How to Create Customer Personas That Really Mean Something
Customer personas are great tools for guiding strategy and execution so brands can deliver more relevant, tailored messages to their audiences. These profiles serve as shorthand for describing the kinds of people you’re trying to reach with your product, service or content.
Although the concept of customer personas has been around for a while, today’s marketers are updating the way they develop and apply personas to fit the way brands need to interact with audiences in a customer-centric environment. At the same time, they’re working to dispel the notion among some of their been-there/tried-that colleagues that buyer personas are the result of guesswork and aren’t worth the time and effort needed to create them.
Yes, personas are still relevant and important for connecting with your target audience and for creating great customer experiences. But there’s a way of doing personas right, and it involves going beyond simple demographics to understand customers at a much deeper level.
7 Tips for Creating Effective Personas:
A lot of companies don’t put in the necessary time and research and just go with their gut, leading to personas that are largely fictionalized. Based on the opinions and hunches of stakeholders, personas end up representing “the people we think should want to use our product.” But this is the business pushing its message one way and is completely out of sync with today’s customer-centric model. Consider the preconceptions and unconscious biases that may color an executive’s idea of “our customer.”
While persona research may seem like a daunting, laborious process, the results can be impressive. In one MarketingSherpa case study, a firm using customer segmentation to target their content increased leads by 124 percent. To do personas right, you need to:
- Continue to collect that demographic information — just know it’s not enough on its own. Be careful about how you read that data and don’t make assumptions, e.g., does a reported household income reflect one breadwinner or two working parents?
- Don’t be distracted by irrelevant information — certain data points may not be worth collecting if they’re not salient to the buying journey, such as knowing the marital status or family makeup of an IT decision-maker.
- Check your web analytics — including what are people searching for and how they phrase their queries, which can reveal their underlying objective (the problem they want to solve).
- Understand the customer journey and how personas (and their goals) change at different touchpoints, including those that are out of your control. When analyzing current customers, your research should dig into their behaviors and preferences when they’re NOT interacting with your brand, if possible. Users can change personas and motivations over time, even while using the same product.
- Don’t limit your research to the obvious or “most popular” —seek out a variety of user types and determine which segments provide best business opportunities. If your research sample isn’t big enough, your personas will be sketchy, at best. You can’t rely on a few anecdotal cases to make generalizations about all of your customers.
- Remember that people are more than their on-paper traits, and there can be significant differences among users who may appear similar. There’s a great illustration of this point in the same Harvard Business Review article cited above: while potential buyers of home pregnancy tests may share certain key descriptors (gender, age range), they have completely different motivations for purchasing a test.
- Always ask why — when you observe a behavior or a trend, seek out the motivation behind it. There’s a saying that “action doesn’t always signal intent.” Are customers behaving a certain way because they want to or because they haven’t found a better alternative?
So, You’ve Got Your Personas. Now What?
Customers change, market conditions change, and your own products and business strategy change. You’ve got to keep personas fresh and up to date, as well. Revisit them every time you create a new piece of content and validate that your personas still make sense and serve your needs. It’s also important to stay in touch with real customers.
One approach is to stay connected to the same people you talked to during your original research; ask if they’d mind being contacted again at regular intervals. You should also hook up with your colleagues in sales and customer support; they’re talking to real customers and prospects every day and can tell you what issues they’re hearing about and what shifts they’re seeing in the customer base.
Finally, keep an eye on your social channels. You’re already active in those channels, publishing your marketing content and engaging people with your brand. You should also pay attention to comments and conversations that spring up around other topics — such as unexpected ways people are using your products, remarks about competing products, features they’d like to add, or other unmet needs that may reshape your customer view.
Most of all, don’t leave your personas on a shelf. Make them an integral part of every marketing initiative you begin and use them as a gut-check to ensure that you don’t fall back on assumptions. Share the personas with the rest of your organization too, so that everyone is reading from the same playbook and shares the same reality-based picture of who your customers are.
Customer personas are the fuel behind delivering personalized experiences — the kind of experiences customers have come to expect. By feeding high-quality persona information into your marketing automation systems, you’ll be able to target customers more accurately and serve them the most relevant and satisfying experiences.