By Rachel Moore

Buyer personas are an essential part of a successful inbound marketing strategy because they define precisely whom you’re trying to reach.

Whom is the ideal visitor your pages and blog content should attract? Your buyer persona.

What about choosing topics for the offers you create and selecting which benefits to highlight on the landing pages you place in front of them? Choose whatever most appeals to your persona.

Wondering how many form fields you should place on your form? Just follow the WWYPW rule: What would your persona want?

Am I starting to sound a little repetitive here? It’s for good reason. Everything (yes, everything) in a successful inbound strategy should be tied to whom your personas are and what they want to see. Because personas are such a big deal, it behooves marketers to dedicate a good chunk of time and energy toward creating them.

HubSpot, for instance, champions a multistep persona research process that includes multiple interviews, questionnaires, checklists, and creating paragraphs-long persona profile stories complete with pictures. But what’s a marketer who’s just starting out to do? If you don't have a sizable customer database to pull interviewees from or are short on time and need a persona next week—not next quarter?

Below, we’ve outlined a few of our favorite “low touch” ways to do persona research. Although these tactics won’t give you a fully polished, complete, and robust persona you can use to guide your marketing for years to come, these techniques represent our favorite ways to get up and running quickly.

I repeat: When it comes to building a finished, thorough, and complete persona, these techniques should not replace traditional persona research techniques such as customer interviews. However, they’re a great way to quickly get up and running with some useful persona intelligence.

Interview-style Strategies

Although interviewing your customers themselves and actually asking them some of the essential persona-building questions is always the best way to do persona research, setting up these types of meetings can be difficult if you don’t have many customers to interview, don’t yet have a relationship with them where an interview would be appropriate, or can’t find a mutually agreeable time to meet.

Here are some other ways you can collect interview-style research without ever talking to your personas themselves: 

1. Use surveys.

Use a free service such as SurveyMonkey to create an online survey that you can send out to your customers, then look for trends in the responses you get. Going to a trade show? Grab a tablet and have people fill out the survey at your booth or ask people your survey questions as they go by and keep track of the answers yourself.

2. Interview your coworkers.

Does your organization have a customer support or sales team? If so, it's quite literally these team members’ job to spend their days interacting with your prospects and customers (aka your personas). Ask your coworkers some of the primary persona-building questions you were planning on asking your personas themselves (but keep in mind that the answers you get may be biased).

3. Ask the interwebs.

If you have an inkling of the social media networks your personas frequent, pose a persona research question to the web. Here’s an example on Twitter: 
 
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Depending on your persona, you could also use Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter or even Quora.
 
Pro tip: If you’re using Twitter, be sure to include hashtags that your personas follow or are using so that you’ll get your message in front of the right audience.
 

Completely Passive Persona Research Techniques

Doing primary persona research by actually talking to the people who are—or may be—your persona is a surefire way to build a kick-butt persona. And to have a truly great persona, you must do that research at some point. But, if you don’t have anyone to interview—or already tried the above strategies—here are some ways to research your persona without having to talk to anyone.

1. Read job descriptions.

If your organization is B2B, check out the job descriptions for the roles that your personas occupy within their companies. If you can find an opening for that role on one of your customers’ websites, fantastic! If not, try using websites such as Glassdoor or LinkedIn. 

2. Read market research reports.

Excerpts from reports for a wide range of industries are available online and can provide helpful insight into what some of the biggest issues facing your target market. Although not every one of these industry-wide goals and challenges may apply to your persona, they’re a good place to start learning.

3. Find customers and prospects on social media.

What networks are they on? What networks do they avoid? What are they talking about? What questions are they asking? 

4. Find customers and prospects on LinkedIn.

What groups are they a part of? What are the conversations taking place in those groups?

Bonus: Check out the profiles of other group members, as well. What similarities do you notice? What groups are they members of? 

5. Read industry blogs.

What are the most popular topics? What do the comments say? What questions are they asking? Also, check out the social media profiles of the commenters, as well.

6. Use HubSpot or your marketing database software to help.

Browse through some of your customers’ or qualified leads’ contact records. You can gain a lot of insight simply by looking through some of your contact’s timelines! What topics of content are your personas gravitating toward? What emails are people opening (or not)? What pages are they visiting? Look for trends in their behaviors.

What are some of the other ways you can think of to research personas? Let us know by tweeting us at @smartbugmedia.

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Rachel Moore

About the author

Rachel Moore is a Senior Consultant and Team Leader at SmartBug Media. A HubSpot alumna, Rachel uses her 7+ years of experience as a marketer and neuroscientist to help clients develop innovative strategies to achieve and exceed their business goals. Read more articles by Rachel Moore.

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