What You Need To Know About Customer Personas To Enhance Your Marketing

What You Need To Know About Customer Personas To Enhance Your Marketing

Understanding your customers is key to effective marketing and sales. Before you publish a single line of ad copy, you should know who your customers are, what they want, and how they make purchase decisions. When you do, you'll understand how to effectively communicate with prospective and existing customers. Customer personas are an excellent tool to develop the kinds of marketing and sales insights needed to communicate with your customers and persuade them to buy.

Customer Personas: An Overview

A customer persona is a representation of your customer, drawn from marketing research, which can be used to craft and refine your marketing messages. It incorporates basic demographic information as well as information about past purchase behavior. Your customer persona provides a complete picture of your average customer: their needs, wants, habits, values, and decision-making processes. The persona takes the form of a fictional character profile, complete with a name and picture, and should be used as the basis for the development of targeted marketing material. 

Despite their benefits, many businesses don't invest the time or resources to develop and use customer personas. Instead, many businesses create general messages that don’t necessarily appeal to their specific customer base. These messages usually don't account for the full range of attributes, values, and decision-making criteria that influence a customer's purchase.

But if you know exactly who you are talking to and what they care about, it's much easier to craft a message your customers will find meaningful. You're not creating a generic message for a segment, like Millennials, and hoping it pulls in some sales. You're using what you've learned about your customers and their purchase decision-making behavior to persuade them that your product is the best solution to their problem. 

How many customer personas do you need?

Depending on the size and scope of your business, you may have as few as three customer personas or as many as eight. In most cases, three to five customer personas are sufficient. If you create too few customer personas, you risk missing out on key customer segments. But when you create too many, you'll stretch your marketing resources thin by trying to appeal to everyone.

What to look for when creating personas

Through the process of developing your customer personas, you'll gain deeper insight into their wants and needs. Sometimes, businesses uncover hidden, unmet needs. 

For example, an auto supply parts manufacturer may learn that prospective customers are not only looking for environmentally-friendly products but also seeking information about how they can build sustainability into their supply chain. Meeting that need by establishing a blog on green auto supply chains helps the business engage and build credibility with customers, potentially increasing conversion opportunities. Or that insight may inspire the business to introduce the manufacturer’s specific eco-friendly items to its product offerings that could increase revenue. 

An illustration of a person surrounded by green leaves. They are facing a bubble with a car symbol inside.t

What are negative customer personas?

You also can use negative customer personas in your marketing efforts. These are personas with attributes you wish to exclude from your marketing efforts. Perhaps the retailer in the above example believes they can earn more revenue by focusing on B2C auto supply retailers.They then may wish to exclude automobile manufacturing supply chain managers. Or maybe they wish to exclude a set of companies that don't match their own business' values. That's a perfectly acceptable and effective use of negative personas. After all, a business can (and often should) choose not to work with others who are at odds with your brand's values.  

Understanding your market through personas

Using customer personas and negative personas can also help a business assess why a particular segment is not as profitable as others. Perhaps you developed a set of marketing messages designed to appeal to mid-career professionals in a specific industry, yet sales among this segment are lagging behind those of other demographics. During the course of constructing your customer personas, you may find that this group desires a high level of customer service - a factor that makes the difference when choosing between competing products. These kinds of insights can help you identify and develop the marketing strategies and tactics you need to use to reach these customers.   

So, how do you develop a customer persona? Like many small business leaders, you may also wonder how much time or money is necessary to create one and how much the process of doing so will detract from your business's daily operations. 

How to create a customer persona

The truth is that you don't need a lot of time or money to create an accurate customer persona. In fact, you can get started with resources you already have. Because a customer persona is a composite of your existing and prospective customers, you can start with your existing in-house customer data. And once you understand the steps, you'll see that the resources you invest in developing a customer persona are well worth the potential return to your business.

Gather in-house customer data

An illustration of 3 blank persona templates.

