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Meaningful Buyer Personas for the Buyer Journey: Awareness Stage

By Stephanie HawkinsJul 17, 2013

lightbulb dark room resized 600One mistake marketers make is assuming buyers know they have a problem. Often, the reverse is actually true; buyers are happy with the status quo for as long as it serves them.

Ardath Albee says the status quo is about what you're currently doing. Before you can understand how your buyers perceive their problems, you need to understand the ecosystem from which those problems emerged. In other words. how are your buyers already doing what your product enables them to do? Sure, your product might be able to help them do it better, but they've obviously got something in place that's working at least well enough for them to be able to stay in business. 

The buyer journey can't begin until there's been a disruption of the status quo. That disruption is the first stage of the buyer's journey: awareness. It’s important to clarify that awareness isn’t about product awareness, branding or familiarity with your company. When we talk about awareness, we’re talking about the buyer’s recognition of an internal problem within his organization that has gotten bad enough to notice and articulate.

You can recognize buyers in the awareness stage because they’re articulating and defining their problem. They’ve got a nagging sense that something’s bugging them, and they’re itching to talk about it. They might, for example, start researching their problem with a simple Google search or ask questions in a LinkedIn group. Your goal in the awareness stage is to ensure your solution talks about the problem the same way the buyer is thinking about it.

Buyer Persona Development for the Awareness Stage

When you’re developing buyer personas for this stage, here are some questions we recommend you ask existing customers:

  1. Can you describe the problem you had before you started using our product/service?
  2. When did you notice the problem? Why was it suddenly a problem?
  3. Was there a time when it wasn’t a problem, and if so, what were you doing differently then?
  4. What was the situation like at your company when the problem was at its worst? Who within your organization was most bothered by the problem?

The most important quality of your content at this stage is resonance. Your buyers need to recognize themselves in the content you create. Since they’ll be searching for a solution using their own words as guides, pay attention to the language they’re using to describe their problems, and turn their questions into content. What kind of content should you create for buyers at this stage? Try blog posts, videos, curated lists, articles or infographics. These formats are light and less in-depth, which works well for early-stage buyers.

Motivating Buyers to Become Aware

What about buyers who are blissfully stuck in the status quo? Should you write them off as sales you'll just never close? If buyers in your target market aren't researching their problems, can you motivate them to start doing so?

To motivate buyers to enter the buying process, you've got to get them to challenge their assumptions that the status quo is good enough. One way to do that is to look at trigger events. To understand trigger events for your target market, isolate answers from your buyer persona interviews about how buyers became aware of their problems. Specifically, what "triggered" the awareness?

Doug Kessler calls a trigger event, "an event in the life of a prospect that suddenly makes him receptive to your story." Kessler also points out that once you know your prospect's buying triggers, you can exploit them. How? By creating content around them. Kessler gives the example of a company that makes enterprise middleware. The company's buyers often became aware they needed enterprise middleware during a merger or acquisition. To exploit this, Kessler says, "the middleware guys should do content around the IT challenges of mergers and acquisitions."

The information you get from buyer persona interviews can have a powerful effect on your marketing if you let it. Stick with us through this series as we examine the rest of the buyer's journey, starting with the next stage, consideration.


stephanie kaperaStephanie Kapera is a special projects coordinator for Kuno Creative and the co-founder of Up All Night Creative, a Raleigh-based content marketing agency that helps B2B and B2C companies develop magazine-quality web content. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter!


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Photo credit: Julian Santacruz

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The Author

Stephanie Hawkins

Stephanie is a Strategist at Kuno Creative and writes about content marketing, buyer persona development and inbound marketing strategy for Brand & Capture. She lives and works in Raleigh, NC. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn and Twitter!
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