We talk a lot in marketing about knowing who your target audience is, but in many cases we don’t dig much deeper than age ranges, geographic locations, and interests. All of this is great, but it still produces a picture that often requires significant customization and adjustments after the fact. Trial and error, if you will.
What if you drilled down further and developed a customer persona, or an avatar of sorts. A sort of laser-targeted picture of the people you really want to sell to or work with? That’s not just an interesting idea – it’s quickly becoming a must.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is a Customer Persona?
Customer personas are fictional. We all know that, but they can be based on some of the data you’ve collected in your marketing research. They represent a creative way of taking your ideas about your target demographic and envisioning a more detailed representation of what those people really mean to you and your organization. This deeper level of understanding will help you to better target your marketing by developing more creative campaigns that are truly appealing to each segment of your market.
You should, for the purposes of this exercise, always create both a positive and a negative persona. The negative persona will help your marketing team clarify exactly what type of customer you don’t want to attract. This is just as important as the positive buyer persona, as it will ensure your marketing dollars end up in exactly the right place.
Sit Down and Create the Customer Persona
In an ideal world, you’ll have more than one buyer persona; even three or more. Create as many as you need to in order to properly represent the people in your target market. Inject a little imagination into the process. Your personas should have names, ages, jobs, behavioral patterns, background stories, and hobbies. They might even have some not-so-appealing personality attributes, fears, and challenges.
The first thing you need to do is take a look at your current customer base and divide them into groups. Evaluate your current marketing strategy and determine what your main targets have been in terms of demographics, age, ability, or even need for your product. Choose your three biggest performing groups; those will be the ones you develop personas for first.
Gathering Data for a Customer Persona
What information have you already gathered about the people in your chosen groups? Are they subscribed to your customer newsletter? Have they been answering survey questions on your website? Does your marketing team have information they’ve been gathering, either digitally or via telephone calls? This is the starter data you need.
If you don’t yet have much information, there are a variety of ways to get it. Start by adding a question to your newsletter sign-up form (or another embedded form on your site), and then tailor the question asked to be non-invasive, yet categorizing. For example, if you sell pet supplies, you might ask if they have dogs, cats, or both.
If you’re marketing to business owners, the type of relevant question will obviously change. Instead, you might query how many employees they have, how much they make each year, or how much they spend on certain services.
Once you have your categories, conduct surveys or interviews with the customers and referrals in each of them. Remember that people are much more likely to answer your questions if you are upfront about the fact that you aren’t trying to sell them anything (at least, not right now). Be polite, thank them for their past purchases, appreciate their interest, and just get straight to the point.
Some will say no, others will be gracious. C’est la vie in the marketing world. If you want to improve your chances, think about adding an incentive that’s good enough to inspire participation without netting you fake answers for free stuff. Small gift cards, discounts, and swag work well.
How many interviews do you need to do? Usually, just a handful for each category. Stop calling people if things become too predictable – for example, if they’re all giving the exact same answer to the same question. Getting the same info multiple times so often that you can predict a pattern is a sign you’re ready to move forward.
How to Dig Deeper and Get Creative
Now, it’s time to get creative. Sit down and ask yourself a series of questions about the person who would best represent each of these groups. Try these on for size:
- What is my buyer’s age and gender; what generation is he/she part of?
- Is my buyer single or married; with kids or without?
- Does my buyer have a happy home life?
- What type of education does my buyer have?
- What type of job does my buyer have?
- What is my buyer’s average income?
- Does my buyer like their job?
- Does he/she have any work-related challenges?
- Does my buyer have future career goals?
- Does my buyer own or rent their home?
- Does my buyer like and use technology?
- Does my buyer like communicating via email, social media, or some other method (e.g., telephone)?
- What daily challenges does my buyer face?
- What other roles does my buyer play in his/her life?
- Is my buyer an employee, a student, a caregiver, or a parent?
You may ask some of these questions in your interviews already. Or, you can fill in the gaps with other forms of research. People are generally pretty happy to participate in research, but you should always give the option to opt out of questions about gender, age, or race. Why? Because they can be misperceived as discriminatory, even if that’s the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
What to Do with Your Personas
What are you going to do with your brand new buyer personas? First, you’re going to pass them on to your marketing team so that they can create dedicated ad campaigns targeting your persona groups. The more you can tailor your ad to the persona in mind, the more they’ll identify with it and respond when they see it.
The other thing you’re going to do is use your personas to train your sales and customer service teams. The more they are familiar with the people they’re speaking to, the better they will understand their actual needs. They’ll also be better prepared to deal with their objections without sounding like they’re reading canned responses from a script.
Give each of your personas a name – literally, a first and last name. Consider them characters that represent your audience, not just a demographic. Embrace them as part of your team because there’s so much they can teach you.
Remember; your personas may evolve and change over the time just as your audience evolves and changes. This is okay! The more complete your persona relationship, the more useful it will become when it comes time to design your campaigns.
At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun, being creative, and getting results from just being the kind of business who really wants to know their target market. And when customers feel like you really know them, they’re more likely to be loyal, passing on great leads.