The first step is to gather in-house customer data. Your business is full of insights about your customers - if you know where to look. You can start by pulling together all of the demographic and purchase information you have about your existing customers, as well as any insights about them from customer feedback surveys you may have issued. Hopefully, this is all integrated into your customer relationship management (CRM) system, but if not, make sure to pull this information together from your business' separate files and systems.

You'll also want to assemble data from your customer service (CS) department. You'll want to know what the most common types of calls and complaints were about, general customer feedback about your products and services, and the most effective forms of resolution offered by your CS team. Look beyond the call center management information system statistics and speak with your CS manager and team leads. Ask them what generalizations they can make and insights they can offer about your customer base.

Reach out to your in-house sales team as well, not just for raw numbers but for insights. Find out which channels customers and sales agents are using to connect, what customers are saying, and what makes a customer decide to purchase or not purchase your products. Ask about profitable segments and non-profitable ones. Uncover any and all insights your sales team can offer about what aspects of your product, packaging, pricing, and promotional efforts work, don't work, and why.

Also, take a look at your social media channels, paying particular attention to comments users leave. What are they saying about your company and brand? If they are customers, what made them choose your business, and what did they think after their purchase? Are there complaints that your products or services lack certain features? Compile these comments as well, along with your other data, so that you can begin to draft your customer personas.

Draft your customer personas

A persona template that includes occupations, location, lifestyle, age, personality, wants, bio, and income.

In your data, you'll undoubtedly find patterns. Perhaps you'll see that a particular age group or gender overwhelmingly purchases your product or service. Or maybe you'll see that your most frequent customers only use specific channels to connect with your brand. You may even find that your most popular product is purchased by customers looking for a product that appears, on the surface, to be completely unrelated.

No matter what the patterns are, your next step is to capture them in the form of a fictional character. Using the most common patterns, create three to five profiles. Give them each a name and a photo, and list their demographic information, which may include:

  • Age
  • Ethnic background
  • Gender identity
  • Location
  • Occupation
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Income
  • Marital/relationship status
  • Lifestyle

Include basic information on their media consumption habits. Understanding that your customers are spending more time on a particular social media channel than listening to the radio is critical to learning how to reach them.

Incorporate what you've learned about how they connect with your brand and products. Start by adding information about their personality and values to each persona, such as:

  • Whether they are an introvert or an extrovert
  • How they feel about trying new things
  • What their risk tolerance is
  • Whether they naturally embrace or rebel against authority
  • What their level of internal motivation is
  • What they value most personally and professionally
  • What value do they place on continuous learning
  • What kind of problems are they facing that you can solve?

Next, set your insights about their goals and motivations, as these insights will be crucial towards developing compelling messaging. What are the goals your customer is trying to achieve each day, and how are they trying to achieve them? Pay particular attention to the goals that are aligned with your product or service. What aspect of your customer's goal does purchasing your product help them solve?

Finally, your draft customer persona should include some sample messaging that speaks to your persona's needs. This messaging can include actual quotes from relevant customer feedback or can be drafted by your team. You don't need to craft a fully polished messaging document at this point. A few lines that speak directly to what each persona values and needs and how your brand helps fulfill this need are sufficient.

Incorporate other marketing research

An illustration of a person thinking about concepts like technology, politics, justice, and social status.

Your marketing department may have other marketing research reports on hand that can help provide context to the insights you're obtaining. For example, a marketing environmental analysis - which gives you some understanding of the local and national, economic, political, and social forces that may be influencing your customers' behavior - can be very helpful. One such marketing environmental analysis is a PESTLE analysis. PESTLE stands for:

  • Political
  • Economic
  • Social
  • Technological
  • Legal
  • Environmental

A PESTLE analysis can help you determine which trends and patterns you see influence your customers' short-term and long-term buying behavior and decision-making. For example, say our auto supply manufacturer is located in a region facing an economic downturn and whose residents are increasingly using public transit and rideshare services and buying fewer cars. Some of these residents have also voiced concerns about climate change. And the area has also received grants to develop electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure and EV sales are slowly ticking up. These regional economic, social, and environmental trends will likely affect the market for auto supply parts in many ways, which our manufacturer must understand to adapt and compete effectively.

