Book Review—Buyer Personas

By Connie Howard, ETMG VP & Founding Writer


What Do Technology Buyers Want? Isn’t That the $64,000 Question?
Cue the Buyer Personas. Buyer Personas Book Cover

In the technology industry, it’s often been the case that engineering and marketing groups tell customers what they should want. And while it’s true that few people could have anticipated the popularity of smartphones or PCs, or the necessity of microprocessors, most of the time, prospects and customers can tell you a lot about what they want and what they need.

The Real Issue

The real issue is how to find out the right information and act on it. It’s critical to understand what the right questions are, and how to ask them.

Traditionally, marketers query consumers through focus groups or surveys. Sometimes, marketers even guess what buyers are looking for and how they make their buying decisions based on psychographic composites.

In Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business, author Adele Revella agrees, you’ve got to ask. But she believes that the best way to ask them will reveal insights that marketers often can’t anticipate. And, those unanticipated insights can actually alter the design or function of the product you’d like to bring to market.

A Different Approach

Her approach to asking is different. She claims that in many cases, her approach will also be simpler, cheaper, and more effective. She debunks traditional approaches, because they can easily miss the information that’s most important to understanding complex buying decisions, reminding us about the flaws in market research:

“The trouble with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.”[1]

Revella encourages marketers to discover the “Buyer’s Journey.” Instead of guessing about the kinds of features and benefits that customers want, she suggests identifying individuals who may need or have bought your company’s product or an analog. Then, ask them to tell you the story of how they decided on their need and their journey to final purchase.

This kind of open-ended conversation, doing much more listening than talking, will reveal new insights and needs that marketers haven’t thought about. Using transcripts of these conversations, Revella suggests finding and aggregating those insights, expected and unexpected. These real insights become the basis for Buyer Personas; profiles with information that can help you deliver products that meet real needs.

The Impact of Buyer Personas

The book contains examples of how customer insights and buyer personas can help companies win, by revealing unexpected needs. It also includes one very interesting example of how neglecting those needs caused a great company to fail.

If Apple had asked Japanese smartphone users how they used their smartphones, they would have understood that in 2008, these customers were already using their phones to shoot and watch videos. The initial iPhone 3G didn’t even include a video camera, and it was more expensive than its competitors. The Japanese didn’t buy the iPhone 3G. This example alone argues for conversations with customers that can reveal answers to questions that marketers don’t know how to ask.

Buyer Personas covers Adele Revella’s approach to understanding what customers really want. She outlines the process, including how to interview, how to mine those interviews. Most importantly, she reveals how to align your business strategy with what you’ve learned.

The book is immensely readable. It delivers a methodology that can help marketers discover what their customers really need, not what we hope or imagine they need.

1. P 38, David Ogilvy



Buyer Personas: How to Gain Insight into your Customer’s Expectations, Align your Marketing Strategies, and Win More Business by Adele Revella


Further Reading:

Book Review – The Content Code

Marketing Memes – Have You Gone Viral Yet?

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