Creating Useful Personas for Targeted Marketing

Stephen DeAngelis

December 23, 2013

Leslie Ayers writes, “You wouldn’t be in business without a clear understanding of your target audience.” [“Why and How to Use Persona Marketing,” Intuit Small Business Blog, 6 November 2013] She continues, “Persona marketing can help you draw a finer bead on prospective customers and become a more successful marketer.” So what is persona marketing? Ayers explains:

“Persona marketing entails creating fictional yet fact-based profiles of your customers so you can market to them more effectively. The strategy makes particularly good sense for businesses whose products or services require careful or lengthy consideration before purchasing and whose target audience comprises a diverse array of customers.”

Ayers is spot on when she stresses the need for “profiles” rather than a single persona for some idealized persona. Jonathan MacDonald goes even further. He believes that each of us has several personas that emerge in different circumstances. As a result, he asserts that there exists a “Fallacy of Singular Personas.” [“Jonathan MacDonald: the fallacy of singular personas,” Imperica, 5 November 2013] He writes:

“Both the basic and advanced views are based on the assumption that a persona is singular, in other words, that the person is the same person, even if their activity happens in multiple locations. The methodology executed follows in a straight-forward way: To get a more complete user profile, one must aggregate multiple data sets and form a picture. You can look at this through different contexts (e.g., discovery mode, interaction mode, purchase mode, etc.), but the leading thought is that when it all comes together you get an overall idea of who a person is, what they want and how they operate.”

MacDonald doesn’t believe that rolling up multiple persona profiles into a generalized persona profile reflects the totality of a real person. He’s probably correct. The real question is does it matter? Persona marketing’s only objective is to narrow the target audience for specific messages so that manufacturers and retailers can knock on doors in the right neighborhood. Once the door has been opened, a real consumer helps personalize the shopping experience according to their lifestyle and preferences. However, Nora Weintraub reports, “Many companies have trouble segmenting their customer base and generating separate marketing materials for each buyer persona they want to pursue.” [“You Can’t Target Everyone: The Need for Buyer Personas,” FirstRain, 30 October 2013] Like Ayers, Weintraub recommends the use of personas. “Knowing your customers can help improve marketing, sales and even product development operations,” she writes. She adds, “You can more accurately define your ideal prospects and discover what really matters to them, helping you create more effective and engaging content.” Ayers continues:

“Developing personas is a lot like creating characters in a story. You want to know a lot about each one — age, gender, occupation, ethnicity, marital status, income bracket, personal background, likes, dislikes, online and offline habits, and more — to draw the most realistic picture possible.”

Jessica Ann doesn’t believe that demographic characteristics, like those mentioned by Ayers, go far enough. She believes that marketers need to gets inside the consumer’s “head with psychographics.” [“Create Human Buying Personas With Psychographics,” Vocus Blog, 30 July 2013] She writes:

“Demographics include things like gender, age, ethnicity, home ownership, employment status, and location. These simple, concrete facts are a great place to start as you build your buyer persona. Psychographics, however, go deeper and require deeper thinking. It’s a lot of work, but it can be highly rewarding and profitable.”

When gathering data, Jessica Ann writes, you’ll want to include data that provides:

  • Motivations and goals
  • Where they’re consuming their media
  • What type of research they use
  • Buying power

Ayers reports, “A common way to develop buyer personas is to create qualitative personas that are validated by quantitative research. Quantitative data includes clickstream and other metrics from your company’s website, including SEO data. If you run a bricks-and-mortar retail store, you can also integrate point-of-sale and traffic pattern analyses. Qualitative data is extremely important as well: To gather it, you can observe your customers’ behavior and conduct interviews to learn more about them.” She continues:

“Once you have the raw material that will go into creating your personas, you should describe each one in writing and include the following details:

  • demographics
  • personal and professional goals
  • what keeps them up at night
  • how they spend their time and money
  • what they do online (content they consume, social media channels they use, etc.)
  • three questions they must get answered before purchasing from you or a competitor
  • what you must do to earn their business
  • what you must do to earn their loyalty

… Once you have created your personas, be sure to share them with others in the company — particularly those outside marketing — to ensure that you haven’t overlooked any key details.”

Analysts at Yolo agree that personas need to be shared. They assert, “After you have conducted your research you can document your personas so you and other people in your organization can understand your audience better.” [“Understanding your audience: Creating online personas,” 28 October 2013] They assert that the following points should be included in a persona:

  • Persona name: The name of the fictional profile you have created.
  • Background: This may include either their personal or professional background or both. It can also include details about lifestyle, interests, hobbies and education.
  • Demographics: Relevant information such as age range, gender, household income, urbanicity (e.g., urban/suburban/rural)
  • Key characteristics: These are the key identifiers of this persona. For example, they could be mannerisms, specific words that characterize them or their actions or common traits.
  • Goals: What are they hoping to achieve in order of priority.
  • Challenges: What do they have trouble with in order of priority. What specific points are getting in the way of these prospects achieving their goals above.
  • How we help: What do you offer as an organization that can help this prospect overcome their challenges and achieve their goals.
  • Quotes: Include actual quotes of your prospect customers from the interviews you have conducted that represent the persona.
  • Common objections: Identify the most likely objection this persona will have within the sales process.
  • Marketing message: How to communicate your product service to that particular type of prospect customer.

They conclude, “Once you have defined your online personas you will have a greater understanding of your audience. You will then be able to develop a marketing message that is more likely to resonate with them and improve the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.” Tony Zambito asserts that trying to conduct targeted marketing without developing good consumer personas is like going on a blind date. “Blind dates can be frightening and a cause for much anxiety,” he writes. [“6 Steps to Make Persona-based Marketing Operational,” 10 October 2013] He recommends the following six elements for implementing a Persona-Based Marketing approach:

  • Conduct buyer insight research. Insights about buyers serve as the foundation for Persona-Based Marketing. Buyer Insight Research is bolstered by both qualitative and quantitative measures. B2B companies who enjoyed significant results did not skimp on the use of qualitative research involving on-site buyer interviews to attain the deepest insights. Using outside research expertise to get the depth needed.
  • Modeling of buyer personas. The building of buyer personas is an interpretation and synthesis of gathered insights. Buyer personas depict whom buyers are, their critical goals, elements of key insights, and mapping of how buying behavior leads to a purchase decision.
  • Zero-in on buyer goals. Understanding buyer goals is the linchpin to successful Persona-Based Marketing. Goals drive both conscious and non-conscious buying decisions. Subset to goals is the understanding of how triggers and pain points affect goals.
  • Create topics and offers aligned to goals. Identifying the right topics and offers to present to prospects can be a painstaking exercise for B2B marketing operations. Effective marketing operations are aligning their topics and offers to the specific goals of buyers. These goals are uncovered in insight research as well as modeling of buyer personas. This includes aligning to the content needs and preferences of buyers at different stages of their purchase decision process.
  • Operational and tactical efficiency. Informed with buyer goals and preferences, B2B marketing operations are enabled to align production, timing, sequencing, retrieval, and delivery mediums to content marketing efforts. This often can include aligning distinct content to different buying groups as well as segments.
  • Measurements and metrics are put into place. Measuring results has been found to correlate to successful Persona-Based Marketing. Metrics should include those directly related to eventual purchase decisions. These generally involve three primary areas:
      1. Metrics related to reach, consumption, and sharing
      2. Metrics related to engagement and lead optimization
      3. Metrics related to sales and revenue performance

Sustainable Persona-Based Marketing is not an overnight proposition. B2B organizations utilizing Persona-Based Marketing often take a long-term view. Closely monitoring as well as refreshing their knowledge of buyers.”

Jessica Ann recommends that companies lose their egos when using personas for targeted marketing. “Sure, you’re awesome,” she writes. “But stop tooting your own horn. Your customers don’t buy your hype.” You also need to take your egos out of the persona-building process. You create personas in your own image at your own risk. You need to find out what problems, challenges, or desires your consumers are trying to deal with. You might be surprised; but, that’s the beauty of good personas.