A title card reading, "How to Create a Persona for Customer Marketing"

If you’ve ever attempted to implement a customer marketing strategy on a digital platform, you know how easy it is to spend hours selecting target keywords, selecting demographic and/or geographic tickboxes, and filling out a customer profile.

Without saying it directly, every major digital advertising platform is trying to get you to answer one question:  Who do you want to talk to?

If you don’t know the answer to that basic question, your marketing efforts run the risk of falling flat (and costing a lot of time, money, and effort in the process) simply because they’re falling on deaf ears.

It’s one of the reasons that buyer personas matter so much to lead generation and the customer journey.

When done correctly, these personas turn simple marketing campaigns into major success stories.  One company found that buyer personas added a 900% increase in the length of a website visit and generated a 171% increase in marketing-generated revenue.

But if you don’t have a customer persona, where do you even start when trying to create one?  This guide explains the three steps you’ll need to follow in order to create a persona and give your customer marketing a boost.

Reminder:  Personas With Purpose

Remember, at the end of the day, your persona should help you and your team communicate with customers in your target market. That’s it. Everything that you include in your customer persona should angle toward this goal.  If it doesn’t, you’re probably moving in the wrong direction.

Step 1.  Gather customer data.

The first step to creating your customer marketing persona is pretty straightforward:  You need to gather data about your customers.

But this is more than just a research project.  You can use various forms of data (demographics, psychographics, technographics, etc.) but they can only serve as a foundation for your customer persona.

There are a ton of ways to gather data using your current customers, as well as the existing customer base that you want to acquire.

Let’s talk about a few of those below.

Market Surveys

These surveys are a quick and easy way to acquire feedback for your target personas.  In market surveys, you’re essentially asking the market at large a few questions and using the results to create a “broad strokes” outline of your ideal customer.

The upside to this is that, when done correctly, you can get some pretty good data on the market and where you’re likely to find your customers.

Depending on your niche market and how much you want to spend, market surveys can vary in quality.  A well-targeted Google survey can give you great market feedback on the general industry, but as you niche down in your category, hiring an agency to call customers and ferret out specific responses may make more sense.

 

Customer Feedback Surveys

If you have an existing customer base, using feedback surveys can provide loads of information to help you improve your customer relationships.  Sales and service teams can use the information you receive here to improve customer experience and customer retention.

But you can also use this information to get a pulse on your ideal personas by asking the right questions within the survey and gathering feedback that way.

This is a great jumping-on point for many small business owners during persona creation because it makes the most sense to ask happy customers exactly why they’re happy customers!  As an added benefit, if your persona campaign fails, you’ll still have actionable feedback to meet existing customer needs.

But just like market research, you have to be careful not to rely too much on existing customer data.  One study found that nearly 3 out of 4 “ineffective” personas were created using existing internal data rather than new, external research data.

Just remember:  Your existing customer base may not be a direct reflection of the larger market!

 

Email and Contact Forms

This is a quick and easy way to gather customer marketing information.  When people email your company or fill out a contact form, ask a question that helps with market research.

That could be something as simple as, “How did you hear about us?”  For brands with referral programs, brand advocates, or other affiliate strategies, this makes total sense.

But you could also have a little fun with it.

Let’s say you run a sporting goods store.  One of the questions on your contact form might ask, “Which of these sports do you play?” with a tickbox for easy selection.  If you were looking to expand your store to cover a new sport, this could give you a direction about where you’d want to go.

 

Customer Interviews

Often overlooked, customer interviews are a great way to hear customer stories, gather testimonials, and learn more about your target marketing.

While these interviews can be approached from a content marketing or product development perspective, they can also play a role in persona creation because they give you the opportunity to learn more about your customers in a personal way.

To get the most out of these interviews, you’ll need to find customers who are willing to speak with you and gather information about them, their lifestyle, and their opinion of your business.

Many companies only choose to do this with customers who made a purchase or who have already had a positive experience with the organization.  The downside to that approach is that it’s easy to narrow your candidate pool to satisfied shoppers.

