What are customer personas?
Picture your ideal customer in your head. Think about what they enjoy, what motivates them, what they’re looking for in their personal and professional lives. Where do they live? What do they do? How old are they? Who do they share their home with? What might their daily routine look like?
This is, in its simplest form, what creating customer personas is all about.
Customer (or buyer) personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customer. Some businesses also like to create ‘negative customer personas’ to ensure that they have a clear idea of who they don’t want to market to.
Of course, it’s more than likely that you want your brand to appeal to more than one type of consumer. Especially if you have growth in mind. As you expand into new products, markets and territories, you’ll add to your collection of customer personas. However, if you’re new to the concept of buyer personas, it’s best to construct one at first to represent your core market.
Although customer personas are fictional, they need to be based on accurate data. Otherwise, you run the risk of creating a dream customer who may not necessarily exist. Build your customer persona around real data or you risk the tail wagging the dog.
Don’t worry, we’ll look at everything you need to build accurate customer personas later.
Why are customer personas important to your business?
Customer personas are integral to your understanding of both your existing customers and new prospects. They can be hugely influential in how you tailor everything from your inbound marketing content to your new product development.
In order to be relevant to your target market, every aspect of your offerings should be tailored to the needs and behaviours of your target audience. Fail to do this, and you risk alienating them. And if they feel that you’re not providing a service that’s relevant to them, they’ll run into the open arms of your competitors.
In an age of online abundance, consumers are growing ever-more fickle. Even many B2B buyers find that they have to work harder to justify purchases. New technologies incrementally lower the barriers to entry for new competitors. As such, you can’t afford to take a single customer for granted.
By investing time and effort in creating customer personas, you can ensure that your offerings are always relevant, helpful and of value to them.
What’s the difference between customer personas and segments?
Some target audiences are more diverse than others. Nonetheless, whatever you do, and whomever you do it for, it’s likely that you’re catering to more than one type of consumer. While you may want to create a customer persona to represent your core market, you’ll likely want to expand on this. Especially if you want to expand your business into a new territory or market.
Some brands create 3 or 4 customer personas, others create more than a dozen. Most fall somewhere between 3 and 8.
However many customer personas you create, you’re likely to notice some commonalities between different types of customers. Getting to know different sets or groups of customers is known as segmentation. Rather than building a persona around a model customer, segmentation helps you to understand common behaviours across large groups of consumers.
Brands can segment their customer base in any way they wish. However, segmentation is usually based on age range, geographical location, interests, values, and other commonalities that influence buyer behaviour.
Although customer personas and customer segmentation are both used by brands to better understand their consumer base, they have slightly different functions. Segmentation is typically used to help brands to predict whether there’s substantial interest within their market for a product or service. Personas, on the other hand, are used to better understand the behavioural and emotional triggers that motivate individual customers within their target market.
Researching your customer personas
When you started out in business, you likely already had a pretty clear idea of who you wanted to target. Even if you didn’t go through the process of creating a customer persona, you had a rough image in your head of what kind of consumer you had set your sights upon.
Once you’re up and running, however, you have access to a growing pool of data to which you can refer. This data must be interrogated and implemented when creating your buyer personas. Otherwise, you risk a disconnect between your strategy and the real people who are buying from your store, visiting your website and interacting with you on social channels.
The data is out there. It’s just a case of knowing where to look for it.
If you’re unsure of where to collect this raw material from which you can craft your buyer personas, we have a few suggestions.
Use lead magnets to capture customer data
We’ve already talked about how most consumers are sensitive about what data they share with brands. As they have every right to be! So, how do you get prospects to volunteer their data willingly?
By giving them something for (almost) nothing.
Lead magnets are a form of exchange between brands and their prospective customers. They offer access to high-value content in exchange for filling in a lead capture form. This content can take whatever form you wish. It could be a white paper, an e-book, a webinar, a free trial, a product demo, or anything else that will be of value to your prospective customers.
