Why Effective China Marketing Programs Begin with B2B Customer Personas
Whether you are looking to optimize your current marketing process in China or break into this new terrain, having an accurate customer persona is essential.
Customer persona, also known as buyer personas, is a fictional representation of your ideal audience and a vital component of B2B marketing. Without one, your marketing efforts are based on assumptions and sales guesswork, which can damage every aspect of your business.
A well-crafted customer persona can be used as a strategic tool that allows you to develop more targeted messaging and impactful campaigns that actually move the needle.
According to research by Aberdeen, companies with well-defined customer personas are 2-5 times more likely to achieve their revenue goals than those without them. In addition, 90% of companies that exceed lead and revenue goals have updated their personas in the last six months.
For multinational organizations, having a localized customer persona also ensures alignment and shared understanding across departments and borders.
In this blog post, we're going to give you the scoop on why it's crucial to create customer personas and, most importantly, show you how to create your own.
Let's dive in!
Why do global B2B marketers fall short?
Customer persona can be a highly valuable strategic document when developed effectively. But it’s tough to create them from scratch for an unfamiliar market, particularly if you’re trying to do so from a central marketing/comms team in an entirely different market.
Many multinational companies fall short as they attempt to use one-size-fits-all personas for their China marketing efforts. This is unrealistic because cultural differences and buying decision journeys of Chinese customers may vary significantly from those of other markets.
One of the challenges is that regional teams often lack the bandwidth to create individual personas for each target country as creating a strong persona requires dedicated resources and time, including real buyer interviews and close collaboration with other departments.
Moreover, creating a persona requires collecting extensive customer data, which can be challenging for businesses new to the market that don’t have enough customer intelligence.
So, how can you create localized B2B personas for the Chinese market?
Two ways to develop a Chinese customer persona
There are generally 2 common approaches to developing China-specific customer personas——building personas for China from scratch and adapting the existing personas with additional cultural information specific to Chinese customers.
1. Create specific personas for China from scratch
The first approach is to create your Chinese customer persona from the ground up, just like what you did for other Western markets. While this method will give you the most accurate and specific descriptions of your Chinese customers, you'll need to buckle down and put in the hard work to gather customer data, research, and resources.
The first step to developing personas from scratch involves collecting quantitative data through methods such as web analytics, CRM, surveys, and social listening.
However, quantitative data alone is not sufficient to create strong personas. You also need to gather qualitative data through direct customer interviews, conversations with your customer services and sales team, and collaborating with different departments to gain a whole picture of your customer. We’ll cover more about this later in the blog.
2. Adapt existing personas to China
The second approach is to use your existing global persona developed for other markets but adapt it by adding cultural information specifically related to your Chinese customers. The benefits of this approach are that it requires less effort in gathering customer data and is faster than building from the ground up.
For instance, Microsoft has a persona named "Simon" for their preferred customer in most global markets. However, Microsoft realized that it needed to adjust its persona to better fit the unique business and cultural environment in China.
To achieve this, Microsoft created "Shi Meng," a variation of Simon tailored specifically for the Chinese market. Shi Meng shares many similarities with Simon but also embodies traits and behaviors that are especially important to Chinese customers. For example, Shi Meng prioritizes building relationships and trust with business partners as it aligns with Chinese cultural values.
While this approach provides a shortcut to creating your Chinese customer persona, it does run the risk of not being specific enough or inaccurate. So make sure you validate your personas and continuously refine them as you gather more customer insights.
Crafting your customer persona from scratch
To create your Chinese customer persona from scratch, first, collect the existing customer data you have, from CRM systems, websites, market research, social media analytics, or surveys. Then use your quantitative customer data to create the framework of lightweight proto-personas.
Next, you should dig deeper and uncover your audience’s motives through qualitative data——that’s where the real work begins.
Here are three qualitative methods for gathering the customer insights you need to create more personal and effective B2B customer personas:
1. Customer interviews
There’s no better way to collect qualitative data than going straight to the source. To gain insights into your customers, schedule 30- to 45-minute interviews with a range of buyers, including those who didn't buy from you and those who haven't considered you yet. Talking to them will help you learn how they make purchasing decisions and why they choose you over your competitors.
Don't focus on questions that data can answer—instead, learn about what factors into each buyer's decision-making process. While it's important to consider a buyer's emotional/personality traits, don't dwell on them at the expense of understanding their decision-making. Ultimately, understanding the buying process is what makes a successful B2B customer persona.
