10 Step Persona Building Guide for More Effective Marketing

Vinny La Barbera
Written by

Vinny La Barbera

Are you frustrated with the lack of responses and results from your marketing efforts?

Unless your marketing campaign results have hockey-sticked  over the past 12 months, then chances are that you’re missing a very important step – persona building.

In this article you will find a complete and detailed persona building guide to help yield better, longer-lasting results from your online marketing efforts.

Persona Building by imFORZA

GET ACCESS TO OUR FREE PERSONA BUILDING TEMPLATE to start creating accurate, helpful personas for your target audiences. It’s the perfect compliment to our detailed guide below.

Breaking Down the Persona Building Process

Building meaningful personas for your marketing outreach efforts can mean the success or failure of future campaigns. The process of creating a marketing persona allows you to gain deeper insights into the minds of your consumers, and these profiles subsequently can be leveraged to create content that connects with your audience on a deeper level.

With any luck, you’ll build online authority for your site, and you’ll increase leads and conversions.

Developing personas that truly have meaning, however, is a task that requires the joint effort of every department at your disposal. If you’re a business owner, you owe it to your company to commit this guide to memory.

Step 1: Gather the Right People

Building personas is a team effort across all areas of your business. Each department, team lead, and decision-maker has key insights into your customer base, and they’re attuned to the attitudes and beliefs that motivate these individuals to buy your products.

You can’t have too many opinions at this stage of the project.

Here are the main groups that you should include:

  • C-Level Management and Stakeholders: Every owner and decision maker in your company needs to take part. Include department heads in this group, and encourage more enthusiastic participation from your larger workforce.
  • Product Team Managers: Workers who are in charge of your products or services have unique perspective into their value propositions. If you outsource design or creation of these items, reach out to these freelancers or agencies to get their advice.
  • The Boots on the Ground: Employees who interact with customers every day understand their buying habits and common questions better than any segment of your workforce. Recruit them for the project by asking for their opinions.
  • The Marketing Guys: Yes, anyone involved with marketing your business stands to have an idea about its target audience and the makeup of those consumers likely to buy. Get their direct feedback — don’t allow them to give you spreadsheets in place of opinions.

The goal at this stage is to facilitate interaction among these groups. You don’t want opinions given in a vacuum where other segments of your business don’t get a chance to hear them. Don’t conduct anonymous surveys, either. Active participation in real time is the only way to get the honest answers that you need to create compelling personas.

Step 2: Commence the Brainstorming Sessions

Structure and order in your initial brainstorming efforts for persona creation are vital for every person (and every group) to have a clear voice in development. Get all of these aforementioned groups together in the same room.

If you have stakeholders outside of easy driving distance, have them join the meeting digitally via Skype or other call-in service. Arm yourself with a dry-erase whiteboard, corresponding markers, and post-it notes in every color available.

The first brainstorming meeting should focus on identifying need assumptions within your customer base.

Have each person in all groups write what they believe are the needs of your target market on post-it notes in the following categories:

  • Customer Goals: What are the goals of consumers buying your company’s products or services? What do they hope to achieve when they take action to buy? Think critically about the needs that your products or services fulfill for your customers.
  • Common Activities: How do consumers use your company’s products or services? The intended use of your items from the design and marketing phases may change dramatically once they reach the hands of consumers. Your ground-level employees can provide invaluable insight in this category.
  • Problems with Products: What are the barriers to purchase? Be as skeptical as possible about your own products to discover those issues that could keep potential customers from spending money.

Organize each group’s responses to these categories on your dry-erase board by post-it note color. Discuss them openly among the group with every team member giving feedback. No one should stay silent at this phase. Eliminate from the board any proposed customer needs that the group considers invalid. Keep those customer needs that get two or three votes from your team as “true,” and put them on the board underneath their relevant categories.

Step 3: Review Assumptions About Customer Attributes

Repeat the process from your first brainstorming session, but focus on the psychological makeup of your customers and their demographics. The physiological motivations of your potential customers or clients are powerful elements in shaping your personas.

Segmenting by demographics will help you understand your product’s reach as well as the geographic and economic factors that make up your target market.

