How to Create Audience Personas That Are Actually Super Useful
Over the years, you’ve likely received (and, okay, given) gifts that aren’t quite right. Your brother’s girlfriend’s mom was sweet to puffy paint that reindeer sweatshirt for you, but it’s not quite your style.
Turns out she had you all wrong – and she probably isn’t alone.
Marketers constantly act on false assumptions and misinterpret signals about their target audiences, resulting in similar well-intentioned blunders.
However, there is hope for the savvy marketer!
(And for the DIY gift-givers of the world, but we’ll have to cover that in a different post.)
It all starts with audience personas, or semi-fictional archetypes, that represent your ideal type of customer.
When approached correctly, audience personas help you:
Anticipate and address audience needs (make them think you read their mind).
Personalize messaging, brand voice, content, and product features.
Prioritize initiatives, budgets, and resources.
Drive desired actions (get them to spend that money – if that’s your goal, that is).
So, how do you go about building audience personas?
Step 1: Brainstorm sesh
Gather up key players in your organization, making sure to include representatives with a variety of business perspectives and priorities (heated convos encouraged!).
Do a few trust falls (if that’s your jam), pull out the whiteboard, and get after that brainstorm.
The best way to expose knowledge gaps about your audience is to outline what you want to learn, what you think you know, what you ACTUALLY know, and why you even care.
For example, let’s say your company is in the octopus apparel biz (genius idea, right?).
A simple matrix like this helps move the brain exercises along:
Be honest with your assessment of assumptions versus facts. If there’s even a shadow of a doubt, plop that baby in the assumption bucket.
Also, if you’re having trouble getting company stakeholders to understand the value in challenging preconceptions about target audiences (or allocate resources to audience research), this exercise is instrumental in getting them to remove the blinders.
(We all rock the blinders from time to time. That’s why this step is so important even if you’re the big decision maker in your biz!)
Step 2: Research
When most people hear the word research, they see dollar signs (and not the good kind). They worry about breaking the bank on expensive studies and seeing little return.
However, no need to get squirmy! There are loads of qualitative and quantitative research techniques to pick from:
Interviews: Lead in-depth conversations with an audience sample to unlock typical attitudes, beliefs, concerns, experiences, behaviors, and motivations. Bonus points for in-person interviews, or even video calls – facial expressions and body language matter!
Focus groups and observation: Ask groups or individuals questions from the “stuff we want to know” bucket. Have them visit your website and talk you through their thought process as they click and scroll around.
Multi-variant tests: Test, test, test! Not sure which value prop, copy, or images to go with? Run an A/B test on your website or take advantage of Facebook’s crazy audience targeting capabilities. Resist the urge to muddle up your tests by changing more than one variable at a time – we know, it’s tempting!
Website analytics: Evaluate how visitors use your site. What keywords are people searching for on Google to get to your site? Which blog posts drive the most traffic? Where are peeps spending time?
Social reputation analytics: Use a third party tool or ask your social community manager to pass along questions and convos happening related to your company. Are your ears burning? They should be!
Customer service and sales analysis: Don’t forget about your greatest tool – your people! These peeps are in the trenches and can funnel over FAQs, customer feedback, and audience insights.
Independent research companies: Syndicated research can cost a pretty penny, but can prove ridiculously valuable. Depending what you want to learn, it might be worth leaning on the pros. Plus, removing yourself from the process helps eliminate internal bias!
Step 3: Formalize your audience personas
Now for the fun part! Craft your personas by segmenting “types” of people based on clearly defined characteristics and your research findings – don’t forget the data!
Create a visual overview for each semi-fictional persona that tells a unique story. Include relevant information such as:
Demographics and biographical stats
Goals and aspirations
Typical day, responsibilities, and decisions
Challenges, pain points, and objections
Okay, now do the opposite – create NEGATIVE audience personas.
Don’t go TOO wild, but isolate a few typical customer types that you can afford to avoid like Edgar avoids his cousin Reginald (long story).
Take the geniuses behind that imaginary octopus apparel company!
Their research shows that starfish are jealous of octopuses and their eight arms.
(We don’t think five arms are anything to squawk at, but starfish are a sensitive group.)
Starfish are constantly trying to “make it work” with the octopus sweater, but end up unsatisfied, resulting in a 100% return rate (and an irreversible self-confidence hit).
We aren’t octopus sweater experts (yet), but this sounds like a solid heads-up to the copywriters, content producers, social peeps, and marketing team at octopus apparel headquarters. Think about how this tidbit could inform department strategies!
Okay, make sense so far?
We know you got this, but here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind with this audience persona thingamajig:
Be agile: This is a living and breathing document. As you unlock valuable information about your audience, update and react accordingly. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of situation.
Don’t get sidetracked: Make sure the traits you use to differentiate or define your personas are relevant. While octopuses in the Atlantic love eighties pop music, for example, this fact doesn’t have much influence on octopus apparel (unless you have a Cyndi Lauper product line).
Prioritize personas: Keep your personas specific, but not TOO specific. (What we mean is, don’t create a million different personas.) Rank your audiences in order of priority and make your personas meaningfully different.
Think outside your role: Remember when we said to gather up all sorts of peeps from varying functions in your organization? Well, that’s because you need to consider the entire sales funnel – not just your piece of the puzzle!
Step 4: Do something with those audience personas!
Alright, we’ll give it to you. Your persona slides are beautiful, but they don’t do you any good stashed away out of sight.
Let your good knowledge be known!
Every single person in your company, regardless of role, benefits from understanding your target audiences better.
Really understanding the people you want to reach and connect with has major business impacts that should inform all sorts of super important decisions, like:
Budget allocation: Where does your audience spend their time? If they are on Facebook or a fave online publication, hit them up in their happy place. If they could benefit from a product feature, you can hone your product development efforts to address their specific needs.
Hiring priorities: If your audience likes to make informed buying decisions, be there to answer questions and provide information. Make sure your team is on-point where it matters most (hello, killer customer service and content team!).
Quality leads: When you’re talking to the right people, you can eliminate all sorts of unqualified leads – remember those negative personas you built? (We love this kind of budget, time, and energy efficiency!)
Focus: If your sales team is out there pitching every Tom, Dick, and Harry they meet, there will be a lot of wasted energy (and not just for the sales team). The wrong kind of customer will impact your entire organization, from customer service to product development to operations.
Now get going and build, tweak, or update your company’s audience personas! You’ll be better for it in the long run.
What’s YOUR experience with audience personas?
What tips do you have for building (or updating) personas?
What types of research do you love?
How do you put those personas to work across your organization?
Let us know how you’re using personas in the comments below!
How to Create Audience Personas That Are Actually Super Useful
What information matters most when you're creating audience personas - and where does it come from? Here's how to create ones that make a real difference!