Let’s start off with a simple question: how well do you know your clients? I mean, really know. Not just what they spent on the last event but who are they? Where did they come from, what do they do every day, and what do they aspire to accomplish?
Suppose you specialize in corporate events. Are all corporate clients the same? Of course not. You could probably think of at least three off the top of your head that have completely different needs and challenges. And that’s just one sector of the event production world. You might also have clients in other market segments (weddings, live music, theatre, festivals, etc.) When you’re marketing your services, how specifically do you speak to each of these vastly different clients?
Enter the buyer (or marketing) persona. Personas are fictional representations of your client groups. They can help you bring a human element to your marketing and sales efforts by establishing your clients as real people with real problems. The more you can relate to a client’s needs, the better you are able to tailor your messaging and services to fit.
You may be already doing this kind of work and not even realize it. Even if you are, it’s helpful to formalize the process. As your company grows, it makes it easy for anyone on your team to quickly refer to your personas and understand who you’re marketing to and how.
Here are some basics for how to get started building your event buyer personas.
1. The Basics to Help Define Your Ideal Customer
If your event company has been in business for any length of time, you probably have a general understanding of who your customers are. Still, it never hurts to revisit. Before building personas, you want to make sure who you think you’re serving is who’s actually buying.
To define your business’ ideal customer(s), you first need to gather some important data.
Roles and Responsibilities
Notice it doesn’t say “job title.” Though that is important as well. But what is of greater benefit to you is knowing what your potential clients do. The event industry is notorious for having identical job titles that do very different job functions. You need to know what this persona does on a daily basis. For example, a nonprofit persona might be responsible for securing sponsors, scheduling activities for board members, and/or basic accounting. If all you listed was “Nonprofit Operations Administrator,” you wouldn’t have much detail to go on, would you?
What is your target customer trying to accomplish? This isn’t about a client’s goals in using your service (though that may be part of it). Think broad. What on a day-to-day basis is the potential client striving for? What are his or her wins? And it’s not just about the job. A win could be, “Have dinner every night with my family.” That’s important. That could mean that efficiency and productivity are vital to this client. He or she needs solutions that make it easier to achieve the dinner goal.
Some of these goals might fall outside of what you offer. That’s fine. Remember, you’re painting as accurate a portrait as you can. And unless you’re Amazon, you’re probably not trying to be everything to everyone.
Same as goals. Broadly speaking, what are the big challenges or opportunities that this target customer faces? These pain points are vital for you to figure out. They are the impetus for a prospect to begin seeking out solutions.
Take our nonprofit example, let’s call her Nancy (side note: a totally nerdy but fun part of persona-building? Coming up with your fictional names!). If her organization is small, she might struggle with funding. If she’s a one-woman show, she might also struggle with time, especially if she’s wearing many hats. It’s your job to assess what her struggles are and present her with a ready-made solution.
At the very least, age, income, and education to start. If there are others important to your business (location, etc.), add them as well. Always exercise caution and maintain respect for your clients. Even though these personas are for internal use, you will likely be crafting them through interviews (more on that in a moment). The last thing you want is to offend the very people you’re trying to learn about. This resource from D5, though it covers ground beyond what you’ll probably need, has some great insight on setting internal rules for demographic data collection.
Since your personas are representative of larger groups, you might give ranges to allow for a collection of clients. Unless of course, you’re separating personas by these demographic criteria. Whatever is right for your business.
This is the glue that binds everything together. More than just cold hard facts, you want your personas to come to life for whoever is reviewing them. The better the story you tell, the clearer the persona. This is where interviews and imagination will come into play, which we discuss further on in this article. There are a few important pieces you’ll definitely want to capture in your narrative.
Where did this persona come from?
What’s his or her story?
What things did he or she do that laid the foundation for today?
What’s the work history?
How did he or she end up in his or her current position? (Hint: take the roles/responsibilities and fill in the blanks)
What kind of person is this? (extrovert, introvert, etc.)
What does he or she do for fun?
What are the popular hangouts? (for such a social industry, this information can really help)
How does this person get information, about products, services, news, etc.?
What social channels does this person frequent, and what process does he or she use to vet and make purchases?
