6 Easy Steps to Killer Personas

So many people don’t even know how hard they need personas to optimize their business and marketing efforts. As an agency, it blows my mind how many times the answer to the question “who is your target market?” is “everyone.” No. No, it’s not. You can’t possibly be all things to all people. And deep down, we all know that. As humans, we shoot for the starts. It’s what we do. We want to be so successful that everyone buys and loves our products and services. And that’s beautiful and awesome. But, we’re not all Jim Henson – we’re not all going to delight kids and adults alike.

Even if a company has a handle on their target market, they often don’t have a firm handle on drivers of that audience: what their goals are, what their pain points are, how to access them, etc. They oftentimes focus on a specific industry or gender or – my favorite – “millennials.” But, these high-level audiences aren’t known intimately enough to really create growth through marketing and sales, or cohesion between marketing and sales.

We could build a campaign that focuses on operations managers of manufacturing facilities, but there is a myriad of differences in drivers, needs, etc. of different people in that same role across different industries. So, how do we get to know these audiences more intimately? Personas.

A persona represents a group of people who have similar needs, behaviors in their buying behavior, lifestyles, and more. It’s not necessarily an age group or a gender. It looks a little deeper than simple demographics and focuses on what drives your customers, what influences them, what they expect / need, and how you can shape your business to satisfy them.

Personas help you:

  • Identify your ideal customers and relate to them on a human level
  • Understand how your customers are making buying decisions
  • Determine from where your customers are most accessible
  • Service your customers better by giving them what they want / need
  • Give focus to marketing efforts
  • Align internal departments (marketing, sales, etc.)
  • Fuel product development
  • Find new revenue channels / potential audiences

Throughout my professional career, I’ve been a huge advocate of audience personas and the customer journey. If we don’t put ourselves in the shoes of our customers, how can we service them completely? If you are down for some customer journey mapping, I’m on board, but you need to start with audience personas. I’ve worked with many customers on persona development, including Sprint, The Ohio State University, Northern Kentucky University, Entergy, Grange Insurance, The Columbus Museum of Art, Cardinal Health, and several more. Whether you’re optimizing a specific campaign or restructuring the way your entire organization speaks to your customers, personas are critical for ensuring you’re giving the right message to the right people in the way they most want to receive it.

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.” -Peter Drucker

So, where do you start?

It’s not rocket surgery. While persona development is a critically important thing for all businesses to have a handle on, it’s not horribly difficult. It can be daunting and frustrating, and you’re going to obsess over it. Also, it’s never really going to be complete (you should plan on revisiting it often as your business goals, products, services, markets, audiences, competition, etc. change). There are many people who can help you with your persona development (consultants, agencies, etc.), but if you’re not into outsourcing it, you can “home grow” your personas with a little help. I believe in you.

Through my experience, I’ve determined that there are 6 critical steps to the audience persona development process.

Step 1: Brainstorming

Brainstorm all the people who could possibly purchase or influence purchase on your product or service.

Don’t just think of your end user here, because there are tons of possibilities that aren’t going to be the end user. For example, children’s vitamins aren’t going to be purchased by children – even though children are the end user, they are going to purchased by the parent or guardian. Or consider a doctor who may prescribe a certain brand of medication to a patient – the patient is the end user, but the doctor is the influencer (and the insurance company is the buyer).

Because of examples like these, you need to look beyond your end user into other audiences for your product / service. These include:

  • Users: the person who ultimately uses the product or service post-purchase
  • Buyers: the person who purchases the product or service (a parent, gift-buyer, marketing executive, etc.)
  • Suppliers: the business or person who supplies that product to buyers / users (retailers, distributors, etc.)
  • Influencers: the person that influences others to buy or not buy (industry / niche bloggers, media / news outlets, etc.)

Where can I get ideas?

If you’re struggling to get ideas, there are several places to look. Here are a few:

  • Check out what your competitors are doing: Look at their ads, their websites often list specific audiences, check out their messaging on social channels, etc.
  • Look at your metrics: Hopefully, you have some Facebook demographics, Google Analytics data, search data, survey results, focus group reports, or some kind of qualitative / quantitative research that can help guide your brainstorming. If you don’t have any analytics in place, it’s time to get some of that stuff done, homeslice!
  • Look at reviews: Are customers reviewing your company on Amazon, Home Depot, Google, or some other site? If so, get in there and see if you can find any trends in the types of people reviewing your products or services.

My list is ridiculously long!

That’s okay! Be sure to make your list as complete as possible and include as many audiences within these 4 groups as possible. Once you start thinking about all the people who influence / make a purchase on your product or service, your head might start to spin, but don’t worry; we’ll whittle the list down and prioritize it soon.

Step 2: Collaborate

Bring in your broader team and ask them to brainstorm potential audiences in the same way that you did. The key here is to identify as many potential audiences as possible. Maybe you’re part of a big company and have plenty of resources to tap. In this case, don’t forget to look into other teams (sales, customer service, etc.) to ensure that you’re getting the broadest view of your customer base as possible. If you’re part of a smaller company or a start-up, gather some like-minded entrepreneurs or marketing professionals that you trust from your network. You’ll be surprised how willing most people are to help.

