Creating marketing personas: A Shortcut

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is renowned in meetings for always including a spare chair for “the most important person in the room” – the customer. But how do you relate to an empty space? Simple: By creating marketing personas

What we will cover

What is a marketing persona?

A buyer or marketing persona is a semi-fictional character that represents a group of your customers. As with a character in a story, a persona has a name, physical characteristics, fits into particular groups (demographics), and has particular habits, behaviors and preferences (psychographics).

Although the persona itself has no basis in reality, their characteristics broadly match those of a typical member of your target group.

When creating marketing personas at VU, we use workshops to capture lots of small bits of information and group them together into “assumptive” sketch personas. From there we do market research backup or dispel those assumptions.

How personas will improve your marketing

From a marketing perspective, personas make it far easier to create relatable content. Why? Because it’s much easier to write for a single person, even if that person is semi-fictional, than it is to write to a group.

As Jessica Mehring from The Daily Egg puts it, “When you write for a large group…it’s the equivalent of trying to hit 10 dartboards with a single dart.”

The benefits of well-crafted personas benefit the entire business. Sales cycles are shorter, customer journeys are smoother, campaign spend is more efficient and time is focused on developing products and services that people are likely to buy.

Fleshing out your persona

So how do you go about creating marketing personas? First, you can save yourself some design and admin time by downloading a decent persona template a fun resource is Hubspot’s persona creator. Before you do though, make sure there is space in your chosen template to add in all the important details that will bring your character to life.

Your persona will need a name, some demographic information and some psychographic details.

Demographics are the categories that have been used by marketing professionals for decades to guide their campaigns. These include age, gender, job title, household income, location type (rural, urban, etc.), level of education and family structure (number and age of children, marriage status, etc.)

Psychographics go down to the psychological level by looking at habits, behaviours and preferences. What are your persona’s beliefs, values, hopes and fears? Where do they go for their information on the world (newspapers, radio, TV, Google, Facebook, etc.)? What are their five favourite brands and websites? How comfortable are they with tech and what devices do they use? What hobbies do they have? What is their weekly schedule?

Does a persona need a portrait photograph? There is debate over this. Those who support photographs say that it makes it the persona easier to talk about and relate to. Others argue that it can detract from the important psychographics and reinforce stereotypes.

What makes a good persona?

By this stage it is probably apparent that creating a persona could be an extremely long-winded, detailed process. This is not the purpose. A good persona will contain just enough detail to positively impact your marketing campaigns – no more or less.

The key questions that your persona should be able to answer are:

  • Who is your customer?
  • What do they care about?
  • How should you talk to them?

As the next section explains in detail, a good persona is data-driven. This will ensure you are targeting real customers and not idealistic ones.

Where does the data come from?

Hard data forms the bones of your marketing persona but where does that data come from? The short answer is: anywhere you can get it from.

Data can be broadly divided into quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data can be reduced to numbers which makes it a lot more scalable than qualitative data. On the other hand, qualitative data provides richer detail. Both are valuable when constructing your persona.

You can quickly design and circulate an online poll which provides enough data to make some generalisations about your main customers. You might find out, for example, that most of your customers shop at Sainsbury’s and that 80% of them do so because they believe the quality of the produce is better.

From this information, you could invite a small number of willing interviewees to form a focus group. This would help you to delve deeper into their buying habits, personal values, brand loyalties and other psychographics. By picking out common themes from these discussions you can begin to create a picture of your ‘typical’ customer.

Some sources of quantitative data include:

  • Google Analytics
  • Customer surveys
  • Online polls
  • Questionnaires
  • Product star ratings

Qualitative data can often be collected from:

  • Focus groups
  • Talking to front line staff
  • In-depth surveys
  • Product review text
  • Call centre logs

How many personas do you need?

During the data collection process, you may find that two or more distinct types of customer start to emerge. Should you try and blend these together or create distinct personas for each type? How many personas do you need?

Some sources recommend no more than three personas but ultimately, it is up to you how many you create. The more personas you target, the more accurate your marketing can be. On the other hand, you will need to direct more resources into your campaigns. At the end of the day, every individual customer is unique so you will have to make some compromises.

To go back to our fictional Sainsbury’s shoppers, the 80% of quality-focused shoppers could be represented by ‘Vicky the Value Shopper.’ You might decide to focus all of your campaigning on this persona or target more of the market by appealing to ‘Carol the Convenience Shopper’ and ‘Henry the Health Food Shopper’ too.

Common mistakes to avoid

Before you get to work on creating your first persona, here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  • Reinforcing stereotypes. It is possible that your research will reinforce an existing stereotype. For example, you may find that the bulk of your washing product customers are women or that more young men take up your boxing classes. While you need to target your key market, you should avoid alienating other customers or falling foul of the ad regulators.
  • Focusing on demographics. In the early days of marketing, audiences were targeted mainly on demographic factors: age, gender, occupation, household type, etc. While these factors are still important today, they don’t deal with the powerful psychological factors that often guide people’s buying decisions. This is why your personas need to include as much psychographic information as possible.
  • Not seeing the wood for the trees. If you are arguing about whether your persona should be called Steve or Stephen, you are missing the point. Names, photographs and other individual details are merely a way to represent abstract data in a relatable form. 

Following your gut. Where data is missing, there is a tendency to fill the gaps with assumptions. The danger is that you can then start sketching a portrait of your ideal customer rather than your real buyers.

And the shortcut?

Oh yeah, if you find creating marketing personas a headache, there’s three questions that will shortcut this process.

  • What is the first thing your ideal customer thinks about when they wake up in the morning?
  • What is the last thing your ideal customer thinks about before they go to sleep?
  • Why is this?

Essentially, early morning is planning brain, e.g. “what have I got to do today?” Evening thinking is “where can I be that isn’t here?”, and if you can listen to those and answer why or solve the problems then you have invented a product with a very specific need.

Hopefully, this is good enough to get you started creating marketing personas, if you want a facilitated expert to take you through a persona building workshop then just give us a shout,

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