The Complete Guide to Using Buyer Personas for Better Association Marketing

October 3, 2023
Association persona examples
Connecting with your target audiences in a meaningful way is critical for effective association marketing. That's why developing detailed buyer personas should be a core part of your association’s marketing strategy.

In this blog post, we'll explore what buyer personas are, why associations should use them, and provide an actionable guide to creating buyer personas tailored to your organization. You'll learn how to bring your audiences to life through data-driven personas and use them to craft resonating messaging and experiences.

We've also included examples of common association buyer personas and a free customizable template to get you started on better segmenting and engaging your members.

Read on to unlock the power of persona-based marketing for associations.

What are Personas?
“Personas are fictional characters you create based on research, and they represent segments of your market.”
— Product Marketing Alliance

Personas are created based on research, data analysis, and insights about the association's members, stakeholders, or potential audiences. The main questions to be answered with this research is to help you identify the problems or challenges that a member or learner encounters in their profession and industry.

Once you’re able to understand the challenges they face, then it’s time to answer the essential question: “How does our organization help address or solve these problems?”

Why Buyer Personas?

There are two common types of personas that are similar but distinctly different: buyer personas and user personas. Buyer personas represent the people who make purchasing decisions, while user personas represent the people who actually use the product or service.

For our purposes we’re focusing on buyer personas to help you market your association’s membership and other offerings. We’re not trying to understand how a persona navigates your association management system (AMS) or learning management system (LMS), which would be more in line with user persona development.

Why Should Associations Use Buyer Personas for Marketing?

It’s simple—persona-based marketing will make your life easier. Buyer personas can help associations understand the characteristics, needs, motivations, and behaviors of different groups of people, therefore enabling them to tailor their marketing strategies and communications.

When you truly know your audience, you’re able to reach them effectively and efficiently. You know what websites they frequent, what social media platforms they use the most, what inspires them, and what challenges they are encountering, and so on. It becomes easier for you to create great content, craft messaging, and know where to allocate time and attention.

How Do You Create a Persona for Association Marketing?

You can go about creating personas for your marketing in many ways—the approach will be unique for every organization. But there are some key tasks to complete to develop well-rounded personas. Spoiler alert: It involves a lot of research and data gathering.

But first, there are some definitions to understand before you get started:

Target Market: The target market is the total addressable market with potential interest in your association. This is the big pool full of folks of all levels of interest and experience—whether they are members or not. You can also refer to this as your target audience.
Segmentation: Segmentation divides your target market into subgroups based on common attributes like demographics and behaviors.
Personas: Personas are the detailed representations of key segments that bring them to life as fictional individuals.

So, in summary:

  • The target market is the big picture opportunity.
  • Segmentation breaks it down into smaller, more specific clusters.
  • Personas represent the major segments.

Now that we’ve defined those terms, here’s a process you could consider following when developing your association’s buyer personas:

  1. Start by identifying your target market and segmenting them into groups, if needed, based on demographics, engagement, goals, etc.
  2. Select 2-4 core member segments to create detailed personas.
  3. Conduct member surveys, interviews, and focus groups to gather insights.
  4. Look at existing member data on demographics, behavior, preferences, etc. to find commonalities for personas.
  5. Give each persona a name and backstory to make them realistic.
  6. Include relevant details like job titles, goals, challenges, motivations, and personality traits.
  7. Specify what content formats, topics, and communication channels they prefer and note what messaging and positioning would appeal to them.
  8. Identify their reasons for joining the association and what they value most.
  9. Create persona one-sheet profiles for easy reference.
  10. Validate the personas with real members by sharing and incorporating feedback.
  11. Use the personas to guide content creation, marketing campaigns, website design, and member communications.
  12. Revisit and update the personas regularly to keep them current.
We’ve done some of the work for you! Download our free template here.
Examples of Association Marketing Buyer Personas

A disclaimer for all you associations out there! You know the saying “results may vary”? It applies here, too! The buyer personas you define for your organization may or may not match up exactly to the common segments we’ve outlined below—and that’s okay. Our high-level examples are a great starting place to get your wheels turning as to what your personas may look like.

Here are some of the more common buyer personas often encountered in association marketing:

The Professional Seeker

The Professional Seeker is a hyper-motivated learner that’s always trying to get ahead! This persona represents individuals who are actively seeking professional development opportunities, such as continuing education, certifications, and networking events. They are motivated by career advancement and staying up to date with industry trends.

