When you’re developing a content piece, website, or email, your audience sometimes morphs into faceless figures, instead of the real, everyday people you’re trying to reach.
To engage real people, you need to tailor your messages and incentives to be relevant to their individual needs, address their concerns, demonstrate your value, and persuade them to convert (all at an appropriate time in their purchase cycle and without being too aggressive or annoying).
Luckily, developing user personas – mapping out fictional characters representing your core audience – helps you engage individuals with the right approach, timing, and messaging to move them down the conversion path. (Our Persona Worksheet makes mapping our personas easy! Get it below.)
User personas work
User personas help you personalize interactions with your customers + personalization simply works:
How to build actionable user personas
Identify characteristics that offer insight about customers and factors driving their decision making. The goal is to group similar customer representations together, until you’re left with a manageable number of personas, representing about 80% of your audience (3-5, depending on your organization’s size).
When developing user personas, you must collect actionable information that tells you something about the person, so you can respond to their behavior with persuasive, impactful marketing.
Remember, you’re trying to understand intangibles like motivations, concerns, turn-offs, and position in the buyer lifecycle, as well as tangibles like location, age, and education level, to paint a clear and divisive picture of the different types of people making up your core audience. You must also plan how you’ll identify these personas in your various channels (website, email, mobile push, etc.) to deliver the right content.
Don’t stop at your current customer base. Look at the people you want to reach – what kinds of people make up your target audience? Who would be a match for your products or who would benefit from their use?
To walk you through the steps, we’ll use a fictional jewelry company Jim’s Gems.
Step 1 – Qualitative data – what do you think you know?
Get started by affinity mapping (a fancy way of saying an organized brainstorming session).
Give everyone in the brainstorming session some good ole fashion sticky notes to write out the different needs, problems, and goals of your customer base.
For example, Jim’s Gems’ customers might need holiday gifts, engagement and wedding rings, anniversary gifts, etc. Some of them might be on a budget and some may have hefty bank accounts. Some may be young and others old. Some might be new customers overwhelmed by the options, and others might have been coming to Jim for the last 30 years, but aren’t comfortable navigating his website. All of these different points of view, instances, challenges, and motivations must be captured.
When the session is over, collect all the ideas and assumptions and post them up on a board to discuss, edit, and form groups.
You’re done when you have “buckets” or categories that the majority of your customer base fit into and can be divided between. Next, take each “bucket” and brainstorm the attributes of individuals making up that group.
After everyone brainstorms, again, group the attributes beneath each user group to form the basis of your personas.
For example, Jim’s Gems might have buckets based on life events (engagement – wedding – anniversary bucket); by income bracket (budget vs. big spender); marital status (singles vs. families); or relationship with the company (new customer vs. existing relationship).
Step 2 – Mixing in quantitative data – okay, but what do you really know?
You’re developing a clear idea of your personas, but let’s be real, you’re making quite a few assumptions. Next, we review all of our customer data to get to the bottom of what’s really driving (and holding back) our customers.
Go ahead and survey customers by email, phone, or on your website to collect demographic info, pain points, preferences, and what makes them tick.
If you’re like most companies, you probably have more data than you know what to do with. Collect data from sales, returns, reviews, call centers, etc. – whatever you can get your hands on. Look for patterns on buying frequency, pain points, simple demographic data, seasonal patterns, etc.
Your website analytics information can provide a wealth of information (even surprising information like age and gender is available in many analytic tools). By combining your internal data with analytics information like frequency of visits, pages visited, bounce rates, where prospects drop out of the sales funnel, etc., you gather a pretty clear picture of your different personas and their behavior.
Industry data and research can provide a baseline for building personas. Whether it’s paid research from IBIS World and Hoovers or free Census data, you can gain insight into your industry demographics and spending habits.
Your goal is to overlay concrete data with your qualitative brainstorming session. For example, Jim could use census data to estimate how many of his customers are married and how much disposable income they have. He can compare that research with his own internal data, and either confirm his personas or realize they aren’t a big enough segment to warrant a persona group.
Look at your personas against the data. What personas or data points do you need to modify? Make your adjustments and then move onto step 3.
Step 3 – Building out the persona
Mapping out user personas can be overwhelming – we’ve been there. Our persona worksheet (right) can take away some of this complexity. Bear with us – before you start filling out the worksheet, you need to learn about how to make actionable personas (see step 4).
From his buckets + quantitative data, Jim might start with 3 personas – the birthday buyers (likely to be annual customers); family gifters (returning customers, likely to buy around holidays, and buy multiple pieces a year), and the lovebirds (engagement, wedding, anniversary group). How will he identify these customers?
Step 4 – Identifying your personas
Actionable behavior lets you identify anonymous leads and/or customers, otherwise you’re left with lovely, useless caricatures of your customers.
Remember, actionable behaviors can be identified and then trigger a corresponding event.
For example, Jim identifies his “lovebird” persona when an anonymous website visitor visits the “engagement ring” product category AND clicks on the “Financing Terms” link. This action triggers an automatic call from a sales representative.
We’ve listed some of our favorite actionable behaviors below:
Keep in mind, the data points you capture are highly dependent on your business. For example, your customers’ marital status may not be a necessary attribute for your business, but for Jim, marital status is a key data point.
User persona challenges
User personas are fluid. One customer can transition between user personas. For example, if you have one user persona representing new customers and one for experienced customers, the new customer will eventually transition into an experienced customer, once they’ve made a few purchases. Months later, they might begin browsing a completely opposite product category, and require the same nurturing that a new customer requires.
For Jim’s Gems, a customer may be in the engaged track, move into the wedding track, and then live in the anniversary track.
It’s a moving target. Make sure your personas are flexible enough to encompass the natural flow of your buyer cycle and associated behavior triggers.
User persona worksheet
Now you’re ready to complete the Whereoware Persona Worksheet! Once you’ve fleshed out each user persona, share them with your team to keep everyone on the same page. Keep your persona information handy to help map out your content and make interactions with your brand more relevant.