While my business partner Colin Mathews has been working on building ContentMarketer.io (my latest project), I’ve been hard at work building buzz and recruiting beta users.
So far, we’ve had more than 3,500 people request access to the system, but only a few hundred of those really got the product and were successfully able to leverage it. Along the way, I’ve learned – relearned, actually – the importance of understanding your customers on a deep level.
One of my favorite tools for understanding my customers is the buyer persona, but what I’ve found is that most people who use this strategy don’t take it far enough. Simply knowing someone’s age, gender and geographic location isn’t enough – you’ve got to go deeper.
Below, you’ll find 150 of the questions I’ve personally used that you may find useful to ask as well. However, you don’t need to ask them all. Feel free to pick and choose the questions that are most relevant to your brand and the information you personally need to gather.
That said, before you go away and ask ten or twenty generic questions, think about this: the more questions you ask, the deeper the insight you’ll gain into your buyers and the more targeted and effective you can be in your marketing strategies. Asking more questions will take more time up-front, but the payoff will be well worth the extra effort.
General Background Questions
These are the most basic questions that we should be all be asking about our target customers. They’re extremely important; however, too many marketers think this information is enough to build a buyer persona. It’s not. Ask these questions, but only as a starting point.
1. What is their name?
2. Are they male or female?
3. How old are they?
4. Which country were they born in?
5. Which city were they born in?
6. What’s their racial background?
7. Which country and city did they grow up in? (There’s a lot of evidence suggesting that where we grow up shapes us “in dramatic ways”.)
8. In which country and city do they live now?
Early Years Questions
I don’t think I need to say that our early experiences help shape us as adults. But although researchers are still undecided as to just how important our earliest experiences are in adulthood, studies have shown that:
“The emotional support that a child receives during the first three and a half years has an effect on education, social life and romantic relationships even 20 or 30 years later.
Babies and toddlers raised in supportive and caring home environments tended to do better on standardized tests later on, and they were more likely to attain higher degrees as adults. They were also more likely to get along with their peers and feel satisfied in their romantic relationships.”
In other words, even our very earliest experiences can reveal a lot about our behavior and personality as adults. To create a complete buyer persona, you should have at least a basic understanding of your buyer’s earliest years.
9. Who were they raised by (mother and father/single parent/grandparents/etc)?
10. If applicable, what did their mother do for a living?
11. Again, if applicable, what did their father do for a living?
12. Alternatively, if they weren’t raised by their mother or father, what did their primary caregiver do for a living?
13. What was the parenting style they were raised with? Strict, laid back, or somewhere in between?
14. Were they raised in a religious household?
15. If yes, which religion were they raised under?
16.0Do they have any brothers or sisters?
17. If yes, how many brothers and how many sisters?
18. Where in the birth order did they arrive? (This is said to have a significant impact on the kind of person we grow up to be).
19. What was the social status of their family growing up?
20. Did they grow up in the city, the suburbs, or in a rural area?
21. What type of home did they grow up in? (An apartment, small house, large house, etc.)
As much as the experiences we have at school and college help shape us as adults, the attitude we have in our younger years is a strong hint as to the type of person we’ll grow into.
For instance, if you were someone who always slacked and took the easy option at school, there’s a good chance you’ll carry that trait (at least to some extent) into adulthood. Conversely, those of us who are high-energy go-getters in our working lives were likely no different at school or in college.
The clever part about these questions is that people will tend to answer much more honestly when asked about their distant past than about their current behavior. We’re often happy to admit failings if they were “back in school,” without realizing how much we’re actually revealing about our current character.
Establish how a person acted and performed at school, and you’ll learn a lot about how they act and perform as an adult.
22. What type of school did they attend? Public or private? Small or large? Was it a well-rated and respected school or a struggling school?
23. What were they like at school? Were they popular? A loner? Somewhere in between?
24. What “social group” (if any) did they fit into?
25. Which extra-curricular activities (if any) did they take part in?
26. How well did they do at school? Did they tend to fail, excel, or were they an average student?
27. Did they get into much trouble at school?
28. What was their favorite subject?
29. What was their least-favorite subject?
30. What did they want to be when they were growing up?
31. Did they go to college?
32. If so, which one?
33. What did they study?
34. Without wanting to repeat myself, which extra-curricular activities (if any) did they take part in at college?
35. Did they join a sorority or fraternity?
36. What was their social life like at college?
37. What kinds of grades did they get?
38. If they didn’t go to college, what stopped them? Cost? Grades? Or did college simply not fit with their goals?
39. If they didn’t go to college, what did they do after high school? Get their first job? Go traveling? Nothing?
40. What is their current literacy level? This is vital because we often presume consumers to have a similar reading ability to ourselves. However the U.S. Department of Education found that 14 percent of adults had “Below Basic” (the lowest score) skills in prose literacy, while 12 percent had “Below Basic” skills in document literacy. It’s critical to keep this sort of information in mind to avoid crafting copy that could potentially alienate those with lower literacy levels.