You'll also want to conduct a competitive marketing analysis to understand a customer's decision-making process better when engaging with other brands in your industry and category. A competitive marketing analysis is an evaluation of your competitors, their product/service offerings, marketing strategies and tactics, and market share/position. In analyzing your competitors' marketing efforts, you may learn more about what motivates your customers and what they find compelling.

Interview your customers  

An illustration of a person conducting a phone interview with another person.

You may be amazed by what your draft personas already tell you about your customers. However, if your personas are developed with just the in-house data, you risk missing important insights, especially about prospective customers. Furthermore, some insights may appear to contradict other feedback you've received and require further exploration. For these reasons, you should also interview your customers.

With firsthand accounts of their experience with your product and company, your customers will help you refine your personas and messaging. Moreover, you can use the interviews to explore areas where your internal data is contradictory or unclear. You can even ask them for feedback on the draft messaging you've prepared to see if it captures who they are, what they value, and what appeals to them.

Start by interviewing three to five current customers per persona. To do so, you'll want to create a list of current and prospective customers using your existing customer database, as well as referrals from your sales team. Also, reach out to your customer service team for leads of customers who may be less than thrilled with your product. Understanding not only why they are displeased but why, despite their displeasure, they remain customers is important to understanding your customers' decision-making process.

In some cases, customers may be happy to speak with you at length. Many customers will appreciate that your company values their opinion and is taking the time to hear from them.  However, not every customer will make themselves available or be forthcoming without the promise of a reward. Be prepared to offer potential interviewees incentives, such as a gift card or a discount on their next purchase.

Now that you have a list of potential customers, what should you ask them? Capturing their demographic information ensures that you're speaking with someone who fits within the parameters of your customer persona. It can also help validate the demographic composite you've created. Also, ask questions that can validate the assumptions you've made in your draft persona. For example:

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What do you value?
  • What motivates you?
  • What are your goals? Focus on only those goals that are relevant to your business.
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • What kinds of periodicals do you read?
  • What social media channels do you use? Describe how you use them.
  • Describe how you make purchasing decisions.
  • Describe a recent purchase that was highly satisfactory and what made it so satisfying.
  • Describe a purchase that disappointed you and why.
  • How do you typically like to interact with businesses?

While you'll want to start with a structured set of questions, you should use each question as a jumping-off point for further exploration. Asking follow-up questions, such as, "Why are these your goals?" or "Why do you like using this channel to interact with our business?" can help you uncover even more insights about your customers.

After several interviews for a specific persona, you may notice that you hear very similar answers from your customers. If it seems unlikely you'll uncover any new insights at this point, it's a good idea to move on to the interviews for the next persona.

Refine your customer personas

An illustration of five complete personas.

Now that you've completed your interviews, use the feedback to refine each customer persona. Examine how you've described each persona's personality and values, and see if there is more precise language you can use now that you've actually spoken with customers who fit the mold. Review all generalizations about their goals, motivations, and personality in your draft personas, and ensure they align with your interview feedback. Then, take another look at your sample messaging. Does it accurately capture your customers' wants and needs? If not, refine the language until it does.

Once you've incorporated your interview feedback, you should have three to five customer personas ready for use. Share them with your marketing and sales teams, and start working on the kinds of marketing strategies and messaging that will appeal to them. Doing so effectively will help you convert more leads, retain more customers, and grow your business.

We can help you build personas

Many businesses lack the time and in-house expertise to craft winning customer personas. And even when a business has both, preconceptions and biases held by those close to the business may diminish how accurate a reflection the finished customer persona is. For an impartial approach to your persona development, consider Steel Croissant, where we specialize in connecting brands like yours with your ideal consumers. If you need help with your customer personas, or other aspects of your marketing strategy, contact us today.

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