This can result in an echo chamber where the persona you’re trying to create is a direct reflection of the customers who are successful with your existing customer outreach.  Your marketing team doesn’t need to reach brand advocates who already know about you — they have to cast a wider net!

These interviews are a great way to keep a pulse on the market and compare your customer’s buying habits with general trends in the market.

 

Social Media & Reviews

You can gather some information via social media, online reviews, and similar platforms but you should always take online reviews with a grain of salt.

It can be difficult to tell which content has been promoted, who might be an affiliate, and whether or not the comments and complaints that you see on major review websites are legitimate.

People love to tweet their thoughts when they’re angry or give a company shoutout when they’re happy — but it’s pretty rare to see an honest and straightforward review that will offer any lasting insights.

Because customer satisfaction isn’t a measurement of an effective persona, gathering research from thousands of five-star reviews may not help you garner a ton of actionable information.

 

Usage and Statistics

If you’re more for hard data and analytics, those tools are also a great way to learn more about your target customers.

Use Google Analytics to study how new customers interact with your website.  Study what messages seem to resonate on specific marketing channels or where your brand name pops up on online community forums and websites.

If you’ve got a presence on specialty websites or on forums, use that information — as well as information conducted by larger companies in your market — to draw conclusions about how people interact with products and services within your niche.

 

Wait, what if I don’t have any data?

For smaller organizations, the idea of spending large amounts of money on datasets might sound like a waste, but personalization and brand development within your market share are keys to business success.

All that said, you can create effective customer marketing personas without spending a ton of cash.  If you don’t have data and you don’t have a way to collect data, then you’ll have to gauge the market based on existing data and make an educated guess.

Once you’ve chosen a direction, you’ll be able to narrow things down after you see what works and what doesn’t for your brand.

 

Step 2.  Use data to establish a baseline.

Up to this point, everything has been about gathering data.

You may have formed some general opinions about your target audience and how your customer marketing strategy might be able to affect them.  Now, you’ll want to take a closer look at that data and try to isolate common patterns.

This will help you break your audience into customer segments that you can target across various marketing campaigns and marketing channels.

Here’s how to do it.

 

Start segmenting your market.

The first step when trying to establish a baseline for market segmentation is to look for commonalities in the data.  

By basing your marketing personas on commonalities, you can determine how to speak to the largest number of customers with the same relevant message at the same time.

However, finding the right size of your market segment based on a select number of data points is somewhere between art and science.  It’s also possible to have multiple smaller segments within a larger segment.

Here’s a good example to explain this concept:

Steve bought a pack of Legos and needs to sort them.

These Legos are different from the thousands of Lego bricks he already has, but he wants to see what this new pack of Legos brings to the table before he starts his next colorful masterpiece.

Dumping the bricks out onto the floor, Steve immediately spots a number of different sizes, shapes, and colors.  There are bricks with two studs, others with four studs, as well as a few thin plates.

Depending on how he wants to break them out, Steve can sort them in a number of different ways.

For the sake of simplicity, Steve decides to group by color.  He grabs all the red bricks and puts them together regardless of the number of studs and regardless of whether it’s a flat plate or a classic brick.

Steve does the same for all other colors and begins to build.

Okay, let’s take a step back and consider Steve’s approach for a minute.  The lego bricks are, of course, a stand-in for your customer data.  You’ve got a huge bucket of customer data that you need to organize and compile.

No matter how you separate your data, you could also segment things in a different way.

In Steve’s case, he sorted the bricks by color.  But notice that within each color, there are categorical subsegments of each market.  He’s got:

  • Red bricks
    • Bricks with two studs
    • Bricks with four studs
    • Brick pieces
    • Plate pieces

And he has that same combination in a variety of colors.

In the same way, it would be possible for you to separate your customer data into various categories and subcategories.  Here’s an example and a few subgroups when the primary market segment is assembled by age:

  • Customers Aged 45-55
    • Male
    • Female
    • Has Kids
    • No Kids
    • Empty Nesters
    • Married
    • Divorced
    • Never Married

And so on.  There are countless opportunities to segment based on your product, branding, or go-to-market strategy.

Depending on your product and your specific needs, talking to a large selection of the market may be too broad.  Maybe you need to narrow it down by adding additional qualifiers to your data.  Rather than creating a marketing message for all customers between ages 45 and 55 you should target your message to female users aged 45 to 55 who are empty nesters.

This kind of segmentation allows your marketing team to create content that attracts customers who will be successful with your brand and gives your sales reps the opportunity to create that customer success by moving product.

 

Eliminate outliers.

As you parse your data and create your baseline, it’s important to determine and eliminate outliers.

Fringe buyers who are outside of your target market are nice-to-haves, but basing your entire marketing strategy on them isn’t the best idea.

As you focus on your core messaging during persona creation, keep in mind that the customer lifecycle — including onboarding and retention rates — may be different for your core market than it will be for your outliers.

Just to provide an example purely by numbers, let’s take another look at the 45-55 age group.  That’s a big range, but maybe the product that you’re marketing for isn’t a great fit for people heading into their 60s.

Sure, there may be some who are interested but, overall, it’s not a market for what you want to sell.  Trying to reach them would broaden your persona to the point where it would dilute your core marketing message.

Especially in the early stage, many businesses want to cater to any customer that they find.  Every dollar counts, and those sales matter.  But, as the business scales, you have to narrow your customer marketing focus in order to see a larger ROI.

Marketing personas help you do that by drawing a box around your customer segments.  At some point, you have to decide who goes into that box and who doesn’t.  That decision varies from business to business, but it’s absolutely necessary for long-term success.

 

Wait, what if I have overlap?

Ideally, your customer marketing personas will consist of some form of overlap, and that overlap should be broad enough that it applies across multiple personas.

The difference is in the details.

Here’s a simplified example of expected overlap.  Let’s say you’re selling a hair care product for men.  You should expect there to be overlap in your base because the customer you want to target:

  • Is male
  • Has hair
  • Needs a hair care product

So you have a persona overlap.  The difference is how you talk about your product to each audience.  That’s what makes each persona just a little bit different.

Men in their early 20s may be more interested in the look and feel of their hair after using your products.  Meanwhile, men in their early 50s may be curious about any medicinal and/or anti-hair loss capabilities that can get from your product.

See?  Plenty of overlap; two completely different personas with varying paths to becoming successful customers.

 

Step 3.  Create a persona based on that data.

Now that you’ve collated the data and sorted it appropriately, the next major step will be to create a persona that helps you bring your customers into focus.

Your persona should cover everything that your marketing and sales teams need to know in order to connect with this customer.

When done correctly, this persona can serve as a foundational cornerstone for multiple customer marketing and sales initiatives, from upsell scripts all the way to case studies and landing pages.

So, how do you actually create one?

 

Use your data as a jumping-off point.

Way back in 2013, Lattice Engines and CSO Insights conducted a survey which pointed out that 42% of sales reps feel like they didn’t have enough information in order to make a sales call.

That’s part of the reason why cold calling sucks.  And trust me, as someone who has done his share of cold calling, it does suck and it isn’t very effective.

Employees hate cold calls.  Customers hate cold calls.  And the reason is pretty simple:  Reps have a hard time making a connection at an inopportune time when speaking to a business owner that they know nothing about.

Why would the customer listen?  How would your sales rep know what to do in order to warm the lead and/or isolate a need?

It gives new sales reps a kind of paralysis, and it’s the same for marketers and entrepreneurs across the board.  Sure, creative types can just make up a customer profile and the business can spend thousands to test the theory — or you can use the data you’ve collected to make informed decisions about the persona that you want to create.

If you’ve done the research and you’ve compiled the data, you can use that data to make strategic decisions that define your marketing strategy.

Let’s pretend that, while creating a buyer persona, you feel like your fictional customer should have a child.  Maybe it’s a logical assumption or a good hunch, but what does your data say?  If the data says that two-thirds of your target market have children, you’ve got a data point to back up the persona that you’re trying to create and you can add that profile detail with confidence.

