Developing Personas

Modeling Your Buyers to "Get Closer" to Them

Developing Personas - Modeling Your Buyers to

© iStockphoto

How will you focus on a particular customer?

Tamil is the marketing manager for a homeware store, and his boss has asked him to plan a campaign for a new range of garden products. So, he starts working on tried-and-tested strategies that he "knows" work, such as radio and magazine adverts, direct mailings, and store-front displays.

However, Tamil and his boss are stunned when the campaign falters and their competitors start winning market share. Tamil knows that people still want to renovate their homes and rejuvenate their gardens, but his customers are flooding through his competitors' doors. He isn't sure what's gone wrong, so he starts analyzing his competitors' actions.

He discovers that these stores are focusing their offers on specific customer personas, and consumers are "voting with their feet" as a result, because they feel that Tamil's competitors understand their needs better. Tamil would have benefited from developing customer personas himself, and using them to shape his marketing campaign, so that he could target his efforts more effectively at particular groups of buyers.

In this article, we'll look at what personas are, and how they can help you to develop an in-depth understanding of your customers. We'll also explore how you can use them to communicate how your products can meet your customers' specific needs.

What Are Personas?

Personas are also known as "pen portraits" and "customer avatars," and they are "archetypes" of the people you want to buy your product or service. They are models of your individual customers – both current and potential – and they illustrate how these people behave. Personas can show why a customer may be interested in a product, and demonstrate how, where and when he or she might interact with it.

Personas are based on research and data, rather than on preconceptions or suppositions, but they also include more than just facts. Like our example below, they have names, personalities and faces, and they have real needs, wants, likes, dislikes, opportunities, and problems.

Figure 1 – Example Persona

Developing Personas

Why Develop Personas?

Organizations can use personas to gain an intuitive, in-depth understanding of their customers.

Personas express how your customers think, what motivates them, and why they buy certain products. They allow you to engage directly with, and influence, people's decision making so that, in time, they may buy more and even be prepared to pay a higher price. For example, cloud solutions company Skytap® was able to boost its sales leads by as much as 124 percent by using personas.

Strong personas can strengthen and focus your marketing efforts, because they allow you to communicate with "real people" instead of a faceless, generic mass. By moving away from traditional marketing methods towards consistent, specific, personalized campaigns, you can relate to your customers, use their language, and address their needs directly. And, you won't waste time attempting to sell to the wrong people if you target your marketing precisely.

How to Develop a Persona

Follow these four steps to research and develop personas for your organization.

Step 1: Decide How Many Personas You Need

Your first step is to determine an appropriate number of personas to develop. You risk generating more work than you can manage and diluting your focus if you create too many. Alternatively, if you develop too few, you may not reach enough potential customers. Marketing expert Bryan Eisenberg recommends that the most appropriate number to have is between two and seven.

Start by analyzing your organization's sales data, customer surveys, and website analytics, so that you can identify particularly profitable groups of customers, who share consistent, targetable characteristics. For example, "music lovers," "enthusiastic cooks," or "college students." These groups form the basis of each persona.

Step 2: Identify a Profile

Next, you develop a customer profile for each of these groups. This should bring together the basic demographic information about them, and it forms the quantitative side of your research. You can gather this information from existing customer data, surveys and website analytics.

Typical buyer profiles can come by taking the average or most popular of the following:

  • Age.
  • Gender.
  • Marital status.
  • Family.
  • Location.
  • Occupation.
  • Salary.
  • Education.

Step 3: Research a Persona

Now that you have a customer profile, you should analyze this "person's" goals, how he thinks and behaves, and the challenges he faces. This forms the qualitative side of your research.

Interviews are the most common way to unlock this valuable information – you may want to run anywhere from five to 30 for each persona – but do consider using other sources of information too. For example, customer surveys, focus groups, direct mailing campaigns, and social media can be great places to gain customer insight.

Devise a list of questions to ask your interviewees. Stay focused on what you don't currently know, and remember that you're seeking to understand your customers thoroughly, not just to gather raw data. The more targeted your questions are, the more useful the answers will be.

Meet interviewees face-to-face wherever possible, and ask someone else to take notes, so you can concentrate fully on what people say.

