1ChapterCustomer Personas

  • The most important skill you need right now is the ability to put yourselves into your audience’s shoes. Only if you can think, feel, and behave like your audience, will you be able to communicate with them effectively.

  • Every marketing decision should be answered from the viewpoint of your potential customer. Will they see it? Will they respond favorably?


Do you have a lot of unanswered questions about what you should be doing to connect with your future customers? Are you asking yourself:

  • Should I write more blog posts or newsletters?
  • Do I tweet more?
  • Do I produce videos and podcasts?
  • Where should I be placing banner ads?
  • What about dropping the price?

With so many options and outlets for marketing online, you are hard-pressed to decide how you’re going to reach out to your audience. No wonder so many people end up throwing their hands in the air and doing nothing more than making sure their website looks pretty and pray that one day the right audience will stumble along. Or perhaps worse, half-heartedly try any one (or all) of the approaches above and becomes disappointed in the lackluster results.

If you find yourself in this boat with no real clue where to start with drawing the crowds to your front-door, you are not alone. What the marketing experts failed to take into consideration is your business and clientele. They didn’t ask you about your business, what your customer profile is, nor where your potential customers can be found online. Or maybe they did, but they asked all the wrong questions. Their advice often can be generic, dated, and even harmful towards accomplishing your objectives.

You know on some level, consciously or sub-consciously, that their advice is not quite spot on and, as a result, any action or effort you put into following their advice is half-heartedly undertaken. Guess what? Your audience senses this lack of passion in your voice and effort and gives you almost no attention, if any.

So, what do you do?

Start Over

That’s right. Start over. Stop all marketing efforts altogether. You’re doing it wrong. How do I know? You wouldn’t be having lunch with the proverbial trio of marketing experts and having the conversation above unless things simply weren’t working for you.

By starting over, I don’t mean for you to throw your website away and build a whole new one (unless it really is a lousy one). But definitely stop doing things just to go through the motion and because somebody else said you should. Let’s assume for now your website is your pride and crown jewel with just the right verbiage to engage your audience and compel them to buy, if only they could find you! I mean for you to start over with your fundamental approach to marketing online. Start with your customer. Once you truly understand what makes your customers tick and what actions they’re likely to take to try to find you, then, and only then, will you begin to formulate a strategy that is in tune with those customers. Whether that strategy includes lots of blogging, lots of Tweeting, or lots of engagement on Facebook, or any other social medium will become crystal clear once you’re viewing your services through the eyes of your customers.

The one thing that has always worked and worked well from the mid-nineties through today is producing content that valuable and resonates with your target audience. Search engine algorithms will come and go, but people will remain largely the same. They thirst for knowledge, fresh ideas, and products that bring satisfaction or enjoyment into their lives. If you’re producing it, they will find you. But to do it, you have to know your audience.

Empathy for your Audience

The very first thing you need to do is gain a healthy dose of empathy for your customers. Who are they? How old are they? What gender are they? Where do they congregate? What are their worries, passions, and daily concerns? Until you know your customers inside and out and create a solid customer persona for your business, you will be floundering with your marketing strategy and execution. Every hour you spend traveling South on the Information Superhighway when you should’ve been traveling North is THREE HOURS wasted. One hour down, one hour back, then one hour ahead. Think about that for a moment. If you spent 40 hours doing something that’s not working, that’s 120 hours to fully recover from that effort and forge ahead.

The most important skill you need right now is the ability to put yourselves into your audience’s shoes. Only if you can think, feel, and behave like your audience, will you be able to communicate with them effectively.

Screen Writer’s Perspective

Lets look at the process of writing a movie for a second. To develop a story and shape it around the characters in that story, the writer must know her characters inside and out in order to make them believable. To do so, that writer will pour an immense amount of effort into developing the personality and quirks of a character, often with a complete back-story that clearly describes (to the author’s mind) who that character is. At some point, the author stops looking at the character he/she created from the point of view of “what would I (the author) do as this character?” to asking as the character through the character’s eyes and soul, “what would I do?” When a writer writes from this vantage point, the character comes alive and the and the story becomes very believable. The audience responds emotionally to that character’s path through the story.

In marketing speak, you need build characters that are highly detailed representations of your audience and future customers. These profiles are known as “customer personas.” Customer personas help you make better business decisions and communicate both efficiently and effectively. When you truly know your customer, your marketing strategy for targeting them will come together quickly and flow very naturally. And the best part? Your audience will respond.

