4-Step Guide to Audience Personas

by Jen Lawson Williams

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” -Peter F. Drucker

The fundamental key to any successful marketing endeavor is your understanding of the audience to whom you’re selling. By “your” I mean you, your entire marketing team, your company’s leadership, your sales team, and your agency partners. So, how do you ensure these various players are speaking the same language to the same audience?

Audience personas.

A persona is a representation of your audience, complete with characteristics and preferences that create the portrait of a human. A persona’s power is humanization; it turns the faceless mass that is your “target audience” into a person who could be standing in the room with you.

According to Forbes, “a persona takes away the guesswork.” With a persona in hand, you can quickly and easily draw conclusions about how they’ll react to a specific campaign, or where and with what kind of content to best reach them.

Years ago when I worked in corporate marketing for a large healthcare organization, our marketing team took our primary persona, “Lisa”, (a 40-something, working mom-type) and created a life-size, cardboard cutout representation of her, along with some of her key descriptors, and parked her in our main conference room. When we made decisions about rebranding, she was there. When we did an overhaul of our seven websites, she was there. The cardboard cutout may seem a little cheesy, but our team never forgot about our audience, and we continually aspired to make decisions that honored Lisa’s reality.

Ready to give it a try? Here are 4 steps to consider when creating or brushing up your audience personas. Cardboard cutout optional!

1. Start With Research.

You and your team probably have a good hunch about your audience already. Write down what you collectively know (or think you know) and set it aside. Then, assess the hard audience data you have, both quantitative and qualitative. Current customer data or sales data are excellent places to start. Consider layering that information with a customer survey, additional CRM information, website visitor information, and social media follower information. In general, people buy things based on emotion, and then rationalize later, so it is wise to get to a good understanding of your audience’s emotional state as it relates to your service or product offering. One of the best ways to do this is through customer interviews. Talking directly to your audience will likely yield insights and context that are otherwise unattainable. Nuggets from your interviews will help you to fully humanize your audience, which is after all, the whole point.

2. Create Several “Mini Personas”.

From your team’s notes, the data and interviews, certain themes should start to emerge. Look at those themes and then group like-characteristics into persona “building blocks”. These components could include demographic information, geography, interests, goals and motivations, frustrations, habits, preferences, media usage and more. Based on your research, group components together to form a total picture of a person — their age, occupation, goals, etc. Give each one a name and try to find an image that could represent this type of person. Create as many of these “mini personas” as you can and make them as fleshed out as you can, even if they share overlapping characteristics. The goal in this step is expand your thinking, so it is important that you slice and dice the data you have in as many ways as you can imagine so that you’re examining your audience from multiple viewpoints.

3. Narrow Based on Marketing and Sales Goals.

Of course, not every “mini persona” you create is of equal value; some are a better representation of an easily-converted audience than others. If you haven’t already, take a pause to really nail the articulation of your marketing and sales goals for your initiative or campaign. Whatever the goals, be sure they are concrete and measurable. With these in hand, it’s time to revisit the personas created in step two. Evaluate which ones represent the most holistic picture of an audience type, and which ones would take the least effort to convert to a sale or purchase.

Pay attention to the ones that have a good amount of that emotional information — including goals, needs, wants, fears and frustrations. Keeping your audience’s mindstate front and center will help you better craft engaging, resonant creative.

Keep narrowing based on your marketing goals until you are left with a set of 2–3. This is a manageable number that can be used to create alignment both internally with your team and externally with partners or vendors.

4. Measure and Tweak.

Personas will never truly be “done.” As you measure your key performance indicators for your efforts, be sure to pay attention to the audience details of the people who continually move through your marketing funnel. Use any new information to tweak your existing personas or even add to your persona set.

Bottom line — personas help you empathize with the real human beings who are your customers. Only by understanding your audience on a personal level can you create resonant messaging capable of spurring action. Although creating personas can seem daunting, you can overcome that by taking it one step at a time, and keeping an eye toward iterating and improving your persona set as you continue to learn about your best customers. By doing so, you and your entire team will be one step closer to connecting so deeply with your audience that they will find your messaging irresistible.

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