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Effective Ways to Build A Customer Persona

You might call it a “customer persona,” a “buyer persona” or even a “marketing persona.” Regardless of which name you prefer, there’s no doubt that these concepts are important to your business and your marketing strategy. Selling your products, services and brand as a whole are not things you can do unless you know the people to whom you are selling.

The problem is that many businesses don’t understand customer personas. They don’t know what a buyer persona is, why it matters so much, how it differs from a target market or how to go about building one. This article will address each of those topics in turn to help your brand start utilizing this key component of modern marketing.

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What Is a Customer Persona?

A customer persona is more than just a vague idea of the kind of person you are targeting with your product or service. Elements such as age, gender and other demographics are part of the equation, but buyer personas go deeper than that. Indeed, they envision an entire character, lifestyle and personality for the person you are trying to name — to the point where many companies give their buyer personas names.

How does your ideal customer live? How does his or her day look? What pain points does he or she face? How does he or she make decisions about what products to buy or which services to use? These questions are all answered in a customer persona profile, and they are all backed by research on the type of customer you are trying to reach. The buyer persona is essentially a dossier that exhaustively details who a person is and how they live. The “person” at the center of this dossier is a fictional composite of the people who occupy your target market, or at least a niche of it.

You aren’t targeting just one buyer persona. On the contrary, you can have many of them, and most businesses with strongly defined marketing strategies do. You might even have several customer personas that exist in a group or chain. For instance, if you are a B2B company, you might be trying to attract the eye of a departmental manager who would then need to get approval from a higher-ranking decision maker to initiate a purchase. In this case, each person in the chain would have a unique buyer persona.

Why Are Customer Personas Important?

Customer personas are important because every customer you are trying to reach — or, at least, every customer group or category — is going to approach your products or services differently. They have different needs, different pain points, different questions, different priorities and different things to consider. As a result, they all have slightly different ways of evaluating what you have to offer and deciding whether it’s something they want or need.

For your marketing tactics and your content strategy to be effective, you must tailor your approach to suit each customer you are trying to reach. You can’t tailor your strategies unless you know who those customers you’re trying to influence are. Building customer personas is a hugely effective way to “meet” your customers and learn to empathize with their needs so that you can adapt your content strategy to suit them.

Can a lack of customer personas hurt your content performance and the overall performance of your business? Absolutely! That’s not to say that ignoring the importance of the buyer persona is a brand-ruining decision. On the contrary, you probably see marketing campaigns all the time from businesses that haven’t done a shred of persona research. You can usually spot these campaigns from a mile away because they mostly focus on the company: what the company does, what the company has achieved, how long the company has been around. It’s not hard to understand why these snippets of information are popular things for brands to publicize. Companies that have been around for decades and have a long track record of satisfied clients or successful products are of interest to customers.

The mistake most companies make is believing that these little bits of trivia are the things that customers care about most. In reality, the average customer cares a lot more about answering a single question: What can this company do for me? The error companies make by not bothering with buyer persona research is that they end up building their content strategies around themselves rather than their customers. Businesses that trust the value of persona marketing, meanwhile, know how to pitch themselves and their products or services as the solutions that customers need.

Any customer, whether they are buying a $50 pair of shoes or a $50,000 technology asset for their business, want to buy from brands they trust. Most companies assume they can build trust by talking about those snippets mentioned above: their years in business, their glowing customer testimonials or their impressive client list. In reality, customers are most likely to trust the brands that seem to care about them and their needs deeply and genuinely. By showing you understand your customers — from the pain points they have to the questions they are asking — you can rapidly build up good will and trust. Best of all, you don’t need a 50-year track record to establish this foundation of trust. All you need is a stack of well-researched customer persona files.


What Is the Difference Between a Customer Persona and a Target Market?

One of the reasons that customer personas are so misunderstood in so many segments of the business world — and one of the reasons that they tend to go underused — is that they are often thought of as a synonym for “target market” or “target audience.” If a business has done some research into their target markets and demographics or generally knows what type of audience they are trying to cover, they might assume they already have customer personas.

In truth, a buyer persona and a target market are different things. A target market or target audience is a broad generalization of the people you are trying to reach. It is built, in large part, on demographic details: the average ages of the people you are trying to reach, their occupations or the companies they work for, their locations, their income level, etcetera. Using these details, you can do a lot for your marketing campaign. For instance, if you employ television or radio advertising, those platforms will have demographic details about their viewers. You can match these details to your target audience information to decide where to buy advertising and when.

Especially when it comes to online marketing content, it’s important to dig a little deeper than simple demographic information. You are preparing messages to target specific needs, impulses, decision-making logic and more. It is at this stage of more nuanced marketing that the customer persona becomes invaluable. With a persona, you don’t just know who your customers are in a general sense. You know specifics about what they value, what they want and what they need. You know what they are thinking and feeling. You know what they are worried about, what they are struggling with and what their hopes are. You know their goals, their plans and their expectations.

Most of all, you know how to harness these details and turn them into tailored marketing strategies, so that you can reach your customers with messaging that is highly likely to resonate with them.

Think of it this way: A target audience is a foundation to a successful marketing strategy; buyer personas are complete, fully-realized houses built on top of that foundation.


How to Find out Who Your Customers Are

Now that we know what customer personas are and why they are important, the next step is learning who your customers are. This point may seem basic, but it’s indeed less well-considered than you might think. It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs or innovators to start with an idea for a product or service and then set to work finding an audience for it. You might come up with an idea for a business to solve a problem you have, only to realize that you need to find other people with the same problem before you can declare your idea viable.

The best way to find out who your customers are is to start asking. Tell friends and family members about your idea and ask what they think. Consult with work associates. Gauge interest from the people you talk to, and see what questions they ask or feedback they share. If you find people who are extremely interested in your product, they might provide hints about your target audience or serve as a sketch for a buyer persona. Even the people who laugh at your idea or roll their eyes at it are giving you valuable insight, because they’re illustrating who your customers are not.

You can also learn a lot just from Googling around online. Find out if other businesses are already offering a similar product or service. Not only is this step smart for judging the viability of your potential business venture, but it can also give you significant clues about your customer base. If there is a similar but not identical product out there already, or if there is a business providing the service you want to offer but doing so in a different geographical area, you can “borrow” much of their market research by figuring out who their customers are.


How to Build a Customer Persona

Just from talking to people who show genuine interest in your product or service, you can start building customer personas. Rather than try to think through the details of 10-15 personas immediately, start with one. Pick a target customer who has said they would buy your product and start asking them questions or figuring out essential details about them. Details might include:

  • Demographic info: Age, gender, location, income, education, marital status, whether they have children, etc.
  • Professional details: Industry, company, company size, job title, responsibilities, skills, qualifications, daily schedule, success metrics, tools they use in their day-to-day work life (software, devices, etc.) and more.
  • Values: What do they value? How do they evaluate products or services? What do they care about in a brand? How do they make decisions? What questions do they ask? How do these factors change depending on personal or professional settings?
  • Goals: What are they hoping to accomplish in their personal or professional life, and why? What are their top goals, versus the ones that are lower priorities? What steps are they taking to accomplish those goals? What challenges or pain points are they facing? How do they search for solutions to these challenges? What do they need to solve their challenges?
  • Communication: How can you reach this customer? How and when do they consume media? What are their hobbies or interests? How active are they on social media, and on which networks? Which keywords are they searching for when seeking solutions to their problems? What kind of resources or communications resonate with them when they are vetting a product or service?
  • Barriers: What would stop this person from purchasing the product or service you are offering? Is it price point? Approval from a decision-maker? Tough learning curve for a product? Challenges of product support and upkeep?

Asking questions such as these can tell you a lot about your customer and how they buy. You can ask these same basic questions to each type of customer you encounter, with the ultimate goal of assembling a portfolio of different customer personas to use. Just remember: None of your personas have to be set in stone. On the contrary, these documents should evolve as you learn more about the people you are trying to reach.

How to Use Personas to Inform Your Marketing Strategies

Now that you are armed with a customer persona or two, the next step is to tailor your content strategy to target the people your personas represent. There are many ways to get started here, from allocating your ad spend so that it targets people in each persona group to developing dynamic landing pages that you can speak to specific types of customers.

The biggest thing, though, is to create content geared toward each persona. What questions are they asking? What are they searching for in Google? What are their primary concerns about your product or service? What does their organization look like, and how would your product fit into that equation? Targeting your content to hit these points and others brought to the forefront by your persona research will help you target, attract, convert, sell and profit in new ways.


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Andrew Dutcher
Andrew Dutcher
Andrew Dutcher leads the SEO team at Belo + Company. He specializes in enterprise SEO with a focus in technical SEO and content strategy.