What’s a Marketing Persona and Why it Matters

September 29, 2020

12 mins

If you want to grow your influence and maximize your brand’s impact, it is imperative to understand your customer. This is a fact no leader would contest. Yet many businesses and organizations launch into fully-funded marketing campaigns without taking the important step of developing customer personas. 

As marketers, we take time to flesh out data-driven buyer personas to shape the content we create and guide it’s distribution across communication channels. Without marketing personas, our content may be great but never connect with it’s intended audience, resulting in a frustrating waste of time and resources. 

On the other hand, small businesses and nonprofit organizations operating with limited overhead may not have the time or resources to invest heavily in market research. But what’s important to know about creating marketing personas is that you can build a data-backed persona relatively easily with a minimal investment using information you already have on hand. 

The process isn’t as complicated or expensive as it may seem, and we want to give you the information you need to get started. Because marketing to a well-defined customer persona will help you accomplish much more with your marketing campaigns than trying to market to an undefined audience that isn’t even listening. Let’s get started! 

Marketing/Customer/Buyer Personas—Definition and Benefits 

Marketing personas, buyer personas, customer personas. Whatever you choose to call  this important marketing tool aside, the purpose and proven effectiveness is essential to successful marketing campaigns.

A persona is a character sketch of your brand’s ideal customer or customers.

Using data, observations, and experiences you create a description of your target audience based on demographic info, spending patterns, communication preferences, and other data points that can help you best understand who you’re targeting. 

Using data you already have from your existing client-base, you put yourself in your ideal customer’s shoes in order to anticipate their problems, pain points, and needs so that you can communicate in a way that captures their attention and draws them into your brand story. A marketing persona is not necessarily based on a specific individual but a generalization of the customers who you want to buy what you’re selling. Depending on the product or service you’re selling, you could have one or multiple customer personas.

For the purpose of this guide we will give you the information needed to develop one persona that you can then use to create additional personas as needed. Before we get into the details, here are the advantages of creating marketing personas:

The Benefits of Creating Buyer Personas

  • Humanizing the data will help you craft more relevant messages 
  • Knowing where to share content will help potential clients find it
  • Driving more traffic to your website with search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Growing your social media following and engagement by knowing where your audience spends their time online 
  • Attracting consumers who are further along in the buyer’s journey and converting more leads 
  • Developing future products and services based on data patterns and customer interactions

Marketing Personas Must Be Backed by Data

While we all agree that it is important to know our customers—and many may *think* they know their customer—consider whether or not that understanding is based on facts or assumptions. This is a key differentiator in successful persona development. It’s easy to base what we think we know about our customers on what we observe, or even a gut feeling, but these assumptions must be substantiated by facts in order for a customer persona to be effective. 

Gathering data points may seem tedious or expensive, but if you have website analytics and an email list in place, you already have much of what you need to get started.

Here are data sources you should use as your begin creating marketing personas for your small business: 

Email lists

What can you deduce about your audience from their email preferences? Use these data points to easily identify demographic information such as age, gender, and geographic location. If you’re selling B2B you may want to denote company size, job title, or annual revenue as well. While you might not be able to immediately glean all of this information from the email list, you can use your list as a starting point and build it out to capture more data as needed.  

Website Analytics

Using tools like Google Analytics, you can learn a wealth of information about the people behind the traffic you’re attracting to your website. You can use this info to determine data like geographic area and time of day your site gets the most traffic. This data then translates into your character sketch. For example, you may see a huge spike in local traffic around lunch time, which may mean that your persona is shopping on their lunch break. Remember, it’s a generalization but helps you know more about the people who are already engaging with your brand. 

Customer Service Desk

One of the best places to gather data for marketing personas is by talking with the people who answer your phones. What kinds of questions are coming in and at what frequency? What are the problems people are having and how can you fix them? If the majority of people are calling with questions about how to implement your product or service within their specific context, you can add that pain point to your persona and begin developing content that solves those challenges.. 

Surveys, Interviews, and Focus Groups

Don’t let this part feel too overwhelming. You can garner helpful details about your customers with a few short, strategically-placed, survey questions. Depending on the response you get from this, you may find value in expanding into phone calls or focus groups. The more you can learn about the people who are already spending money with you, the better you can reach potential customers like them.

Key Elements of Buyer Personas 

Armed with data, you’re ready to begin sketching out your ideal customer. You can give them a generic name, age-range, and add personality and lifestyle assumptions based on acquired data. For example, if you know that your audience is mostly moms of young children, you can make a few assumptions about your persona’s lifestyle, shopping patterns, obstacles to overcome, etc. As you’re fleshing out your first persona, here are the key elements to be sure to include: 

  • Name (eg. Football Fred, Suzy Homemaker, Larry Ladder-Climber, Mary Middle-Manager. You don’t have to be cheeky with the naming, but it can help add personality.) 
  • Age/life stage (e.g. empty nester vs. young adult) 
  • Geographic Information/location 
  • Education 
  • Career Status 
  • Spare time/leisure
  • Spending power 
  • Spending decisions 
  • Communication preferences 
  • Social media presence/engagement 
  • Challenges, pain points, or problems they have that you can solve 
  • Goals/dreams, e.g. what they’re hoping to accomplish in this stage 
  • If B2B, include company size, revenue, manpower, job title, purchasing power, etc. 
  • Information sources, e.g, where do they get their news? 
  • Objections/obstacles to purchasing, e.g. influencer but not a decision maker 

Marketing personas can become quite detailed but it’s important to keep them simple enough that you can easily remember the details as you plan strategies with your team and create new content. You don’t want to create such detailed personas that they are complicated to keep up with or need to be updated too frequently. A targeted, yet generalized, approach will have more longevity and keep your marketing engine running smoothly with fewer hiccups. 

How to Use a Marketing Persona

With your marketing persona in place, use this customer character sketch to inform your content and communications strategies. This information should be the starting point for every communication you create from emails and website content to social media posts and text messages. As you plan, consider the following questions:  

  • What content can you create that will ease their pain points and solve their problems?
  • What keywords should you include in your blog posts? 
  • Is there an opportunity to use branded hashtags to attract more attention? 
  • How can you distribute your content in more places where your persona spends their time online? 
  • Is your website optimized with keywords that match what your persona is searching for online? 
  • Are there new products or services you can create that will help them achieve their goals? 

Whether you run a business, lead a nonprofit organization, or serve as a school administrator; we hope that this information will provide a solid foundation for creating your own marketing personas and begin communicating with more confidence and intentionality in every message. 

Creating customer personas doesn’t have to be confusing or overwhelming. We can help you develop a strategy for developing and using personas in your marketing campaigns. Please let us know what we can do to help you achieve your marketing goals and win more business!

Cross & Crown

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Cross & Crown is a team of creatives who are passionate about solving problems through design and technology, taking what is there and making it better. Based in Chambersburg, PA, we strive to help educate, advocate, and thrive in a digital world.

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