What does success look like to this person, both in the current role and in career?
What are the reasons that this person would not hire your event company?
2. Where to Look
Now that you know what you’re after, it’s time to do some research. Personas are fictional only in that they are meant to be representative of types of clients. For them to be accurate and inform your decision-making, they need to be grounded in real data and real people.
Always start with your existing customers. Not only have they already shown interest in your service (which in some way, validates what you offer), they are a true source of unique data. No other research subject has the same perspective as those already working with you.
You’re going to want to gather data on your leads, prospects, even the industry at large. But each of these sources becomes less specific and requires a bit more interpretation and assumption.
Analyze your current client list. Do you see patterns or commonalities among them? If so, begin grouping them together. Identifying consistent themes is a great way to establish potential personas early. It’ll help when it comes time to put your personas together later.
A great secondary resource are leads you’ve already engaged but haven’t yet hired you. However, as HubSpot Marketing Manager Pamela Vaughan notes, “Be clear this isn’t a sales call.” These folks are not customers. They may still be evaluating you and your company. In other words, they might not trust you yet. Make your intentions clear to avoid losing both your research target and a potential lead.
Especially when it comes to general demographics, trends, and growth, it can be worthwhile to do some digging on the state of the state. What’s happening in the event industry at large? What about specific sectors?
3. How to Gather
These days, there are so many tools to help you build your personas, it’s almost overwhelming. But all of them recommend some combination of interview, survey, and internal research.
Nothing is quite as good as an old-fashioned interview. Interviews can give you context for your research. They allow you to craft your narratives in authentic voices, using real quotes and examples. Plus, interviews help you really drill into particular issues, sorting symptoms of a problem from the actual problem a client is having.
If you’ve got a mailing list (or at least a lot of professional contacts you could reach out to), consider crafting a survey. Typeform and GoogleForms are two great free resources that allow you to quickly input questions, customize the design, and get out the door. Of course, be careful to not include too many text fields. Online surveys are meant to be quick, a momentary interruption in someone’s day. If you’re expecting your recipients to craft exquisite short stories about their event planning challenges, you could end up with a very meager response rate.
We love the web. There is a lot to be found by a trusty search engine. But often times, the best, most comprehensive, industry-specific reports are either out of date or prohibitively expensive to order. Take this example from IBIS World.
While you can certainly peruse labor statistics for your home country (here are the most recent statistics for the US event planning industry), a trip to your local library might be a very productive use of time, especially if you have access to research or university stacks!
Why, you ask? Many universities maintain active subscriptions/memberships to leading research firms and their reports. Something that could cost you several thousand dollars to order on your own could be completely free if you can access it through a school. Ask a librarian about access policies. Or better yet, see if you still have access to your alma mater’s archives. In person if you live close or via its online portal. Leverage these resources!
4. Put It All Together
Armed with your research, it’s time to distill it down into a set of personas that are easy to understand and breathe life into data.
Start simple. You probably have a one type of client more than others. Group clients by their common traits and name your persona. As previously mentioned, if you’ve already done this with your existing clients, you’ll be ahead of the game.
It’s up to you what trends and similarities you use to establish different personas. Just because you only produce one type of event, doesn’t mean you won’t have drastically different clients. Just ask a wedding planner how different each client can be.
For putting your data into a form you can navigate, use a word doc or Evernote. Or you could use a cool template like this one. When you’ve finished with one and only after you’ve finished, move on to the next. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Once you’ve built out your personas, bring your team together and pass them around for an honest review. These narratives should jump off the page. Anyone reading them should know immediately who these types of clients are. They might not be perfect but they need to be good enough to lay a foundation for the marketing and sales teams.
5. Do Not Put Them in a Glass Case
Not going to lie. This can take a lot of work. And if you’re tight on time, it can be easy to push off for later. Don’t. Whether you finish them today, tomorrow, or 6 months from now, they will never be complete.
Personas are not set in stone, they should be revisited time and again to ensure their accuracy. You never want to be spending marketing dollars and time on a chasing a persona that is no longer relevant to your business. Work on them when you can, build them as you learn, and keep them handy when you need to adjust.
Do you currently use buyer personas to market your event services? How do you build them? Let us know in the comments below!