This time it’s personal.
17 March 2022
An inbound marketer’s guide to marketing personas
What is a persona in inbound marketing?
At first glance, marketing personas seem like a strange exercise in writing fiction about your target audience. After all, Downsizing Deborah and her 2.5 children don’t exist, so what’s the point of creating her?
When it comes down to it, this kind of informed daydreaming is an incredibly useful exercise for driving content creation, product development, sales follow-ups and almost anything that relates to customer acquisition and retention.
Personas: the magical – and profitable – world of make-believe
So, what is a marketing persona? We’ve talked a little bit about informed daydreaming, and that, I think, highlights the difference between absolute make-believe and creating marketing personas that work as a tool for your business.
Personas aren’t just drawn up out of thin air. They’re carefully created using the information on customers you already have and by acquiring new information on your ideal customers via research.
Marketing personas don’t depict an actual person in your target audience, but instead use everything you know about your audience to imagine what they might be like.
Through a series of customer interviews, your own knowledge and the demographic data provided by tools like Google Analytics, you’ll craft a composite image of a section of your audience. Then, using that composite image, you’ll know what kind of content you need to create next.
With this tool, you can deliver content that’s tailor-made to those individuals. This is helpful in any kind of marketing, but in inbound marketing that kind of knowledge can make or break a piece of content. Knowing your customers wants, needs and pain points is often the secret to a successful inbound marketing campaign.
Why do you need marketing personas?
Let’s dig a little deeper into why this is a vital tool for you.
We’ve established that marketing personas allow you to create more tailored content. But why do we go to all this trouble? You could just stop at the data you already have and tailor content around it without the need to play this game of make-believe.
The real magic of marketing personas, though, comes in the detail.
For example, you might have an idea that your ideal customer is First-Time Buyer Frank, a 25-year-old husband and father of two.
You can get a few bits of content out of that, sure, but there are some bits of information about Frank you’re missing. Without in-depth marketing personas, you might not interview young fathers and learn that they’re frustrated about not being able to spend enough quality time with their children, or that the majority of them work from home, so they’re looking for homes with office space.
You wouldn’t know that they’d benefit from placemaking content, which highlights the family-friendly things on offer in the local area. You might not understand that a checklist of things to look for in a home office could be invaluable. And so an opportunity to engage with your audience (in ways that your competitors aren’t) goes begging.
Using the demographic information you have is good. It’s the first step to developing marketing personas. But in inbound marketing, you can’t afford to skip a detail.
It might seem silly at first to create fictional characters based around your audience demographics, or to conduct lengthy interviews just to come up with some imaginary marketing personas. The key is to remember that you’re simplifying your own work. By recognising the kinds of customers you have, and getting down to the things they have in common, you’ll have a better chance of creating content is unique, helpful, and ultimately, delivers return on investment.
Still not convinced? In a NetProspex case study, their personas resulted in:
How to use marketing personas
Marketing personas are a vital part of your business. You’ve got the tool in your toolbelt. How to use it, though, is a different story.
At the most basic level, you use marketing personas to fine-tune the content you make for specific subgroups of your audience. You can also use it to tailor your marketing, creating different advertising materials for Downsizing Deborah, for example, than you would for our old friend First-Time Buyer Frank.
Take your email list. Instead of just sending out the same old emails to everyone, you can divide your list into segments – one for Downsizing Deborah, one for First-Time Buyer Frank and one for another persona whom we’ll call Military Michelle.
Deborah is downsizing her life, taking steps to make sure she’s not living outside her means. Let’s say she’s older, she’s lived in the same house for twenty years, all her children are grown (she has at least one grandchild) and the house is too big.
Deborah’s segment of the email list would include links to articles about de-cluttering your home, a link to a video about ways to keep in touch with grandchildren no matter where you are and new listings of homes suitable for a low-maintenance lifestyle.
We’ve already met Frank. He’s 25, he’s married and he’s got two kids. Frank works in the tech industry, often from home, so he’s got a good job and a decent budget to work with. The email for Frank’s segment would contain articles about how to set up and organise a home office, a link to a video about childproofing a home and a guide to primary schools within walking distance of your new development.
Next, there’s Military Michelle. She’s in her mid-thirties. Her husband is in the army and is about to retire, so after years of a nomadic lifestyle, they’re ready to buy a house. They’ve owned one in the past but found it not worth the trouble as her husband’s job changed locations so frequently, and selling their last house was such a hassle that Michelle is dreading talking to a developer or estate agent.
Her email list’s segment would include a moving checklist to make things easier for her, customer testimonials from other buyers who had easy moves and a link to a video about ways to decorate her new home.
All of these clients signed up for the same email list, but once you know what segment they belong to, you can move your clients into the different segments of the list and deliver them customised content.
Marketing personas make it possible for your customer to feel like they’ve got a relationship with you and not just someone trying to sell them something.
Gathering marketing persona data
Now, this is the fun part! Creating marketing personas is a fascinating process helps you learn a lot about your business.
The first step is information-gathering. You’re a detective and you need to find out as much about the people using your service – or who have the potential to use your service – as possible.
