Personas development sure sounds fancy. If you’ve been doing any digital marketing over the past few years, you’ve likely come across the concept of personas. A quick Google search will tell you that it’s a great way to profile your audience to learn about their specific needs and behaviors. Great! Got it.
As someone who has developed personas for brands professionally for several years, I feel that personas come off as an abstract idea. On paper they sound like something helpful, but just figuring out who one’s personas are and then what to do with the persona assets once they have them is a question that many people can’t answer.
In this mini-series of posts, I will help you decode personas, figure out how to get started, and how to apply them to real-world digital marketing campaigns.
Identifying Your Personas
To start persona development, you need to decide who your personas are. It’s not uncommon for that to stump someone who is new to persona development. My tip is to avoid trying to build a profile of the perfect customer. Of course, the goal for personas is ultimately to achieve a better conversion rate, but that’s the end result. The beginning of the journey that brings a person to the point of converting starts on a path where we are delivering the right content, to the right people at the right time.
Who Are My Personas?
Imagine that all of your prospects and customers are assembled in a large room, and that you have a message for them. If you stand up and start yelling that message at them all at once, your message is likely to be lost on most of them. If you split them up into like-minded groups and address those groups and deliver your message in a way that is specifically tailored to that group, they are more likely to absorb the message.
In modern marketing, we know that the one-size-fits-all approach is not efficient or effective. Creating our personas is going to help us create an experience for our audience that fits just right for them, as long as we’re forming the persona based on data that we know is accurate. Don’t fall into the trap of creating a persona that represents how you wish a particular audience segment behaved or felt about your brand. Our goal is to get them to those feelings and behaviors, but we need to make sure that we are using real data and our inside experience to map out the reality for how that segment behaves and feels about the brand.
Speaking of data, it’s a great idea to make sure that any persona that you have identified is something that you can actually represent in data form. A persona is a concept that we want to translate to the direct execution of our marketing campaigns, ie) emails, landing pages, and social posts. If I believe that a specific group is a key part of my audience, but I have no way of presenting that group to the marketing software platforms that I am using, there is no way for me to now execute any campaigns or initiatives in that group. So, when you think you have identified a persona, make sure that’s something that you could actually pull as a list in your CRM.
How Many Personas Do I Need?
Widely accepted best practices suggest that you start with a goal of building 3-5 personas. It’s good to cap it at 3-5 because it’s all too easy to fall down a rabbit hole with personas. A persona is just a segment of your audience that you build a profile for and it’s really easy to start to over-segment and get too granular, but that’s not to say that segmentation within persona work does not have its place.
If you look for overlap in their needs, wants, pain points, and content consumption habits that should help you start to identify common denominators to make up a persona. It’s also okay to have subsegments that exist within a persona. Think of them like Russian nesting dolls: When assembled I have one doll that is made up of several smaller dolls that fit perfectly inside one another.
EXAMPLE: I might develop a persona for Engineers in my audience base, but also have a segmentation strategy to identify noteworthy subsegments like Design Engineers, Electrical Engineers, UX Engineers, etc.
Overall, these subsegments may have similar backgrounds, pain points, and content consumption habits so I group them all under the umbrella of one Engineer persona. This allows me to map out everything that is universally true for the persona group to develop my broad strategy for them.
By making note of the possible subsegments as part of the persona development helps me create emails, social media posts, and web page content with smart content and branch logic that will help me put unique little spins on everything with smart content and branch logic to appeal to things that are unique to the subsegments.
EXAMPLE:: I launch a nurture campaign for my prospects that are Engineers, and while they get the same emails and go to the same landing pages, my technology allows me to show different content to the subsegments based on their interest. I may have a resource page for Engineers, but Electrical Engineers see content that is more geared towards them, while a UX Engineer would see different content tailored to the resources and verbiage that resonates more with them.
- One-Size-Fits-All doesn’t work. Divide and conquer in a targeted way by building your strategies for specific personas.
- To identify who your personas are, go through the exercise of dividing them into groups that you would speak to differently because of who they are or what they do.
- Make sure that any persona that you have identified is something that you would actually be able to pull as a list from your CRM. If the data point doesn’t exist, neither can the persona.
- Don’t settle for wishful thinking. Build your personas based on actual data and insider experience with them.
- Not everything needs to be a persona. Build a persona to identify common needs, wants, pain points to help plan out your broader strategies, and create a segmentation strategy for personas to deliver messaging with unique spins for smaller groups within the persona.