A persona is a group of people who demonstrate similar behaviors in various aspects of life. These groups are analyzed and categorized by marketers who want to understand how to motivate individuals to purchase products and services, and eventually become brand loyalists (1).
Often personified by a fictional character, like "CEO Charlie," personas focus on the qualitative aspects of specific market segments that are useful in determining their goals, desires and limitations. This information is used to customize a business's marketing mix, including messaging, packaging, features and distribution. Personas are also useful to online business owners who wish to improve the user experience on their websites by crafting the language, design and navigation according to the goals of the desired audience.
In previous years, companies used more homogenous strategies to market to consumers. They picked a broad section of the market that seemed like a good fit and created a "one-size-fits-all" approach to reach them. When cable and satellite media services gained widespread use, niche advertising began to grow in importance. Consumer choices were expanding, making it more difficult for marketers to reach significant numbers of people without buying advertisements on multiple media channels.
Today, the marketing paradigm has shifted even more toward the consumer. People not only have more choices of what to buy, they now often choose how to customize a product to their tastes after purchasing. Today, consumers expect brands to focus on their individual needs and desires before bringing products and services to market.
Like any marketing activity, creating buyer personas with accuracy depends to some extent on the resources of the business. Some have the time and budget to conduct in-depth interviews with hundreds of people, questioning buying preferences, habits and behaviors.
These interviews typically work best when conducted in-context, such as at the user's workplace or at home, where marketers can uncover environmental attributes that may not be easily discovered in a research facility (1). After the business has identified similarities between people, they categorize them into personas and conduct a second round of interviews that focus on each group. The goal is to validate the first sample of data and fill in any gaps left by the previous interview.
Some businesses lack the resources to hire a research firm to discover personas and may instead have to gather research others have already done, or try to do it themselves by talking to customers. Persona behaviors are largely influenced by shared attributes in market segments. These attributes may include, but are not limited to (2):
Gender - the sex of the user is a very important factor in some products and services, but not all of them. The business owner should know whether gender plays a role in his or her marketing mix, and if so, how much.
Age - This is the simplest part of any persona profile. Age can influence a variety of factors, including the person's values, goals, interests, anxieties and purchasing power.
Profession - This applies to B2C companies only, since B2B companies will know which professions suit them. Profession can impact how the persona may use your products and services, particularly if the solution you provide is career-oriented.
Finances- This is one of the most important considerations in a persona profile. While it is important to determine the financial means of your target customer, it is equally important to know how they determine value. Are they willing to pay more for a premium service, or do they view your product category as a commodity where the lowest price always wins?
Intent - Knowing why the consumer buys your product is important for knowing how to position it to new buyers. The product could serve a tangible purpose, solving a specific problem, or it could be a lifestyle choice, aligning their self perception with brands they like.
Leisure time - How does your target audience spend its free time? Knowing details about interests, hobbies, eating and media habits can present new opportunities for you to reach these people.
Shopping habits - What other products and services does this persona buy? Determine what else they are looking for, and seek ways you can serve them better with your own offerings.
Surface level demographic information is no longer enough. Businesses need to have a deep understanding of why customers behave the way they do and what they expect from the companies they buy from. Understanding their motivations makes it possible to mold your solutions, products, designs, campaigns, customer support and other aspects to conform to their expectations. Once companies have the data they need, they need to put it to good use.
Persona information should be shared generously between all levels of an organization, as each and every department contributes in some way to the customer experience. Every touchpoint a customer has with a brand - whether in the introductory, research or buying phase - should be enhanced by the business's knowledge of that persona.
Likewise, any silo within a company that learns something new should share it with the entire organization. Company leadership should always encourage the cross-pollination of information so persona profiles can be refined and improved.
Personas are incredibly important to business success today, and maintaining a deep understanding of them requires a constant, ongoing effort. Customer needs change, and companies should evolve with them, maintaining a constant dialogue and improving their offerings as they go.