According to HubSpot, using customer personas can make your website up to five times more effective and your emails up to 18 times more profitable. It’s also a way to provide a top customer experience. So, what are you waiting for?
Let’s be upfront; companies that don’t use buyer personas waste the majority of their time, efforts, and marketing budgets. We’re not in the business of wasting resources—quite the contrary, actually. So if you’re not certain what a customer persona is and how to use it to reach your target audience, you’re about to discover the secret sauce that fuels every big brand on Earth.
What is a customer persona?
You can call it a customer persona or a buyer persona—they’re two words for the same concept. In short, the persona is a representation of your ideal customer (if you’re B2C) or client (B2B). Buyer personas include:
- Demographic information about your target customers
- Their behaviors, motivations, needs, pain points, and challenges
Typically, all that information is gathered in one place in the form of an infographic, presentation, or spreadsheet. You can think of it as a representative sample or an archetype of your existing or desired customers.
Here’s what a customer persona might look like:
The vital question to ask at this point is, how are you getting to know this “person?” Obviously, some market research (primarily based on your current customer base) is necessary. Further along in this article, I’ll show you how to get all the data you need. What’s crucial, though, is that customer personas cannot be based on “hunches.”
Wellll, they can, but you won’t get very far this way. Personas based on guesswork tend to end up as two-dimensional stereotypes, which don’t actually represent real people. For your personas to be helpful, they have to be based on real, solid data that reflects your real, actual customers—data that should be collected from actual customer behavior and insights.
Your goal is to understand your customers better.
You want to know what their motivations are, what they value in your and other brands, what kind of communication they prefer, what everyday problems they want to solve, etc.
To obtain this kind of insight, you must try to walk in your customers’ shoes. And since we don’t always share our customers’ taste in shoes, we need to try different tactic for gathering information about their attributes, motivations, and pain points.
One place to start is a tactic called empathy mapping. Empathy maps are common in every UX department, and rightly so. They are simple frameworks split into four quadrants that are all about what your customers:
With an empathy map, you can easily focus on real customer needs and feelings because you’re aiming to think the way they usually do. The key is to see things from your customers’ perspectives, and not from the perspectives you might have on certain customers.
Types of customer personas
We can distinguish four main types of user personas. All four types are useful when it comes to reaching potential customers with well-crafted messaging.
By far the most important type. The primary persona is the one that you want to reach and refer to most of the time. In practice, it represents your ideal (read: highest-paying) customers.
This type is slightly less important concerning your marketing efforts, but you still can reach them effectively without harming the customer experience for people/companies represented by the primary persona.
These people are usually NOT your customers (you don't have them in your CRM tool, and your sales team doesn't reach out to them), but they are still involved in the process. Let's use an example. Suppose you want to sell subscriptions for a new tool for marketing teams. Your primary persona (ideal buyer) is a marketing manager or a CMO at a large company or agency. In this example, a tertiary persona can be a C-suite executive or a financial department with the final say on ordering a subscription for your platform.
Negative (exclusionary) persona
Here, you focus on people you don’t want as customers. These can be people with unrealistic expectations, people who frequently send ordered products back, or simply individuals/companies who aren’t a good fit for your products. One of the biggest mistakes brands make is to try to appeal to “everyone”—don’t do this. Negative personas help you avoid wasted time and resources on people who will never be valuable to your business.
Why should you use customer personas?
Simply put, because they help you reach the right customers, tailor the customer journey to the needs of your audience, and provide a top-notch customer experience. Let’s dig a bit deeper.
Reason 1: To attract the right audience
If you want to attract people interested in your products or services (and you do!), you have to know how to communicate with them, what reasoning and benefits to use, and what to avoid in the sales process. With customer personas, you can craft the right message for the right target market—a perfect recipe for effective marketing and excellent CX.
Moreover, this way, you can meet your potential customers' specific needs, behaviors, and concerns so that they feel understood and cared for.
Reason 2: To provide exceptional CX
Digital marketing is not only based on reaching new customers but also on retaining the current ones. Thanks to marketing personas, you can provide your audience with just the right UX, whether it’s concerning product development (with well-designed personas, you can develop better products and services that tick all your customers’ boxes), content marketing (blog posts and other content types can be extremely helpful concerning answering peoples’ questions and supporting them in the decision-making process), and customer support (your team must know how to communicate with your customers to anticipate and address their pain points).
In other words, customer personas help you not just acquire more customers but also keep them happy. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?
Reason 3: To save time and money
Targeting the wrong audience with your marketing messages is ineffective and, above all, costly. Every wrong person reached equals cash down the drain. You want to concentrate all of your sales and marketing efforts on people who are the most likely to become your customers. Producing thoughtfully-developed buyer personas helps you do just that.
How to create a customer persona: A step-by-step guide
So, now you know what a customer persona is and why you should create one for your company. Let's get down to business and put your persona-making skills to work.
Step 1: Assemble the team
Creating a buyer persona is a multi-faceted process that requires a whole team of experts from many departments, especially the customer-facing ones. Typically, you should gather at least one representative of the following teams:
- Customer service
- Customer success
Why is it so important? Each of these departments has a specific, unique view of customers and their needs and expectations. And you surely need all of them if you’re about to create a comprehensive persona that can be used in all your marketing and sales activities.
Step 2: Gather data
You need tangible information about all your customer segments, and that requires some effort. Typically, companies that want to know more about their customers concentrate on two major data sources:
- Qualitative feedback coming directly from customers (think customer interviews, focus groups, online surveys, the onboarding process, etc.)
- Quantitative research (data coming from web analytics, market segmentation, CRM tools, and other internal sources you utilize in your business)
For starters, you should find out as much as you can directly from your customers. You can use online surveys (e.g., NPS and CES) and questionnaires to determine who your customers are and what they need. These surveys should be as short and easy to complete as possible. Use your marketing and sales channels (newsletters, social media profiles, user accounts) to inform your customers about the survey. If possible, offer a small incentive as a thank-you for their time.
If your company has an onboarding process, use it to learn more about your new users. You can simply ask additional questions during the process, e.g., when having an online meeting with the new user or even over email.
Your website is a wealth of information about your customers. To use it for quantitative research, you’ll need a decent web analytics tool. Google Analytics is your best bet. Go to the “Audience” tab—it’s a smorgasbord of insights on your ideal customers! Concentrate on the following sections:
- Active users (discover how many users your website actually has)
- Demographics (age groups and genders)
- Conversions (this index tells you how many users do what you expect from them)
There’s also the “Acquisition” section that shows you all the channels your users use to get to your website. It’s also an invaluable source of data about what your target audience is interested in. Plus, it’s a ready-made list of places you can target with ads, guest posts, and other marketing messages.
Another useful tool you can use to find out more about your users is Hotjar. With it, you can:
- Ask for and analyze customer feedback on your website
- Conduct various customer surveys
- Map customer journeys based on the actions and behaviors of your customers (For example, Hotjar uses user behavior heatmaps to provide you with actionable insights).
Step 3: Analyze the gathered information
The next step is to analyze all the information you could collect about your customers. Divide it into specific categories you will include in your future persona. Usually, these categories include:
- Background information (demographics and personality traits)
- Problems and challenges
- Motivations and aspirations
Of course, the entire team should participate in analyzing all of this information. Most likely, you’ll have to conduct at least several meetings and workshops during which you can work together on analyzing and polishing every single element of the persona.
Step 4: Put it all together
Once you have these elements listed, it’s time to put all of them together in one place. More often than not, companies use infographics that look like extensive biographical sketches. A user persona usually has a name, a place to live, a job, the type of company, hobbies, and sometimes even family members and pets (if relevant).
You can even use real quotes from surveys and conversations to make your persona more authentic.
Step 5: Craft customer-centric communication
Whether you work in B2B or B2C, you always talk to real people. Use all the information, ideas, and feedback from both customers themselves and your team to craft appropriate communication that will speak to your customers:
- Use their language (avoid business-y jargon, people don’t talk like that!) and always refer to what matters to them.
- Concentrate on the real benefits you offer and the problems you solve. This refers to all your marketing materials, starting with the website and ending with social media, product pages, and printed materials (if you still use them).
Moreover, you should endeavor to create content that speaks to your audience. This applies to all your web content, including the offer, product descriptions, and blog posts. Don’t tell people why your product is the best; tell them how it will help them in their life or work. This is also the way to give your CX a boost.
When people feel like they are your brand’s priority (as opposed to maximizing profits), they are more eager to engage in communication with you. And that’s the promising beginning of a long-term relationship!
Step 6: Never stop working on your persona
Of course, at some point, you have to decide that your persona is ready to go so the real work can begin. However, it's more than a one-time project. The market evolves, and your customers evolve with it. You should revise your personas at least once a year to ensure they are still relevant. You might be surprised by how often minor, and even major, adjustments are necessary. But by keeping your personas up-to-date, you’ll ensure that your messaging and service strategies stay relevant to potential customers.
Examples of customer personas
Some people think that personas are just for B2C companies. This is simply not true! There is always a real person on the other side of the table (or rather, the screen). But the truth is, there are some differences between personas for B2C and B2B. Let’s examine them closely by using two fictional examples.
Example 1: A B2C persona for a car rental
Background information (demographics and personality traits)
Name: Mark Explorer
Location: Seattle, Washington
Occupation: Senior Manager at an advertising agency
Motivations and aspirations
Mark loves to travel; he wants to visit every country in the world to gather great memories, take breathtaking pictures, and share his experiences with friends and loved ones.
Problems and challenges
Mark struggles with finding the best deals for his trips. Plus, he’s looking for services that will streamline his arrival and help him explore his destination. Although he’s making decent money, he doesn't like spending too much on his trips.
Before leaving his hometown, there is always a lot of planning involved. He has to know where to go, how to get there, and how to get around the city and the region. If possible, Mark always rents an economical and comfy car (AC is a must!).
With that done, the next step is to think about what to offer that might resonate with Mark and people like him. Things to consider might include a fleet with ample trunk space for luggage, free tourist guides for every customer, partnerships with hotels, blog posts about local attractions—seeing things from your customers’ perspective can illuminate infinite possibilities!
Example 2: A B2B persona for a marketing automation tool
Name: Sally Marketer
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Occupation: Marketing Manager in a large corporation
Motivations and aspirations
Sally has a lot of work to do every day. She wants to spend less time managing her company’s marketing activities.
Problems and challenges
Although Sally has an assistant, she feels like she’s still working too much. Repetitive actions (e.g., posting on the company’s social media accounts) take too much time. Because of that, she can’t concentrate on more important strategic goals.
Sally has an everyday to-do list that’s full of activities that could be streamlined or even automated altogether. She has to deal with them first before she has time to focus on more meaningful work.
Again, this is a perfect starting point to craft a message that responds to Sally’s needs and problems. You can highlight time-saving features in your website content, offer premium-tier services that take even more off Sally’s plate, and offer video tutorials that explain how to set up the most helpful features of your product.
Create your own customer persona
Congratulations, you’ve officially graduated from customer persona university! You can use this knowledge to create a template that comprises all the aforementioned elements. As a result, if you ever need to create new personas, you can base them on this simple formula.
A customer persona template should consist of:
- All the relevant sections (discussed above)
- Requirements taking your company’s specificity into account
- Guidelines on how to make a new persona
Or, just copy and paste this and fill it out:
Customer Persona Template
Name: [Name your persona]
Age: [How old are they?]
Location: [Where do they live?]
Occupation: [Are they a student? A professional? What’s their level of seniority?]
Motivations and aspirations
[What do they spend their day doing? What drives them to action?]
Problems and challenges
[What are their pain points in their personal life and/or work? Remember to consider both, whether for a B2C or B2B customer.]
[What are their habits? What does their day look like now, and how could it be improved?]
Use personas to improve your CX strategy
Creating a customer persona is an ideal starting point for your entire CX strategy. The more your get to know your customers, the better-equipped you’ll be to deliver a world-class experience.
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