If you want to really understand someone, you have to walk a mile in their shoes.
However, in lieu of mass footwear thievery – a tool known as 'persona development' can be of particular benefit to companies looking to get a better handled on their customer base.
What are personas?
Personas, sometimes called 'buyer personas' or 'customer profiles' are, in essence, fictional archetypes of your ideal customers. By putting together made-up examples of customers – you can get to know your key segments and pay better attention to who you're speaking through at every stage.
While we're primarily interested in using buyer personas for marketing purposes, the insights they provide can be revelationary in informing many other aspects of your business.
Personas can be as detailed as you'd like, but even a fairly standard one can provide invaluable nuggets of information that will help you better-understand, and ultimately sell to, your potential customers.
Personas can be as detailed as you like. After all, even naming one of your target audiences could be considered a basic persona. Some organisations, however, opt to go the whole hog – supplementing their personas with real-life interviews and plotting where each might fit on an axis of risk/reward when it comes to decision making.
However, even a fairly basic persona can work wonders for organisations looking to get under the skin of their prospects. Covering the basics makes for a fantastic starting point and it's important to note, these personas aren't written in stone.
The very act of creating them can help promote empathy with potential customers and you'll want to regularly dig them out to refresh them and add to them with real-world insights.
If you've got any long-standing, loyal customers that fit one of your profiles and they're willing, talking to them about the exercise can also be a great idea – giving you insights straight from the horse's mouth.
Similarly, if you're engaging in any sort of trackable online activities (e.g. social media, blogging) – don't be afraid to use the statistics these generate, paying attention to stuff like:
Acquisition: Where your customers have arrived from (e.g. organic search, Twitter, referral)
Engagement: What path do they take through your site? What content do they read?
Data: If you're capturing data via newsletter signups, landing pages or checkouts – this can be gold dust for fleshing out personas – letting you know precisely the route they took through your site and what milestones they passed along the way before converting.
The theory is all well and good, but how do companies actually get started with this exercise? When we take on a new client, it's one of the first things we do and tends to form the starting block of any campaign.
We typically recommend picking three segments to initially look at. These can either be the areas you're most keen to develop, or the ones you're most familiar with and want to target more efficiently.
Once you've settled on the segments you want to profile, you'll want to commence by asking variations on the below eight questions.
- What is their demographic information?
This questions deals with basic information like their age and where they live. Don't be afraid of going into detail, even if it seems somewhat extraneous.
For instance, when looking into their location, you might want to consider whether it necessitates a commute to work. If so – are they more likely to drive or take public transport? This can have a profound impact on what information sources they turn to, with public transport commuters better-able to browse the web or read a paper than someone who drove.
- Where they work (is it an employment park or a cushy city-centre office?)
- How much they (and their partner) are likely to earn each year
- Their sex
- Their age
- Whether or not they have children
- About their job
Of course you know their job title, but what about the ins and outs of their day?
- How is success measured in the role?
- What's the difference between what they're supposed to be doing and what they end up doing?
- What skills do they have/need?
- What tools do they use?
- Day in the life
What does your prospect's typical day look like? And don't just say 'busy'. What kind of busy? Are they travelling, going to meetings, doing paperwork?
When might they have down time and how will they spend this? What are their ports of call for industry or work-related news?
- Pain Points and Problems
What are their biggest problems and what are the ones you can help them solve? This should help you tailor communications away from the features and more toward tangible benefits that will bring them relief in the workplace. Consider:
- What kind of pressure are they under? Is it time, or money or both?
- Who applies the pressure, is it management or customers?
- Are they experiencing shortfalls? What are the consequences of these?
Similarly, what are their goals? How can they achieve the success we talked about in question two? Who do they have to impress?
What do they value most?
- New business
- Prestige and kudos from peers and bosses
Thinking about how they access and accrue information is vital in determining the best way to reach them, as well as how to speak to them. So pay attention to:
- Whether they read broadsheets, trade magazines or tabloids
- Do they go online and if so, where?
- Are they tech-savvy?
- Are they still using Bing as their default search engine?
- Do they attend industry expos and if so, which ones?
- How much does word of mouth matter to them?
- What experience do they seek out of your products or services?
- How do they want to be sold to?
- How long will it take for them to get signed up and running?
- Why are they most likely to decline your product/service?
- What would make them turn to a competitor over you?
- What would be an immediate turn-off?
- What's an offer they couldn't refuse?
Now you've distilled the data, it's time to put personas into practice. Look for commonalities in themes and imagine what questions you might have if you were in their shoes.
Since your staff has presumably dealt with these people – they'll be able to bolster this with their personal experiences.
Once you have a set of questions – you'll want to set about answering them in a place and format that will appeal to personas. After all, it's probably not much use doing a webcast for a customer that's more comfortable with a trade magazine.
How/When/Where to speak to them
The information you unlock via persona development will allow you to make better educated guesses about how best to reach your target audiences. It can inform:
How you should speak to them: If they're more of a tabloid reader than a broadsheet, for example, reflect this in the tone of your communications.
When to speak to them: You'll have an idea of where the downtime is during their day (or evening) and what they're engaging with during it.
Where to speak to them: Are they more likely to be on LinkedIn than Instagram? Trade press or blogs? Use your personas to target the best channels.
One easy win is to compile the information you've produced in an FAQ section for your website. This will not only create a keyword-rich page that search engines will love, but will provide a handy forum for answering the pressing questions you think your most valuable prospects tend to have.
As we've mentioned innumerable times before – search engines (read: Google) take user data into account when determining page rankings. So if you make your FAQ meaningful and engaging – you'll have the potential to drastically improve your search performance, as well as wooing prospective customers with your advice.
If it does a shoddy job at this (for example, all the answers are 'work with us' or 'buy our thing') you can expect users to be turned off and your site to steadily slide down the rankings until you reach the void of results lurking beyond page two.
Don't let your FAQ hog all the limelight, however, and be sure to channel these questions into really relevant blog topics.
Using long-form content to tackle each reelvant FAQ entry will offer the opportunity for you to have a stand-alone page appear for each relevant search queries. Similarly, you can also link through to these blogs from their pertinent FAQ entry, providing keen customers with even more useful information.
Having stand-alone blog posts will also let you better determine what your prospects are interested in – enabling you to produce more of that and less of what they're not.
Personas are never 'done'
The 'final' step in the persona process is a bit of a misnomer, as it's a process of constant iteration. Periodically dig up your personas for review. Did your hypotheses about how best to reach them prove true?
What topics and themes have resonated and which have fallen flat on their face? What channels proved most effective and are there any opportunities for expansion?
By constantly refining your personas you can get to know your customers intimately, communicate better with them and ultimately, sell more.
Have you had any success with persona development? Or any queries about the techniques we've discussed above?
If so, drop us a comment below or fire us a tweet – we always love to hear from you.
And if you're looking to learn more about persona development and other effective online marketing techniques, be sure to download our free ebook today: