How To Build an Advanced Buyer Persona


Buyer Personas are the cornerstone of your inbound marketing efforts. They dictate the direction of your content campaigns, they determine your brand voice, they pinpoint your targets for paid search and social media ads. They are the backbone of inbound. But look, I'm not here to explain to you what a buyer persona is. This is the advanced stuff. What I'm about to tell you about buyer personas is going to change you're entire persona building routine. Tell your marketing friend Jeff to move over. His persona profiles are going to look 8-bit compared to these. In a year, when you look back at Jeff's buyer personas, it's going to look like flip phone t9, like N64's Goldeneye, like the Star Wars CGI remake. My point is, buyer personas are about to get the Gordon Moore treatment.

But hey, If you need the rundown on buyer personas of old, Digital marketing institute and Hubspot have some expert resident literature. After you catch up, come back and get up to speed. This is some next level stuff.

So what's the big news?

The big news is that buyer personas are about to get a makeover using Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. The Hero's Journey is a template that comes from Campbell's seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, where he argues that the story of every great hero, from Luke Skywalker to Odysseus all the way to Jesus Christ and Mahatma Buddha all follow the same pattern — The Hero's Journey. As he puts it:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won. The hero [then] comes back from his mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons to his fellow man. (Hero with a Thousand Faces, pg. 23) 

If you are thinking right now, how this all applies to marketing. You may want to check out my extensive post on Writing Killer Full-Funnel Marketing Content. But, if you want to get into personas, well this is your stop.

World Building and Persona Testing

When we look at a traditional buyer persona template, it will look like a series of 6 index cards telling you things like, "what is my goal?" "what are my challenges?" These are okay ways at figuring out the obstacles that your persona has, but it doesn't do anything to build a world around them or test how they would react to things in that world.

Let me explain. The traditional diagram for the Hero's Journey looks something like

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 4.39.59 PM

Instead of a story about a hero, your goal instead is to treat your personas like they are the hero. With your persona as the hero it is your role to play the mentor in step 4 and to guide the lead throughout the rest of his or her journey.

The Hero's Journey as it applies to a marketing campaign will look something like this:

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 4.40.10 PM

Now, as you're creating a personas, the key is to not only ask what their challenges are, but to understand them well enough to anticipate how they will interact with the world you're building. And if you're really good, creating a world that drives them through the hero's journey with vim. 

Here's a short rundown of this process in 3 steps: 

Step 1: Understand your Hero

The legendary writers of this world all sing the same advice for crafting an incredible story; know your characters so well that that they write themselves. Many writing exercises will focus so much on character development that even minor characters will have a backstory bigger than their part in the novel. But that's just the process to creating a believable and resonating role, and that's just what you need to do to build a successful content funnel.

Create a persona template that follows your persona through the story circle. You need to get to know how your persona has struggled in the past, where they've faced fears and enriched their lives. 

Maybe Small Business Stephanie was unhappy working at her previous corporate job. She watched an inspirational documentary about converting a cottage into a pizzeria. She was hesitant at first but after talking with her bank she felt confident enough to quit her job and purchase a small cottage. During the process of converting the home into a restaurant, she met her neighbors, ran across road blocks and received a lot of help and encouragement from her husband. Then, opening day came and all of the hard work, money and stress that she put into this process pays off when she serves her first pizza out of her custom-built brick oven. After a few days, life begins to fall into a normal pattern and Small Business Stephanie is happier, wiser and stronger for having faced her fears of failure and change. She hosts night parties and think-tanks for entrepreneurs and aspiring independent business owners. 

That's an inspiring story, and although it's short, it's enough for us to understand how Stephanie operates, what she wants, what she fears and her ability to face adversity. 

Make Hero's Journey stories for all of your personas backgrounds before making any content for them, because you want this story to be for them, not your product. Customer-centric marketing is the only way to make a lasting impact on leads that can truly benefit from your service. All of this can be gleaned from an understanding of the makings of a good story with a touch of human psychology and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (which is another great tool for persona development. You can read all about that here).

Step 2: Build a World

World Building

If you've ever played Dungeons and Dragons, then you know the challenge and reward of building an interesting world for characters to navigate through. For marketing, your role is to create a world designed specifically for your ideal buyer persona. Ask yourself, what will drive Small Business Stephanie to ultimately feel compelled to face her fears and enlist in my service? What does she need to get there?

To do this, you need to look at your Hero's Journey guideline and answer each marker.

  1. Status Quo - Where is Stephanie now and what is missing from her world (your service)?
  2. Call to Adventure - What type of call to adventure will resonate with Stephanie? (maybe a video because of her documentary response?)
  3. Refusal of the call - Why wouldn't she immediately jump to the call?
  4. Meeting with the mentor - how could you reach out to her to quell those fears?
  5. Crossing the threshold - Where do you first take her in the consideration phase?
  6. Trials and Allies - What allies will Stephanie have in this adventure to help her overcome doubts and fears? What information will she come across and how will she respond to smaller, free offers?
  7. Approaching the cave - When is it right to present your main offer? How will it look from the outside? What kind of media?
  8. The Ordeal - What does the conversion page look like and how do you minimize the fear of converting? What happens when she converts? What does your thank you page look like? What happens next?
  9. The Reward - How do you send her the service? How does she feel when she receives it? How will she know how to use it? What does she do first?
  10. The Road Back - What is your role after she has her purchase in moving her forward towards loyalty and advocacy? What will she respond best to?
  11. Resurrection - How does this service improve her normal life? How do you find out? How can you make it even better of an experience?
  12. Return with the Boon - How do you utilize Stephanie to become an ally for future Stephanies? How can you help her to advocate? She's loyal to your brand, do you have anything else for Stephanie? How can you start her on a new adventure?

Step 3: Lead them through this world, rinse and repeat

Once you've constructed your road map, trial run your persona through your funnel. Try out different ideas and see how they work. If you have your content ready to go, gather data about the effectiveness of your journey. If some pages aren't performing well, then consider removing it from the journey, take note about what this means for your persona and create new content. Keep testing and keep adapting your persona. It's okay to create a long narrative for your personas, because the more you know them, the better you'll be able to guide them through your marketing campaign. You'll become a master world creator and adventure guide.

This skill, the ability to create a simulation of your ideal customer as well as the world that they would most successfully navigate through in order to purchase your product/service, is not only useful in writing better marketing content for your website, it's also the exact way that top performing brands like Amazon and Google are able to hook us and the rest of the public with highly successful video campaigns and advertisements. You can read all about that here.

If you want to use the template we use to generate heroic buyer personas, download our free worksheet below:

Use Our Persona Worksheet


If you'd like to learn how to utilize Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey to enhance your sales conversations and close more sales qualified leads, jump ahead:

How to Win Brand Heroes with the Right Sales Story