Use Personas to Know Your Market 

Some twenty years after Alan Cooper laid the foundations, using ‘buyer personas’ and ‘marketing personas’ to gain clear and shared definition of one’s target customer is considered an imperative by many.

Now we are seeing a widespread investment of time and money by companies in data-driven personas.

WHAT IS A PERSONA?

A persona is a ‘semi-fictional’ individual (‘semi’ - because he or she is invariably grounded in data, facts, and research) that embodies the qualities of a company’s target group, or more specifically, their ideal customer. In effect the persona represents ‘who’ a company is marketing to, and it helps everyone in the company get on the same page about what their customer is like.

Laying out the qualities of a persona as a ‘profile’ makes lots of sense – to marketers, salesmen, designers, and engineers alike . . . in fact, anyone who needs to get to know the persona. Originally including primarily demographic details (name, age, gender, family, education, position, income, etc.), personas have expanded beyond this somewhat general archetype, to include emotional, motivational, aspirational, social, and behavioral qualities. The latter allows employees across departments to get to know company personas and be guided by them.

This shared acquaintance has a unifying effect on a company, with employees from varying teams contributing to the gathering of insights about the customer, or slipping easily into discussions about how company decisions might affect ‘Sophia’ or ‘Greg.’ Coupled with a thorough understanding of one’s product and the problems it solves, the persona provides a way to impact company sales.

POTENTIAL CATEGORIES FOR RESEARCH

Here is a list of common—and less common—considerations from which to draw as you prepare to assemble a profile of your target customer.

Demographic details
General: Name, age, birthplace / ethnicity, marital status, number of children (and their ages), current location, type of residence (e.g., shared apartment)
Education: highest level attained – and when attained, ongoing learning
Occupation: Previous positions held, current occupation, career path

Personal details
Photo & Name (fictional but believable)
Commitments/Responsibilities (home, work, volunteer)
Leisure – Interests, activities, friends
Qualities / Traits/ Personality / Character Archetype (e.g the organizer, the confidante, the environmentally responsible citizen)
A scale can be useful here. Where would the customer place him/herself, for example, on a scale from ‘logical to emotional?”

Psychological details
Beliefs and values – political, social, economic, religious, cultural attitudes – what the persona cares about or is committed to
Motivations – triggers, influences/pressures (friends, role models)
Internal (emotional) drivers – self-concept, goals (work/family/leisure), needs, values, concerns/fears, bucket-list, pain points (what the persona wishes was different)

Communication Preferences
Information sources used for professional and general learning (news, topics of interest)
Tools chosen for social engagement
Entertainment sources
Adoption of technology

For all of the above, seek ways to understand how the particular trait – or circumstance – influences . . . \

THE PERSONA’S BUYING BEHAVIOR

  • Which products/services have they chosen in the past?
  • from your company specifically/from other companies?
  • Size of purchase? Repeated?
  • Response to incentive/offers?
  • What are their ‘self-confessed’ buying practices and motivations?

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

The development of a persona involves an ongoing, deep commitment to knowing one’s customer—one that (when approached scientifically) is costly. So what makes the development of personas worth the effort—and how can costs be offset? Personas permit:

  • Precise definition of the target audience
    Profits are maximized when you know exactly who you should be selling to and what they are like. By focusing on the people most likely to buy your product (as informed by your persona) and targeting them with thoughtfully tailored campaigns, you are likely to reach more potential buyers than were you to approach a broader market with a necessarily more general message.
  • The design of products that resonate
    By focusing on the needs, desires, and behaviors of a persona—and what they care about—development teams are more likely to come up with designs for products that appeal to customers by helping them achieve their desired outcomes. This makes it quicker to bring relevant and resonant products to market.
  • Informed prototyping and product design
    Rather than relying on assumptions about the customer or personal instincts, connection with a persona helps a designer think like the customer. The product or service is then more likely to be a ‘good fit’ for the actual user of the product.
  • User experience
    When designers understand the people they’re designing for, they can tailor the user experience for maximum usability and appeal. This makes them more likely, to satisfy their customer and foster loyalty.
    In a similar vein, personas help businesses respond to the customer’s expectation of increasingly customized, personalized service.
  • Product evaluation / improvement
    When a team truly knows a persona, they can step into his/her shoes and examine their own products from the customer perspective. That provides valuable insights that inform product updates or improvements.
  • Product positioning
    A thorough, research-based persona enables marketing departments to develop informed positioning documents.
    Relevant messaging
    With a detailed, accurate picture about the consumer of a product, a marketer is better able to meet the needs of that customer for appropriate, engaging content (as well as offers / promotions) and publish these strategically to reach their target audience.

I imagine you have read this introduction to personas with a mindset of ‘Well that makes sense.’ The concepts presented are simple, yet their practical application provides an ongoing challenge in the world of business. As Alan Cooper puts it:
“Personas, like all powerful tools, can be grasped in an instant but can take months or years to master. But it is worth persisting” (Cooper).
Cooper, A. (2008) The origin of personas. Retrieved 4/21/2018, from https://www.cooper.com/journal/2003/08/the_origin_of_personas