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Creating Customer Personas for Data-Driven Marketing

Customer “personas” have been a key element of marketing research efforts for some time. But the importance of the persona has taken on even more relevance over the past few years. In part powered by the pandemic, customer-centric, data-driven marketing and business strategies have taken off in response to the acceleration of consumer digital behavior.  

The use of customer personas is a foundational step for businesses to be able to map out their strategies with actual customer segments represented. Personas help a business understand their customers’ behaviors and attitudes, as well as establish demographic segments at which to target sales. Regardless of where your organization is in your digital transformation journey, the mapping of marketing strategies and tactics to customer personas is key to success in a data-driven, customer-centric world.  

What is a Customer Persona?

A customer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer segments based on market research data and customer insights. While the representation is fictional in name and appearance, the attributes of the segment are from actual data. According to Ardath Albee, author and B2B marketing strategist, “A marketing persona is a composite sketch of a key segment of your audience.”  

A corporate marketing persona typically consists of a semi-fictional profile with name, picture, education, family, job history, and personal interests. Depending on your product and market, you could have as few as two personas, or as many as ten or twenty. Personas allow your marketing, user experience (UX), and content teams to focus product development and align internal resources to your target customer’s wants and behaviors. Many companies also develop negative personas, which represent people you do not want as a customer, because they are too expensive to acquire or tend to churn.  

How Are They Used?

Personas give a marketer something tangible to model against when communicating with customers through content and messaging. They enable you to tailor and personalize customer segments more effectively, for higher performing and more efficient campaigns. Using data and insight-driven personas allows marketers to attract higher value customers that are more likely to convert and be retained as long-term customers. “Marketing personas are like the foundation for building your marketing house,” says Aaron Beashel, B2B SaaS marketing consultant.  

Customer personas are not just of benefit to marketing departments. Both product-development and user-experience teams can benefit from them because they help to create more accurate requirements based on more in-depth customer representation. In addition, since the requirements are clearly defined, personas can assist in creating shorter design cycles with fewer revisions and additions to the requirement set. Finally, personas can be a benefit to content marketers, who can use them to better target customers during their customer-lifecycle stages.  

How to Create a Customer Persona

Customer personas begin with market research and customer research through surveys, interviews, contact databases, call-center logs, forms, and sales. There are many different methods and tools available for accomplishing this, but they all follow some basic steps. Start with looking at existing data in your databases to glean some insights about your current customers’ behavior. Using web forms is an easy way to normalize the information you require to ensure certain demographics are included. Of course, your sales team would be an invaluable resource to provide color to clients’ personalities and needs. Customer surveys, whether done through web forms or more formal interviews, are another good source for insights.

What follows are four core steps to creating a buyer persona  from Aaron Beashel that can be used as a general guide to get started. First, do quantitative analysis; second, do qualitative analysis; third, draft the persona; and, finally, socialize the persona around your organization.

Beashel recommends that you start the quantitative-analysis phase by creating a customer list with demographic information, such as company name, industry, revenue, country, and city. He recommends that you also collect engagement information, such as how many times a customer logs into a website or uses the product. This will help create your target segments.  

After you have defined your customer segments, Aaron recommends you begin the qualitative analysis phase by doing customer interviews, which can be done via phone or in-person and should be followed up with a written summary of the interviews in a spreadsheet.  

Once you think you have done enough research, it’s time to draft your personas. Customer personas will include information such as personal details, use cases, buying triggers, and choice factors. Following is a list of some templates and tools for persona creation.  

At this point, before you move to action, you want to make sure you socialize the results and run them by any and all people in an organization who will be affected by them. Getting feedback from relevant stakeholders will help you refine the personas to fill in any gaps you may have missed, but also get others in the company familiar with the process.  

Customer Persona-creation Tools

There are many well established tools for creating customer personas from scratch, as well as templates you can use to model the rest of your personas. Here are some links to tools and templates to get you started.  

HubSpot Make My Persona Tool (FREE): This tool gives you a step-by-step process to enter in attributes and create your own personas and then download or export them.  

HubSpot Buyer Persona Templates and eBook (FREE): These base templates and directional eBook are a great place to start for a variety of sample personas for multiple use cases.

Xtensio User Persona Template (FREE): This tool allows you to enter in attributes and generate an editable persona profile. Sign up is required in order to save and access premium features.  

Hootsuite Buyer/Audience Persona Template (Sign Up Required): An Excel buyer persona template that allows you to plug in core attributes.  

Inflow’s Persona Topic Matrix (Sign Up Required): This persona tool is focused on identifying content opportunities for personas at each stage of the buying cycle.  

Userforge Persona Creator (FREE with Email): A simple persona creation tool to set up a basic persona with common attributes.

Looking Forward

While pre-pandemic customers were already moving towards more digital interactions with brands, the pandemic has served to push that trend forward by years, as digital became the primary method for consumers to interface with companies. Today, the importance for a brand to manage the full customer lifecycle with data-driven insights is key to succeeding with customer-centric strategies.  

Whether your company is just beginning it digital transformation, or if it is well along on the path to maturity, customer personas are foundational to establishing consistent and replicable criteria about your customers that provide the data-driven basis for your customer-facing business strategy.  

The reality is that today’s customers are savvier than ever and expect brands to deliver relevant and valuable experiences at all phases of their journey. It is incumbent on marketers to provide that relevance to ensure higher performing and more efficient marketing campaigns.

Brian Carlson is a digital experience expert focused on the intersection of content, technology, and marketing and how they affect the overall customer experience. He is the founder of RoC Consulting.