Working Life Questions
Your buyer persona has grown up and gotten a job. Questions about their working life will reveal many interesting details about them.
That said, remember that when it comes to putting food on the table, the decisions we make are often out of necessity rather than choice – and the face we show at work may not be an accurate reflection of the person we are at home or with friends.
40. What was their first ever job (remember that this may overlap with school or college)?
41. What was their first ever full-time job?
42. What job are they currently doing?
43. What industry are they working in?
44. How long have they been in their current role?
45. Why did they choose this job? Were they head-hunted? Or perhaps the role is a stop-gap until they find something more suited to their skill set?
46. What level are they at in their current role? (Junior, manager, director, etc.)
47. What are their key responsibilities?
48. How much do they earn?
49. Do they feel their current salary offers fair compensation for the work they do?
50. Do they enjoy their job?
51. Do they like the people they work with?
52. Do they like their boss?
53. What, if anything, would they change about their current role?
54. How big is the company they work for? Look at how many employees they have and how much they turn over.
55. How do they see their role progressing? Will they be looking to move to another company or progress within their current firm?
56. Are they considering a career change?
57. What is their dream job?
58. Do they have any plans to pursue their dream job?
The state of our finances can reveal a lot about who we are. But it can also be greatly misleading.
For instance, picture someone with a comfortable amount in their savings account and no debts to their name. What sort of person would you imagine them to be? My personal assumption would be that they are hardworking, organized, and frugal. I might be right.
And yet I might not be.
Financial ties with partners, earnings (or lack of), family inheritances, and sheer luck (think lottery wins) can all affect our financial situation in ways that don’t reflect on us as a person. In many cases, our financial situation is simply a result of circumstance, rather than our own decisions.
For these reasons, you’ll want to avoid using the questions below to further determine the core personality of your buyers. What the state of our buyer’s finances do tell us however, is what they can afford, and how easily they are likely to make purchasing decisions.
In other words: pretty important stuff.
59. Do they have any debt? How much?
60. Is this debt (if there is any) a result of the cost of necessary landmarks in their life (i.e. a college loan or a mortgage) or irresponsible spending (such as credit card debt)?
61. How much are they worth (total cash and assets, minus liabilities)?
62. Are they very conscientious about the purchases they make or are they liable to make impulse buys?
63. Are they the main breadwinner in their household?
64. Are they responsible for most of the purchasing decisions in their household?
General Lifestyle and Personal Questions
This next section includes questions that are designed to find out more about the general day-to-day life of our buyer. As well as offering insights into their core personality, these questions should reveal a lot about what products and services they’re likely to be interested in and what would be useful to them.
65. What’s their marital status? Single? Casually dating? In a serious relationship, but living apart? Living together? Married? Separated? Divorced? Widowed?
66. How do they feel about their current marital status? Happily single or happily married? Or, are they single but looking for a partner?
67. What’s their sexual orientation?
68. Which political party (if any) do they support?
69. Are they actively involved in politics?
70. Are they environmentally conscious?
71. Which news sources do they read?
72. Do they have any children?
73. If yes, how many and how old are they?
74. Also if yes, are they girls, boys, or a mix of both?
75. Again if yes, do their children live with them?
76. If they don’t have children, is this a conscious decision or do they want children but have been unable to have them? Are they likely to have children in the future?
77. Do they have any pets?
78. If yes, how many and what are they? Interestingly, people’s preferences towards particular animals can tell us a lot about their character.
79. What type of home do they currently live in?
80. Who (if anyone) shares their home with them?
81. How many friends do they have? Explore this further by asking how many close friends they have vs. more casual acquaintances.
82. Do they see their friends often? Are they a social butterfly or do they prefer spending their free time at home?
83. Are they religious?
84. If yes, which religion are they part of?
85. Also if yes, have they always been part of this religion or is something they chose to embrace as an adult?
86. What hobbies (if any) do they have?
87. Do they exercise regularly?
88. If yes, what type/s of exercise do they do?
89. If no, why don’t they exercise? Time? Laziness? Health problems?
90. Do they play any competitive sports?
91. Do they prefer baths or showers? Seriously – the answer says more about us than you might think.
92. What TV shows do they enjoy watching?
93. What genre of movies do they like best?
94. What genre of movies do they like least?
95. What type of music do they enjoy listening to?
96. Who do they most look up to/admire? This could be somebody they know, or a celebrity.
97. Do they enjoy reading?
98. If yes, what do they tend to read?
99. Do they regularly go on vacations?
100. If yes, where do they go? Do they usually go to the same place? Do they go abroad?
101. Also if yes, what do sort of vacations do they usually go on? Beach? City? Skiing? Cruise?
102. If they don’t go on many vacations, why not? Does money hold them back or do they simply prefer staying at home?
103. Have they ever been backpacking?
104. If yes, where did they go?
105. Also if yes, who did they go with?
106. If no, do they ever want to go traveling?
Note – this may seem like a lot of questions about traveling and vacations, but these answers can actually tell us a lot about how independent, active, and adventurous our buyer is.