Here’s what you need to focus on for round two:

  • Customer Psychographics: What are the opinions, attitudes, and interests of your potential clients or customers? Conduct a fearless examination of these areas focusing on types of buyers as well as their communities.
  • Where Customers Live: Where do the people who regularly buy your products or services live? Get as granular as necessary here, right down to neighborhoods in your business area.
  • Ages and Gender of Customers: Are your typical customers older or younger? What age groups do they fall into? What generations (Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millennial, etc.) can you group them into? Can your group estimate the gender most likely to buy from your company?
  • Economic and Family Factors: Does your company do more business with families or single people? What professions and income levels does your business attract on average?

Order feedback in the same way as your first meeting, with the group voting for opinions that they consider valid and cutting the pieces that don’t hold water. Match these roughly defined groups to the categories that you established from the previous session.

Do older buyers focus more on pricing barriers than your younger customers? Do families using your items have different goals than those who are single?

You should start to see patterns emerge to help drive the creation of your marketing personas.

Step 4: Use Customer Data to Verify Your Assumptions

The third meeting of your brainstorming cohort should focus on data that backs up the opinions gathered from your previous two get-togethers. This is an area where your marketing team can shine by presenting their customer satisfaction surveys and internal studies of sales.

You can also include information gathered from testing user experience and interaction on your e-commerce website, if your business has one, via third-party programs.

Assumptions that lack substantive information shouldn’t make it past this phase.

If you find that many of the assumptions that your group labeled as “true” don’t have supporting data, you may need to change your groupings. Missing or outright absent customer data could also mean that the group’s notions of your business don’t line up with consumer opinion in your target market.

As marketers like to say, customers tend to vote with their wallets. Sales numbers are the easiest to quantify for your purposes here.

Adjust your groups as necessary until every assumption has at least one verifiable data point to back it up. This step is essential for focusing your marketing efforts to target personas that actually exist.

Don’t pour all your efforts into a fictitious customer group or take action based on pure opinion.

Step 5: Leverage Social Media for Customer Feedback

If you lack facts to back up your assumptions about your emerging personas, there’s still one more place that you can go to obtain the unvarnished truth: your following on social media.

Your business should have its own Facebook page and Twitter account (at minimum).

Log in and review the comments and tweets about your products and the experiences that customers have had at your stores. Reach out to users who express their frustrations and ask them what your company can do to improve. Talk to visitors who love your business and ask what factors influenced them to become fans of your brand.

Keep these things in mind:

  • Don’t Argue with Customers: It’s natural to want to defend your business when someone has a negative opinion. Avoid acting on this urge at all costs, though, or risk becoming the next Amy’s Bakery or Applebee’s, where arguing with customers on social media becomes a high-profile nightmare. Doing so shuts down the open dialogue that you have with customers and may build negative sentiment across your target market. Stay professional, look for any valuable takeaways, and vow to get better.
  • Ask Open-Ended Questions: Get as much information out of your customers on social media as possible. Ask questions that don’t have simple yes or no answers. This action is part of qualitative research where you’re trying to understand the “how” and “why” of customer motivations.
  • Look for Patterns: Gather customer feedback, and look for common trends. Do you notice repeated complaints about your products? What product attributes do commenters consider the most important? Apply this data to your previously established needs and attributes groups.

Customers who have concerns about your business and take to social media to voice them are giving you a valuable opportunity. Showing a willingness to respond to these customers and address their issues with real action can turn these people into more than just a revenue stream.

They can be transformed from vocal agitators into cheerleaders for your brand, attracting people from their own social circles to your company.

Subsequently, if you can build these concerns into your personas, you’ll likely be increasing your chances of making this happen through your marketing outreach.

Step 6: Organize Your Groups into Personas

Give each pattern of needs and customer attributes a name and title that corresponds with relevant information that you’ve verified from the previous steps.

Imagine a typical person from each group as a character to make the persona seem more real for you and the rest of your business.

Each one that your team creates will represent a distinct archetype of a potential customer. Depending on your data pool from your past brainstorming, you should have enough to create between three and 10 unique profiles.

Here are some examples of what your basic personas should look like:

  • Necessity Ned (Buys Based on Need): Ned is 25 to 30 years old, earns a middle-class income, and only buys your products when he absolutely needs them. Discounts and sales could affect his spending habits. He’s single and likes to buy products online and not visit brick-and-mortar stores. Ned is a musician who is active on social media and likely to use online reviews to help him make buying decisions.
  • Researching Rachael (Researches Heavily Before Buying): Rachael is 30 to 45 years old, earns a high-end income, and buys products based on extensive research. She’s willing to spend more money for a product that does the job right the first time, but doesn’t adopt early. Rachael doesn’t trust online shopping and would prefer to visit a physical store. She is an account executive who uses social media infrequently.
  • Peter Prestige (Buys to Enhance His Image): Peter is 18 to 22 years old, earns a middle-class income, and buys products for the prestige that he receives from friends and family. He’s likely to buy early in a product’s life cycle and is willing to pay a higher price to get the product before others. Early reviews from authoritative sources (online and offline) could influence his decision to make a purchase. Peter wants what’s new and has a lot of media buzz associated with it.