It’s a good idea to approach this session like a workshop (whiteboard it out, baby). If you have the right people in the room, you can likely move on to step 3 (Prioritization) right then and there.

Step 3: Prioritization

By now, you should have a huge, long list of potential target audiences. You need to focus that list. Here are few tips on getting that list whittled down to the most important audiences that will have the biggest impact on your business:

  • Check for overlap: Are there audiences that might have similar goals or demographics / psychographics? Can you combine anything?
  • Check your company’s goals: Will focusing on these specific audiences impact your overall company goal/s? By how much?
  • Check for low-hanging fruit: Are there audiences that make up only a very small percentage of sales opportunity? If so, focus on those audience segments that may be the biggest spenders or the easiest conversion. Is the audience accessible? If you can’t reach them, it might be better to focus on those audience segments that are more accessible through more marketing channels.

How many personas should I create?

It depends. If you sell a really specific product to a really niche market, then it’s likely that you don’t need that many personas. But, once you get into the Prioritization phase, you should have been able to whittle the list down and prioritize your audiences into a few groups. Typically, 3-4 is a good number to shoot for, but depending on the breadth of your product / service, you might need 3-4 for each line of business.

Step 4: Research + Outline

As you prioritize your audience segments, you’re also going to find out a lot more about them. At this point, it’s prudent to start outlining the personas. Don’t try to get fancy yet, just try to gather as many details about each prioritized audience as possible.

Where do I get information about my prioritized audiences?

  • Google Search Data: With Google Analytics, you should be looking at where your traffic comes from, the types of keywords that people are using to search, how many page views, length of session, etc. This can help uncover what people are looking for, what their goals are, what are their desires, etc. If you’ve run paid search, you should have even more data available to you, including demographics.
  • Social Media: Facebook does a nice job of giving you age ranges, genders, locations, when they are online, and more. Really clear demographic stuff. If you’re developing multiple personas (which you likely are), the demographics are going to be all muddled together. So, go a little deeper: what are people saying on your social channels? What are they saying on your competitors’ channels? How are they reviewing your products or competitors’ products?
  • Ask: This is a step that a lot of marketers overlook. You’ve got to ask your customers what they are into! Whether it’s a post-purchase survey, a product registration survey, questions you post out on social media, or a focus group, you’ve got to ask questions to your customers to learn more about them. You can’t possibly know all of your customers’ pain points, values, or goals without talking to them about it. Tap into your customer service departments for FAQs or interview your sales team for specific examples and case studies, but don’t forget to ask the audiences directly. I’m a big fan of running a few focus groups to gather some qualitative data on your audiences. Then, use that info to build an online survey, which you can validate by pushing it out to a larger number of people. It’s a good way to quantify the qualitative data.

Step 5: Persona Build-Out

By now, you should have your outlines of your personas. Your outlines are likely just a prioritized data dump; and that’s okay! Because the next step is to clean it up and to start building out the specific personas for your company.

Remember: Peoples is peoples

Make sure your personas are relatable. Your sales and marketing teams (and other departments) should be able to relate to these people (yes, you should start looking at them like they are specific people now). You guys should be asking each other questions like “Will this campaign speak to both Mark and Heather?” or “We need to launch a product to fulfill Juanita’s specific needs.” These aren’t just audience segments anymore; they are going to take the form of specific people with faces, names, and back-stories.

What should the persona look like?

The general fields for a persona include:

  • Identity: name, portrait (photos usually work best)
  • Profile: demographics, psychographics (how they think about the world)
  • Goals: priorities and what success means to them
  • Challenges: obstacles and pain points in reaching their goals
  • Message: how your product or service will help meet needs
  • Call-to-action (CTA): What action you want this person to take
  • Channel/s: how to reach target / where your target is spending their time
  • Metrics: how you know if you’re reaching this target, PMIs, and all that

You might find that you need additional information about each persona. Don’t feel like you have to stick to these specific fields, adapt this general list to your business. But keep your personas brief! If they’re too long and detailed, they likely aren’t going to be used or consumed. Make them brief and actionable. Keep them about a page long each.

Also, don’t forget flavor! While the fields I mentioned above give you the “need-to-knows” on a specific persona, you should try to make your persona into a person as much as possible – this means making them more relatable. Consider adding a quote that represents your audience, a snippet from a product review, an answer from a survey, even long-tail search terms they might use – you could even include hobbies and such if it’s relevant.

It’s also important that the personas look great. Don’t just mock them up in PowerPoint. Please. Get them written and hand them off to a professional graphic designer or info designer who’s going to make sure they are as consumable as possible.

Step 6: Do Something!

For the love of Mike, do something with your personas after you develop them. Don’t let them sit there and collect dust as a “reference piece.” Put them into use! Share them with the product development team, with the sales department, with the customer service reps, and anyone else you feel is relevant. Personas are powerful. They can optimize the impact of single campaigns, but when used more effectively they can realign your entire company (not just your company’s marketing) to better service the people who are most critical to your business – other than you, of course.

Don’t forget to integrate it into your marketing strategy. Don’t have one? Read this article I wrote about 5 key elements to building a sexy marketing strategy.

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