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The Best Free Tool for Understanding Your Audience: Buyer Personas

Want to figure out how understanding your audience can help you create better online courses? Buyer personas is the best way to get started.

The Best Free Tool for Understanding Your Audience: Buyer Personas

This post is part of a series on how to build an online course.

Imagine this, you go to all the effort of building an online course and then discover that you failed to reach a major group of potential learners. Or imagine getting your course online only to discover that you need to start over because it doesn’t really speak to the interests and needs of your target audience. The best protection against these outcomes is to begin your course building by testing your own understanding of your target audience.

The Buyer Persona is perhaps the single most effective tool you can use to test and validate what you think you know.

If your current understanding is sound, you’ll come away with solid evidence to back that up. If there are holes in your current understanding, you’ll have solid evidence with which to fill those holes. I’m going to walk through how to create a starter Buyer Persona and then give three ways to start using that persona to test your understanding.

Buyer Personas are descriptions of ideal or imaginary individuals that are typical of your target audience. To create a persona, start with a real person that you think might buy your course. Write down this person’s name, age, and occupation. Then write a 2 or 3 sentence description of the goals or priorities that will lead this person to take your course. Framed another way, what pain will your course relieve for this person? 

Once you’ve captured this basic information for the real individual, decide what it is about this person that makes them typical of some segment of your target market. How are their motivations typical? Change any of the details necessary to make them reflect the group more than the individual.

Next, choose a name for the group this person represents. You’ll know you have a good group name if the person would self-identify with that group. Now change the name of your persona to start with the group name and then append a person name that starts with the same letter. This will make it easier to remember and use. Adding a picture (just search Google Images) helps to round out the humanness of your new imaginary persona.

Here’s an example of one of the buyer personas I created:

SamNiche Expert Nate: Nate is a 54 year old, widely respected speaker and presenter. He has built a company and a brand around the methods and ideas he has developed over the years. He has an extensive set of training materials in print and presentation format. Nate is interested in leveraging his reputation and expanding his reach by making his material available in the form on online classes.

With a persona like this in hand, you can start to test what you know about your audience.


Test #1:

Read the Amazon reviews for books that address the same pain point as your course. To find those books, put yourself in the shoes of your persona and then make a list of likely search phrases you would use to find a solution to your problem. 

Example: My course addresses Nate’s uncertainty about how to turn his material into an online course. My list of search phrases for Nate includes phrases like the following:

  • how to create an online course
  • how to develop an online course
  • selling courses online
Save this list of search phrases in its own document, by the way. You’ll want to refer back to it later.

When you find books that address the same problem as your course, read the reviews looking for anything that contradicts your description of your persona.

  • Do the reviewers have different priorities than your persona?
  • Do they represent a different demographic?
Whenever you find a pattern of difference, update your persona to match the people writing these reviews. Review writers not only care enough to spend money solving this problem, they took the time to write a review. These are your likely buyers.

Test #2:

Read the comments on blog posts that address the same problem as your course. To find relevant blog posts, use the same search phrases from Test #1, but this time, put the word “blog” in front of or after the search phrase. As you read the blog posts and the comments, you’ll also think of new search phrases. Add them to your list.

People who follow blogs closely enough to comment will usually have a serious commitment to the issue at hand. These are people actively involved in solving whatever problem your course sets out to solve. Again, you’re looking for anything that contradicts or refines what you know about your audience. As you find those contradictions or refinements, you may see a need to create new buyer personas rather than just update what you have. Don’t defend your initial ideas, let the comments guide you.

As you read the blogs and the comments, look for individuals that seem to get mentioned or quoted repeatedly. Maybe they’ve written a book, maybe they’re successful at solving the problem, maybe they’re just funny or authentic and people like what they have to say. Whatever the reason, it will become clear that they have an audience that is interested in the problem your course sets out to solve. If these people are alive and still part of the conversation, they are called Influencers. Make a list of these Influencers. You’ll use it for the third test:

Test #3:

Look at the Twitter profiles of the people that follow your Influencers. Not all Influencers will have a Twitter account with a following, but an awful lot of them do. It’s a funny thing about Influencers. To find a Twitter profile, just open Twitter and search for the person by name. Scanning through Twitter followers is the least exact of the three tests listed here because people will have such varied reasons for following. Don’t look for contradictions in the Twitter followers, just look for examples of potential buyers maybe you hadn’t thought of.

These three tests give you a real understanding your audience that is evidence-based. If your course creation work and your marketing efforts succeed, it will be because you’ve really understood your audience. The tests above take time, it’s true, but they work. And compared to the cost of a failed course, they’re oh so cheap and easy.

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