Imagine if there was a way to better understand your customers — not just by their names, email addresses, home addresses or purchase behaviour. Instead, by their needs and challenges or by their motivations and habits. This kind of data would let you build out hyper-targeted marketing campaigns and deliver custom experiences tailored to your customers' actual needs. Enter customer personas.
They are the key to helping you truly get under the skin of the people who can make or break your business. Your customers are not just one single entity, ready and waiting for generic campaigns and communications that will hopefully resonate on some level. They are individuals who, when segmented by their characteristics and common traits, should be addressed on as personal a level as possible.
A customer persona is a model that represents the key traits of a large segment of your audience, based on data collected from your business as well as marketing intelligence data, web analytics, user research and market research. The purpose of a customer persona is to highlight actionable insights about the profile and actions of your customers, including what motivates them, frustrates them and drives them to buy from your business. Your customer personas should be semi-fictional — the more data and insights you use to create them, the better.
Think about your own experience as a customer — consider your favourite and least favourite brands. It is very likely that the brands you love communicate with you on a level that almost feels personal. They ‘get you’, they know what you like and expect, and they understand what their brand and products or service means to you as an individual. If you feel this way then there is a very high chance that you are being marketed to based on a customer persona.
Now imagine replicating that feeling for your customers. As many as 93% of companies who exceed lead and revenue goals segment their database by customer personas (MarketingInsiderGroup) and Thomson Reuter found that buyer personas contributed to a 175% increase in revenue attributed to marketing (DemandGen Report). It's clear that using customer personas and creating more personalised marketing campaigns correlates with increases in leads and sales.
Creating your customer personas should be an interesting and fulfilling experience. According to Mark W. Schaefer, 3-4 personas usually account for over 90% of a company’s sales (Business Grow), so aim for this number.
Know what you're looking for
Start your customer persona mapping by having a clear focus on the information you're trying to uncover. We recommend working to this list:
- Spending power and patterns including recency, frequency and lifetime value
- Places they're likely to be (social media channels, Google, in-store if applicable, in your newsletter list, etc.)
- Aspirations and motivations
- Frustrations and challenges that your problems can solve
- Stage of life
Once you know the data that you're looking for, it's time to go digging into all of the data at your company's disposal. Use your website analytics to determine which channels customers use to find your website and how they interact with it once they're there. Set up on-page surveys to learn more about why people are visiting your website and what they are looking for. Use visitor analysis software such as Hotjar to watch anonymous recordings of customers using your website — where do they click or drop-off, which pages are the most popular and what goals are they trying to achieve?
Next, speak to your customer service and sales teams. They work the closest to your customers and clients and will be able to offer up data and anecdotal feedback about their challenges, concerns, expectations and decisions. Ask for themes that occur in questions asked pre and post-sale, look for commonalities in complaints, check what questions come up most on your live chatbot or contact form, and review audio recordings to really understand how your customers' minds work. Online reviews and comments on social media can also provide insights into both the challenges and magic moments your customers have. Don't forget to check for mentions of your brand elsewhere online — sometimes they can pop up in random places, so use a digital listening tool to scour the internet and highlight where you're being talked about.
Make sure that you also undertake your own customer and market research. Send out surveys by email to your existing customers to find out more about them. You can always incentivise entries with a prize if you're worried about uptake. Create a feedback panel that customers can volunteer to join in order to participate in face-to-face interviews and more in-depth surveys about themselves and their interactions with your brand. Enrich this first-person data with wider market insights by commissioning a report or finding one that already exists from companies such as Mintel or Euromonitor.
Use your CRM to better understand your customers' purchase behaviour. Segment by lifetime value, average basket spend, frequency of purchases, whether they are price-sensitive and respond well to discounts or offers, or funnel stage. For B2B businesses, you can also review the company size and seniority or job titles of the purchasing decision-makers. This is also a good opportunity to look for gaps or weaknesses in your data — if you see elements that are missing, make a note to improve your CRM for better data collection going forward. Analyse your churn rate and review its history — did it increase or decrease when certain initiatives took place, products were launched or processes were updated.
Another great source for customer insight is keyword data. Use your research to identify common themes and trends across keywords that are pertinent to your business. Look for anything related to your product or service, including searches linked to your brand. Keyword research is a fantastic tactic for really getting to know your customers better, as you are literally reviewing what they are searching for in Google and the other search engines. You can't get much closer to your customers than that!
Now you are armed and ready with your customer data, it's time to create your personas. Gather all of your research and start looking for common characteristics and themes. Group these shared traits together and this will form the basis of your main customer personas. For example, you might identify a core group of customers who are mothers in their 50s who live in rural locations, enjoy luxury living, enjoy spending time outdoors doing low-intensity activities such as walking or wildlife-spotting, have a large household income and use your products on a daily basis. Or maybe you've identified a core customer group who are senior HR and hiring professionals, who work for small to medium businesses in western Europe and who are all experiencing issues with their internal systems.
Once you have your 3-4 segments defined, take this abstract collection of characteristics and turn them into a persona. Give your customer persona a name, a job title, somewhere to live and a family. Turn them into someone you can speak to and identify with — they need to feel as close to a real person as possible.
