Buyer Personas versus Target Markets- What’s the Difference?

target vs personas

If you have done any reading lately on how to effectively implement content marketing and social media into your marketing strategy, you have likely come across the concept of buyer personas. In fact, understanding and clearly defining buyer personas is widely considered to be the first step to successfully engaging customers and leads via digital marketing. But if this talk about buyer personas is foreign, you may be wondering how personas relate to a cornerstone element of marketing strategy- your target market. Let’s delve into this issue by comparing personas and target market along certain key characteristics.

First, Some Definitions

Before going any further, defining buyer persona and target market is a logical starting point:

Buyer persona- Research-based archetypal (modeled) representations of who buyers are, what they are trying to accomplish, what goals drive their behavior, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions, where they buy as well as when buyers decide to buy. (Source: Tony Zambito)

Target market- The particular segment of a total population on which the seller focuses its expertise to satisfy that submarket in order to accomplish its profit objective. (Source: American Marketing Association)

Both concepts pertain to customers, but the similarities pretty much end there.

What’s the Difference?

The concepts of buyer persona and target market represent two different approaches for identifying potential customers and using insights gleaned to devise marketing campaigns to reach them. Below are five characteristics along which personas and targets are compared:


Buyer Persona

Target Market

Scope Individual Aggregation
Focus Persons (Buyer, customer, or user) Likely buyers
Influencers “Life characters” (e.g., family, friends, colleagues) Other targets (e.g., aspirational groups)
Data Points Personal story lines (Priorities, successes, obstacles faced) Descriptive traits (demographics psychographics, and behaviors)
Marketing Focus Gathering and understanding buyers’ stories in their own words Capturing historical data, trendspotting, and customer research

Buyer personas get to the heart of the marketing concept: Satisfying needs and wants. The research required to gather insights into the who, what, why, when, and where of their lives allows for a clearer view of the audience a business is attempting to serve. Why? A persona distills the crowd down to individual customer types. In contrast, target marketing historically has focused on aggregation- how to logically group together people or firms with similar characteristics that are our most likely buyers.

The difference in scope between buyer persona and target market is the most significant difference between the two concepts because it accounts for the contrast in the other four characteristics identified in the table above. It is no coincidence that the term buyer persona contains the word “person;” the characteristics of a buyer persona all relate to the person with whom you desire to engage in a relationship with your brand.

Don’t Discard Target Marketing

The purpose of this discussion is not to ask you to choose between buyer persona and target marketing as the tool of choice when formulating marketing strategy.Personas and target markets should play complementary roles in managing customer relationships. Target marketing is useful because it is a first step in reducing the population of potential buyers to smaller pools of the most likely buyers and users of your products or services. The need remains to drill down deeper to understand each segment you serve and in turn, how to respond to them via product design, distribution strategy, and brand communications.Creating buyer personas meets that need, providing clarity that can equip you to better serve current customers and successfully attract new ones.





Think Beyond Transactions for Mobile Marketing

Creating mobile apps for your business today bears some similarity to developing a website circa 2000. It is still novel, all of the “cool” brands are doing it, and there are potential business benefits… you just may not be sure what they are. Perhaps you have come to the conclusion that the amount of revenue that a mobile app would generate does not justify the time and expense of going mobile. However, findings from a recent study by Deloitte Consulting on mobile shopping may change your thinking.

According to the study’s results, mobile marketing influences 5.1% of all retail sales in the U.S. That means 95% of sales are coming through other channels, so if mobile is not pursued right now that’s OK, right? Nope. You must look beyond direct sales to find the influence of mobile apps. Some of the most interesting findings included:

  • 50% of consumers surveyed owned a smartphone (and penetration will continue to increase over time)
  • Conversion of shoppers using a retailer’s mobile app is 21% higher than those not using the app
  • The influence rate is expected to reach 17-21% by 2016, translating to more than $600 billion in retail sales

These figures are impressive, but long-term forecasts of emerging technology adoption often are overstated. So, let’s take a look at the influence mobile apps have on shopping behavior as evidence of their value:

  • 25% of shoppers use a retailer’s mobile app the day before a planned visit to the store
  • 52% use a retailer’s app on their way to the store (let’s hope they are not driving!)
  • 61% use a retailer’s app while in store

 These statistics reveal the true influence of mobile apps today – they are a valuable information source before and during a shopping trip. Tech-savvy shoppers that know what they are looking for or prefer not to seek out help from a salesperson are using mobile apps as a resource to assist in making buying decisions. Mobile apps represent an opportunity to persuade buyers at a very critical place – in front of merchandise. And, apps do not call in sick or expect raises like salespeople (coming from the former retail manager in me).

Consider what a mobile app could do for your business. Informing customers, engaging them with your brand, and of course, facilitating transactions are appealing incentives for going mobile.

MediaPost Research Brief – “Mobile Shopping Growing Exponentially”

Words are not enough to Change Behavior

An interesting example of a tactic to influence consumer behavior can be found along the interstates in Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is using digital signs on the interstates in a new, and for some people unsettling, way. The numbers of vehicle and motorcycle fatalities in the state are being displayed on the signs when not in use to communicate usual information like lane closures and blockages. The messaging maintains the same end that TDOT has always had – be safe while driving. However, the means to that end are a departure from usual tactics, and it bothers some motorists.
What are the objections to the signs? Some people believe reporting of traffic deaths has been reduced to a game, with the signs becoming a scoreboard for fatalities. Others see the signs as one more distraction on the roadways, having an unintended effect of possibly contributing to an accident than preventing one. For opponents of the signs, more police presence and enforcement of laws are preferred to the digital signs.
If TDOT’s goal is to reduce the number of traffic fatalities, then the challenge is to change behaviors that contribute to accidents. Creating a shift in behavior requires challenging people’s beliefs and changing attitudes. In this situation, general messages like “stay safe” are likely to have little impact. They are merely words that become one of hundreds of messages we are exposed to daily.
To cut through the message clutter, ideas have to be presented in ways that force us to process information. Only then is there a chance that our beliefs and attitudes can be influenced, setting the stage for behavior modification. TDOT’s use of a concrete message such as the number of fatalities has the “stay safe” theme as an undertone, but it can be a jolt to the beliefs held by people about the importance of driving safely. Perhaps some people do not like the messages on highway fatalities because they work. Rather than being able to ignore the message like most of the others that they pass along the road, this message has the desired effect of getting their attention and causing them to think about driving safety.
If you want to change behavior among your customers, employees, children, whoever your target audience may be, consider the presentation of your messaging. There may be important points that you wish to communicate, but a straightforward presentation of facts and information may fall on deaf ears. It is not because your value proposition is weak; your messaging is not resonating with the intended audience. Words are powerful because they can shake our beliefs and influence how we feel. But, words alone are not enough to change behavior. The strategy behind the message is to persuade people to care.

Showrooming: Threat or Opportunity?

Much is being made of a trend in retailing known as “showrooming.” Department stores and big box specialty stores have become product galleries. Shoppers come into the showroom, browse available options, gather information from salespeople (if they can), and often begin their online research on the spot. Smartphones with Internet access and apps that deliver instant price comparisons by scanning a product’s bar code have taken “just looking” to another level.

This trend does not bode well for brick and mortar retailers. Even historically strong retailers like Best Buy cite showrooming as a factor in their struggling performance. E-commerce giants Amazon and Walmart have the ability to beat most retailers (online and offline) on price. And, online specialty retailers can beat brick and mortar stores on assortments because they do not have to carry inventory for store locations. Given all of these reasons, it appears that showrooming is a threat to the viability of traditional retailers… or is it?

Is opportunity available in the trend toward showrooming? If you subscribe to the belief that when you are given lemons you make lemonade, the answer is “yes.” Granted, a segment of shoppers are influenced heavily by price in their buying decisions. For other shoppers, serving them can be accomplished by transforming the product showroom to a brand showcase. For example, when you walk through the doors at an Apple store, it is a playground for hands-on experimentation with Apple products. And, knowledgeable employees are available to answer questions and provide assistance. The atmosphere is electric; you want to go into an Apple store even if you are not in the market to buy a product. Apple stores provide an outlet for us to be immersed in the Apple brand.

Unfortunately, most brands do not stir passion like Apple. The challenge is how to take advantage of the trend of showrooming instead of falling victim to it. Yes, certain defensive responses can be taken like downsizing square footage and increasing product assortments online. But, play offense, too. Three areas of focus for retailers should be:
1. Define your brand – Understand why people would want to do business with you, and it does not have to be about price! What are the values that guide your business?
2. Create the culture – Once the brand is defined it has to be spread through the organization. One knock on brick and mortar stores is that employees are indifferent and unknowledgeable. They must know their critical role in customer satisfaction and the store’s success.
3. Build an experience – Transform shopping from something one has to do to something one wants to do. Think about retailers you enjoy visiting – what is the attraction? It rarely has anything to do with price. It is the experience of being in that environment that draws you in and brings you back.

Do not write the obituary for brick and mortar retailers yet. Yes, the showrooming trend requires retailers to rethink the role of the physical store in their marketing strategy. But, opportunity exists for retailers that use their stores as the connector between their brand and customers. – Can Retailers Halt ‘Showrooming’?

The Past is Never Dead

I was not very productive last week. Fortunately, I know the source of the problem and can address it. But, it really was not my fault that I was distracted from my work. I was attracted to a trend that seems to be sweeping Facebook recently- group pages related to one’s hometown. For me, the page “You might be from West Point, MS if u remember…” was the lure. I noticed the page for a couple of days but did not bother to visit, but when I did I found myself watching a virtual highlight reel of my childhood.

Memories flooded my mind of people, places, and events that made up life in our small town. I eagerly anticipated reading others’ thoughts about their experiences. One of the first thoughts I had as I read posts from others in the group was wondering how long this would last. After all, West Point is a small town- will the group complete its collective historical compilation in a few days or weeks and the group page slowly die? Upon further reflection, I realized this page will not die anytime soon. I thought of the William Faulkner quote from Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

We hold onto the past- the good and sometimes even the bad, but we hold on. There are a variety of reasons for our affinity with the past: simpler times, youthfulness, relationships, and certainty, to name a few. Given the turmoil of the day, looking back for something positive as an anchor is an understandable tendency.

This longing for the past extends to the relationships we have with brands. Many comments on my hometown’s Facebook group page relayed people’s fond memories of a restaurant, store, or other business in town. Many of the businesses we reminisced about are gone today, but the impact they had on our lives remains.

The power possessed by nostalgia should not be overlooked by marketers. While so much emphasis is placed on innovation, “new and improved,” and technological advances, appealing to consumers’ feelings of nostalgia can be a powerful connector. Proven ideas, products, and campaigns often run their course or evolve, but that does not mean they have to be mothballed never to be seen again.

What do you know, do, or sell that would resonate with your customers’ associations with the past? It is a question worth exploring from time to time because “the past never is never dead- it’s not even past.”

Don’t be Seduced by the Data

As a college professor who has watched textbook prices increase at rates greater than inflation for several years, I am very interested in alternatives to delivering vital content without costing a small fortune. Digital textbooks in particular seem to hold great potential as technology improves to deliver content to tablets and smartphones and prices of e-readers decrease. The combination of high prices for print books and development of digital formats would appear to set the stage for a textbook revolution. In fact, there are data to suggest that is the case.

A recent survey of college students sponsored by Kno Inc., an educational software firm, provided an eye-popping statistic about their willingness to adopt digital textbooks: 25% said they would give up sex for a year in exchange for never having to carry bulky textbooks around campus. Whoa! Time to usher in the era of digital textbooks; a significant segment of the textbook buying market has indicated a high level of interest in being able to shift to digital books. Not so fast- all we know at this point is that some students would rather exert less effort on carrying textbooks than having sex.

The findings on college students’ views on print and digital textbooks do not quite match with reality. Despite being available for several years, digital textbooks have yet to be adopted on a wide scale. Digital books’ share of the textbook market is below 10%. Furthermore, only about 2 in 10 college students currently own an e-reader, which is a limitation on mass adoption of digital books. It is possible that digital textbook sales will take off. Personally, I am hopeful that the quality of the digital product will continue to improve and be able to offer students an enhanced learning experience at a good value.

Don’t be seduced by the data; examine research findings critically to evaluate the extent to which consumers’ intentions mirror reality. A gap often exists between what people say they will do and their actions. In the case of the textbook study, I can understand why students would express a desire to not have to tote clunky textbooks on their backs if alternatives were available. But, realities such as inferior digital offerings and lack of owning needed hardware like a tablet or e-reader means that most students will maintain status quo. When data give great hope, cautiously embrace the opportunity. However, seeing is believing; so watch out for data that portrays a mismatch between stated intentions and actual behavior.

eCampus News: “‘Sex vs. Textbooks’ Survey Doesn’t Jibe with Student Preferences”

What’s Behind our Super Bowl Obsession?

Most Americans know that this Sunday brings the biggest football game of the year. Super Bowl XLV will feature two of the most storied franchises in NFL history, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. The Super Bowl has become more than a game; it is a cultural event that has become an unofficial national holiday. A study done for the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association projects consumers will spend $10.1 on purchases related to the big game this year.

Among notable statistics from the NAMA survey:
• 171 million people are expected to watch the game (the largest audience ever)
• 61 million people plan to attend a party
• 35 million people plan to host a party (for the 61.2 million to attend!)
• 4.5 million people plan to purchase a new television
• 75% of persons surveyed said the commercials serve as entertainment
• 18% said commercials help to increase their awareness of the brands advertised

Wow! The Super Bowl’s attraction to a large majority of the population is undeniable. It is amazing in part because fans of 30 out of the NFL’s 32 teams will feel a sense of emptiness Sunday. Their teams will not be playing, yet many of them will be watching. And, many people who watch little or no football during the season will be tuned in Sunday (including 2 people in my home). How did we get to this point? The NFL helped build the Super Bowl brand, obviously, with a great on-field product, broadcasting partners that bring the drama into our living rooms, and transforming the game into a major entertainment event.

Before we give the NFL all of the credit for the popularity of the Super Bowl, we should acknowledge it is the beneficiary of human nature. We like to be part of communities of people, whether it is fellow football fans, friends, or family. The Super Bowl is an opportunity (if not an excuse) for us to come together with others with whom we share common interests.

Marketers seeking to build a great brand can learn from this characteristic of the Super Bowl and sports in general. For all of the talk about how the Internet isolates people, most of us want to belong to a community, be it face-to-face or virtual. What can you do to promote development of a brand community, a group of customers and friends that share an affinity for your brand and products?

As for Sunday’s game, we know that among the expected 171 million viewers will be fans of the Steelers and Packers. I am sure my friends Mark, Faye, and Mike will be decked out in black and gold; my former students Joshua and Katie will no doubt be cheering on the Packers. Regardless of which team you support, enjoy as you spend time engaged with your community whether it is at home with your family, at a party with friends, in a pub with strangers, or with your hashtag-wielding pals on Twitter.

Is The Green Consumer Fading?

Green consumerism and sustainability are practices that many observers believe are not the latest fad. The U.S. recession, a more truly global economy, and a highly connected world have been contributors to the spread of Green. However, results of a recent Harris Poll provide evidence that attitudes toward environmentally responsible consumption appear to have lost momentum in becoming a priority for Americans. Among the findings that point to a fade in Green attitudes:

• 36% of those surveyed said they were concerned about the planet we are leaving behind for future generations compared with 43% in 2009.
• 36% said they personally care about the current and future state of the environment, down from 34% last year.
• 29% said they are environmentally conscious, down 1% from 2099.

Fewer adults holding Green attitudes contradicts the notion that the “me” generation of the indulgent consumer is evolving into a “we” generation that weighs the impact of consumption decisions on future generations. At the same time, it would be premature to signal an end of the Green consumer. Several economic indicators point to the effects of the recession easing. It is possible that some consumers are reverting back to previous attitudes and behaviors as their personal situations improve. We can look at reactions to gasoline prices and observe similar patterns. When gas prices have risen to their highest levels, more consumers cut back on driving, more interest exists for fuel efficient vehicles, and electric and hybrid vehicles are in vogue. As prices recede, attitudes and behavior return for the most part.