Here are some examples of questions that you could ask:

  • Work: why did you choose this job/company? What are your key responsibilities? How do you see your role progressing?
  • Goals: what are your main life goals? Do you have any secondary goals? How will you achieve them?
  • "Pain points" and challenges: what frustrations do you face in achieving your goals? How do you overcome them?
  • Values and fears: what matters to you? What qualities do you value? What don't you like?
  • Information: where do you look for news and information? And where do you go (online and offline) for entertainment?
  • Wants and needs: what do you want at work and in your personal life? When will you need them? What questions might you ask before buying?
  • Everyday life: what does a typical day look like? Are you rushed? What activities take up your time? Do you spend money without worrying, or are you more careful?
  • Media: what media do you consume? How do you use social media? What draws you into online discussions?
  • Closing questions: is there anything else you'd like to mention?

This list isn't exhaustive, and you may want to ask specific questions related to your industry or organization. For example, you could ask about a person's hobbies and interests, the blogs that she follows, how often she exercises, and so on. You could also consider her generation, and explore how the major social and political events in her country and in her lifetime have shaped her frames of reference, world view and actions.

The reason for asking some questions may not be obvious, but this information will be important when you "get into character" as you develop your persona. It can even help you to uncover surprising new opportunities, such as gaps in the market that aren't immediately apparent.

Tip 1:

Ask open-ended questions, encourage interviewees to speak honestly, and listen carefully to what they say. For example, "Tell me about…" and, "Describe how…" are great openers.

Tip 2:

Ask every interviewee the same questions, so that your approach is consistent and you can compare their responses easily.

Tip 3:

Tools like Facebook® can help here: you can get great information on the people you serve by using search queries such as, "TV shows liked by people who like the New York Times®."

Step 4: Develop Your Persona

Put the information that you've collated for each group into separate documents, and use it to develop a persona that you can bring to life, understand and attract as a customer.

There's no "correct" length for a persona document, but one side of letter-size paper is typically enough. Your aim is to create a "person" who represents a group of customers, and who you can remember easily (so don't include too much information).

Personas can vary depending on your organization and your customers, but here are some common elements:

  • Name and image: you can make your persona feel like a real person by including a name and a picture, but this should be nothing more than an identifier. Try using a stock photograph, or another image that you have permission to use.
  • Quote: sum up your persona's character with one neat quote or tagline to help you identify him. For example, "I want to get out of the office and into the garden," or, "Part-time working father of two; loves motor racing."
  • Basic demographic information: these details help you understand and become familiar with the persona, but they shouldn't aid your marketing decisions.
  • Work life: include relevant details of your persona's working environment.
  • Typical day: this is a narrative that illustrates the tasks and challenges that your persona faces on an average day, and outlines what's important to him.
  • Aims and goals: what does your persona want to achieve? Here, you outline how your organization can help him achieve his goals.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Stereotyping. It's important to avoid stereotyping your customers when you create personas, because you don't want to patronize them.

Developing too many or too few personas. Your aim is to develop personas so that you can focus your marketing efforts. If you develop too many or too few, you may not reach the optimal number of customers.

Not listening to your customers. Make sure that you ask questions and pay attention to what your customers say about themselves. Listen actively and engage with them, and don't assume or invent something they haven't said.

Failing to see the bigger picture. Thinking of personas solely as a marketing tool means that you could miss opportunities in R&D and product development. So, make sure that you involve every department in your organization when you develop your personas.

Finding This Article Useful?

You can learn another 141 strategy skills, like this, by joining the Mind Tools Club.

Join the Mind Tools Club Today!

How to Apply Personas to Your Work

Now that you've developed personas that represent your target customers, you need to align your organization's strategies with them.

Here are some key ways to do this:

  • Target products to personas: you're aiming to solve your persona's problems by providing a product that she needs. So, review your offerings to decide whether they require any adjustments, redesigns or new developments.
  • Rethink marketing strategies: avoid blatant sales pitches, but directly address your persona's concerns and priorities in your organization's website, blog posts, marketing emails, social media, case studies, testimonials, and so on. Let your persona know how your product or service will solve her problem.
  • Include the sales team: Make sure you get buy-in from your salespeople, as they are responsible for guiding your potential buyers toward a purchase.

Key Points

Personas help you to understand and empathize with current and potential customers. You can use them to gain in-depth knowledge about customers' lives, wants, likes, and dislikes, to provide them with a more positive buying experience, and to strengthen and focus your marketing efforts. Personas allow you to communicate with "real people," so that you can develop specific, personalized marketing campaigns.

It's important to be open to learning what specific buyers want, rather than telling the market what it wants from you. Using personas helps you to move away from traditional marketing methods, and they allow you to relate to your customers and address their needs. Research your customer types carefully, develop them into personas, and align your organization's marketing strategy with them. This way, you'll ensure that you're targeting the most appropriate buyers.