We get our information from a few different places. The first place you’ll want to head to is Google Analytics, or whatever tool you use to gather demographic information from your website. You’ll be able to see tons of valuable information about your customers just by taking a look, from age-range, gender, location, and more.
The next tool we’re going to use in our information-gathering quest is interviews. You’re a detective, remember? Only this time, instead of interviewing suspects, you’re going to create a survey (ask a mix of questions about the interviewee as an individual, and about them in relation to your business) and then get it in front of three different types of people:
These three types of customers each offer you a different point of view. Your customers have already experienced your business and know first-hand what it’s like to deal with you. Make sure you aren’t just cherry-picking customers who like your business, too – it’s handy to have people in the mix who have had negative experiences, so you can learn how to counter and prevent them in the future.
The second type of person you’ll want to interview is potential customers – people who might buy from you, or seem like they may fit within the right demographic to potentially need your service. You can find them by seeking them out through social media or online surveys. If you’ve got direct competitors, the people who follow them on social media can offer insight as to why they chose another service over yours.
The third group is outsiders – people who have never heard of you and have never interacted with your business. They’re usually the most difficult to reach and this is where you may have to go to a marketing agency with experience in audience research.
Using the survey, you’ll find out about their buying habits, their goals, their fears and where they are in life. You’ll get to know them as people, and as you do, your marketing personas will begin to reveal themselves.
Creating your marketing personas
You’ve got your analytics data, you’ve got your survey data, so now, it’s time to create your personas.
As you read through your data, do you see any patterns? Are there groups of people that share similar jobs, habits, or motivations? Take your time, pore over your data and come up with three or four categories for your customers. You don’t have to name them just yet but jot those categories down, either on a piece of paper or in a document on your computer.
Now, take the first category and follow this checklist.
Step one: Give the persona a name.
You don’t have to get fancy here. It can help to give your persona an alliterative name for memory’s sake, but you don’t have to. We use “First-Time Buyer Frank” as our example, but you can just use whatever comes to mind.
Step two: Identify what job the persona has, and what company he works for.
We’ve already know that First-Time Buyer Frank works in the tech industry. Looking at our data, we see that a lot of our customers are programmers, so we’ll say that Frank is a local programmer who works for a prominent local company, SubtractZero, who employ several local programmers in our area.
It might be easy to skimp on the detail here, but it’s important to make sure you add specific positions and companies if you have the data to back it up. Knowing the pressures of someone’s exact job, and the corporate environment the face every day, can go a long way towards helping you determine what pain points you may be able to solve for them. (Websites such as Glassdoor are useful for determining salaries.)
Step three: Add demographic info.
So now, we’ll go back to our analytics info. We see that many of our customers are married men aged 25-34 and determine that Frank is a married 25-year-old-man.
The analytics info also shows that 60% of your users view the site on an Android device, so you determine Frank has an Android phone. Using Glassdoor data, we find that many of the programmers employed by SubtractZero have an average salary of around £70,000 per year. Frank is only 25, though, so we’ll list his salary as a little lower – say, £55,000.
Do this for all the analytics info you have, even if it seems trivial at the time, because the more detail you have, the more tailored your content can become.
Step four: Add goals, frustrations and other considerations.
Your surveys become especially handy here. Are there any common concerns that run through your survey questions?
Let’s say we look through our survey results, and find that many of the people we surveyed, when asked about their homebuying concerns, raised the issue of safety for young children. So we can assume Frank will be looking for a child-friendly neighbourhood to live in.
Let’s use another example. Say we looked through our surveys and found that a subset of our respondents answered the question “What one feature do you need your home to have?” with “A home office”. We now add that Frank often works at home and needs a home office in order to get his work done.
Step five: Personalise and plan the distribution of your content.
The next part is where you get a little creative. Consider the person you’ve just created and then how your business might answer their needs. Jot down a short paragraph about how you would market to this individual if they were the only customer you had and you needed to make sure they stayed happy, content and well-served by your business.
For Frank, we know he’s a busy dad in tech, so we’re only going to send him one email a month and make sure he gets info on things like the safety of his children, Ofsted ratings for local primary schools and how to organise a home office.
We’ll make sure our website is optimised for mobile, because Frank accesses our website on his Android phone. And when advertising new homes to Frank, we’ll make sure they’re within his budget.
All of which means your finished persona should look something like this:
Which looks pretty good, right? But you can get far more detailed than this if you want. When you’re done with the first, continue working your way down your list of customer categories until you’ve created a persona for each one.
Remember, a persona needs enough detail about a person’s thoughts and fears so that you can see things through their eyes. When you use the persona, imagine you are this person and think of how your business might affect them, in good ways and bad. That is how you make personas work for you.
Feeling overwhelmed about getting rounding up all those interviews? Go ahead and make up your survey and then collect your information just a little bit at a time.
You can start with getting just three former customers to fill it out and then three the next day and so on, until you’re satisfied you’ve got enough data. Once you’ve covered your customers, seek out three potentials and then three outsiders – and repeat the process until you’ve gotten all of the surveys that you need.