Can writing strong fictional characters lend itself to creating successful buyer personas?

For Marketing Interactions Inc. CEO Ardath Albee, a self-described “die-hard writer and storyteller,” the answer is a hard “yes.”

In the early 2000s — the “old” days of the web, when companies would just slap their corporate brochures online and call it a website — she was asked to run a startup tech company and help them figure out how to gain traction with their online content.

Ardath began focusing on buyers and customers, which led to improved engagement numbers for the company. This pushed her to create a more structured buyer persona methodology based on her experience with fiction writing. The difference was that Ardath added a business slant and personal interviews to learn more about the customers underlying the personas.

By 2007, Ardath had so many requests for help that she started her own consultancy, which she still runs today.

Are Your B2B Buyer Personas Good?

Naturally, we wanted to know how companies can assess whether their buyer personas are on track.

“B2B buyer personas are done right when they provide marketers with the insights, knowledge and understanding they need to continuously reach and engage their buyers and customers with their marketing strategy and programs,” Ardath explains. “This means depth, but it also means knowing what to exclude to keep you focused on what’s relevant and important to your target segments.”

Buyer personas aren’t static, and they aren’t a one-and-done exercise. Once your buyer converts to a customer, you’ll need to create different buyer personas.

“The problems and goals are now different, as they’ve solved the original problem by buying your solution,” she says. “Also, in B2B, the original buyer often isn’t the same person as the renewal or expansion buyer.”

This means you’ll need different personas to appeal to these two different opportunities based on their buying process and buying decisions.

How to Know When to Refresh Buyer Personas

OK, so now we know we need to create new buyer personas when prospects become customers. When else do we need to adjust our B2B personas? And how can we tell?

Ardath teaches that it’s time to refresh buyer personas when you notice lagging effectiveness. Examples include:

  • You’ve written content for a certain persona, and engagement with that content is declining.
  • Different roles are coming into your database, or perhaps the sales team is talking to new roles — and you don’t have personas to speak to them.
  • You’re seeing changes in intent data that your current personas aren’t addressing.
  • Your sales team is getting questions for which you don’t have content developed.

As a rule of thumb, Ardath says, keep listening over time. “An interview or two every quarter can help you get ahead of changing priorities, as well as understand concerns or new obstacles your buyers must overcome,” she explains. Regular interviews increase the odds that you spot problems, like your content becoming out of date or drifting from your target audience.

The most important thing to remember, she reiterates, is that your work is never complete! “You’re never finished with buyer personas. People and markets change, and priorities shift. You need to build in processes for evolution,” she says.

“Good Stories Start With Trouble”

Ardath still doesn’t see much of a difference between writing the women’s fiction she loves and creating successful business content.

After all, compelling content is all about relevance and resonance. Deliver that, and you’re golden. But if people aren’t interested in or paying attention to you, your content isn’t working.

Your buyers and customers are the heroes of the story — focus on them and the value you can provide. Executing this process requires in-depth buyer personas in much the same way as fiction requires believable, “real” characters.  

There are two other elements at play when writing fiction or developing B2B buyer personas: conflict and tension.

Until your buyers have a problem they want to solve, they won’t be interested in what you’re selling. There’s no tension or conflict to resolve, so they’re fine where they’re at. But as soon as they realize the problem exists, they’ll be motivated to find help.

In fiction, this is the point when the protagonist must fight valiantly. In business, your hero (your customer) must gain the confidence and knowledge to make changes that resolve their conflict — changes that hopefully include your product or service.

“Good stories start with trouble,” Ardath emphasizes. “If everything is great, so what?”