Our first example might become:
- Name: Linda Forest
- Age: 54
- Home: Bakewell, Derbyshire
- Occupation: Small business owner
- Family: Husband who is a lawyer and 2 children
- Household income: £450,000 per year
- She loves going for walks in the Peak District and Derbyshire Dales
- She takes a camera with her to photograph wildlife
- She invests time and money in her skincare regime and always tries to look her best
- She enjoys luxury dining, holidays, fashion and interior design
A customer persona has to be a realistic description of a person who represents one segment of your customer base. You might find that not everyone in your segment matches your persona exactly, but your persona should represent this customer group to you and will allow you to think about them in a human way rather than a collection of data points. You will find it much easier to speak to Linda in your marketing campaigns and communications than just to 'women in their 50s'.
As you create your personas, try to establish not only who they are right now, but who they aspire to be. What challenges, problems or fears do they face? What are their ambitions, motivations and goals? How will your product or service help them overcome their frustrations and become the person they wish to be? This is a key aspect of your persona development as it will help to inform the messages you use in your marketing.
Once you have your personas mapped out and ready to use, what next? It's time to turn your insights into action with some sophisticated strategies that will translate into results.
One of the biggest benefits of customer personas is that they open the door for more personalised and relevant communications. Tailor your marketing campaigns to each persona's specific interests, motivations and problems. These could include paid social media adverts, engaging landing pages and segmented email campaigns, with a different suite of collateral being designed for each specific segment. You can change the design, the format and the messaging to speak directly to your persona. Around 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalised experiences, so it's time to make using your personas a priority.
Move away from creating generic, one-size-fits-all content and use your customer personas to plan for and create persona-specific content. You will know from your persona development what each one's likes, dislikes, interests, questions and challenges are. Use this to inform your content creation so you can be as relevant and useful as possible to your potential and actual customers.
Your customer personas will each respond differently to other companies or influencers based on their interests and values. Create strategic partnerships based on these insights so that your personas become more invested in your business and so that you as a business spend your time and resources wisely.
With 3 or 4 personas to work with, it's time to review the value proposition of your products and services. The manner in which you position what you sell and convince each persona of its value to them will be markedly different. Refer to the insight you have gathered for each persona and use that to shape your value proposition. Is persona A time-poor and stressed? Talk about how your product can save them valuable minutes in the day and significantly ease their stress levels. Find customer testimonials that specifically address this point and share these with your persona. Maybe persona B has money to spend and time to spend it? Position your product as exclusive, high-end and covetable. These are just very simple examples that show how to apply what you know about your persona to what you sell. Imagine how much more detailed you can be with fully developed personas that are specific to your business!
It should be obvious where your personas spend most of their time. Do they love your free content and blog articles? Maybe they enjoy technology and spend their time watching videos on Youtube and reading content in tech blogs. What about the persona who is obsessed with social media and is the first to join new platforms like Clubhouse and TikTok? If you communicate with your personas using tailored messaging and visuals in the places they spend their time, they'll find it hard to look away. This approach can also help you to streamline your marketing activity so that you're not wasting time or money on redundant channels.
Customer personas are the bridge between what you think you know about your customers, and who they really are. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking 'customers' and seeing a faceless, nameless, single entity that buys your products. But customers are so much more than that, and developing customer personas is the perfect way to segment out your 'single entity' into groups of people who are meaningful to your business.
Create a cross-functional project group with representatives from across the business — from marketing, sales, customer service, IT. Each team has their own specific relationship with and understanding of the customer, and their input is all equally useful. Mine your business for as much intel and insight as possible. Look to your website, your marketing analytics, your staff’s anecdotal feedback and your customers' complaints, questions and reviews. To really get under the skin of the drivers and motivations in your industry, reach out to your customer and speak to them directly, collecting user research designed to fill in your persona gaps. Look to data houses for market reports or commission your own. Analyse your sales data, business intelligence intel and CRM to look for demographic and behavioural themes and trends. Use keyword research to learn more about the questions and problems your customers are really facing.
The more data you gather, the better your personas will be. Don't forget that they should be semi-fictional, based on as much real-life insight as you can compile. Use your data to identify key groups of common characteristics and use these to build out your personas. Aim for 3-4 and make them as real as you can. Give them a name, a job, a home and a family. Develop the main traits you've found for each persona into a detailed profile of a person who could exist in that segment. Consider their needs, motivations, frustrations and behaviour.
Once your personas are ready, take them out into the world and create a marketing and communications plan for each of them. Each persona will spend their time in different places both online and offline, will have different interests and needs, and should be marketed to with campaigns that are tailored to the detail in their profiles. Create a different value proposition for each persona, crafting each one carefully to resonate as effectively as possible. Design your content around solving the individual problems faced by each persona. You should also look to entertain and help them in the ways they will most appreciate.
It's impossible to know every one of your customers individually. Even if you did somehow achieve this, you would never be able to market to each of them at such a granular level. Creating and using customer personas is the most effective and efficient way of making your customers feel like you know them personally, even if you don't. In return for creating a more personalised experience, you will see better sales and revenue figures, better lead generation stats, reduced customer churn, and a more positive and competitive customer experience.
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