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Better Buyer Personas: Keeping It Human in a Tech-Forward Field

Better Buyer Personas: Keeping It Human in a Tech-Forward Field Blog Feature

Rachel Palmateer

Director of Paid Media, 6+ Years of Digital Marketing and Project Management Experience

September 28th, 2018 min read

You’re insanely busy. Like, really about to go off the deep end if something in your calendar doesn’t disappear. Maybe eight somethings.

But you’ve dialed it in, and you’re also insanely efficient. You’ve read all of the advice books out there, and you’ve outsourced everything from getting groceries to signing your emails to petting your cat.

You drove to work with navigation guidance on just in case there was traffic and you needed a different route.

You snagged the parking garage ticket from the machine with the too-robotic-for-comfort-these-days voice.

You punched a first, second, third cup into the Keurig while reviewing an inbox full of automated emails and general noise. You thanked the technological gods that Google is copywriting for you these days.

You’re so deep in demographic data that you nearly fall out of your chair when Sara from accounting appears in your doorway to ask a quick question.

The human-ness of her presence startles you out of your digitized day and it takes you a second to remember to make eye contact when you answer. To modern marketers, this is an experience all too common.


As marketers, we’re in an exciting world where technology exists for pretty much every need we might have. It’s convenient and it’s easy to get caught up in.

(Afterall, it would have been just as easy to Slack Sara from accounting and mash a blueberry muffin into your mouth instead of actually talking to her, right?)

However, when we get the opportunity to step out of our tech automations and into the real world, are we forgetting to keep it human?

Take buyer persona interviews for instance.

After examining analytics and behavior metrics, rigorous stalking of LinkedIn, and falling into deep holes of subreddits and research papers, it can feel like we know enough about the broad picture persona we’re targeting before we even interview actual users.

This is good for our calendars - we can now fit these interviews with strangers into nice neat little 15-minute appointments, ask only the questions that we haven’t answered already via research, and be on our merry marketing way.

But the interviewees are not getting on the phone to fill in our blanks.

They’ve agreed to have a conversation - voice-to-voice, face-to-face; human to human.

They’re ready to be listened to and it’s time for us to take this human moment seriously.

The Value of Personal, Human Interactions

The end-goal of all marketing efforts is to make sure that people who are looking for a specific product or service are able to find the solution that best fits their needs. We create personas to act as a compass during our planning and strategy.

With persona interviews, we’re after personal engagement with actual customers so we can go beyond metrics and hear first-hand accounts of the buyer’s journey.

Numbers can only tell us so much, while in a conversation, we gain context such as motivation.

During interviews, we are able to dig into the emotional landscape of the buyer’s journey through the interviewee’s voice, facial expressions, and explanation  while recalling their process through the conversion funnel.

Adding emotions to the data we’ve gathered through our research, allows us to really get a grasp on the human we’re targeting with our marketing.

How frustrated were they really getting when the “Add to Cart” button didn’t work on Black Friday? Why were they so excited about the surprise and delight gift in their shipping box that they shared about it on Facebook?

The deeper we can dive, the easier it will be to replicate the good experiences and prevent the bad.

3 Key Considerations When Planning a Persona Interview

In order to conduct an emotion-forward, human-centered persona interview, it’s important to take the proper time to plan, structure your communication, and gather all of the tools needed for success. This is not the time to go on autopilot and wing it.

A few key things to think about when you’ve got a buyer persona interview on the horizon:

1. Plan a buffer for yourself.

We all know that context switching is good for no one.

Plan an extra 10 or 15 minutes in between your interviews or previous task to pull your brain out of your computer and prepare for a human interaction. Maybe this means high-fiving a coworker or taking a quick walk around the block.

Failure to do this can result in a whole slew of not-great situations.

Perhaps, you arrive late to the meeting, which reflects poorly on you and the business you’re representing or  you mix up the interviewee’s name with the previous participant.

You are in control of your schedule, so plan and prep properly for each interview.

This will help you keep the focus on the interviewee’s story and feelings, ensuring that they feel heard and you’re capturing excellent insights for your persona.

2. Consider all of your touchpoint opportunities.

From requesting an interview to sending a thank you note afterwards, there are countless touchpoints between you and your interviewee. These moments of communication and connection work two-fold, no matter how brief they may be.

Even small exchanges - like emails sent back and forth while scheduling the interview - can provide insight into how this person interacts, problem solves, and expresses need or maybe even frustration.

Yes, there are fantastic scheduling tools available that remove the need to go back and forth over email, but when it comes to persona interviews, you really want to remove the automation and take the time to engage in the scheduling process. These little interactions are a valuable opportunity to build trust and camaraderie so you don’t feel like strangers during the interview.

Overall, you should examine each touchpoint with this person so that you can pull all of the insights you need to really bring the persona to life.

3. Go above and beyond when listening.

Here’s the thing thing - sometimes people ramble or have a lot on their mind.

When this sort of thing happens, suddenly you’re smiling and nodding and “mmm hmm”ing and paying no attention to the person gushing great information in front of you.

This sort of disaster is avoidable. Between scheduling downtime between meetings (see #1) and investing in the proper tools to record interviews, it’s easy to be set up for success.

Whether it’s through your video call service or simply a recording captured by an app on your phone, keep a record of the call. This will allow you to reference specific conversation points when you’re finalizing your persona at a later point so you can truly listen to the interviewee during your meeting without worrying about taking notes. After all, you can outsource the transcription later.

Human-to-Human Marketing

As marketers, we’re working non-stop to try to make it easier for people with a specific need to find the perfect solution, quickly. However, at the end of the day, our job is not about connecting a business to another business or a business to a consumer, it’s about connecting people to other people.

We need to know and understand the needs of human beings to help guide them to the things that will fulfill them. Be human-to-human.Let’s not get trapped in our tech tools and forget to look beyond the computer screen to these often very inherent physical and emotional needs..

Maybe it starts with more personal persona interviews. Maybe it starts with sharing your blueberry muffin with Sara from accounting after you answer her question. Whatever it is for you, remember to take the time to keep it human.

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