The Ten Steps to Compiling Your Customer Persona

Your first customer persona may be challenging, especially if you feel that you have a whole range of customer personas. However, with practice, it gets easier. And there’s nothing like a template to break the process down into repeatable steps.

If you have a team and customers already, then get everybody together who has direct contact and working relationships with those customers. The people who work directly with customers will have the best insights into who those customers are. If its just you or you don’t have any customers yet, then just fill in the gaps with assumptions, educated guesses, and research. We’ll cover how to do that as we go through the steps below.

1. Pick One

You may be thinking that you have several potential customer personas or that your customer base draws from such a broad spectrum that this exercise is going to be nigh impossible. But the simple truth is that the majority of your customers are going to boil down to one or two personas while the rest make up the fringe. What you want to do is pick the loudest, noisiest, most easily converted one to start this process. That is, the one that you know the most about or stands out to you foremost like a struttin’ peacock. Now put yourself in their shoes and start envisioning the world entirely through their eyes and answer the following questions.

2. Name and Title

Give your customer persona a name and a title. Identifying your persona will make the character more real and allows you to easily reference him or her. If your business targets consumers in their home environment, then titles like “Mom”, “Dad”, “Middle Child / Teenager” are good choices. Otherwise, a general job title such as “architect”, “janitor”, “teacher”, are good choices. If your business needs to target high-level leadership positions in corporations, then get more specific with titles like “CEO”, “Director of HR”, or whatever your representative customer’s likely title is. If you’re having trouble thinking up a name and title, think of a movie character from a movie you’ve recently watched and still his/her name for this exercise.

Example: Albert Brennaman, Sr. Accountant (from the movie Hitch).

3. Demographics

Describe your customer persona’s demographics (age, gender, location, family life, etc.) and general likes and dislikes.

Example: Albert is 30 years old single male living in New York. He enjoys eating lunch outside while reading “Gadget Universe” to catch up on all the latest news.

4. Adopter Category

Consumers can be grouped according to how quickly they adopt a new product. On the one extreme, some consumers adopt the product as soon as they encounter it. On the other extreme, some consumers are among the last to purchase. As a whole, the new product adoption process can be modeled in the form of a bell-shaped curve similar to the following:

Diffusion of Ideas

Now choose which of the following adopter categories your persona fits into best:

Adopter category Definition
Innovators Innovators are willing to take risks, have the highest social status, have financial liquidity, are social and have closest contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators. Their risk tolerance allows them to adopt technologies that may ultimately fail. Financial resources help absorb these failures. [19]
Early adopters These individuals have the highest degree of opinion leadership among the adopter categories. Early adopters have a higher social status, financial liquidity, advanced education and are more socially forward than late adopters. They are more discreet in adoption choices than innovators. They use judicious choice of adoption to help them maintain a central communication position.[20]
Early Majority They adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time that is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters. Early Majority have above average social status, contact with early adopters and seldom hold positions of opinion leadership in a system (Rogers 1962, p. 283)
Late Majority They adopt an innovation after the average participant. These individuals approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism and after the majority of society has adopted the innovation. Late Majority are typically skeptical about an innovation, have below average social status, little financial liquidity, in contact with others in late majority and early majority and little opinion leadership.
Laggards They are the last to adopt an innovation. Unlike some of the previous categories, individuals in this category show little to no opinion leadership. These individuals typically have an aversion to change-agents. Laggards typically tend to be focused on "traditions", lowest social status, lowest financial liquidity, oldest among adopters, and in contact with only family and close friends.
Leapfroggers When resistors upgrade they often skip several generations in order to reach the most recent technologies.

Decide where your customer persona leans on this scale. If you nail this one for your real potential clients, you will huge leg up on you are going to have to say or write to entice your customer to buy your products and services. If you know what percentage of your total customer base matches this persona, then you know approximately how much of your content needs to be targeting this persona.

5. Professional and Personal Background

Consider your persona’s professional and personal background such as job history, role, leisure activities, hobbies, etc. Try to write a fictional/typical history of this persona. This part may seem silly, but it helps you ground your persona and can help you really nail where to find the persona out there in the wild.

Example: Albert graduated from NYU with a degree in accounting and minor in economics. He thought about pursuing a PhD in economics, but decided against pursuing in favor of joining a prestigious financial firm on Wall Street. He spends most of his working hours studying trends on the stock market and especially dividend producing strategies since his typical clients are most interested in this area of investment. In his spare time, Albert is hanging out with his friends at local restaurants while actively dating women. He’s a fairly conservative guy dresses somewhat sloppy and doesn’t take a lot of risks.

6. Skepticism and Outlook

Can you capture what this persona’s likely reaction would be to your product or service the first time he/she hears about it? What about the trigger point that get him or her to finally buy? Describe the persona’s style, approach, and attitude towards your product or service in a few short sentences. What are the objections to this persona buying your product? Why does this persona put off buying today? If he buys today, why?

Example: Albert knows about [your product] but he is hesitant to sign up. The features just sound too good to be true. Albert will sign up once he sees more social proof from others that have gone before him.

7. Technical Background

How technically savvy is your character? Does he interact comfortably online or reluctantly? What activities does the persona perform on the web? What devices does she own and use? How often? What about offline activities? Do they read magazines, newspapers, or trade journals? This is important for determining how the audience will interact with the brand online and offline.

Example: Albert grew up without social media. He’s on Facebook like everyone else but he doesn’t use it much. He rarely reads blogs online and much rather listen to podcasts on his iPod. When he finds a great online resource, he’ll subscribe to their emailed newsletter.

8. Favorite Websites

What websites does this persona visit the most often? What search engine is he/she most likely to use?

Example: www.gmail.com (for personal email) www.cnet.com (for in-depth product reviews) www.smart-stock-picks.com (a stock trading/investment social networking site)

9. Goals

What the goals for this persona when looking for a product or service? Are they looking for a vendor that “gets” them (i.e. favors small shops over large corporations) or strictly shop by lowest price? Is long-term customer support important to his/her decision to buy? Do they care about whether they’re buying from a large company or do they prefer small, local, personable companies? Maybe they care about quality more than price?

Example: Albert likes companies that are big enough that he thinks they’re not going anywhere, but not so large that he’s just a number to them. As long as the product or service is high-quality, money isn’t a big concern – he’d rather get something of high quality than buy the cheapest thing available.

10. I Need / I Want Statements

What does this persona need and or want in order to reach the above goals? Try to craft the statements here from the point-of-view of the persona. His characteristics and personalities should shine through here.

Example: Albert wants to date a rich girl because he believes it will impress his colleagues at work and they will respect his opinions in the workplace as a result.

There’s a difference between needing something and wanting something. In life, you only need food, water, and safety. Anything beyond that is pretty much a want. And compelling people to buy is all about converting “want” into a strongly perceived “need.” As you ponder this particular step, think about what will not only place your product/service firmly in the “want” category, but will be the trigger that pushes into the perceived “need” category.

Using Your Customer Persona

You can answer any question simply by casting to the viewpoints of your personas. Let’s have Albert help us make better business and marketing decisions. Here are a few questions that he may help us answer:

Question Answer
Should I write more blog posts or newsletters? Newsletters, because they are more effective for reaching Albert.
Do I tweet more? Not for Albert, he’s only on Facebook occasionally.
Do I produce videos and podcasts? Yes because Albert is always listening to his iPod.
Where should I be placing banner ads? Easy, www.smart-stock-picks.com and www.cnet.com.
What about dropping the price? Probably not much traction gained here since Albert will pay for quality.

Common Mistakes to Avoid when Creating a Customer Persona

Be wary of basing your customer persona on one real customer. Your personas should be a representative composite description of all current and potential customers. No single person can fully represent your target market.

Don’t your persona flawless or just a reflection of yourself, either. Try to think of and include less than desirable traits such as being pushy, loud-mouthed, shy, timid, boisterous, respectful, and so on. No human being is perfect, so your persona shouldn’t be, either.

Make sure everything about your persona fits together. If they’re shy, they’re not likely to be outgoing or talkative and probably vote with their feet (i.e. take their business elsewhere without saying a word to you). If they’re vocal and demanding, they are probably quick to spout off about bad experiences online.

Get external validations that your persona is “real” and is believable. Di you know that, in the 40’s and 50’s, the army recorded several thousand data points about all its G.I.’s? They recorded everything from height, weight, arm span, individual finger length, forearm and upper arm length, head size, to chest and ankle size. If you assembled an average human from all the averages, you’d get a very ungainly and disproportionate human model that is decidedly not average. Review your customer persona and make sure its a believable character. Those who didn’t participate in the character’s creation often notice details you missed and often cough up one or two gems that really help you bring the character to life as a usable character persona.