I 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 social media challenges 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 Ardath Albee:

marketing persona is a composite sketch of a key segment of your audience. For content marketing purposes, you need personas to help you deliver content that will be most relevant and useful to your audience.


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 Snapchat and Instagram.

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 5 Most Meaningful Google Analytics Reports for Social Media Marketers and The Science of Emotion in Marketing: How Our Brains Decide What to Share and Whom to Trust.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated in April 2016 for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Thanks for reading along with us! – Brian

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Written by Kevan Lee

Director of marketing at Buffer, the social media publishing tool for brands, agencies, and marketers. We’ve got a new podcast! 🍟

  • Joventu

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

  • 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!

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

  • 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!

  • 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.

    • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

    • 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!

  • Found a nice online shopping oriented article on personas (via @mbergelson on twitter) written by the fine folks at shopify: http://www.shopify.com/blog/15275657-how-to-build-buyer-personas-for-better-marketing

  • kelly

    kevan your posts is really amazing . thanks for sharing such an woneful post. keep on sharing such an useful posts.

    http://www.innovatemr.com/

  • Great article, Kevan. It’s been really helpful to read about marketing personas as it’s not something I had come across before; it really bulks out the concept of a target demographic. And putting a face and a name to your persona means you truly feel connected. Thank you!

  • Sadia Siddiqui

    awesome post. it this the best solution and starting point for any business. i will surely apply it to http://didigamesgirl.com

  • Michael Bettersworth
  • Bonnie David

    Hi Kevan. I find this post thorough. But what if you don’t have an existing client/customer base and you are starting from scratch? How do you go about creating personas? Is Survey Monkey an optimal choice? I am Hubspot Inbound Marketing Certified and currently going through the branding phase of my site. Thanks

  • Hi Kevan, Great post! It’s so true that building customer personas helps in solving the customers’ problems. I found it very insightful and I have refrenced the guide in my latest blog post on building your first mobile app. http://bit.ly/1E0xHJ4 Check it and let me know what you think!
    Cheers 🙂

  • cielo24sb

    Great article, really helpful. Im applying much of this at http://cielo24.com/

    Nicole

  • Terri Winder

    Hi Kevan, I notice that your questions are exactly the same questions as Marketing Interactions blog in 2013. Link to their post below. It may pay to reference them within your post. http://marketinginteractions.typepad.com/marketing_interactions/2013/02/personas-in-the-closet.html

  • Mie

    Hi Kevan,
    I’m in the current situation where I’m doing a project on “persona” and I found your blog very helpfull but I find it quiet har to figure out where you have all this information from? I hope to hear from you because I need some kind of verification for this information before I’m allowed to use it as source for my project.
    Kind Regards.

  • Finley Gipson

    Crazy Bulk Australia 100% Safe and Legal Steroidss

  • m

    All personas in the upper field: female.
    The one male persona is merely a tool. That is how women, society and above all feminism sees men: as disposable tools.

    Wow, how the cancer of feminism has spread!

    Otherwise good article. Thanks for that!

  • Stephen Caster

    Super Good post Kevan Lee….One needs to do your home work before you reach out and that what makes you stand out….KYC (Know your customer) Know your Audience, Because !… Let’s face the fact that we have less than 20 – 30 seconds to catch a decision-makers attention when they open your email, so let’s remember, all you’re looking for at this point is the initial bite. Nobody wants to sign up for a lengthy webinar or presentation that screams “I’m Selling!” Instead, focus on providing something of value to the prospect, it clearly demonstrate the research you’ve done to show you understand their company’s business….The only way they’re going to pay attention is, if they see an immediate benefit that relates to them.”describing the experience of similar companies, comparable challenges, and the results of your partnership that can help them achieve….. So very true… The need of the hour is to take the time to develop persona which will only demonstrate your understanding of a prospect’s business, rather than focusing on selling your product one should focus on selling benefits and one can only do that when you done your Marketing Persona….. Kudos to you …

  • Hey Kevan, it’s a great roundup around why “personas” could be a good framework. But what’s behind personas is really a need from the company to put words on the problems customers have. Personas are a tool to rally a team behind a common vision of a typical user, for sure, but it’s a a phantom target. People don’t go over Facebook because of they are 18-25 white males with 30K income, they login because they want to “stay connected with friends, family, whatever. Thinking of the problem, not the people, feels much more connected to the real world to me 🙂

    Why Personas fail: http://alanklement.blogspot.fr/2013/03/focus-on-relationships-skip-personas.html
    Introducing Jobs to be done and solving real world problems with Paul Adams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xsfj8Q7uSqI
    Here’s a sample of articles on the Jobs to be done framework: https://blog.intercom.io/when-personas-fail-you/ and https://blog.intercom.io/an-interview-with-ryan-singer/

    Cheers Kevan 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing this. I think it is extremely important to know who your customers are and what they are looking for. Not only for marketing reasons, but also from a customer service point of view. I hope many people will adapt your strategy and also find their customer voice, so the way they talk to their customers.

    Great post!

  • Can I chip in on the section about analyzing your users’ behavior? Link capsules (http://capsulink.com) make this SO easy. You get a handle on every aspect of your traffic – location, behavior, etc. All you have to do is capsulate the link once and then you’re set. I can’t recommend them enough!

  • Great stuff, Kevan! Love the way you spell your name with an a, by the way.

    I’m a freelance content marketer and I use personas with all my clients. This is definitely a guide I’ll be referring back to in the future. Thanks for writing it up, man!

  • Kevan this is a great post on how to develop personas.

    One thing I’ve found is that clients don’t actually know what to do with their personas once they’ve got them – so I wrote an article here explaining how personas help you improve existing content and know what new content you should be creating. http://nobullmarketing.com.au/using-personas-for-marketing-results/

    Here’s hoping it might help some readers!