Marketing Ideas to Engage the Professional Seeker:
  • Webinars and online training sessions: Offer easily accessible webinars or online training sessions that address or satisfy requirements for specific professional development needs in your industry.
  • Membership benefits highlighting educational opportunities: Emphasize educational resources, certifications, and continuing education programs in your marketing materials and communications.
The Industry Enthusiast

The Industry Enthusiast is uber passionate about their industry or field (hence why you’re marketing to them). They are likely actively engaged in their profession and seeking opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals, share knowledge, and contribute to the industry's growth.

Marketing Ideas to Engage the Industry Enthusiast:
  • Networking events and conferences: Organize networking events and conferences that provide opportunities for members to connect and share knowledge.
  • Industry-centric content: Publish articles, blog posts, and white papers featuring industry insights, trends, and best practices to engage and inform this passionate persona.
The Decision Maker

The Decision Maker is the boss, the big cheese, the head honcho. This persona represents influential individuals who hold leadership positions within their companies and have decision-making power. They may include executives, managers, or business owners who seek industry insights, best practices, and solutions that can benefit their company.

Marketing Ideas to Engage the Decision Maker:
  • Case studies and success stories: Showcase real-world examples and success stories that demonstrate how your association's resources and solutions have benefited other companies and led to positive outcomes.
  • Executive briefings and exclusive reports: Provide exclusive reports, industry analyses, and executive briefings that cater to the information needs of decision makers and offer valuable insights.
The Supporter

The Supporter is your biggest champion, your #1 fan! This persona comprises individuals who believe in the mission and values of the association. They may not directly benefit from the association's offerings but support its advocacy efforts, research initiatives, or community-building activities.

Marketing Ideas to Engage the Supporter:
  • Advocacy campaigns: Engage Supporters in advocacy initiatives and encourage them to take action and participate in efforts that align with your organization’s mission.
  • Impact stories and testimonials: Share stories and testimonials from members and beneficiaries that highlight the positive impact the association has made in the industry or community.
The Newcomer

Treat the Newcomers like the new kids on the block. They are individuals who are new to the industry or profession associated with the organization. They may be seeking guidance, mentorship, and resources to navigate their career path or business endeavors.

Marketing Ideas to Engage the Newcomer:
  • Mentorship programs: Establish mentorship programs that connect Newcomers with seasoned pros who can provide guidance and support.
  • Newcomer resources and guides: Develop resources, guides, and toolkits specifically designed to help Newcomers navigate the industry or profession, addressing common challenges and providing practical advice.
The Expert Influencer

The Expert Influencer persona includes influential figures within the industry who have established themselves as thought leaders, subject matter experts, or influencers. Engaging with them can help associations amplify their reach, gain credibility, and attract a broader audience.

Marketing Ideas to Engage the Expert Influencer:
  • Guest speaking opportunities: Invite Expert Influencers to speak at events, webinars, or conferences, leveraging their expertise and reputation to attract a wider audience.
  • Collaborative content creation: Partner with Expert Influencers to co-create content, such as podcasts, interviews, or articles, that promotes your association and offerings.
The Elusive Professional

The Elusive Professional is an established industry veteran who likely feels they already know everything they need from their field. Having seen many associations come and go, they may be skeptical of the value in membership. Their extensive expertise can also leave them overconfident in their own abilities.

Marketing Ideas to Engage the Elusive Professional:
  • Thought leadership opportunities: Highlight opportunities for the Elusive Professional to share their expertise via speaking roles, mentorship programs, or publishing in industry journals.
  • VIP benefits: Provide VIP benefits experiences that cater to seasoned professionals, like exclusive events and content.

It's important to note that these personas are not exhaustive, and associations may have additional or more specific personas depending on their unique context and membership composition. Creating personas allows associations to personalize their marketing efforts, develop targeted messaging, and deliver valuable content that resonates with their intended audience.

Marketing Your Association’s Learning Programs

We’re all about promoting learning here at Blue Sky eLearn (hence, the name!)—and we know that education is central to the mission of member-based organizations. That’s why we’ve developed a handy template to help you define specific buyer persona behaviors around professional development.

You can use this template as a starting point and to customize it based on the unique priorities of your members—and you can adapt this template for other areas of association marketing, too!

Download the Free Association eLearning Marketing Persona Template

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