Free Marketing Fridays – Create Better Customer Personas

It’s possible to create customer persona documents that are relevant, useful, and instructive for your marketing and product teams.

Customer personas are a foundational element of your entire marketing department. They help you and your team get smarter, faster about your ideal customer and how to connect with them using a compelling and persuasive sales argument.

What is a Customer Persona?

A customer persona is a document that represents a group of customers. It includes generalized data about that group to help guide the creation of marketing campaigns and product development. 

Essentially, a customer persona is a cheat sheet for getting up close and personal with your customers. 

Think of customer personas as a cheat code to creating persuasive marketing for any channel.

What’s the Benefit of Creating Customer Personas?

Creating strong customer personas requires brainstorming, assumptions, research, and validation for them to be truly useful and become a go-to asset for your team. They’re more than just templates to fill out on a Thursday afternoon or a project for the creative services team.

Because they take effort to create it’s only fair to ask what the big deal is and what you and your team get out of creating and maintaining these documents.

Build Better Customers

Personas can help you identify profitable segments to target. They can tell you:

  • How your customers use your product
  • How customers make purchase decisions
  • The information customers require to feel confident in their purchase decision 
  • Identify their anxieties, their objections to purchase, and their switching costs 
  • What pains or jobs your product helps them overcome

Create effective marketing campaigns 

Customer personas help you identify and connect with audience segments who need to hear your message most. 

They can also help you use your marketing budget efficiently by giving you the information you need to target specific customer segments that are motivated to purchase.

Imagine launching a marketing campaign that's already been pre-validated with your ideal customers. 

That's like starting on the 50-yard line of a hundred-yard dash. This is what a strong customer persona can help your marketing accomplish. 

Help define your product development roadmap

Customer personas can tell you which products and features your ideal customers want most and help guide high-level discussions and decision-making. 

Customer personas are powerful, but only IF they're constructed correctly.

How to Create Strong Customer Personas

High-level customer persona guidelines

  • Limit to 3-5 personas. If it's too complicated or too big, no one's going to use whatever it is you create, and customer personas are no exception. Customer personas need to be updated regularly, and they require data. It's just easier to manage a smaller number of personas and keep them updated and usable for your business. 
  • Minimize demographic information. Including gender, unless it's a requirement or a constraint of your product or business. 
  • Create a “secret” customer persona - A negative customer persona that embodies key characteristics of a customer who is just a revenue-sucking pain in the ass, and filters out those kinds of customers from coming to your business. Because every customer is not worth the same to your company. They just aren't. Some customers are more profitable than others, and some are not profitable at all.

4 Steps to Create Strong Customer Personas

1. Hypothesize

Break down a group of customers into customer segments - usually based on buying responsibilities or subscription levels.

B2B customer segments typically look like a version of the following: 

  • Decision-makers - These are usually C-level or have P&L responsibility. These are the people who signed the contracts.
  • Influencers - Usually reporting to the decision-makers. They may float the product up to the decision-makers and do a lot of the legwork during the decision process. They may make the sales argument for purchasing this particular product because it helps them accomplish a specific goal or task. 
  • Buyers - These are the people who care about costs, they approve the expenditures. They're not usually targeted by marketing messages, but definitely by salespeople.
  • End Users - These are people who are going to be using your product. 

2. Assumptions

Beyond just demographics - I usually try to shoot for 10% demographic data and 90% qualitative and psychographic data in a customer persona. 

Customer Persona 90% qualitative data

Demographics are the lazy marketers’ way to check customer personas off of their to-do list. 

You need to go deeper than writing out a list of demographics in order for a persona to be effective. It needs to instruct you on the messages that resonate with individuals personally, and this typically isn't found in demographic data.

  • Decision-making modalities - Understanding how each customer persona makes decisions will provide you with a framework for a sales argument. Knowing how much information, how it needs to be framed, and how information is best consumed by your ideal customer in this persona segment will help you craft a persuasive sales argument.
  • Level of awareness - How aware and motivated to purchase is your ideal customer in this persona segment. Additionally, identifying how much education they need in order to move to the point where they're willing to make a purchase.
  • PsychographicsThis is all the touchy-feely stuff that your ideal customer uses in order to help make a purchase decision.  (values, attitudes, and beliefs).
  • Objections and anxieties - what's stopping them from making a purchase, and how can you help them overcome their objections and their anxieties, so they feel confident in their purchase decision. 
  • Switching costs - What are the very real and perceived levels of effort or costs associated to move from whatever solution your ideal customer's currently using to the solution your selling.
  • Key marketing activities -  Where do your prospects learn about new information, including products like yours, what publications and media channels do they participate in? What keywords are they searching for?

3. Research

Confirm all of the assumptions you've made about your customer personas to this point, if you want effective customer personas that are instructive and helpful for your business, you have to support your assumptions with research. 

Suggestions include:

  • Customer surveys and interviews - NOT your net promoter score survey. These are qualitative surveys and qualitative one-on-one customer interviews that dig deep into the emotional considerations that your ideal customers make and the emotional process that they go through in order to make a purchase decision. They address, wants desires, alternative solutions, anxieties, objections, switching costs. 
  • Market research and social listening - Listen to how your customers describe themselves, what they follow on social media, what they listen to, what they read, what they watch. There are a ton of social listening tools out there. So invest in one and the research that comes out of it.
  • Voice of Customer data - If you need to write marketing copy, that's targeted and persuasive and helps boost your conversion rate. No matter the channel or the medium, you must have voice of customer data. Voice of customer data is essentially the words, phrasing, tone, emotions your ideal customers use to describe not only your product, but the search process that led them to your solution. Using these words and phrases is the easiest way to get customers who tell you, "It was kinda like you were reading my mind."

A single source of data is not enough to create a strong customer persona. You need a variety of resources and data sources in order to flesh out a compelling and effective customer persona.

3. Test and Validate 

How do you know if you're on target with your personas? If they're going to work for your company and your business?

You need to test and validate just like with any other marketing experiment. 

Testing suggestions could include:

  • Paid social ads and influencers - create small testing campaigns that speak directly to helping a certain target persona, overcome their anxieties and objections. 
  • Earned media - Engage your public relations engine in order to help get earned media to test whether or not your personas and the messages that you're pushing are accurate. 
  • Content marketing (owned media) - blog, email campaigns, video content. You can test different content with different messages geared towards attracting a specific persona. So test and validate all of your assumptions and the research that you've done in order to craft those personas.

The Various Ways Your Customer Personas Can Do You Dirty

Don’t let customer personas lead your team astray and fall down when it comes time to generate gangbuster results.

Assumptions aren’t validated with data

It's common to go through the persona creation process and stop at assumptions because the idea of getting the data to validate your research or testing is intimidating or you're under time constraints.

Basing your customer personas on internal assumptions is not enough to make them effective. There are a lot of companies who say, "We know who our customers are," and they just point to a net promoter score survey. This isn't enough to create compelling and persuasive marketing messages and campaigns.

Using a single source of data

"We did a qualitative survey and we just used that information in order to create our personas."

A single source of data can't triangulate the persona in a way that's helpful or effective. You need multiple sources of data in order to validate your assumptions.  

And only including demographic data is the lazy marketer's shortcut. Demographic data is great if you're putting together targeting for a Facebook campaign, but it's not going to help you win the hearts and minds of your ideal customer.

Creating too many personas

Some companies get into a situation where they're defining out, defining what their customer personas look like, and the persona seems really big and really like it's just too much, and it needs to be split apart into individual personas. But then they find themselves in a situation where they have dozens of marketing personas.

And when you have too many, you have none at all because you don't know which persona goes with which buying mechanism and your sales argument falls apart. 

Personas are old and outdated

A persona is a living document, much like your website. Your customers will change and evolve over time based on changes in the marketplace, changes in their income, changes in their desires, changes in the product, sophistication that you are offering them.

Your personas need to change and adapt with your customers.

Downloadable templates

"We have customer personas! We downloaded this great template, and we filled everything out, and we are good to go."

Not quite.

Templates are a great place to start, especially if you've never created customer personas before or if you need something pretty to show the C-suite or your board of directors, but you can't stop where the template does. Blow out the constraints of that template. 

  • Add your psychographic information, the values, attitudes, and beliefs of each one of your personas. 
  • Add your decision-making modalities, add the level of awareness of your customer segment.
  • Add your voice of customer data to create a robust customer persona that can be a go-to resource for your team when they're creating marketing campaigns, writing copy, creating social content, or even writing an email.

Don't fall for the constraints presented in a downloadable template, even if it's beautiful, because many of them are pretty; just move past the constraints of those templates.

If you’re looking for a template to get you started, Creative Market has a wide variety.

Creative Market Persona Templates

The best customer personas are the personas that get used because they're helpful and instructive. 

They include:

  • Qualitative data
  • They're recent and updated
  • They've been tested and validated with a particular customer segment. 

Hopefully, the next time you're looking at creating customer personas for your company, you can come back, download this presentation and make your customer personas stronger.

Go forth, Build Better Customers for your business and create some amazing customer personas. 

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Free Marketing Fridays - Create Better Customer Personas

About the author

Sunny Hunt is the CEO/Founder of Hunt Interaction.

Sunny is not your average marketer. She combined 20+ years of digital marketing experience, and her position as a natural-born outsider to create Hunt Interaction, a high performing conversion rate optimization consultancy. Using a customer-centric focus, Sunny develops smart, achievable strategies and tactics that help her clients convert more website traffic and turn new customers into raving fans.

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