The same is true for other data points.  Should you create an ad where your customers are enjoying a fine-dining experience?  If your data says that most households in your target market make an average of $55k per year and over half of them have $20k in college debt, probably not!

With data, you’re not guessing.  You’re making informed decisions that serve as a foundational representation for your customer marketing strategy.  The more accurate you are, the more precise your marketing and sales outreach becomes, which leads to lower churn, greater customer loyalty, and even better customer success.

That doesn’t mean that creating a buyer persona is easy.  In fact, 96% of marketers say that building a comprehensive, single view of customers is a challenge. But by using your data as a foundation, you can create a detailed profile that helps you bring new customers into your business.

 

Engage in creative storytelling.

Once you’ve got the foundational basics out of the way, it’s time to engage in a little creative storytelling.  This is a good exercise to help your team connect your product or service to the persona that you’ve created.

Remember: Your customers are on a journey, and your service or product can help them achieve success.  But, like every great story, there has to be some kind of obstacle that’s getting in the way of their happiness and/or success.

As you’re building your persona, you’ll need to figure out what the problem is for that specific customer and how you can connect them with your solution to that problem.

Sometimes, this is a simple story like the one below.  For this story, we’re going to pretend that our brand is “the Greaserizer,” a handheld scrub that specializes in cutting through kitchen grease.

Melanie likes a clean house, but her mother loves to cook with grease.  Once grease gets into the air, it sticks to everything and makes cleaning an absolute nightmare.  

Every few weeks, Melanie spends at least two hours cleaning the kitchen.  That’s time she’d prefer to have so that she can hang out with her kids.

Fortunately, our product — the Greaserizer — can help her get there.  The Greaserizer cuts through grease with ease and makes cleaning a breeze.  Based on our data, we know that Melanie can cut her cleaning time by more than half so she’ll have more time than ever before to hang out with her kids.

Melanie can get her time back — with the Greaserizer.

Now, in this story, we’ve highlighted a couple of things that we might not have known otherwise.  First, Melanie’s problem isn’t going to go away.  It’s caused by someone else.  Second, Melanie has a time-sensitive problem.  Mainly that this chore is frustrating and it’s making her lose time with her kids.  And that’s time that she can’t get back.

If Melanie’s profile is based on solid data, this is a viable persona with a viable story that we can use to market.

As you build your profile, use the data to create the baseline — but don’t forget the creative aspects you’ll need to transform generalized data into a true customer success story.

This is something that you’ll need to do for every single persona that you create.  A persona without a story is just data without a context.

 

Wait, what if my persona isn’t the customer that I want?

Then you’ve got a problem.  

If all of your data — including the interviews, feedback, and surveys from your current customers — points to a customer that is vastly different from the one you’re trying to acquire, it’s time to reevaluate your entire go-to-market strategy.

This isn’t always a bad thing, but it means that a marketing pivot is likely somewhere in your future.  Otherwise, you’ll end up spending money on marketing and sales initiatives that never attract the crowd you’re trying to acquire.

Customer marketing is never done.

Once you’ve finished creating your marketing persona, you should keep it front and center with your team.  Share it around.  Get some community participation going.

It can take a village to create good, compelling personas that align with your existing data — and that work is never done.

This is where a lot of companies get it wrong.  They create the persona, agree on it, and then stick it in a drawer or a forgotten folder somewhere in a dusty corner of their hard drive.

It doesn’t work that way.

Persona documents are living documents.

When companies fail to update their persona, they start operating based on old information that misses the direction of the market.

That’s when great marketing becomes annoying and irrelevant, something that 60% of millennials rank as one of their top 5 frustrations with marketing communications.

As the visions for your business evolves and your products and services change, you may need to tweak and revisit your personas to match your new direction.

It’s 100% okay to change your marketing strategy to reflect those changes, but be sure to update your persona in the process.  That one document can affect everything else down the line.

Need help creating your customer marketing persona?  Give me a shout and we’ll talk about it!

 

Marc "Scott" Summers | © 2020