107. How often do they treat themselves?
108. Do they drink alcohol?
109. Do they smoke?
110. If no to either of the above, are they an ex-drinker or smoker?
Core Personality Questions
Up to this point, most of the questions we’ve been asking have related to circumstances that our buyer has, essentially, chosen. The answers tell us a lot about our buyer, and can certainly help us in our quest to market to them effectively. However, the answers to the questions above don’t always tell us about their core personality.
The following questions are designed to dig into those inherent, unchanging traits that form the basis of how we live our lives and interact with the world around us. The answers can really help us drill down into what our buyer is likely to respond to and what makes them tick.
For instance, risk-takers are often driven to convert by the anticipation of the purchase and what they’ll get out of it – to market to them effectively we need draw their attention to the benefits of the product and use words, imagery, and video to get them excited about what we have to sell.
On the flip side, those who are risk-averse are going to need constant reassurances about their purchase. Features and benefits are still important (they’re always important), but these buyers need to know they’re buying the right product, at the best price, with no comeuppance should they change their mind.
111. Are they introverted or extroverted? Or somewhere inbetween?
112. How spontaneous are they?
113. Are they a risk taker?
114. Do they tend to break or follow rules?
115. Are they mostly optimistic or pessimistic? Or are they a realist?
116. Are they driven more by their right brain or their left brain? Are they more creative or more logically minded?
117. Do they adapt easily to change?
118. Are they independent or do they tend to follow the crowd?
119. Do they get jealous easily or are they easily pleased for others?
120. Do they worry about what others think of them?
121. How would their friends describe them?
122. How would they describe themselves?
Tech and Web Questions
Not every marketer will need to ask these questions, but if you’re targeting your buyer online, an understanding of their attitude towards – and abilities with – technology and the web is vital.
123. How adept are they at using technology?
124. Do they tend to embrace new technologies or do they prefer to stick with systems they know?
125. Are they a fluent internet user?
126. What operating system do they use?
127. What internet browser do they use?
128. Which is their preferred search engine?
129. Do they use any social media websites?
130. If yes, which ones?
131. If no, why not? Are they unsure how to use them? Perhaps they don’t trust them?
132. What’s their preferred method of communication? Emailing, texting, using an app (such as WhatsApp), or do they prefer to pick up the phone?
133. Do they shop online?
134. If yes, which websites do they usually buy from?
135. If no, why not? As with Question #91, this may come down to trust (not feeling confident supplying their bank details online) or ability (not understanding how to make purchases online). However, they may simply prefer to make purchases in person.
136. Again if no, could they be persuaded to start shopping online?
137. What cell phone do they use?
138. Do they use their cell phone for browsing the internet?
139. Do they use their cell phone to make purchases?
Finally, these questions will help you to delve into how your buyer will respond specifically to your brand and product, as well the objections they might present you with.
140. Why do they need your product (or service)? Think about the benefits it will offer your specific buyer (not the general public at large).
141. When will they need your product? Is it something they’ll need for a specific occasion, something that lends itself to repeat purchases, or something that, while useful, will not be required at any specific point?
142. What other products (if any) on the market offer the same (or similar) benefits?
143. If you’re up against competing products, why would your persona choose to buy from you, rather than one of your competitors? Think about your USPs; specifically, how your USPs will benefit your buyer.
144. What questions will they ask before deciding to buy your product? This might include:
- Can I afford it?
- Is the price fair?
- Do I really need it?
- Is there a better alternative out there?
- Is this company trustworthy?
- How easily can I return it?
And many, many more…
146. What’s their number one concern when deciding whether or not to make a purchase? (Price, quality, brand, etc.)
147. How would they prefer to purchase your product? Online, over the phone, or in person?
148. Are they willing to make the purchase by alternative means, or is there only one means by which they are happy or able to buy?
149. When making a purchase online, which payment method do they prefer to use? Think PayPal, debit card, or credit card, but consider the card provider too.
150. When making a purchase in person, do they prefer to pay by card or with cash?
Hopefully that’s more than enough questions to get you well on your way to creating the kind of in-depth buyer personas that you can reliably use to guide and inform your branding, marketing campaigns, website design, and sales copy.
Remember, though, that you don’t need to ask every one of these questions by any means. My advice is to pick and ask around 50 of the questions that relate closest to your brand and to the information you want to learn about your audience.
Of course, this list isn’t definitive, and when you actually start asking these questions, you’ll probably think of a few of your own that aren’t included above.
Let me know what other questions you come across – as well as which questions you find most useful to ask – in the comments below: