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Buyer Persona Development: Going Regional

May 30, 2018

A one-size-fits-all approach to the b-to-b buying audience rarely delivers desired campaign results

B-to-b marketers must fully understand their buyers and markets – including regional differences – so that they can engage them as effectively as possible. Portfolio marketers are responsible for identifying when they need to create regional variations in buyer personas, which ensure

that local buyer insights are understood and leveraged in messaging, content and campaigns. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we describe a process for identifying regional variations in buyer personas.

Creating Regional Personas

Initiatives to create regional personas may occur during any of the following contexts:

  • Enterprise-wide persona research initiatives. When the entire enterprise undertakes a persona initiative, this is an ideal time to identify and document any regional differences.

  • Supplemental regional persona research. If persona research is carried out at the regional level after global personas have been created, the focus of the research is to verify whether the global personas apply to each region and to identify and document regional differences. It is also important to identify any additional personas in the region that exist (i.e. job roles that influence the buying process within a region but not at a global level) as well as regional differences in persona prioritization.

  • Entering a new geography. When entering a new country or region, it’s essential to conduct persona research within the new geography to validate or modify existing personas.

The number of geographies and extent of persona differences will affect how regional personas are represented in the persona library. For example, global personas might have regional notes appended to them (e.g. when differences are relatively minor and involve only a few regions), or separate regional persona profiles can be created with notes added indicating the major differences from global personas. Alternately, every persona profile could be classified by region, removing the need for a generic global persona. When considering regional persona variations, research should encompass each of the persona attributes listed below, which are part of the SiriusDecisions Buyer Persona Framework.

Functional Attributes

A b-to-b buyer persona is an aggregation of individuals with similar characteristics related to their job role, and should be defined and aggregated in terms of the following functional attributes:

  • Job role. Check for anomalies in the way job roles are defined in the region. In some cases, a role may be defined as global even if it has regional responsibility. There also may be differences in the role’s daily tasks, performance metrics and fit in the organizational structure.

  • Common titles. Job titles vary by region. For example, the head of HR in the United States may be called the VP of human resources, while that same role in EMEA and Asia-Pacific regions may be titled as HR managing director.

  • Position on organizational chart. A CMO in a global headquarters role has responsibilities that differ vastly from those of a regional or country CMO, and reports to the CEO or business unit lead rather than the regional head or country manager.

  • Buying center. The organizational structure may differ in regions, potentially resulting in buying centers made up of different types of members with unique goals. This difference applies especially to organizations that have had recent merger or acquisition activity at the regional level and have not yet aligned with the corporate structure.

  • Firmagraphics. Target market segments on their own (e.g. industry, geography, organizational type) are unlikely to indicate the need for a region-specific persona. However, regulations and standards vary across regions, affecting the persona. For example, U.S. banks must comply with the Dodd-Frank Act, while EU banks must follow the European Banking Authority’s Single Rulebook. Significant variations also exist within many industries (e.g. food safety regulation, genetic modification legislation, competition law, environmental law).

Emotive Attributes

A buyer persona profile should include the persona’s needs, challenges and initiatives. Marketers need insight into each persona’s aspirations and goals – along with fears and worries – in order to create meaningful messaging:

  • Initiatives. Some regions may have specific regional programs and projects – e.g. local governments in parts of Europe and South America encourage or mandate the use of open-source software. Many European countries encourage organizations to buy from local suppliers, or at least from suppliers within the European Union.

  • Challenges. Some challenges are specific to a region – e.g. cost reduction initiatives that ensure better value to the purchasing country. A new local competitor with a leaner cost base may disrupt established players, often when telecommunications or energy markets are deregulated. A new regional offering may emerge that quickly takes market share – e.g. solar power with battery storage in a sunny climate.

  • Buyer need. This major indicator is the primary impetus for creating a regional persona. The buyer need drives messaging and campaign themes, which will not resonate without a properly defined persona. For example, the buyer persona may have a need for improved performance (e.g. mandatory car fleet emission reduction targets legislated in the European Union), a need to adhere to strict data privacy laws in the European Union or a need to conform to Sarbanes-Oxley financial legislation in the United States.

  • Lexicon. Regional variations to the local business lexicon should be factored into regional personas. For example, in North America and the United Kingdom, the word “churn” as it’s commonly used does not translate or resonate elsewhere. A “vanilla” offering has a very different meaning in other parts of the world. The business expression “pushing the envelope,” which refers to extending performance, is confusing to a non-English speaker.

Decision Process Attributes

Persona attributes relevant to the buying decision process include:

  • Buyer role. Buyer roles can vary at the regional level, with modified power and participation levels and decision drivers exhibited by the champion, influencer, decisionmaker, user and ratifier. For example, the ratifier may play a bigger role in countries suffering from economic stress.

  • Level of engagement. Understand the ways in which buyers participate in the buying process and how these differ from the global persona. For example, the way in which the CFO buyer persona engages throughout the buying process may differ by region, depending on the focus some cultures place on financial accountability.

  • Decision drivers. Buyer motivators are defined as financial, strategic or operational in North America and much of Europe. Other regions may have different motivators. For example, marketing to the public sector in some Nordic countries may focus more on the well-being of the nation as a priority over profit, efficiency or growth.

Behavioral Attributes

To determine the best ways to reach and communicate with a target audience, marketers must understand how the relevant personas prefer to consume and access information:

  • Content asset types. Some variation is expected in the types of content preferred by buyers in different parts of the world. Much of this is due to infrastructure availability and the maturity of digital channels with respect to the buyer’s journey.

  • Interaction types. In the West, marketers can engage buyers through multiple types of non-human interactions. However, these marketing techniques might not be viable in other regions. Some countries have no reliable high-speed Internet access in the workplace, or there might be limited or no Web access. Marketers also should note the nuances of human interactions in different markets. For example, drinking coffee before a sales presentation is customary in the Netherlands, some business interactions occur in sushi bars and on golf courses in Japan, and certain regions of the world observe different business hours.

  • Watering holes. Where buyers go to network and learn about their business varies by region. While buyers in many countries use a combination of physical and virtual communities – e.g. trade shows, conferences, user groups, trade publications, and various online communities, forums and chat rooms – buyers in some countries might have less access to these communities.

The Sirius Decision

Marketers typically develop buyer personas centrally, hoping that they also will yield results in the regions. When regional persona profiles are created, store them in the global master persona repository and provide easy access to them by all functions that need to use them. Regional personas also should be linked to other internal systems (e.g. sales force automation, marketing automation, sales asset management) to maximize their use throughout the organization. Marketers should use regional personas to ensure that the global go-to-market strategy and campaigns accommodate regional needs. As the persona discipline matures, regional persona variations (like other segment variations) should not be an afterthought – they should be a core element in persona research and the persona library.