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What Is a Negative Buyer Persona? Definition, Uses and Examples

Negative buyer personas help you identify customers with no measurable ROI. Learn how you can use them to avoid marketing to the wrong people.
14 Min Read

Table Of Contents

    Do you ever look at your Analytics dashboard and wonder why some users aren't completing a purchase or subscribing to your product or service?

    For example, they spend ages on your site, going through web pages, watching demo videos, checking out different products, and signing up for newsletters and free trials.

    But you don’t really see conversions (or any money).

    Even though they are completing all the goals a genuine visitor with high buying intent will complete.

    The answer to this problem is quite simple: these users are not your ideal customers; they simply mimic the actions your target audience usually displays.

    It goes without saying that they are bad for business.

    Negative buyer personas can help you spot such prospects and redirect your marketing efforts to customers who will actually be a good fit for your products and plans.

    What is a Negative Buyer Persona?

    A product or service in any industry is developed for a specific set of users in mind, who share similar interests, needs, and pain points.

    It is not meant for everyone and thus should not be marketed to everyone.

    Also called exclusionary persona, a negative buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of the type of customers you want to avoid in marketing, as much as you possibly can.

    They sit at the negative end of the spectrum and can include users who:

    • are often labeled as “difficult or impossible to work with”
    • back out right before they make a purchase
    • take up a lot of time and resources with no visible returns

    While a typical buyer persona stands in for your ideal customers, negative personas help you identify prospects who would be detrimental to your business.

    Characteristics of a negative buyer

    The life of an average marketer is made up of different factors (both positive and negative) that lead to profits and losses.

    Yet ultimately, everything depends on your audience.

    If your marketing messages reach the right people, that's great! If not, then you are in for a bad surprise.

    Negative buyer personas help you avoid attracting the wrong crowd and shift your attention away from the less than ideal buyers who are least likely to convert.

    Sometimes it is easy to spot them, but other times it is really hard. However, negative buyers do display some common characteristics:

    • Lack influence in the decision-making process
    • Unresponsive to all your marketing campaigns
    • Resistant to trying out new features and add-ons
    • Have a history of payment problems, like delays and defaults
    • Don’t derive any real value from your product

    This list is very basic and general. You can create your own and make it a point to include negative traits and behavior relevant to your audience and industry.

    Why are Negative Personas important for your business?

    In The Creative Brief Blueprint, Kevin McTigue and Derek Rucker discuss the mistakes brands make when it comes to targeting customers in advertising.

    There are three of them but the “everyone target” is right at the top.

    Basically, brands don’t take the trouble to specify a target or have “a target so large and amorphous that it does not help prioritize the message or the media dollars.”

    They don’t do proper research and fail to understand their audience, often targeting anyone and everyone.

    Negative buyer personas save you from making this error largely by eliminating individuals who should not be marketed to in the first place.

    That said, these are the main reasons why you should use them in your outbound and inbound marketing strategies.

    Uses of negative buyer personas in business

    #1 Avoid red flags

    Have you ever seen a bull chase a red flag even though it's color-blind? It does so for no other reason than the fact that the flag is there, no matter how bad the results may be.

    Negative personas help you avoid chasing after such red flags (aka the warning signs) in your business.

    You can identify customers who are awful to deal with, have high acquisition costs, and represent a low marketing investment.

    For example, a user might really love your product but might not have the means to buy it. They might still subscribe to alerts and updates in the hope of staying up to date.

    Sometimes, your marketing and sales teams might convince them by:

    • Offering limited time deals
    • Giving out once in a lifetime discounts

    But what are the chances that they will buy from you again? Not a lot.

    Additionally, the resources you have invested in acquiring this tough customer will surpass the expected value in return.

    It is not just the money.

    Some customers are often dissatisfied with your product. It doesn’t matter how good it is, your sales and customer support team can never fully convince them.

    #2 Refine ideal personas

    Most companies have an ideal customer profile. It helps them target prospects who would be a great fit for their products or services, offering a lot of value in return.

    Buyer personas do the same thing.

    They give you a holistic view of your customers based on the commonalities they share, like their demographics, goals, pain points, motivations, frustrations, and expectations.

    Thus enabling you to understand the ones who actually buy the product.

    Negative personas give insights into undesirable buying behaviors, traits, and characteristics that you need to avoid when creating ideal personas for your business.

    You don't need to restrict yourself to just buyers; try developing a negative user persona as well.

    User personas represent the individuals who use your products. Their negative counterparts will tell you who your product is not meant for, like individuals who:

    • Discontinue using the product quickly
    • Show a high abandonment rate
    • Have unrealistic expectations with your product
    • Product user red flags

    Companies can use this information to better understand product usage and consequently improve product design and features to suit the right users.

    #3 Streamline marketing

    A great marketing campaign is based on two factors: understanding your target audience and delivering an impactful message.

    It does not include trying to market to everyone.

    Doing so will waste a big chunk of time, money, and effort, which, frankly speaking, most marketers and small businesses don’t really have.

    Negative buyer personas prevent indiscriminate targeting of audiences, ensuring that you focus your efforts on prospects most likely to convert.

    Furthermore, they enable you to:

    • Personalize campaigns, content, and messaging
    • Attract desired customers with high conversion potential
    • Optimize the sales process with high quality leads

    When you weed out the misfits, you can successfully identify the right marketing segments, channels, and content.

    #4 Manage your budget

    According to a Forrester report, marketers waste 21% of their marketing budgets due to poor consumer data quality.

    We all know what poor data leads to — improper customer targeting.

    As we have stated before, targeting customers with low conversion potential is a waste of your time and marketing budget.

    Negative personas can play a pivotal role in managing your budget.

    They not only help you save money with hyper focused campaigns, but also enable your sales and marketing teams to address issues early on in the marketing and sales funnels.

    Negative profiles also help your customer success teams single out poor-value buyers from those who are actually a good fit for your company.

    #5 Build a loyal fanbase

    A negative buyer is not a bad person; they are just not the audience you want to target.

    Take for instance, college or university students.

    Such users usually go through industry websites, content, and resources for research purposes. They might contribute to heavy website traffic, but not sales.

    It’s a similar case with fans who love your product but do not have the means to afford it.

    This does not mean that you should ignore them. Embrace and interact with them on social media and other online platforms, even if they are not making purchases.

    Forming connections with people who appreciate your brand is, at the end of the day, crucial for building brand awareness and authority.

    Guide to creating Negative Buyer Personas

    Finance teams mull over spreadsheets every business quarter, typically searching for expenses to cut and budgets to allocate.

    Marketing budgets are the first to go since they look redundant.

    And why not?

    If your strategies target the wrong audience and fail to bring in any brand value, there's no point in spending on them.

    This isn’t the worst of it.

    Even if you do manage to bring in customers, but they end up disliking your product, they might spread negative opinions online, influencing potential customers.

    Creating negative personas will give you an understanding of your less than ideal buyers and stop this from happening.

    So here is our simple four-step guide to help you build one.

    Steps to create negative buyer personas

    Step 1: Conduct research

    Customer research is the first step to creating effective negative personas and should be a joint effort between your marketing, sales, and customer service teams.

    After all, they know everything there is to know about your customers.

    While one has the numbers, the others have frontline customer experiences and hold valuable stories of negative customer interactions.

    So make sure your research includes inputs from all three.

    You can begin by combing through your Google Analytics data as it offers great insights into your website visitors, letting you:

    • Track negative user behavior (like the pages visited, time spent, actions taken)
    • Identify touch points where they commonly drop off
    • Study incomplete transactions and sign-ups

    Google Analytics further gives you the option to filter and isolate users who exhibit negative behaviors, allowing a more focused analysis.

    Step 2: Talk to your customers

    Quantitative analysis gives you access to demographic data like age, gender, location, habits and interests of your website visitors.

    However, it is not always enough.

    In order to really get into the minds of your customers and identify the characteristics of your negative buyers, you should talk to them.

    Correction: You need to talk to them.

    You can either interview your prospects or send out consumer surveys. We recommend interviewing them because it is more personal and authentic.

    Don’t worry about it if you cannot, simply go for the latter.

    Survey and interview your current prospects along with buyers who have stopped buying, especially those who have returned your products or canceled your services.

    You can do it via email, social media, or by directly calling them.

    Make sure to include open ended questions, such as:

    • Why did you start/stop using our products or services?
    • Were you dissatisfied with anything in particular?
    • What were some of the goals you wanted to accomplish?
    • Did our products or services meet your expectations?

    These questions will give your customers the space to express their thoughts and feelings with regards to your brand and products clearly.

    Step 3: Develop negative profiles

    This is the stage where the magic happens; the stage where you put together all the little titbits of data and information you have gathered to create a negative buyer persona.