2. Leverage your team
If customer interviews are not possible due to time or resources, you could leverage your customer service and sales teams. They are at the front lines, interacting with customers on a daily basis, and can offer valuable insights on pain points, preferences, and personalities.
Encourage them to be specific and share experiences with real customers. If they generalize by saying "most customers" or "people usually", ask for examples or anecdotes to illustrate their point. This specificity will reveal personal and contextual details about your audience.
However, relying solely on this method means making assumptions about your customer and their buying behaviors. Continue pushing for customer interviews to support any assumptions with evidence.
3. Run a brainstorming session
If you can't get your customer service and sales team together, no worries! You can still make your B2B customer personas more informed by scheduling a brainstorming session with your marketing team. If you can, invite a few salespeople or anyone with valuable customer knowledge.
Encourage attendees to imagine someone specific that embodies your envisioned persona in personality and buying behavior. By stepping into your audience's shoes, your team can still paint a more comprehensive picture.
Here's an exercise to guide your team: Draw a makeshift persona, and write out the questions you'll answer in the session. Let your team visualize what this person might look like and draw features. Go question by question, taking enough time for complete exploration. As ideas come up, have your team write them on post-its and put them up on the board. Let everyone take things in any direction they'd like – more ideas mean better results. You can distill and analyze it later.
For personas to be effective, your final persona document should answer the following questions:
Who are they and what do they do? What are their goals and challenges, as these are what drive their buying decisions? And, of course, what role do they play in the purchasing process—are they functional buyers, economic buyers, or technical buyers?
Where do they work? Their company size, and industry, and where does their business stands in the industry value chain? Their geographic locations,.etc
Why do they make the choices they do? What are their values, and fears; how do they research information online and off?
Key Cultural Considerations
Despite similarities in the persona development process, developing personas for China also requires some key considerations due to the unique culture, socioeconomic landscape, and technology landscape.
Consider the following factors as you create your Chinese customer personas:
Cultural differences: Chinese culture is unique and has its own customs, beliefs, and values. For example, Chinese people tend to value relationships and building trust in business, so your personas should reflect these values.
Language: Mandarin Chinese is the official language in China, and it's important to consider how language will impact your personas. Consider the tone and style of language you use in your marketing messages and ensure they align with the expectations and preferences of your target audience.
Regional differences: China is a vast country with many regions that have their own unique characteristics and preferences. It's important to understand these differences and tailor your personas accordingly. For example, customers in the northern part of China may have different cultures and behaviors than those in the southern part of China.
Technology: China has a rapidly growing technology market, and has its own technology stack that is completely different from other markets. It's important to consider the role of technology in your personas and how it impacts their behaviors and preferences.
Socioeconomic factors: China has a diverse population with varying socioeconomic backgrounds. Consider how income, education, and other socioeconomic factors may impact your personas and tailor your messages accordingly. For example, customers in tier-1 and 2 cities might have different expectations than those based in tier-3-4.
Make customer persona the center of your B2B marketing program
Your customer persona may look nice on the wall of your cubicle, but what value do they really provide? For one thing, personas should not be approached as checklist items and filed away once completed. Instead, consider personas as “active tools” – objects that inform marketing strategy.
Once you have developed a persona, it should be made available throughout your entire local team, referenced quickly and easily to guide the direction of China marketing, sales, and product decisions.
During the planning meetings, refer back to your customer personas to ensure your marketing efforts will resonate with customers and drive conversions.
Here’s how your persona can be used to inform your marketing strategy:
Serve as a tool to guide the development of relevant marketing programs
Identify specific content topics related to priorities important to the persona
Determine the best channels, messages, and content formats to reach and engage your Chinese audiences
Build a storyline across the buying process that maps content to needs and priorities at different decision-making points
Help your local sales and marketing teams understand the role of emotions and empathy in solving specific customer problems or reaching key objectives.
Customer personas are the bedrock of your organization’s marketing approach – they’re exactly what you need when you go to market. By utilizing real customer data, you can base your marketing strategy on customer needs, wants, and pains and create tailored programs and messaging that move them from stage to stage of their buying process, instead of a “spray and pray” approach.
Whether you choose to develop a Chinese customer persona from scratch or adapt your existing one to China by adding cultural context, working with a PR agency in China will provide you with much needed help.
Finally, be sure to validate your personas through surveys, A/B tests, website landing pages, and social media content, and continuously refine them along the way. Remember that personas are not rigid and unchanging. Revisit your persona every six months and update it as your business and the market evolves.