The Strategic Guide to Adding, Removing and Avoiding Negative Buyer Personas

Buyer personas are a fundamental tool in any marketer‘s toolbox. These semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers help you understand their needs, behaviors, and buying processes – so you can align your marketing strategy to attract and convert high-value leads.

But your set of target buyer personas shouldn‘t remain static. As your business and customer base evolve, you may need to add new personas or retire outdated ones. Even more critically, you must learn to identify and avoid "negative" personas – profiles of problem customers you don‘t want to attract.

In this guide, we‘ll dive into exactly when and how to modify your buyer personas over time, with a special focus on leveraging negative personas to optimize your marketing efforts. Let‘s get started!

What Are Buyer Personas?

First, a quick refresher. Buyer personas are detailed profiles that represent your ideal customers. They go beyond basic demographic info and dig into your target customers‘ goals, motivations, pain points, buying behaviors, and more.

Think of personas as your "north star" – the audience you should focus on attracting, engaging, and serving with your marketing content. Well-crafted buyer personas help you:

  • Develop products/services that solve real customer needs
  • Create targeted content that appeals to each persona
  • Determine the best marketing channels and tactics to reach your personas
  • Align your whole organization around a clear picture of your target customer

When to Add New Buyer Personas

As your business grows and evolves, your set of target buyer personas may need to expand as well. Here are a few scenarios where you should consider adding new personas to the mix:

1. When You Don‘t Have Defined Personas Yet

If you haven‘t taken the time to research and document buyer personas yet – make this a top priority! You need at least one or two personas to start. Look at your existing customer data, identify common characteristics and patterns, and interview some customers directly to uncover key persona insights.

2. When New Trends Emerge in Your Lead/Customer Data

Keep a pulse on how the demographics and behaviors of your leads and customers shift over time. For example, perhaps you notice an increasing number of leads coming from a new industry or job role. If you spot a significant trend, consider if a new persona may be emerging that warrants unique marketing efforts.

3. When You Launch New Products or Enter New Markets

Any time you substantially change your business offerings or target market, reevaluate your personas. That new product or service line you‘re launching may appeal to a completely different audience than your current personas. Do your research to understand if you need to create new personas to market to.

When to Remove Buyer Personas

On the flip side, sometimes you need to trim your list of target personas – especially when you realize a persona isn‘t a good fit or isn‘t serving you well. Here‘s when to consider cutting a persona:

1. When a Persona Is Poorly Defined

Maybe you created what you thought was a persona, but it‘s too vague or general to be useful (e.g. "job seekers" or "millennials"). If you can‘t dig up meaningful details and behavioral patterns around a type of customer, they likely aren‘t specific enough to be a true persona worth targeting uniquely.

2. When You Identify a "Negative" Persona

Negative or "exclusionary" personas represent the types of customers you don‘t want to attract. If you realize one of your personas consistently exhibits red flags (more on that later!), consider removing that persona and building strategies to proactively avoid those mismatched customers.

3. When Your Business Stops Serving Certain Customers

Over time, your business may shift away from serving certain customer segments as you adjust your offerings or strategy. For example, perhaps you narrow your focus from serving all small businesses to specifically targeting tech startups. Retire any personas who are no longer a fit for your business direction.

Zooming In: What Is a Negative Persona?

We‘ve mentioned the concept of negative personas, also known as "exclusionary personas". But what exactly makes a persona "negative"?

Unlike your buyer personas, negative personas represent the types of customers you don‘t want to attract. They‘re detailed profiles of people who may initially seem like a fit for your business, but who exhibit certain red flags or ultimately aren‘t likely to become high-value, satisfied customers.

For example, some common signs a lead may be a negative persona:

  • They can‘t realistically afford your product/service
  • Their needs don‘t align well with your core offerings
  • They exhibit behaviors of a "bad customer" (e.g. extremely high-maintenance, unlikely to stick around)

So why bother identifying negative personas? Because attracting the wrong types of customers can harm your business by:

  • Wasting marketing resources and budget on mismatched leads
  • Overloading your sales team with prospects that are unlikely to close
  • Leading to unsatisfied customers who will churn quickly and leave bad reviews
  • Taking focus away from serving your true ideal customers

Researching & Documenting Negative Personas

Figuring out your negative personas requires a bit of analysis and detective work. But the process is well worth the effort to avoid problematic customers! Here are some places to look for insights:

1. Analyze Your "Bad" Customers

Look at your customer base and identify those who churned quickly, were extremely difficult to serve, or had mismatched expectations. Look for any commonalities in those "bad" customers‘ characteristics, needs, or behaviors.

2. Interview Your Sales & Service Teams

Ask your frontline staff who interact with prospects and customers every day. They likely have valuable intel on red flags they notice in leads that never close or customers who end up being a poor fit.

3. Look for Mismatches Between Leads & Customers

Analyze patterns in prospects who express interest in your business but never actually buy. Certain persona characteristics may be overrepresented in non-converting leads compared to your actual customers.

As you uncover insights, document your negative personas just like you would a buyer persona – but focus on the key traits and behaviors that signal a poor fit. Then share those negative personas with your whole team, so everyone knows who to watch out for!

Strategies to Avoid Attracting Negative Personas

Once you know the types of customers you don‘t want to attract, you can implement strategies to proactively filter them out of your funnel, such as:

  • Adjust your marketing messaging to repel negative personas while attracting good-fit personas
  • Avoid the marketing channels, content formats, and offers that tend to bring in less qualified leads
  • Set clear pricing and expectations early to prevent bad-fit prospects from moving forward
  • Train your sales team to spot negative persona red flags and disqualify poor-fit leads

The Importance of Regularly Reviewing Personas

Your buyer and negative personas shouldn‘t be "set it and forget it". Make a plan to revisit and reevaluate your personas regularly – at least once a year, or any time your business goes through major changes.

Analyze how well your current personas are working. Are they still an accurate reflection of your ideal customers? Are certain personas underperforming? Do you need to tweak your negative personas based on new insights?

Keep your personas updated as your customer base and business evolves to ensure you‘re always aiming your marketing efforts at the right targets – and away from the wrong ones!

Putting It All Together

Buyer personas are most effective when they‘re treated as a dynamic, evolving aspect of your marketing strategy. By being intentional about when you add new personas, remove outdated ones, and steer clear of negative personas – you‘ll be able to focus your resources on attracting and serving your ideal customers.

Remember, your personas are the linchpin to align your entire business around a shared understanding of who you serve and what they need. So take the time to create detailed, accurate personas, keep them updated, and educate your whole team on how to use them.

With the right positive personas informing your marketing efforts – and negative personas helping you efficiently filter out bad-fit customers – you‘ll be well on your way to more effective campaigns and a healthier business!