How To Grow Your Business Through Persona-Based Marketing

This post is for you, Henry.

And you, William. And you too, Sophie.

Hey, guess what?

One of those people is actually you!

Before you start questioning our sanity, let me clarify.

Henry, William, and Sophie are all “user personas”, created using a combination of data and smart guesswork.

User personas are stand-ins that represent the overall possible identities of people interested in the content I’m creating.

That means Henry might be you! Or maybe you’re more of a Sophie.

Creating a user persona allows any company to better understand its audience.

If a company can create marketing personas to represent their consumer base, they can meet the needs of those personas – and therefore their customers – better.

Some experts estimate that people are subjected to a staggering 4,000-10,000 marketing messages a day.

That definitely ups the challenge of making sure that your marketing campaign isn’t simply brushed aside with the other 9,999 messages customers are seeing.

Persona-based marketing can help make sure you target your pitch perfectly for each unique groups of customer prospects.

The value personas offer your business can be contained within the journalist’s “five w’s and how.” Personas help you figure out:

  • Who your customers are,
  • What their goals and frustrations are,
  • Where they spend their time,
  • When they’re the most active or available,
  • Why they make certain decisions, and
  • How they interact with your products or buy your services.

To help you get started with persona-based marketing, we created this guide. In this guide, we’ll talk about:

  • What is a User Persona?
  • How to Define User Personas
  • What Information Do You Need to Create Personas?
  • How to Use User Personas
  • Things To Avoid When Creating and Using Personas

What is a User Persona?

User (or marketing/buyer) personas are generalized, made-up identities that provide a detailed description of your target customer.

A well thought out, completely formed user persona should include plenty of personal information: details like demographic information, career history, even hobbies – should all be included to completely flesh out this character, making them as authentic (and therefore as relevant) as possible.

Ardath Albee describes user personas well:

A marketing persona is a composite sketch of a key segment of your audience. For content marketing purposes, you need personas to help you deliver content that will be most relevant and useful to your audience.

Personas are helpful. Whether you’re marketing, selling, creating, or providing customer service, these fictional characters help businesses relate to customers as actual people, rather than anonymous numbers.

It is widely recommended that you start with 3 to 5 user personas. That’s enough to represent most of your customers, but it’s still focused enough that it provides valuable, specific information.

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How to Define User Personas

When you’re ready to start creating user personas, you’ll need to go to the source: your customers.

Start with customer interviews.

Customer interviews will help you identify your customers’ wants, needs, and motivations.

Be sure you interview a broad group of customers and prospects.

  • Existing Customers – Good news! You already have a great resource right at your fingertips: your existing customer base. Engaging with people who have already purchased your product is an excellent starting point. Be sure to make contact with people that have had both positive and negative experiences with your product. Speaking with people who have only glowing reviews is great, but does not paint the entire picture. You’ll want to understand your customers’ experience from all sides if you want to create a useful set of user personas.
  • Potential Customers – It’s important to talk to people who have no experience with your product. You’re going to want someone without any “baggage” to give a fresh take on things, and a future prospect can provide exactly that kind of unbiased perspective. Your current prospects and leads are a super resource for creating an unbiased user persona – you already have contact information, so making use of that information is easy, cost-effective, and all around a smart idea. Take a look through your data and see what might fit into the personas you are building.
  • Referrals – Maybe you don’t have a large group of existing customers or leads, so you need some outside help. This is where having a network can be helpful – don’t be shy! Ask anyone you know who may have useful points of contact for you – your co-workers, friendly customers, your impressive social media network (you always knew having 1200 Facebook friends would be useful one day) – they may be able to connect you with perfect interview candidates.

Start with at least 3 to 5 interviews for each persona you’re creating(customers, prospects, people who don’t know your company).

For example, crowdspring offers design (logo-design, website design, print design, product design, packaging design) and naming services (naming your business or product). We work with different types of customers, including entrepreneurs, small business owners, big Brands, agencies, non-profits, and even governments.

Those customer groups differ from each other. While there are similarities between entrepreneurs and small business owners, for example, agency clients are very different and require a different marketing approach. So we tailor our marketing accordingly.

Done with interviews? Time to take a closer look at your website data.

Analytics date allows you to see where your visitors came from.

It also clues you in on the valuable keywords they used to find you, as well as how much time they spent on your website browsing around.

Why is that information important?

This data shines a big old light on the inner workings, desires, and interests that brought those customers to you. It’s important to understand the critical points of interest that can attract and retain new and existing customers alike.

Finally, don’t make the mistake of overlooking the people who know your customers best: your employees!

The employees on your team who deal with front of the line aspects of your business, like customer support teams, are a critical resource for any business owner looking to get to know their consumers better.

Who knows your customers better than they do?

Ask your employees the same questions you posed to your interviewees, and add their responses to your buyer personas. You’ll be amazed at the insights.

What Information Do You Need To Create Personas?

After you’ve spoken with customers and crunched the numbers, it’s time to start turning that data into actual personas.

