How to create customer personas: a step-by-step guide

How to create customer personas: a step-by-step guide

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Find out what personas are and how to develop them.

Emily Tatti

It’s much easier to connect with your audience when you have a specific reader in mind. However, while you might know exactly who that person should be, your social media manager could have a different idea. And your sales department could have a different idea again.

That's why it's so important to develop a well-researched (and mutually agreed upon) customer persona, to be applied across your entire brand.  

If the idea of personas is new to you, don’t worry – we’ll explain what they are and how they work before guiding you through creating one. And if you already use personas in your business but you’d like to revisit and refine them, this guide can help with that too. Let's get started. 

What is a customer persona?

A persona is a fictional representation of your brand’s typical customer. Content marketers generally take responsibility for creating them because personas have a such a strong influence on how content is written, but they are designed to help everyone in the organisation understand and target the same customer. Effective personas aren’t a vague outline of a person – they are described as if they are a real person, which means they’re given a name, a career, motivations, goals and problems. 

While most businesses prefer to concentrate on a single customer persona to avoid confusing their messaging, you might need to have more than one if your business targets several vastly different types of people. As a rule, you probably won’t want to develop more than three or four.




Why do customer personas matter?

Personas help brands understand their customer on a deeper level. After all, it’s much easier to provide a product or service that people will genuinely like when you have empathy for them.   

Personas are a particularly useful tool for marketers because they help us to create more relevant and personalised content. This leads to better relationships with existing customers and attracts leads that are more likely to convert.

While it might sound hard to pigeonhole all of your customers into a single fictional personality, it’s important to remember that the majority of them will share significant traits. Take youth broadcaster Triple J. Hypothetically, let’s say the station's audience persona is a 21-year-old university student called Sarah, who is a single, left-leaning music lover and hospitality worker. She attends a lot of music festivals, so safety is a concern for her. She also worries that she's being mistreated in her part-time job, and she struggles to connect with people through dating apps like Tinder. These pain points and motivations directly influence the content that Triple J broadcasts and publishes on the ABC website – safety at music festivals, young workers’ rights and dating are all common topics. 

Having a single persona like this doesn’t exclude other people – it just ensures that everyone at Triple J focuses on listeners most likely to engage with the station. 

It is important to ensure that your persona isn’t a stereotype, because stereotypes aren’t representative of real people. It should be built from very real data, not guesswork (more on this below).

What’s the difference between a customer persona and a customer segment?

Before we dive into how to create your persona, it’s worth touching on this, because the two methods of categorising customers can sound very similar. 

A persona offers very specific insights on a (fictional) individual customer and their problems and needs.

A segment, on the other hand, groups actual customers according to very top-level shared characteristics. For example, marketers might create segments based on customer demographics (like age or location), behaviours (whether they have made a specific purchase or downloaded a particular resource), and where they are in the customer lifecycle (are they only a lead or an existing customer?). These segments are used for distribution purposes (from media buying and planning all the way down to emails and mailouts). 

Unlike personas, you can have many segments, depending on what you’re hoping to achieve with each communication. And thanks to the rise of artificial intelligence, it’s possible for no one person to have exactly the same experience when segmentation is used.

 PERSONAS
SEGMENTS
 Individual
Groups 
 No more than 1-4 total
As many as you need
 Based on projected actions
Based on real behaviours
 Helps with emotional engagement 
Helps with distribution



How to create your own customer personas

Step one: Find out who your customers are


Now, before you even think about creating a customer persona, you'll want to figure out who your customers actually are – not who you assume they are. 

Your approach to this will depend on how established your company is. For example, if you work for a business that has been operating for several years, you'll be able to look at existing data to find customer patterns. If you're working for a new business, you'll have to rely on others' data to help define your customer, or you might conduct some research of your own.

The below resources are a great place to start. Refer to step two for questions you could be asking as you go – they’ll help you narrow down your ideas. 

Sources for existing businesses


1. Chat to your sales or customer service team


No one has a more direct line to your customers than your sales or customer service team. They get to know your customers on a personal level, so they can tell you all about their backgrounds, motivations and problems. They can also tell you what makes people most resistant to your products or services – that's incredibly valuable intel.

2. Look at your Google Analytics

Google Analytics will give you a breakdown of your website’s visitor demographics. Areas to pay attention to when researching your personas include:
  • Audience > Demographics > Overview – this will tell you their age and gender.
  • Audience > Geo > Location – this will tell you where they live.
  • Audience > Interests > Affinity Categories – this will tell you their lifestyle interests (this is based on patterns in their online search activity). For example, they might be "travel buffs" or "green living enthusiasts".
  • Audience > Technology > Browser & OS and Audience > Technology > Mobile > Overview – these two reports will tell you the browser and device they use to access your website. You can extrapolate a lot from this. For example, if an overwhelming majority of your visitors are viewing your website on Internet Explorer, then that means they’re probably less tech savvy than average.
  • Acquisition > Social > Overview – this tells you which social channels your readers use.
  • Acquisition > Search Console > Queries (note: your Analytics must be connected to Google Search Console for this report to appear) – this is where you’ll find the keywords people are using to find your website. Among this list of keywords, you’re likely to find hints about their interests and pain points. For example, if you're a travel brand and you're seeing lots of terms like "Los Angeles attractions for kids" and "cheapest way to travel Europe with a family", then a parent with young children is clearly one of your most popular customer types. 
    3. Conduct customer surveys

    Go straight to the source – conduct a market research survey to find out exactly who your customers are and what they think of your business (below we'll go into the kinds of questions you could include). Offer them an exciting incentive like a gift card to ensure you get a high number of responses.

    Sources for new businesses


    1. Go on social media


    One of the best ways to research a new industry is to jump on social media, where people feel free to share their many (many) unfiltered opinions. You’ll only need to look at the platforms that suit your brand – for example if you’re in the travel industry, you might like to look at Instagram and Twitter, whereas if you’re in the insurance industry, LinkedIn will give you better insights.

    Look up what people are saying (or complaining about) in relation to your competitors to identify common customer pain points. It’s also worth looking at who is commenting on your industry in general – just use a tool like Hashtagify.me to find out what hashtags they’re using to start discussions, and then visit their profiles to learn more about them. You’ll quickly identify shared traits.

    2. Read discussion forums

    Forums are another great place to find out about your prospective customers’ interests and pain points. Some common ones include QuoraReddit and Yahoo! Answers. Or try Answer The Public, which collates the most common questions people have about a topic you enter.

    3. Search for trend reports

    This will depend on your industry, but you should be able to find detailed customer research reports on Google, which will tell you about the demographics of customers within your industry. These reports usually break down other elements like behaviours, preferences and pain points, which you’ll be able to use in your personas. 


    Step two: Refine your data


    When conducting your research, try answering as many of the below questions as possible.

    Personal information
    • How old is this customer?
    • What is their gender?
    • Where do they live?
    • What is their marital status?
    • Do they have children?
    • What are their hobbies?

    Career history
    • What is their highest level of education?
    • What industry do they work in?
    • What is their profession?
    • What are their responsibilities?
    • How much do they earn? (hint: look at the average income for that profession)

    Habits
    • Where do they spend their time on social media?
    • What do they read? (websites/magazines/newspapers/books)?
    • How tech savvy are they?
    • What industry events do they attend?

    Purchasing behaviour
    • What are their goals?
    • What are their challenges?
    • What do they like about your company/your industry, and why do they feel this way?
    • What are their biggest issues with your company/your industry, and why do they feel this way?
    • What job are they hiring your brand to do for them?
    • What might deter them from making a purchase?

    This should help you zero in on a specific customer. If your brand can justify having more than one persona (for example an education provider targeting both students and corporate entities with its services would need two different personas) then that’s fine, but make sure you’re strict about discarding personalities that share too many things in common. It won’t serve you to have both Traveller Tim and Backpacker Susie as personas when there are only a handful of differences (like gender) between them.


    Step three: Create your persona


    Now all you need to do is weave your customer research into a ‘bio’ format like the example below. This will be your final persona. 

    It’s a great idea to put a face to your persona ­because this will help everyone in your organisation view them as a real person. Use a free stock photo website like Unsplash or Pixabay to source an image. 

    Here’s an example of a completed persona for a luxury travel agency:

    A middle aged blonde woman
     NAME:
    “Luxe Lover” Kelly.  
     AGE:  49.
     LOCATION:  City dweller (Sydney). 
     FAMILY:  Married, with teenage children at home. 
     EDUCATION:  Postgraduate degree. 
     INCOME: $180,000 per year.
     JOB ROLE:  Co-owner of business (dermatology) 
     HOBBIES/INTERESTS:  Tennis, dining out, fine wine, art, design, philanthropy. 
     READS:
    Gourmet Traveller, The Age, Vogue, Travel + Leisure.  
     TECHNOLOGY:  Mid-level user. Most of her travel research is done via Google searches. She is also influenced by recommendations from friends and family, and from what she reads on luxury travel websites and in magazines. She prefers to send booking queries via email.  
     SPHERE OF INFLUENCE:
    Her own social network. 
     BRAND RELATIONSHIPS:  Loyal to trusted brands. 
     PURCHASE HABITS:  Researcher (not an impulse buyer). 
     GOALS:  Kelly works very hard, and she wants to be able to unwind with her family on her holidays, while visiting an exclusive location that will say something positive about her as a person. She also wants to give her kids memorable cultural experiences, so they grow into well-rounded adults. 
     CHALLENGES:  With two teenage kids, it’s becoming more and more difficult for Kelly to find a trip that will please everybody. As the main planner and holiday decision maker in the household, it’s also a struggle to find time for planning and booking an itinerary. Plus, since she has such a senior role in her business and is constantly on the go, she finds it hard to leave work behind once she’s on a trip. 
     DETERRENTS:  She is time poor – she will abandon a booking if there are too many steps in the process. She also finds too much choice overwhelming – she craves curation. She is turned off by unclear pricing and hidden charges. And it irritates her to see an area or experience described as exclusive when she has seen it widely covered in other places. 

    You’ll want to get feedback from others in your organisation before finalising your persona – once they see it as a complete document, they’ll likely have new insights to contribute.

    The most important things to nail down are your persona’s motivations and challenges, so that you can plan content that solves their issues. 


    Further reading

    7 companies that totally 'get' their buyer personas – HubSpot
    This article is fantastic for seeing how personas are used by well-known brands like Apple and Seventeen

    How to avoid four buyer persona mistakes – Content Marketing Institute
    Take a look at the big mistakes to avoid when developing and using customer personas.

    Personas: the art and science of understanding the person behind the visit – Moz
    While this article from Moz focuses on personas from more of an SEO perspective, it dives deeper into when and how personas should be used during the user journey (using Smurfs as examples!). 


    Emily Tatti, assistant editor



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