Marketing B2B Events With Buyer Personas

It is a pity that clearly defined buyer personas can still rarely be found in marketing concepts for trade shows, exhibitions, conferences and other B2B events. This is, in my view, a missed opportunity.

Buyer personas are fictional characters representing key customer segments. Ultimately, with buyer personas you can test your content before it goes out:

Will the (content) bait be attractive for the fish (your target audiences)?

If you have well crafted buyer personas, the chances of meeting your target audiences’ expectations with your content are a lot higher! At the same time, buyer personas help you give your potential exhibitors and sponsors a better idea of who they will meet at your event and what their expectations, values and pain points are.

Let’s take a look at five questions to ask when crafting, documenting and implementing buyer personas for your B2B event marketing campaigns.

1st question: What are your core audience segments?

Firstly, you will have to define all the segments that are – or should possibly be – interested in your B2B event. When, defining those segments, a number of criteria are relevant, like

  • Location: Where do they typically come from?
  • What industry segment do they work in?
  • What is their decision making capacity?
  • What is their job title and hierarchy level?
  • What’s their age?
  • To what extent are they interested in specific product areas?

We did this exercise recently for a trade show, and we wound up with 25 different segments! Don’t be scared to break the segments down to such a level, because that does not necessarily mean you need different marketing material for each of those groups!

2nd question: What is the potential, behavior and motivation of these segments?

In the B2B customer journey and decision making processes, you will often come across buying centers. Buying centers are informal structures. Your exhibitors and/or sponsors will very often be confronted with a complex mixture of different roles when they want to market their products and services.

The bigger the buying companies are, the more people involved in decision making processes, and the longer those processes will be. To give an example: For some large conglomerates, purchasing decisions for software are centralized. Subsidiaries might not have any say in purchasing such goods. It is important to know such mechanics in your industry.

In essence, B2B events are about connecting the purchasing decision makers with the suppliers’ industry.

b2b buying center


What are your visitors’ roles in their buying centers? For each of the segments, detailed analysis is required. Here’s a few of the aspects you will want to know:

  • What is the potential of that particular segment? How many people are we talking about?
  • To what extent are those people already attending your B2B event? What is the gap between the actual potential and your current attendees? How many do you have in your database?
  • How do they typically gather information about trends in the market? Nowadays, the customer journey begins on the web. According to Forrester Research, 74% of B2B buying process research happens online.
  • That said, what role can live B2B events play in the journey of your target segments? They are 360 degree touch points!
  • If they don’t attend your event, why not? What would they need in order for your event to be attractive to them?

This information can be gathered through desk research via chambers of commerce or business associations, online surveys, customer panels or expert interviews.

A lot of knowledge is already out there in your organization (e.g. the sales and customer care departments), so it makes sense to start with internal interviews. But be aware that making false assumptions can kill your marketing campaigns later on.

3rd question: How many buyer personas do you want to work with?

Once you have clear vision of all of your customer segments and the dynamics of their customer journey, you can break down those segments to a manageable number of buyer personas.

Now, you could say: What do I need buyer personas for if I have done all this research and have clear enough descriptions of the customer segments?

As human beings, it is a lot easier for us to relate to other human beings rather than facts and figures!

Characterizing your most important visitor segments by giving them a name, a face, a job title, or a fictional company helps all the people involved in creating your marketing campaigns to put themselves in the shoes of the potential audience.

They will be your buddies! They are ideal for agency briefings, too, when you work with outsourced partners in your marketing campaigns.

Let’s say you define 5-6 different buyer personas, representing the core visitor segments of your event. Asking yourself each time you produce a piece of content: “Would any of my buyer personas value this?” will raise the effectiveness of your marketing activities drastically.

At this stage, behavioural and motivational aspects are more important than just the facts and figures. Such as

  • What are their daily challenges and pain points today and in future?
  • What motivates him/her in their jobs?
  • What would she/he value about your B2B event?
  • What problem can your event solve that she/he has?

Regarding the pictures: If you use your buyer personas strictly internally, you can just go for random LinkedIn profile pictures. You might as well use a service like for the creation process.

4th question: Is your visitor marketing campaign in line with your buyer personas?

There is no more one-size-fits-all. The trend is clear: As much personalization as possible!

Buyer personas are a great tool to move in that direction. For each persona, you may want to think about

  • What are the best channels to reach them?
  • What are the best selling points to transmit? Which is the individual USP for each persona?
  • What story will best resonate with them?
  • What kind of content will they value?

These answers may differ for each of them.

In the online world, you can measure pretty much everything. And you can target very different audiences!

Some of the tools you can use include:

  • Individual landing pages for each of your buyer personas
  • Different email newsletter templates, layouts and messages. 5-6 are manageable, I would say, provided you have segmented your database to represent the buyer personas.
  • Different print brochures
  • Different online advertising campaigns
  • Specialized content for each of the personas, e.g. on your event blog
  • Adapted ad messages depending on the preferred media of your personas

There is a thin line between what is manageable and what is overdone. Buyer personas will improve your marketing efficiency overall, though, and that is definitely worth the effort.

5th question: What are the results?

Over time, the behavior and motivation of your buyer personas may change, as the market changes.

To review the efficiency of your buyer persona-based marketing endeavours, you can look at two angles:

  • To what extent did you reach our audiences with your persona-based marketing campaigns? Do you need to fine-tune the content, the delivery and/or the channels?
  • In what way does the behavior and the motivation of your personas change over time? Do they prefer other channels? What are the implications for your marketing activities?


To sum it up

Crafting buyer personas for B2B events is an exercise that pays off on various levels:

  • Buyer personas help you get a better understanding of your audiences, particularly on the behavioral and motivational side (empathy)
  • The concept also allows you to explain your audience to potential exhibitors and sponsors better
  • Buyer personas are a useful step towards personalized marketing campaigns
  • Constant reviews of your buyer personas and their motivations, challenges and pain points helps you design your B2B events better and adjust them to the ever-changing requirements of your audiences
  • Thus, you can make sure that live events will continue to play an important role in the customer journeys in your sector.


michael heipel

This guest post has been exclusively written by Michael Heipel for the Ungerboeck Blog.

If you are based in the German speaking market, let me direct you to a workshop I am holding on September 24, 2015 in Frankfurt: Content Marketing for Events, Conferences and Exhibitions. The workshop (in German language) is tailored to the needs of project managers and marketing managers that are involved with events. You can register here for the course.


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