It helps if this lead magnet is something you’ve created yourself. After all, it’s a great opportunity to showcase your unique knowledge, skills and expertise. All the things that your competitors can never replicate. Of course, if you’re self-conscious about creating your own content, you can always collaborate with an agency that may be able to add a layer of polish and sparkle to what you’ve created.
When you’re asking the right questions in your lead generation forms, you can tailor them to provide the raw data you need to create your customer personas.
Which brings us to…
Think harder about your form fields
Consumers generally don’t like filling in long forms. And they’re certainly sensitive about what information they choose to volunteer. So you need to think long and hard about the fields you include in your lead capture form.
If you were simply looking to generate more leads, you’d use a short and very simple lead capture form. But here you’re looking for quality data rather than volume. As such, you need to find a sweet spot when it comes to the length and level of detail within your forms.
AB testing is a useful way to find this balance. Create a short form whose fields require the bare minimum of information to build your customer personas. At the same time, create a longer form that has more fields to better flesh out your customer personas.
See whether the length or level of detail impacts your conversion rates. You can even take an iterative approach, using forms of different length to find the perfect balance.
Use exit surveys
If you want detailed qualitative data but don’t have the time to generate your own content, exit surveys can be a useful tool. An exit survey can be used after any interaction a customer or prospect has with your brand. Many businesses incentivise customers to participate in an exit survey by offering them something beneficial like a discount on their next purchase.
Exit surveys can not only help you to flesh out customer personas, they can also help you to identify ways in which your product could better match their needs.
- Do they use your product to its full functionality?
- Has the price point become untenable for them?
- Does the customer feel fully supported by your brand?
- Has the customer found another product that is better suited to their needs?
Properly used, exit surveys can be an invaluable way of keeping in step with your customers’ needs and enable you to fine-tune your offerings so that they continue to be of value to them.
Talk to your team
Your customers aren’t the only source of useful customer data. Your sales team is an invaluable source of anecdotal information. Which leads do they have the most interactions with? What commonalities do they share? Do they notice that they have particular success with a particular type of lead?
Because this data is anecdotal it can be tricky to quantify. As such, it’s best not to use it as the foundation of your research. Nonetheless, it can certainly serve to reinforce your observations about different types of customers and help to flesh out and solidify your customer personas.
How to build a customer persona
After mining the above for data, we now have the raw material to construct our customer personas. But a lump of rock does not a statue make. That data needs to be moulded into an accurate reflection of the kind of consumer or buyer that uses your product.
How do we do this?
While there’s no set way to create a buyer persona, here’s a method that you may find effective.
Convert your data into a narrative
You have some demographic information about your customer persona. You likely also have a few useful adjectives to describe them such as “thrifty”, “discerning” or “ambitious”. Now it’s time to get creative and convert that data into a story. This can help you to give your team a clearer idea of who this semi-fictional character is.
Describe a typical day for your customer persona. How do they start their day? How do they get to work? What are they thinking about while they’re on their way? What do they have for lunch? What do they do when the working day is done? Do they have certain hobbies or interests? What values, needs and anxieties motivate their actions? Don’t be afraid to get creative, as long as you can justify your creative flourishes by referring back to your data.
Storytelling can be an extremely effective way of communicating your customer personas to your team, and encouraging them to adjust their communications with prospects and customers accordingly.
Now you know your customer personas’ story, you are equipped to start seeing the world through their eyes. Start empathy mapping, making note of what they see and hear, say and do, think and feel. What are the gratifications that keep them going, and what pain points encumber them in the pursuit of their personal and professional goals?
Sometimes it helps to empathise in terms of:
- Roles— What roles do they assume in their personal and professional lives? Aside from their job title and professional status, do they assume any other roles like parent or carer? How can you assist them in fulfilling these roles?
- Goals— What does your target customer want to achieve in their personal or professional lives? Whether you operate in the B2B or B2C space, you need to be able to communicate how your product or service will help your customers achieve these goals
- Challenges— What challenges do your customers encounter when going about their duties at work and at home? How can you bring ease, simplicity, and assurance into their busy lives?
