How to Create a Target Persona for Your Business

If you’ve never heard of a target persona (also called a buyer persona), you’re missing out on a key tool to help you improve your sales cycle and digital marketing strategy.

In short: a target persona is a fictional representation of your ideal buyer. It’s your target user: the customer that you’re actively trying to reach with your blog posts, social media activity, and other marketing efforts.

No matter what type of business you’re in, determining your target audience early on is important because it helps you offer services, products, and content that aligns with the problems and objectives that your potential buyer is looking to solve.

It’s also important to customer experience and retention. A recent survey by Oracle points out that 34% of adults who have “broken up” with a brand (stopped using / purchasing) did so due to poor, disruptive, or irrelevant marketing messages being sent to them. Another 33% said that they ditched brands because the messaging was too generic and was obviously sent to everyone.

Those are huge issues that a well-crafted marketing persona could solve for. And, aside from irrelevant messaging, knowing this information also helps you position your brand in a way best suited to win business from a particular market.

But how do you go about persona creation in a simple and easy way? What do you need to define a clear marketing journey for your ideal customer? Do you just make it all up, cross your fingers, and hope for the best?

Not exactly. There’s a process involved that’s a little more nuanced than that. Today, we’re going to talk about how to create a detailed profile for your ideal customer. We’ll also talk about some useful tools to help you navigate the process.

Ready? Let’s get started.

1. Determine your business objectives.

Before you start trying to create a personal profile for every single customer you might interact with, take a minute and try to determine your business goals. What are you ultimately trying to accomplish outside of a buyer persona?

If you’re mostly happy with where your business is going and the kind of clients you already encounter throughout your sales cycle, you can use your existing customers as a baseline for the persona you want to create.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to push your business in a different direction — whether you’re changing your product offering, pursuing a different market, or making some other kind of pivot — you’ll need to assess who your ideal customer might be and what you have to offer them.

While it’s true that creating a target persona can provide valuable insights for your organization, you need to be clear on the trajectory of your business before you get started so that the profiles and personas you create are actionable and relevant to your brand. If you’re lacking a clear direction, you may not be able to create relevant content for users, no matter how well you develop your persona profile.

2. Conducting preliminary research.

When it’s time to start creating a target persona, it would be easy to hire a writer like me to sit down and create generalized representations of your customer base.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple.

The best buyer and marketing personas aren’t complete works of fiction; they’re data-driven profiles around potential buyers that can be summarized in a generalized, fictional format.

Before you even start fictionalizing your ideal buyer, you need to know a little more about them. If you have a pool of customers (even a small one) that you can pull from, that’s often the best place to start.

Conduct preliminary research and try to determine everything that you can about them. Consider high-level things like their demographic info and their position within an organization, but don’t forget to dig for both information outside of typically business intelligence.

That might mean taking a very broad approach and using something like census data to gain insights into who you’re targeting, but it could also mean building a profile from your existing clientele.

No matter what approach you choose, be thorough in your search for relevant data. You don’t have to be a data scientist to do it (although knowing how to use Google can really help!). Don’t forget to dig into tools like Google Analytics or social media analytics and similar data tools, too.

Be sure to take careful note of what you find.

As this article from Forbes points out, personas don’t need to be 100% based on factual evidence or extensive research. You want to view your target demographic as a real person rather than a faceless statistic.

That’s true, but you should conduct some research, especially if you’re trying to break into a new market. Otherwise, you’re just guessing.

3. Refine your target persona.

Once you’ve got a general set of details about your ideal buyer, you want to refine those details into something resembling a detailed profile.

Most clients I work with have an ideal buyer in mind already because they’ve worked with that person once before. They want more people like that. If you’re in that situation, remember that you need to generalize that profile. You’ll want to strip away hyper-specific details so that you can uncover trends and gain valuable insights into clients who are similar to the kind you’ve worked with in the past.

If you’re taking this approach, remember to blend this information with other data that you’ve uncovered. While someone working from the top down will be working to narrow their focus with every iteration, working from the ground up means that you need to soften your profile slightly in order to widen your net. If you’re too narrow in this approach, you’ll miss actionable insights in the data.

In either case, what you’re trying to create is a profile that allows you to produce effective content for a sizeable group of potential buyers. This is part art and part science. Be sure you consider the data and try to determine if your field is too wide or too small.

Most of that will come down to what products and services you offer and how niche of an offering you have. For example, if I own a music store, I can appeal to a broad range of musicians, would-be musicians, and friends or family members of those groups. There are multiple personas to dig out.

However, if I run a guitar shop or a piano shop, my field is narrowed by the type of business I’m in and the kind of products I offer. The woodwind and brass players who need reeds and cleaning supplies for their instruments won’t find anything in my shop, so there’s no point in building a user persona or generating a content creation strategy for them unless I suddenly decide to offer something that they actually need. Those efforts won’t amount to an effective sales strategy.

4. Figure out persona goals and objections.

According to a 2014 ITSMA survey, 48% of buyers are more likely to consider solution providers that personalize their marketing to address their specific needs. In addition, 81% will pay a premium for industry experience and industry-specific solutions.

That’s a huge insight, and it’s one thing that makes target personas so valuable! If you’ve got experience and you personalize your marketing efforts, your chances of closing a deal go increase.

But, in order to make your target persona most effective, you still need to know a few things. Most importantly, you need to know what your ideal buyer actually wants, what they don’t want, and why they might object to your service.

Depending on possible objections, you can try to target around it. If you think someone is going to object on price, consider the cost of your product or service and weigh it against your past experience and market value. A lower-cost option may be more competitive, but is it viable? Is this objection reasonable, or is the lead who passes on your service for this reason just an outlier?

Other objections may require something like a new persona or a different marketing approach. Let’s say that your ideal client is a mid-level manager within a corporate organization and that you want the company to pay for the service you’re offering.

That’s great, but that manager isn’t the final decisionmaker. He’s got to run this up and down his chain of command and, after he gets all the approvals, the finance team has to decide whether or not the company will pay for it.

If your target persona helps your sales and marketing teams effectively overcome those objections through effective content or a smart sales strategy, that persona is helping you win new business.

When building your buyer personas, be sure to give this section special consideration.

5. Don’t forget the personal details!

Did you know that about 31% of individuals regard their interaction with a brand as purely transactional? That’s from a recent survey by Thunderhead.

Maybe you can get away with transactional relationships if you’re a big-box retailer, but if you’re in a situation where every client counts, creating a personalized value proposition and amazing content may be a key differentiator for your brand.

Once you’ve got a solid handle on your target audience, take a little bit of time to personalize the profile. What do your potential buyers do in their spare time? What are their hobbies and interests? Do they have kids? Are they heavily involved in one organization or another? Do they have specific personality traits that resonate with your value offering?

While these details might not be as tangible as something like annual revenue earnings or organizational positions, they’re important psychological touchpoints that help your team envision your ideal customer in a practical way.

Don’t be shy about adding these things into your profile and keep in mind that, while data might be able to help you here, personalized details like this are naturally fuzzy. You can research mainstream trends (a lot of CEOs are big readers, for example), but you’re not aiming for individualized accuracy with this component.

6. Tell the whole story.

fictional representation of your data is what makes a target persona different than any other type of buyer profile. Creating a concise, detailed write-up of your target user in a way that’s practical and easily understood by your entire team is worth the time. Think of this as a kind of elevator pitch for your ideal customer. It’s a quick overview that shares all the details in a practical way.

If you’re not much of a creative, it might seem easier to just push that off and rely on the data points by themselves.

I don’t recommend that approach, because a well-structured paragraph or two can often convey a tone, mood, or insight that just doesn’t translate to a list of bullet points.

Here’s an example of a buyer persona that your team can use:

Shannon is a sales and account manager for Sunshine Inc., a window washing service. She knows her way around filing and computation, but right now the company runs on an email system. Agents in the field show up with paper invoices, fill them out, take a photo of them with their smartphones and send them in.

Thatʼs a lot of emails.

Shannon really wants a solution that allows each user to self-serve. Sheʼd like administrator access and the ability to assign each user profile to a specific team leader so that she knows where the invoices are coming from and how to track them.

Sheʼs okay with cloud integrations beyond the service and also plans to cache her files offline. Though she loves to hit the beach on the weekend, Shannon knows that sales is an “always-on” career. She wants to be able to take her work with her so that she can access client accounts in a hurry, even when she’s away from the desk.

You get the idea. This target persona hits on all the key points that a sales or marketing team might need. It highlights a problem that the company can help to resolve and gives the reader insights into why key features might be extremely valuable to this kind of persona.

Use generalized representations like this to talk about your target buyer and to get their story out to your team in a more accessible way. Done right, a user persona can be an effective and useful tool for content and sales teams throughout your organization.

Going Further: Working with Multiple Target Personas

In the past, I’ve touched on how you can use storytelling tricks like story angles to transform your content. In a nutshell, the idea behind a concept like that is to funnel an idea directly toward a target audience.

When you’re building buyer personas, you’re doing something similar, but with people rather than ideas.

It’s not uncommon for a business to serve multiple needs, but even if your business only does one thing, that one service might mean different things to different people. That’s why it’s beneficial to create multiple personas for your organization.

This is a process that happens pretty naturally. As you define one target persona, you’ll find that some of the clients you want to work with don’t align with the demographic info that you’re using to create your buyer profile.

Don’t scrap that excess information! Set it off to the side and create a new persona when you’re done with the first. The distinct personas you create will help you segment and retarget your audience in new and interesting ways.

That’s one reason that this exercise is so valuable, and why you should get started on it today.

If you need help building a target persona, or if you’ve successfully created one and need content to help you connect with your target audience, don’t hesitate to reach out.