Okay, here’s a pop quiz. What is a buyer persona?

Most marketers would start by answering, “oh that’s easy” and continue to say something fairly similar to this:

“A persona is a fictional (or semi-fictional) description or your ideal or target customer. The description is backed by real data and research about your existing customers, and typically include customer demographics, goals and motivation. It’s also common for persona descriptions to list personal interests or hobbies as well.”

So, maybe your response seems more conversational and less robotic, but I’m guessing most marketers are in the same ballpark as my textbook style lingo. My point is buyer personas are not new. Marketers have been using them for a long time, but I feel like they’re more common now than ever. Think about it, you now have more ways to reach your target audience than ever before, so personas are an effective way of consistently communicating a description of your ideal customer. And since they’re being used more widely than before, it’s important that marketers stop making three critical mistakes when writing their personas.   

What a Buyer Persona Looks Like

I’m going to use my best judgement and not share any real examples of buyer personas, but I’m guessing most marketers have seen these before. Here’s my best description to jog your memory.

Typically, the persona begins with an image of your ideal customer followed by their age, income, lifestyle, goals, hobbies and more. And they always look fancy, as if a graphic designer added their finishing touches right before they were printed on luxe paper – you know the type of stock people printed their resume on before LinkedIn existed.

These fancy descriptions often look good enough to set on an easel, but they don’t need to go there – and that’s my point. Personas at their true value should be a building block in the foundation of your marketing strategy, and too often they venture outside of their scope.

The Upside to Buyer Personas

Before I get on my soapbox and start flaming some consumer personas, I want to mention a few overall positives.

  • They provide a concise and consistent description of your target audience. It’s much easier to say this campaign is targeted to our “Renee Persona” than list each detail.
  • They serve a puzzle piece to other marketing strategies. Buyer personas are a piece of the pie when developing consumer journey maps, personalized communications, and more.
  • They tend to be an accurate description of your buyers, when written based on market research. Personas should be based on customer interviews, focus groups, email surveys, polls, social media listening - basically CUSTOMER DATA you have related to their PURCHASE BEHAVIOR. 

Notice the text written all Caps. That’s because personas tend to contain superfluous information to provide color about the persona for no other reason than to give them a well-rounded personality… So begins my rant.   

Buyer Persona Mistake #1: Including Irrelevant Details and Demographics

You might think it’s cute to share all sorts of extra details about your persona adding color and personality to this semi-fictional character, but it’s wrong! Blunt, I know but if it’s not relevant to their buying behavior – why is it documented in an asset that will be used for communication strategy?

Here’s some personal info to help make my point. Here’s the wrong way to write a Taylor persona. 
Taylor is a married man in his mid 30’s late 20’s who lives in the suburbs with his wife, child and toy poodle. He is a marketing professional earning XX amount of money who enjoys traveling, wine tastings, and comedy shows.

  • Find a wine fridge that will store at least 150 bottles
  • Would like a dual climate zone to store different types of wine in the same fridge
  • Wants a counter depth model to accommodate limited space


  • Too much to do, not enough time
  • Limited budget

As you can tell from my autobiographical persona, I enjoy wine… and so does my wife. Let’s say we’re in the market for a new wine fridge, which you could probably tell by reading. You’ll notice there is so much irrelevant information.

Right from the beginning! Why does my marital status have anything to do with the wine fridge I’ll buy? And to continue with where I live, what I do for a living and that I have a dog. In fact, very few items other than my goals and challenges are relevant - my age assuming they want to market to people old enough to drink and the fact that I like wine tastings, so I like wine. But couldn’t you assume that nearly anyone who was in the market for a wine fridge possessed those two attributes? My point is simple, include what you need and scratch what you don’t.     

Buyer Persona Mistake #2: Does Not Include How You Will Capture Their Attention

Part of identifying your ideal customer also needs to identify how you will turn their head towards your brand. If you’ve worked with Three Deep, you’ve likely heard us talk about the Persuasion Equation, which is our formula for success.

Using my example again (and ignoring all of the unneeded details of course), we can concentrate on capturing my attention by focusing on my frustrations or as we like to call them hot buttons. Honestly, it’s as easy as adding this template to your persona profile.

Hot Button Matrix

If you’re looking for additional ways to capture your ideal customers’ attention, this eBook is a helpful resource along with another useful blog post.

Buyer Persona Mistake #3: You Overcomplicate the Activity

There are a handful of ways marketers overcomplicate buyer personas.

  • Include unnecessary elements – which I already mentioned.
  • Create too many personas. You don’t need a profile for every data segment. Remember to (KISS) Keep it Simple Stupid.
  • Wait for extreme amounts of data. Yes, your persona should be based on data, but it’s okay to use some intuition based on small amounts of data.
  • Fail to realize that buying behavior can change. I use to work for someone who always said, “I can change my mind any time I receive new information.” While it’s not totally the same, we need to recognize that consumers have access to information like never before, which can influence how, where and when they make their next purchase. With that in mind, it’s important that you continually test and gather consumer feedback.

In my opinion, the best way to avoid overcomplicating your buyer personas is to view them the same way as you would any other lean digital marketing model. You do that by breathing the Build – Measure – Learn mantra, so getting to market fast and learning (and updating) as you go is quickly becoming the best form of market research.

My summary is simple. Describe the buyer’s behavior in your consumer persona, not the buyer themselves. Include how you will capture your audience’s attention as part of your persona. Finally, don’t go overboard. That means don’t overthink the number of personas you need, or the elements you include. Use your instinct backed by data and keep it lean!