You’ve used customer personas to see the world through your customers’ eyes. You know what they want, what motivates them, and how you can bring value to their professional and / or personal lives.
Now, all that’s left is to engage with them.
Learn and speak their language. Are they motivated by facts, statistics, and data? Or do they respond to more emotive messaging? Do you want to speak to their hopes and aspirations, or to their fears and insecurities? Neither approach is inherently right or wrong. But using customer personas will help you to make an educated guess as to which approach will be more successful.
Find out which social platforms they use. For instance, if you’re targeting a younger demographic, Facebook may not be the best place to engage them. They’re more likely to be drawn to visual platforms like Instagram, Pinterest or TikTok.
The last thing you want is for your message to fall on deaf ears because you’re using a platform that’s not appropriate to your target audience.
Speaking of platforms, you may also want to make contact with influencers that resonate with your buyer personas. Studies show that consumers trust their favourite influencers over 90% more than they trust their friends and families.
Segmenting your buyer personas
However many customers you want to create, you know that you can’t appeal to every customer individually. You can, however, tailor your message to different segments of your target audience. While some behavioural, financial and emotional traits will be shared across your target audience, adjusting your message for different segments can help you to deliver more targeted messaging.
There are no right or wrong ways to segment your audience. However, brands commonly segment buyer personas:
The industry in which your customer personas work will influence a number of factors. They may respond more to certain technical language or insider jargon that shows you understand their needs. They may even share interests and hobbies. Knowing the technical language, common pain points and frustrations inherent within certain industries provide opportunities to tailor your message to different personas.
By job title
The needs of a high-level executive will be different to those of a newly-graduated employee with an entry-level position. Even if you operate within a particular niche or industry, you can change the language and content of your messaging to appeal to customer personas at different stages in their career.
Customers like it when you know where they’re coming from. Literally. Big brands often change their messaging when dealing with customers in different geographical locations. As well as appealing to regional pride, segmenting by location allows you to draw on a shared vocabulary of places, landmarks and local experiences. Even referencing something as quotidian as an infamously busy stretch of motorway can demonstrate that you understand the shared frustrations of your target market.
A 50 year old and an 18 year old are likely to have very different needs, desires and goals. They’re likely to have different degrees of disposable income, and will want to do very different things with it. While your brand may appeal to a broad demographic, your messaging and even your products could be tweaked to appeal to different demographics within your buyer personas.
Turning your customer personas into actionable strategies
Now we have a clear idea of customer personas, why they’re important, and how to create them. But having a clear customer persona is one thing. Building an actionable strategy upon it is another.
Let’s take a look at how brands can use buyer personas.
Using customer personas for marketing
Creating marketing copy with your customer personas in mind enables you to deliver more targeted messaging. Different campaigns can be run in parallel to appeal to different buyer personas within your target market. Subtle tweaks to language and images can make copy resonate more strongly with different buyer personas.
You can even use copy testing with different customer groups to ensure that your copy will be effective before you start your campaigns.
Using customer personas for sales
Take the time to familiarise your sales teams with different marketing personas. This will enable them to tailor their strategy to deliver a more personalised approach to each lead they try to convert. Buyer personas can help sales professionals to identify which product features to put front and centre in their pitch, or which needs and desires to appeal to when engaging with customers.
Using customer personas for product design
Your customers’ needs change. And if your offering doesn’t change with them, your relationship with them may come to an end. Buyer personas can be invaluable in the design and development of new products. They can also be used to determine whether or not existing products still meet the needs of your customers.
Using personas for customer service
Finally, customer personas can help your whole team to deliver a higher standard of customer service. When you know what matters the most to your customers, you can tailor your customer service approach to their logistical, psychological and emotional needs. Whether they want to be reassured, inspired, energised, or educated, you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
How will you use your customer personas?
As we can see, creating customer personas is equal parts art and science. It requires both the ability to analyse and interrogate customer data, and a creative spark to help your team relate to your customer personas. Once you’ve begun to create personas for your target customers, there are a wealth of ways in which you can use them to enhance your brand appeal as your business expands.