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User Persona and Buyer Persona – What’s the difference?

The term `persona` has become widely used in many fields and implemented for many purposes. It’s worthwhile to take time and look deeper at the difference between a `user persona` as defined in product development and UX, and `buyer persona` a term used for marketing. Although the two seem very close in meaning, there are in fact key differences. Understanding how these terms differ is crucial to finetuning your product strategy and avoiding mistakes.

What are User Personas?

Often called `Design Persona’ by UX professionals, they are, in fact, a tool to help product developers and designers to envision their audience. More than just a technical device, personas help creators emphasize with those who will eventually interact with their product. Empathy with users is necessary to foresee how they will react to various product features and build the right user journey for them. To facilitate this mental exercise, it is important to imagine users not as a faceless audience, but rather as particular individuals.

What are Buyer Personas?

Just like user personas, buyer personas help marketers envision the singular people that comprise their target audience. When defining a marketing strategy, buyer personas are fictitious individuals that represent those most likely to purchase a product. However, the purpose of this exercise is not empathy with the persona, but rather a deep understanding of its behavior.

Taking these definitions into account, there are 2 important differences between the two:

They serve different purposes

While the main reason for creating a user persona is establishing a sense of empathy between developers and end users, buyer personas are created to help better understand the persona’s motivations.

They should include different information

Not everyone agrees on the level of detail and which details are necessary to create a viable persona. User personas can be quite minimal and still serve their purpose well.  We’ve addressed before the subject of lean user personas and the advantages these have for agile development. But the idea of shedding all unnecessary demographics from personas is not limited to the lean school of thought. Some claim that an excessive amount of details creates bias and prevents designers to see personas for their needs, not their traits.

Marketing oriented buyer personas, however, need to include more information on behavior in order to be used to create effective campaigns. Advanced targeting tools provided by digital advertising platforms allow identifying narrow segments that can not be described by general terms. In simpler terms, a campaign for a pizza delivery service cannot be built around persons who are described simply as pizza lovers. It’s drilling down to their motivation for ordering pizza that can make the difference.

And Remember: They often do not represent the same people

It’s easy to forget that the product buyer and the product user may be entirely different people influenced by different circumstances. Obvious examples for these can be toys, or pet products, which are bought and used by completely different demographics. In tech products, especially those meant for use in the work environment, the buyer may be the company owner, head of IT, or a team leader, all purchasing products which are later used by company employees.