Understanding Personas, Marketing's Secret Tool

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Understanding Personas, Marketing's Secret Tool
Understanding Personas, Marketing’s Secret Tool

Modern marketers are tasked with providing messages, offers, experiences, and products that are tailored to you. And despite the overflow of data available to marketers today, some still struggle with identifying who you are.  So, they create characters who embody your behaviors, demographics, purchasing habits, and preferences to better understand and envision how they should target you and others like you. This is known as persona marketing.

In her blog post, Principal Marketing Manager for HubSpot’s optimization team Pamela Vaughan defines personas as “fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers.” She also says that marketers can create “negative” personas to represent people they don’t want to have as customers. But it’s very different from segmentation or customer profiling?

Taryn Collins, content manager and Web editor for cloud platform Acquia, points out that personas are representations of real customers while segments are groups of actual customers that share similar traits. So although personas are based on real people, they aren’t actual humans themselves.

The Buyer Persona Institute also characterizes personas as more multidimensional than profiles. More than just a static list of qualities, personas unveil customers’ attitudes, concerns, and expectations that sway their decision to buy from you or a competitor, it reads.

It takes some data—a lot of data actually. In a blog post, Gartner’s VP of Content Publishing Heather Pemberton Levy writes that personas are built from a combination of the following data points:

Demographic (income, geography, level of education, age)
Psychographic  (values, opinions, interests, aspirations, attitudes, and lifestyles)
Ethnographic (observations of customers in their daily routines)
Transactional (historical customer relationship data, first- and third-party purchase data, post-sale services)
Behavioral: (engagement across channels)

Buffer Content Crafter Kevan Lee also encourages marketers to check their site analytics for traffic trends; do some social listening to see what problems or concerns customers are talking about; conduct surveys to learn about customers’ goals, values, and pain points; and collect feedback from other departments, like customer service.  After all, these personas can benefit them, too. He also suggests collecting more interest-based information, such as their hobbies or favorite media outlets.

Once marketers obtain this information, Lee says they should stitch it together to bring the persona to life. They can give the persona a name, age, job title, family makeup, salary, education level, and home state. They should also identify that persona’s goals and challenges, as well as their values and fears, he writes. That way, he adds, marketers can come up with a marketing message and elevator pitch for how they can meet that persona’s needs.

Some companies, like HubSpot, provide resources marketers can use to help shape their personas.

And just as how customers don’t have equal value, personas shouldn’t either. In her post, Levy advises marketers to create an estimated lifetime economic value for each persona to better prioritize customer experience investments.

There’s no perfect number of personas one needs to create, but Levy says four to eight is typical. As this Marketing Land article notes, having more than one persona is especially important in the B2B world because they’re often communicating with multiple people who run one account.

As Vaughan notes, developing personas can help marketers stay focused when producing content or targeting specific audiences.  Plus, they don’t have to just reside in marketing. Sales, customer service, and product development professionals can benefit from them, too.

Can you give me an example of a persona?

Absolutely. Experian Marketing Services has turned their persona Dana—a representation of brands’ “best customer”—into a bit of a marketing celebrity. She pops up at marketing conferences, is featured in infographics, and even stars in videos. She’s even in live-action videos now. See below:


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