Offer your service or product for free, or email them a gift card. Who doesn’t love real cash money? Or a follow-up gift and note after the conversation is usually very well received. Cookies, anyone? But you're feeling stingy? Think of how much you'd pay for relevant, actionable market research. You interview 20 people and send them each a gift worth $20? That’s math isn't bad if your marketing improves as a result, generating thousands of dollars in return.

It's an essential next step. Read through all of your interview transcripts and draw conclusions. The end result should be a clear description of members (plural) of your target audience. Here’s an abbreviated example of a persona I developed after about 15 super interesting phone conversations with HR decision makers: 

I’m Sue. I’m a HR Director and I purchase employee benefits for my company. I have over 20 years of experience and numerous certifications. I browse Forbes and similar news sites daily. For professional networking, info, and advice I never go to the big national tradeshows. Instead, I rely on the local chapter of my HR association for information. I keep a large network of contemporaries who I trust and I ask their opinion often. I’m most concerned with finding HR solutions to help every employee, regardless of their age or generation.

STEP 6: Spread the world.
Summarize your personas and takeaways in a PowerPoint or similar doc. Share your learnings with colleagues, especially those who are working with you to develop marketing strategies and campaigns. Compare notes with team members who have regular contact with your target audience (Sales come so mind). Are you seeing the same things? Post the summaries someplace central, so everyone can refer to them anytime. Reference your personas regularly in meetings and conversations. Help everyone benefit from what you've learned.  You'll be amazed at how your cross-functional collaboration and creative execution can improve as a result. 

In summary...
The process may take a few weeks from start to finish. Don't view it as a distraction. Instead, look at it as an executional mandatory. Revisit this research every 6-8 months. Don't treat it as a "one and done" exercise. The world changes quickly, the markets change quickly, and your buyer's personas change too. So be prepared to stereotype, stereotype, stereotype...early and often. 



Thumbnail photo credit: Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash