Marketing Personas: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

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bucketsI am writing this post to Dan, Mary, Steven, and Rachel—one of whom is likely you.

You see, Dan, Mary, Steven, and Rachel are personas, created with a combination of raw data and educated guesses, representing slices of this blog’s readership. Dan could be you, and Mary could be your coworker. What these sketches provide is a touchstone for creating content: When I can put a name and a background to the people reading what I write, I can hopefully meet their needs even better.

The same holds for marketing and sales. Building personas for your core audience can help improve the way you solve problems for your customers. The process of creating personas is well worth the time. Here is a blueprint and beginner’s guide to getting started.

The basic marketing persona template

I love this description of a marketing persona from the team at Krux:

With personas, businesses can be more strategic in catering to each audience, internalize the customer that they are trying to attract, and relate to them as human beings.


So how many of these “human beings” do you need to create? It is recommended that you make three to five personas to represent your audience; this number is big enough to cover the majority of your customers yet small enough to still carry the value of specificity. Hubspot has tons of examples of companies who have created marketing personas, and there are templates galore for making personas of your own. 

Many of these templates include the same basic information. You want to know who the person is, what they value, and how best to speak to them. Here is a quick overview on what you should include in your marketing persona template:

Sample marketing persona

Name of the persona

Job title

  • Key information about their company (size, type, etc.)
  • Details about their role

Demographics

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Salary / household income
  • Location: urban / suburban / rural
  • Education
  • Family

Goals and challenges

  • Primary goal
  • Secondary goal
  • How you help achieve these goals
  • Primary challenge
  • Secondary challenge
  • How you help solve these problems

Values / fears

  • Primary values
  • Common objections during sales process

Marketing message

Elevator pitch

Don’t worry if some of these aren’t quite clear yet; we’ll go over an example in just a second.

Additional persona information specific to your customers

Beyond the basics, you will find that your specific business might need specific information. Personas can vary from business to business and industry to industry. An Internet news company would require different customer information than a medical supply company, and a persona built for a buying funnel might look different than one built for a blog.

With that in mind, here are some miscellaneous bits of information that you might consider adding to your personas.

  • Hobbies
  • Real quotes from interviews with customers
  • Computer literacy
  • Where they get their news
  • Blogs they read

How to create a marketing persona

So where do you get all the information you need to make a persona take shape? There are many sources of information on your audience, from the tiny details logged away in your site statistics to actual conversations with real-life customers. Cast a wide net when coming up with information related to your personas.

Here are three places to look:

Check your site analytics.

Inside your analytics, you can see where your visitors came from, what keywords they used to find you, and how long they spent once they arrived. This data is key for personas as it can reveal the desires that led your audience to your site as well as the tools they used to get there.

Involve your team in creating profiles. 

Get the team together—not just marketing, but customer service, growth, development, and more. Anyone with interactions with customers and customer data should be involved in sharing their perspective on what makes your customers tick.

Social media research
You can also do some research with social media. Use social media listening to find your potential customers asking questions or airing problems your product can solve on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, or even try Pinterest for retail-oriented insights.

Ask your audience questions.
Who knows your customers better than they know themselves? Surveys and interviews are often a critical component to building a useful marketing persona. In particular, interviews can reveal deep insight into your customers since you can really dig into their answers and follow up with the goals, values, and pain points that will resonate the most with them. For personas to become useful tools, it’s best if they’re based on interviews gathered from salespeople, customer service interactions, and the buyers (customers) themselves.

Step-by-step guide to filling out a marketing persona template

Now that you know where you’re headed with a marketing persona, the next step is to actually build out the profile. Here’s how we might fill out the template above at Buffer to help find and connect with our core customers.

Persona

Marketing persona example page two

Let’s take a look at each field and talk about how we filled it out.

Give the persona a name.

The name can be whatever you choose. Make it a real name so the persona feels like a real person.

A persona should have enough psychological detail to allow you to conveniently step over to the persona’s view and see your products and services from her perspective. A persona can function almost like another person in the room when making a decision—It is “Sally.” She looks at what you’re doing from her particular and very specific vantage point, and points out flaws and benefits for her.

Identify the persona’s job, role, and company.

Your greatest resource for coming up with jobs for your personas is likely to be customer surveys. When you are building the surveys, you can include a field for job title, company size, and type of business. For instance, a recent survey of Buffer users showed that a large percentage are small-business owners—founders, owner/operators, or one-man teams. These can all fit nicely into a single persona.

Discover demographic information.

For demographic information, you can glean some insight from Google Analytics, plus your best educated guesses and survey info. Drilling down into the Google Analytics stats can show you where your visitors live as well as age, gender, affinity, and technology. Navigate to the Audience section of your Google Analytics to see all this and more:

Google analytics demographics

Here is a sample of what you might see from Google Analytics for the interests of your site’s visitors. (If you cannot see certain demographic information, you may need to enable the feature or contact your Analytics administrator.)

GA insights - interests

For the elements you cannot find in your analytics, you can supplement with survey results. Many tools like Survey Monkey offer suggestions for how to word certain demographic questions to ensure you get the most accurate responses and avoid any confusion.

Age demographic info

By this point, you may be wondering, “Is all this information really essential?” It might seem like fluff, but details like this do serve an important purpose. This is how James Heaton, writing for Tronvig Group, puts it:

These details have two functions:

First, they help force the creators to get into character. Specificity is a good way to push the process deep enough to facilitate genuine understanding of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of your customers. We are not all naturally good at this, and it’s important for a persona’s effectiveness.

Second, it can help you find previously undetected tactical opportunities for your product, service, or institution. These can make what you do more useful and relevant in your customer’s lives. Where does your product or service constructively intersect with what Sally does or what Sally cares about? Once uncovered, these are very valuable insights.

Expressed visually, diving deep into personas can be the catalyst that turns a crude sketch into a true portrait.

Goals and challenges, values and fears

Actual customer interviews will be helpful in determining the objectives here. During your interviews, ask questions similar to the following—a great list from Marketing Interactions—to get a good feeling for your customers’ goals and challenges.

  • What’s important to them and what’s driving the change?
  • What’s impeding or speeding their need to change?
  • How do they go about change?
  • What do they need to know to embrace change?
  • Who do they turn to for advice or information?
  • What’s the value they visualize once they make a decision?
  • Who do they have to sell change to in order to get it?
  • What could cause the need for this change to lose priority?

While coming up with these goals and challenges, you can also identify the ways in which you can help customers meet these goals and overcome the challenges.

Your intuition here will be helpful. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your customer and approach the solution with empathy. Consider what common objections arise for them during the sales process. What might keep this customer from closing the deal? Then brainstorm ways you can help.

Marketing message and elevator pitch

This part is all up to you! Put your knowledge and information to use and determine the best ways to meet the needs of each type of customer. At this step, “message” refers to how you might describe your product for this particular type of person.  Are you a complete social media service? An enterprise customer management tool? Then your elevator pitch can go into detail and set a consistent message on how to sell to this customer.

Examples of marketing personas

As mentioned above, marketing personas will vary from company to company, and each place will be unique. There will, of course, be similar themes that run throughout all personas. It’s when you get into detail that you start to see where the differences crop up. There are lots of neat examples online where companies have shared one of their own marketing personas. Here are a few shared by Hubspot and Buyer Persona.

Persona example

persona examplePersona example

 

Takeaways

 Marketing personas will help you identify with your audience and better solve their problems. And when you solve their problems, everyone wins. 

Be sure to include the whole team in coming up with these personas as everyone brings a different perspective and different information to the table. Then once you have your personas in place, act on them by using specific messaging with your content and by empathizing with customers as they go through your funnels.

The results will be a better experience for the customer and a more engaged user for your business.

What experience do you have with marketing personas? Are there elements of your persona template that have been particularly helpful? I’d love to hear what’s worked for you in the past or what you’re excited to try for your next persona experiment.

P.S. If you liked this post, you might also like The Marketer’s Guide to Google Analytics and The Science of Emotion in Marketing: How Our Brains Decide What to Share and Whom to Trust.

Image credits: Kat Northern Lights ManBig D2112Toastwife, Moz, Hubspot, Buyer Persona.

  • Joventu

    NICE! Very informative article. Never thought about this. This sure will help in the long run!!! Excellent and thank you for sharing…

  • http://daverigotti.com/ drigotti

    Great post as usual and perfect timing as I’m working on this right now. When looking at the Interest section of Google Analytics, I see “To enable these Demographic Reports, please contact one of your Analytics administrators.” Is it a feature open to free users or do you need to have a premium account?

  • Lynn Conradt-Eberlin

    Excellent article! It’s going on my list of suggested reading links for new clients–not because I expect them to do the work but because it helps them understand the concept and join the discussion in creating targets for their benefit. Thanks for posting this one!

  • http://www.themobilejobsearch.com/ Matt Schmidt

    Nice article. Very comprehensive in identifying the demographics and psychometrics of a target audience. And of course get continual feedback.

  • http://clickjolt.com/ Daniel Marlin

    This is a great post. I was one of those people that had to be dragged kicking and screaming into creating personas. Ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve made. You really do not know how much easier it is to market to your customer until you have done this.

  • Reinhardt

    Hi Kevin. The universe must have had you and me in the same pot this week! I wrote a guide on this too: http://bit.ly/1jf0dt3

    My approach is a little bit different to yours. I think the most important thing to get right with persona creation is to find offsite data that either backs up the persona or help you mold it – this is where research on social platforms become key.

    Keep well
    Reinhardt

  • Barbara Weaver Smith

    Hi Kevan,
    Thanks for the step-by-step detail–greatly appreciated. This is good stuff!

  • http://mattr.co/ Jack Holt

    We obviously love the concept of personas at Mattr. Here’s a short piece on Memeburn on what agencies can do with them for campaigns: http://bit.ly/1juYcIf

  • Geoffrey Winn

    Great article Kevin. I am a big believer in personas for professionals, because there is such a specific client-professional relationship. This is a good guide because it is DIY, and I suspect that professionals should do their own work here.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Great to hear, Geoffrey! DIY is the way that I do a lot of my social media / content, so I appreciate you saying that!

  • James Rhodes

    Hey Kevan,

    Awesome post. The better you know your audience, the better you can serve them. Great content is all about understanding your readers. Understanding their likes and dislikes. Their wants and needs. And their fears and aspirations.

    Once you know all of these things, creating content that people actually want becomes a much simpler task. If you don’t know these things, you’re talking AT your audience instead of TO them.

    Thanks for the read!

  • http://www.plumbead.com LeAllyson Meyer

    What a fabulous post. I have not taken the time and gone to the detail I need to do this. Thanks for teaching us about this.

  • http://daverigotti.com/ drigotti

    Thanks so much for pulling all this together! I continued this and wrote a post on how I used LinkedIn data to develop a persona that I thought you might be interested in reading: http://www.bizible.com/blog/bid/383945/How-To-Use-LinkedIn-For-Persona-Research

  • Integritix Global Services

    Nicely crafted article !

  • Guest

    Thanks so much for the inclusion and link to our content calendar! Much appreciated.

    Great article here!

  • Filip

    Hey Kevan! I really enjoyed your article. I am a student, writing on the subject of using personas in marketing. I am trying to find research on the subject, scientific articles and such. Do you have any suggestions? I ‘m having trouble finding anything, mostly it is guides such as yours.

    Again, awesome post!

    Best Regards
    Filip Svärd

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi Filip! I wonder if Google Scholar might be of some help? That’s often where we turn up our sources for social media studies and whatnot. :)

      http://scholar.google.com/

      • Filip

        Yeah, I’m using Scholar a lot. Just wondered if you had anything in particular to recommend :). Thanks!