Momentum for the Green movement has slowed, but not disappeared. In the same survey, more adults labeled themselves as “a conservationist” (20%, up 3 points) “green” (18%, up 5 points), and “environmentalist” (16%, up 3 points). Results of the survey suggest that a segment exists of adults committed to promoting environmentally friendly consumption. The challenge is to spread the adoption of this mindset. Evidence exists that younger consumers are more likely to hold green attitudes. The question is whether we can bide our time and allow Green consumerism to gradually take root, or should green education initiatives become a higher priority for businesses, advocacy groups, and governments?

Marketing Charts – “Fewer Americans Go Green”

Put Down Your Product to Attract Customers

No, the headline does not have a typo. Putting down your product can be a way to position your brand to attract new users. It is possible that customers think your product is too good for them, so changing its frame of reference to something bad, decadent, or unhealthy may resonate with some people.

Is this an unusual recommendation? I think so, and I am holding back laughter and skepticism as I gather these thoughts. Here is an example of what I mean, coming from a group called “A Bunch of Carrot Farmers.” In a campaign that launches Monday, baby carrots are positioned as an alternative to junk food, even bearing the tag line “eat ‘em like junk food.” An integrated campaign will use advertising, social media, and a website ( to spread the word. Even product packaging gets into the campaign as baby carrot packages resembling potato chip bags will appear in stores.

This campaign is a great illustration of using marketing communications to influence consumers’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Associating baby carrots with the indulgence of eating junk food challenges consumers to rethink how they perceive carrots as a snack. The messaging that has been developed for the campaign to this point is humorous and light hearted. Rather than a focus on “eat carrots because they are good for you,” the implied message is “eat carrots because they are fun!”

Will consumers be attracted to baby carrots because they are fun (not to mention better for you than junk food)? It is certainly an unexpected positioning, but one that might work on a product that is viewed as a commodity by many consumers. Shifting focus from a more virtuous “good for you” product to a more playful treat is a put down that could result in higher sales of baby carrots.

DM News – “Baby Carrot Growers Target Snackers with Integrated Effort”

Look at Customers Carefully… They Aren’t Necessarily You!

Despite the benefits market research provides in aiding marketers in making more informed decisions, the reality is that customer data is a luxury for many small and medium sized businesses. Customer insight usually comes from face-to-face interactions, but the opportunity to drill down deeper to learn from customers through focus groups, interviews, or surveys can be beyond a firm’s resource capabilities. Thus, we are often left to make judgments about customers based on experience gained from serving customers and competing in the marketplace. The danger of this approach to customer analysis is that it is easy to view customers through the lens of our own generalizations, and even stereotypes of our customers. The gap between consumer behavior and a marketer’s view of the customer can be exacerbated when there is disparity in characteristics between customer and marketer.

An example of how this difference in characteristics might play out can be found in a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. In a survey about the necessity of different electronic and entertainment tools, only 46% of consumers 18-29 years-old said a landline phone was a necessity while 59% a cell phone was a must have. In contrast, 30-49 year-olds favor landlines, with 62% saying a landline phone is a necessity compared to 51% for cell phone. An even more pronounced difference between the two age groups was in their views of television as a necessity. Twice as many 30-49 year-olds said TV was a necessity than their younger 18-29 counterparts (58% and 29%, respectively).

The concern raised here is that if marketers make decisions based on what they think customers want or prefer, it is possible that personal biases will cloud effective decision making. Age-related differences in particular are a potential source of making incorrect assumptions. If marketing management ranks are staffed largely with 30-somethings and 40-somethings (or older), is their intuition about younger customers on target? I am not suggesting they are incapable of having a good understanding of younger consumers; I am merely pointing out the possibility of age differences leading to misguided analysis. After all, managers who come from a generation raised on TV may have trouble fathoming that people would not view TV as a necessity. However, the reality is many Millennials feel adequately connected to the world with computers and smartphones.

Pew Research Center – “The Fading Glory of the Television and Telephone”