Guest Post: Customer Personas Demystified - for Non-marketers

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This week I am passing the pen over to Brand & Marketing Consultant, Di Wheatley, who has kindly offered to provide not one, but two extremely insightful articles on customer personas. This week’s post gives us an introduction into exactly what they are and how we can use them most effectively…  

Deceptively simple but often trickier to get down than they look, well-defined and regularly reviewed customer personas are a helpful and (some would say) essential ingredient in helping a business design and define its offer, and to develop its go-to-market plans. 

What are they?

While there’s a fair amount of terminology out there, and it’s true to say that there are differences between a Customer Personas (Personas) and other, similar tools e.g., Customer Profiles, Conceptual Targets, Target Audience Groups etc., they all broadly attempt to do the same thing. That is, they are intended to help us describe and better understand the people we are trying to engage with and sell things to. 

Focusing here on Personas, in general terms, they describe a customer group in a combination of hard-nosed demographic facts as well as ‘softer’ attitudinal or (to use the posh term) psychographic elements. 

Demographics are specific things like age, gender, race, religion, family size, income and education etc. The kind of detail you find in a census that tells you everything and yet nothing about a person. Psychographics seek to understand a customer groups’ shared personality traits, beliefs, values, attitudes, interests, lifestyles and more. 

Personas are typically written through the lens of the business hoping to engage with a particular group of customers, specifically thinking about how a product (or service) will be used and relevant in the lives of these customers (this is sometimes termed, ‘the role of the brand’).

To make the point, here’s a simple example for an imaginary maker of a new kit car in which the shorthand version of the Persona might read something like this: 

i. A Heading that summarises the spirit of the Persona

Seeking to Impress, Sporty Sam.

ii. Demographics

Single males age 25-35 earning at least £25,000 per annum living within 30 miles of the Leeds-Manchester-Liverpool conurbation, who travel to work by car. 

iii. Psychographics

They prefer to travel by car and aspire to drive a sleek, modern car that will be the envy of their mates. They like the independence and cachet car ownership gives them. Cost is secondary to style. They aspire to own an Audi or a Mercedes. They admire market-leading brands such as Manchester United FC, Apple, Adidas. 

Why and when they are useful?

Developing Personas can help a business in a number of ways. Although use cases will be dependent on the stage a business is at and the task at hand, here are a couple of examples:

1. A Start-up looking to define its ‘Minimum Viable Segment’ 

Accelerators will typically encourage start-ups on their programme to go out into the market and speak to 20 or more potential customers. 

Such an exercise is intended to help the businesses more tightly define who the core audience for products and services will actually be. 

Developing written Personas can be a big help in shaping the product/service to better-fit a specific target’s needs rather than taking a broad-brush approach, highlighting specific need states and getting the business to consider the customer in a more rounded way e.g., beyond pure demographic information. 

Writing a Persona (often combined with developing a Customer Journey Map*) can help reveal unexpected insights into the audience – things that haven’t already been considered about them, their lives and the potential role for the brand that might provide a new angle for the development and/or marketing of the products/services of the business. 

This is particularly important at a time in the life of a business when time, money and manpower are in short supply. Developing Personas early on can save valuable resources and even make or break the success of a project. 

*Customer Journey Mapping, in short, is a plot of the different stages a customer goes through from awareness and consideration through to purchase and recommendation.

2. A 3-year old business looking to Scale-up / Grow 

When a business has been running for some time, it can be easy to slip into the world of assumptions and a mind set of ‘it’s always been like this’. Re-evaluating, refining or even redefining the Customer Personas will help ensure that whatever product/service developments are planned, they will hit the mark with current customers. They may also help identify opportunities for new customer groups.

General Points

In both cases above, well defined Personas are the building blocks of marketing planning.  

If the marketing teams don’t know who they are speaking to or how they might best communicate with them, it’s going to be doubly challenging for a graphic designer, a copywriter or a marketing campaign manager to know what angle to take in creating communications. 

Would we speak to Sporty Sam in the same way we’d speak to his father? I doubt it. 

Self-evident as it may sound, it’s worth restating that communications are a whole lot more effective when you understand your customers in the round and when you’ve taken time to get under the skin of their motivations, concerns and behaviours. 

Now we’ve established the what and the why around Customer Personas, the next step is how to construct one. Look out for next week’s post where we will be sharing examples and tips to help you with your perfect Persona…

Di Wheatley is an independent brand and marketing consultant with deep experience building brands for businesses big and small in the UK and internationally. She specialises in corporate positioning and has worked with some of the world’s best-known brands. She’s also a mentor and keynote speaker for London-based pre-accelerator, FastForward. 

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