Not only are persona’s a critical element of all marketing plans and practices, they are even more important in digital marketing. Personas are critical to making sure you are speaking in your customers language, about the issues that are important to them. Personas help keep your organisation aligned on communicating to certain customer groups that will be interesting to them, and which engages. Below are the five steps to help you develop personas for your organisation, being:
1 – Define Target Market
2 – Research Customers
3 – Summarize Personas & Attributes
4 – Communicate
5 – Revisit
Define Target Market
Defining the target market takes business planning effort. If it is a new product introduction, new market, or startup; a business plan will generally outline who the intended customer base is for the new product or service. This target market will be critical for starting on the right foot. In B2C it is about defining the different customer clusters who purchase a product. As an example, in the monthly coffee roast club business – coffee loving busy working mom’s, corporate professionals, and high end coffee gurus, come to mind. For a B2B, the target market of a cloud computing technology HR software, the target market might be horizontally defined. In this case mid and large sized companies of 100 employees or greater … all of which have HR departments and HR needs.
For this post, we will not discuss how to define the target market. However, it is important to understand the firm’s target market, to start to define the persona’s that are in it.
Now that you know who the target market is, it is time to research the customers. What you will want do is to understand the clients, and start to understand what groupings you can find among them. Before starting, set out some of the important characteristics you will want to know about the overall personas. Possible examples include:
- basic demographics like age range, income, family income, marital status, children…
- key pressure / pain points / challenges
- goals / desires (business / family / life)
- most engaging media (email, direct mail, Twitter, Facebook, phone call …),
- typical workday hours, favourite time to engage with media,
- geographic area targeted (if segmented)
- interests: work – life – hobby (choose which are appropriate)
- key objectives: grow sales, cost reduction, optimize resources, improve efficiency, create strategy
- psychological profile: DISC / Birkman Quadrants / Standout
- position: influencer, decision maker, budget owner, problem owner, champion, mentor…
- major concerns (related to product opportunity, industry, position – what are hot buttons)
- direct quotes from customers (language / style / voice)
The bullet examples above are merely ideas to consider and from which to pick and choose for your persona situation. This is not an exhaustive list, nor does it speak to every industry. Take these points as a starter, select what makes sense, and add other interest areas that make sense for your firm’s situation.
One aspect that you should keep, regardless of industry or market – is the bullet referring to direct quotes from customers. These are important to get a sense of how your customers for a particular persona – speak or communicate. People like to interact and engage with people who are similar to themselves. They like to read and interact with material, communications and organisations that speak their language. Having several simple quotes from clients, allows you to emulate their speaking style, tone and voice – when writing communication or marketing content directed at that persona.
Summarize Personas & Attributes
After you have gone out, met with and spoken with several customers – you are ready to summarize your research into persona groups. Presuming that you had a small team put together the important interview questions and points of interesting information – get that team to come together to read through all the customer interviews. Then get the team to start clustering the customer feedback into common customer groups.
Although it will vary, most firms find it useful to have between 3 to 7 personas created for their target market. There may be cases that warrant more, but having a small manageable number will be easiest to whom to align your firm. A small manageable number ensures that the persona work will be applied by the various functions needing it, like the customer service representatives, social media specialists, and content marketers. Having too many persona’s may get too confusing for most employees, and may simply be ignored.
As the team sifts through all the persona interviews and feedback, get them to start clustering. Ultimately, you will want a small number of clusters to emerge that are distinct and that can be summarized briefly. Brevity is important… as you want one to two pages per persona – at most. To be useable throughout the organisation – one page summaries will probably be used most effectively.
After distinct clusters have emerged as the different personas – you will want to both provide a summary of their information. At this stage you will be creating a fictitious person that represents a customer cluster. Generalizations are allowed… as some of the data may conflict. Part of this exercise is to create a persona that is brief and hits on the key elements of what this customer group is like, their pain points, preferences, and communications style.
If it has not naturally emerged, give each persona a name that characterizes this customer group. Examples might be Marketing Mary, Payroll Betty, Executive Paul… or their name and a brief description. Beyond being cute, giving the personas names makes them more memorable to your staff, and the colleagues who will use these personas for their work. It makes quickly identifying the persona, easy – and provides the teams with a common language. You will want to use good judgement and non-offensive taste with the persona naming. Remember that customers might inadvertently hear about the personas… so you do not want to offend clients.
After you have created the personas and your team is happy with your results, ask your team the simple question of whether any group was missed. Your team had a finite amount of time for this project, and you may not have interviewed enough customers. As a result, you may have missed a persona group entirely. Use your team’s common understanding of the customers you service – to ensure that this is a robust set that resonate with your actual customer groups. It would be wise to speak with different parts of the organisation, like senior management, sales, marketing, customer service, and implementation… to get a quick view on whether any obvious group was missed. If you do find an persona group that seems like it should have been included, then the team has a few more interviews to take on – and to redo the procedure outlined thus far.
Once your team is confident in the personas, brief summaries must be created. You will want to agree with the team on the key criteria to list for each persona. It is best to keep the information consistent across each persona. For example, if you list details about demographics, gender, common pain points, and actual interviewee quotes for one persona, then you should provide it for each persona you create. This provides consistency across the personas, and will help when training the rest of your organisation.
To find a format that your team likes, do a search on persona summaries on Google, and look at the images. There are many good examples of what a persona summary sheet can look like. You may want to mimic the style and summary, adapting it for your team’s needs. Here the point is to find a style that is attractive, and easy to both quickly read and communicate to the teams that will use the persona work (beyond the team working on the persona development).
The most important part of persona development for any organisation – is that the persona research will ACTUALLY be used, consistently. For this reason brief summaries, and a small number of personas are important. A handful of personas can be remembered by the different stakeholders throughout your organisation. Amazing research that provides 200 different personas, might be intellectually interesting – but will not be practical for the field practitioners. If it is not used, then it is not important (and you wasted your time).
If the key stakeholders in your communication efforts were not part of the persona development team, then make sure you have their alignment, agreement and commitment to the persona research. You will want the key stakeholders to be your major advocates, and to drive the use of the personas throughout the organisation. Using a consistent communication styles with each customer persona – will help your organisation maintain a common and professional brand voice in the market.
Ensuring that your entire organisation is consistently using the persona research and summaries – means you will be providing a consistent brand voice to the market. It will all start with engaging internal communications of the research, project and reason for using personas.
Revisit (Wash, Rinse, Repeat)
Once you have completed the persona work, it is tempting to communicate it throughout the organisation, get it started, then let it go indefinitely – without alteration. However, that is the wrong thing to do. After all, customer preferences change. Work, professional and life situations change. Markets change. The world changes. So why would we think that the personas will not change?
Every quarter or at least twice a year – you should test out whether the personas used are still relevant. Your easiest test market is to speak with the front line employees who get daily feedback from customers. Customer service representatives, sales, implementation, and any other customer facing roles will be a good place to get a pulse check on whether the personas are still reflective of your clients. If you find shifts, or a new persona that should be considered – then adapt the personas to reflect your most current view of the market.
Keep it Fresh
Charles Darwin best summarized it in 1809 by observing that “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” The same principal stands for your efforts to keep your persona work fresh and aimed at the ever changing target.
Author: Charles Dimov