    So take a good look at everything you have collected and ask yourself these questions:

    • What were some of the challenges your company faced with past customers (complaints, bad reviews, product returns, etc)?
    • How much time and money did they consume?
    • Did they cost you more than the profit you made?

    Ding, ding, ding, if the answer to your last question is yes!

    This is the buyer who needs to be put in the negative persona segment.

    Once you are done identifying a bunch of such buyers, group them according to their goals, challenges, pain points, behavior, and key trigger factors for discontinuing your product.

    Identify patterns and similarities, pick a common name and profile picture, and voila! You have a negative buyer persona.

    A well-built negative persona can be the ultimate solution to most of your targeting problems in marketing and help you refine your ideal customer profiles for better results.

    Step 4: Refine and update

    Your customers will not always be your customers.

    Sounds terrifying, we know. But unless you constantly keep up with their demands and expectations, which let’s be honest are always changing, they will leave.

    And it’s not just consumer behavior and buying patterns, your target audience, market and technology is also evolving.

    This fact applies to your negative buyers as well.

    Situations change and they might just turn out to be your most profitable customers yet.

    Take for example, a prospect who has recently moved into a higher tax bracket. Their capacity for spending has increased and they might now be a better fit for your product than they were in the past.

    You might completely forget to include them in your reachout strategies if they are still a part of your negative buyer segment.

    So it becomes important to track any such changes, demographic or otherwise, and update your personas regularly.

    Using Exclusionary Personas in marketing: Tips & tricks

    Marketing is not about being everything to everyone; it's about being the perfect fit for someone whose needs align seamlessly with your offerings, contributing to brand success.

    It should be quality over quantity every single time.

    But marketing mishaps do happen, as seen with the Zune, Microsoft’s alternative to the iPod.

    The Zune by Microsoft

    Long story short, the product faced massive failure and was eventually taken off the shelves due to market pressure.

    This outcome was attributed to three factors:

    • Zune’s late arrival in the market (five years, to be exact)
    • Users were already loyal to Apple’s iPod
    • Lack of uniqueness in the product

    Microsoft not only failed to enter the race at the right time but also failed to understand the needs of its audience.

    Negative personas help you steer clear of these missteps, allowing you to tailor your product and marketing to those who are genuinely interested in your company.

    Pinpoint the pain points in marketing

    Prospects are hard to convert because they cannot or do not want to use your product or service.

    A good marketing strategy will try to address and rectify the whys behind these statements. When you understand the reasoning behind their decisions, you will be better equipped to resolve problems.

    Once you have a negative persona in place, you can:

    • Establish a clear value proposition (who you are for, who you are not for, and what you offer)
    • Design a roadmap to help negative buyers transition away from your product or service
    • Turn a critic into an advocate with the right language and resources (like informational articles, funny posts, or DIY videos)
    • Direct content marketing efforts to the right platforms and channels

    This will save you time and frustration when dealing with problematic buyers, while guiding them towards a more suitable option instead.

    Wrapping up

    We know that it’s tempting to focus your marketing efforts on individuals who are showing all the traits and characteristics of a positive buyer.

    However, it is crucial to develop negative buyer personas to enhance understanding of your customers and refine your marketing strategies for those who will truly be a good fit for your business.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    What is a negative buyer persona?

    A negative buyer persona represents the type of customers you want to avoid marketing your products or services to. They are customers who are often labeled as difficult to work with, back out before purchases, or take up resources without offering returns. Unlike ideal customer profiles, negative personas identify prospects harmful to your business.

    Why should you create a negative persona?

    Negative personas help identify customers who are hard to deal with and have high acquisition costs and a low customer lifetime value. Additionally, negative buyer personas help you:

    • Identify undesirable buying behaviors, traits, and characteristics
    • Prevent indiscriminate targeting of audiences
    • Single out poor-value buyers from high-value buyers
    • These points further allow you to refine your ideal customer personas, save marketing resources, and build a loyal fanbase.
    What are the characteristics of a negative buyer persona?

    A negative buyer displays characteristics that are easy to identify and hard to ignore. That said, these are a few common traits that you can use to single out low-conversion buyers:

    • They are unresponsive to all your advertisement campaigns
    • Lack any influence in the decision-making process
    • Resist trying out new product features
    • Have a history of defaults and payment problems
    • Get no real value from your product or services
    Create personas automatically from your Google Analytics data
    Gain a deeper understanding of your digital customers

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