Marketing Personas - 4 Steps to Build Actionable User Personas
Nov 23, 2020
Originally published in
Get our newsletter
Join 10,000+ marketers getting monthly digital tips and trends.
When you're developing a content piece, website, or email, your audience sometimes morphs into faceless figures, instead of the real, everyday people you're trying to reach.
To engage real people, you need to tailor your messages and incentives to be relevant to their individual needs, address their concerns, demonstrate your value, and persuade them to convert (all at an appropriate time in their purchase cycle and without being too aggressive or annoying).
Luckily, developing marketing personas- mapping out fictional characters representing your core audience - helps you engage individuals with the right approach, timing, and messaging to move them down the conversion path.
How to Build Actionable Marketing Personas
Identify characteristics that offer insight about customers and factors driving their decision making. The goal is to group similar customer representations together, until you're left with a manageable number of personas, representing about 80% of your audience (3-5, depending on your organization's size).
When developing user personas, you must collect actionable information that tells you something about the person, so you can respond to their behavior with persuasive, impactful marketing.
Remember, you're trying to understand intangibles like motivations, concerns, turn-offs, and position in the buyer lifecycle, as well as tangibles like location, age, and education level, to paint a clear and divisive picture of the different types of people making up your core audience.
You must also plan how you'll identify these personas in your various channels (website, email, mobile push, etc.) to deliver the right content.
Don't stop at your current customer base. Look at the people you want to reach - what kinds of people make up your target audience? Who would be a match for your products or who would benefit from their use?
Get started by affinity mapping (a fancy way of saying an organized brainstorming session).
Give everyone in the brainstorming session some good ole fashion sticky notes to write out the different needs, problems, and goals of your customer base.
When the session is over, collect all the ideas and assumptions and post them up on a board to discuss, edit, and form groups.
You're done when you have "buckets" or categories that the majority of your customer base fit into and can be divided between. Next, take each "bucket" and brainstorm the attributes of individuals making up that group.
After everyone brainstorms, again, group the attributes beneath each user group to form the basis of your personas.
Step 2 - Mixing in quantitative data
Okay, but what do you really know?
You're developing a clear idea of your personas, but let's be real, you're making quite a few assumptions. Next, we review all of our customer data to get to the bottom of what's really driving (and holding back) our customers.
Go ahead and survey customers by email, phone, or on your website to collect demographic info, pain points, preferences, and what makes them tick.
If you're like most companies, you probably have more data than you know what to do with. Collect data from sales, returns, reviews, call centers, etc. - whatever you can get your hands on. Look for patterns on buying frequency, pain points, simple demographic data, seasonal patterns, etc.
Your website analytics can provide a wealth of information (even information like age and gender is available in many analytic tools). By combining your internal data with analytics information like frequency of visits, pages visited, bounce rates, where prospects drop out of the sales funnel, etc., you gather a pretty clear picture of your different personas and their behavior.
Industry data and research can provide a baseline for building personas. Whether it's paid research from IBIS World and Hoovers or free Census data, you can gain insight into your industry demographics and spending habits.
Your goal is to overlay concrete data with your qualitative brainstorming session.
For example, Yamaha digs deep into the demographics and psychology of their audience segments to understand different customers' priorities, primary interests, and lifestyle aspirations.
Step 3 - Building out the persona
Mapping out user personas can be overwhelming - we've been there. You can lay multiple versions side by side to understand your key audience segments.
Yamaha builds detailed caricatures of each persona covering budget, lifestyle goals, prized features, key needs, and values and then develops unique storylines for a hyper-personalized customer journey.
Next, you need to make sure your personas are actionable. Meaning, what actions will they take that will help you recognize and categorize them?
Step 4 - Identifying your personas
This exercise focuses on identifying actionable personas - looking into what actions each persona might take, so you can recognize an anonymous visitor on the site and categorize them.
In our example, Yamaha combines website actions and email behavior, such as page visits, clicks, browser behavior, email signup, purchase history, and survey data, to deliver the right message, at the right time. These insights inform what personalized content and imagery is most relevant to each persona.
Examples of Actionable Behaviors:
We've listed some of our favorite actionable behaviors below:
Website pages viewed
Product/product categories viewed
Opens (email themes, frequency of opens
Clicks, conversion rates
Device (mobile vs. desktop)
Email sign up
Time spent with email (skim/read)
Keep in mind, the data points you capture are highly dependent on your business. For example, your customers' marital status may not be a necessary attribute for your business, but if you sold engagement rings, it would be very important for targeting your products.
Marketing Persona Challenges
Marketing personas are fluid. One customer can transition between user personas. For example, if you have one user persona representing new customers and one for experienced customers, the new customer will eventually transition into an experienced customer, once they've made a few purchases. Months later, they might begin browsing a completely opposite product category, and require the same nurturing that a new customer requires.
It's a moving target. Make sure your personas are flexible enough to encompass the natural flow of your buyer cycle and associated behavior triggers.
Let's Drive Value Across Every Customer Interaction
Let's Drive Value Across Every Customer Interaction