The people personas represent may be made-up, but you still need to assign each one enough information to flesh them out.

The documentation you create for your personas should be detailed enough that anyone in your organization can read it and get a good idea of who these people are.

The Basics

Example of a persona (via xtensio)

Every persona should have at least the following information:

  • First name – You can provide the last name if the added context is helpful, but usually a first name is sufficient.
  • Age – How old is this person? Age can have a major effect on a lot of elements, so choose wisely and don’t forget to qualify your decision with actual data.
  • Photo – Stock photography might be enough here, but choose carefully. The way this persona looks can influence decisions (e.g. if they’re physically attractive or not). There are a lot of resources that can help here, like Random User, UIFaces, or User Personas.
  • Job – Does this person work? Go to school? Or are they a stay-at-home parent?
  • Location – Where does this person live?
  • Goals – What are some of this person’s goals? What do they need or want? How do these goals relate to your company or products?
  • Frustrations – What kind of problems does this person have? How do they affect their goals and their needs?
  • Biography – Write a short bio that describes this person’s background and how their context relates to your products or services. Don’t forget to base this on actual data you’ve gathered – don’t fall victim to the temptation to create an idealized background.

Getting Specific

Some specific data points that can help you figure out where this person fits in your strategy include:

  • Keywords – Words that summarize key traits about this person. E.g. “friendly”; “curious”; “technophile”; “late adopter.”
  • Character – Using a character helps contrast this person with your other personas. For example, if you were dividing your personas based on technical ability, you could have characters like “The Nerd,” “The Skeptic,” “The Newbie,” et cetera.
  • Myers-Briggs Type – Not required, but sometimes it’s useful to describe this person’s personality type. The Myers-Briggs personality indicator is a well-known way to represent something as complex as a person’s personality.
  • Favorite brands – What brands does this person like or interact with frequently?
  • Quote – Use actual quotes from people you’ve interviewed to give a quick insight into this person, their needs, fears, and goals.
  • Preferred channels – How does this person get their information, and what’s the best way to reach them with marketing messaging? Via social media? Or through traditional print advertising in newspapers or magazines?

If you’re doing more research online on personas, you’ll notice that many of the resources talk about user experience design (UX).

The user experience design process often includes personas, but don’t worry. No matter whether it’s personas for UX, marketing, or sales, the end goal of creating representative proxies for your customers is still the same.

If you need a starting point, several good persona templates and creation resources are available online, many of which are free.

HubSpot has the appropriately named “Make My Persona,” which uses a customized TypeForm questionnaire to help you fill in the blanks for a basic persona.

And if you’d prefer to use a template instead of a step-by-step generator, HubSpot also has a popular persona template that may be useful.

There’s UXPressia which is a paid service with some free persona creation tools. UserForge is another nicely designed option and is also free.

How to Use User Personas

Which fruit would Carol pick?

Once you’ve done all of the hard work of creating personas based on real data and real customer behavior and needs, it’s time to put them to work.

As we’ve discussed already, personas exist to help you identify with your customers so that you can better solve their problems.

A critical part of using personas effectively is empathy. You need to put yourself in the mind (or shoes) of your personas so you can weigh decisions and strategies against their needs.

A simple but effective way to do this is to ask yourself, “would [persona name] do [action]?”

For example, if one of your personas is named Carol, and you’re trying to determine if a certain marketing strategy makes sense with the group of customers Carol represents.

Asking “Would Carol find this message compelling?” is a good way to vet and validate your ideas.

Think of your personas like characters in a story.

Consider the problem or message you’re trying to validate as a narrative that your personas are a part of. Use them to help you define goals, challenges, pain points, and behaviour.

Personas are a powerful tool to help rally the various parts of your company around a cohesive whole. Using the same personas across different business units can keep your company focused on the same goals.

You can’t always have real customers at the ready to answer questions or confirm hypotheses, but using well-researched personas to bounce ideas off of can be just as effective.

Things To Avoid When Creating and Using Personas

Don’t make a wrong move.

As useful as personas can be, they are no substitute for talking to your customers. They are an idealized version of the people your business is trying to reach, and as such the usefulness they provide has its limits.

Personas are ultimately a collection of attributes, and what you’re trying to do is solve problems.

Your customers are more than a set of facts, and the things that motivate them and cause them grief can’t always be gleaned from distilling a section of customers down to a single “person.”

37signals designer Ryan Singer summarized the problem with personas with a good example:

You’ve got a couple and they’re middle-class Americans. They’re in their early 30’s, and they have all these attributes: the car they drive, ethnic background, the city they live in, etc. And then you ask “Is this person going to go for pizza? Are they going to go to an upscale Italian restaurant, and have an expensive entree and a romantic evening with wine?” The attributes don’t determine that at all, because on Monday night, the couple orders pizza. And, on Friday they go to the restaurant.

Personas are one part of the full picture. Once you have them, use them to create customer journeys so you can place them into a real-world context.

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