Above all else, just focus on what matters here. Don’t worry about creating a flawless representation of each persona. You want to craft them to have accurate portrayals of each group’s buying motivations, but don’t toil over the minutia.

Focusing on nuanced details such as a specific age (as opposed to an age group) bogs down the creation process and can lead to missteps.

Step 7: Do Some Quantitative Research

With your personas created, you can start to estimate the number of customers who potentially fall into them. Using quantitative research, establish how users within your personas behave. You’ll once again reach out to your customers, but you’ll use more targeted methods to get information from them than your qualitative research.

Leverage these methods to return precise feedback:

  • Use Multiple-Choice Surveys: Ask pointed buying questions so you can assign respondents to your personas. Avoid open-ended questions where the customer creates his or her own answer. Each question should have at most three answer choices.
  • Get More User Data: Many companies use market segmentation tools to cultivate usage data and generate panel surveys. Much of this information is available online for free. Even if there’s a fee attached to a download, obtaining the data can provide invaluable information about your target market. Compare that research to your own notes on personas. Google’s Consumer Barometer is a free resource to gauge interest in products across customizable demographics.
  • Allow Users to Create Profiles: Customers who create profiles on your business website through a social media login give you important information about their spending habits. Analyzing profile trends puts a quantifiable number to users that may fall under the personas that your company has created.

Knowing what personas your business regularly encounters helps your marketing team focus their efforts. Forming strategies to target personas that your salespeople see all the time can help you solidify revenue in your strongest target market.

You can also develop tactics to earn customers from personas that your business encounters less often.

Step 8: Use Personas in the Marketing Funnel

Understanding where each persona fits along your marketing funnel is vital for your content creation and public relations teams. When you know what behaviors indicate buying signals or a willingness to spend, you can develop strategies to move each persona along the funnel.

You can also create content that addresses persona concerns as they move down the funnel, increasing sale chances. Outreach, as a direct result of your team’s increased knowledge, becomes more effective.

Here are the important stages of the marketing funnel and how personas can match them:

  • Awareness Stage: The persona knows that your product or service exists, but has no direct wish to buy. She or he may have friends on social media who use your product or service, so she or he sees your brand regularly.
  • Consideration Stage: Something happens (pay raise, new need, effective advertising, etc.) that starts a persona thinking about buying. The persona may look to multiple businesses to satisfy his or her need and consider what values are important to them as he or she looks into each company and product.
  • Preference Stage: Personas form their opinions about your product based on a variety of factors, including your advertisements, peer reviews, and promotional offers. Each of your personas forms opinions, positive and negative, in different ways. Effective targeting of multiple personas requires a multi-pronged marketing approach that combines compelling content, social proof, and promotions.
  • Action Stage: This point is when the personas make their decision to buy your product. If your marketing has led them down the funnel, your business generates a new sale. The experience that the persona has at this stage from your product’s performance and the attitude of your salespeople also dictates whether the customer turns into a brand ambassador or warns others to stay away.

The factors leading up to the purchase decision change with the persona. Where one persona may only purchase based on her or his immediate need for your product, another might buy simply because her or his friends are doing the same thing.

Develop an action plan to target each persona’s needs and considerations along the marketing funnel so you can close a sale in all identified circumstances.

Step 9: Reach Personas at any Marketing Funnel Stage

Planning to catch a persona at each stage of the marketing funnel is important for every phase of your business, from marketing down to the employees on the sales floor. Think about the actions that personas take at each stage of the funnel and devise a concrete plan to win them over.

Use these examples to strengthen your own marketing outreach efforts and content:

  • Getting Attention in the Awareness Stage: Visibility is life for any modern business. Stay active on social channels with daily updates about your products, including special features and promotions, to keep your customers interested and increase the potential that prospective buyers will notice your brand.
  • Targeting the Consideration Stage: The majority of product research happens during this stage where consumers weigh strengths and weaknesses of multiple products. Create an online tool allowing consumers to check your product against the competition. Give potential customers all the information, showing them why your item is (truthfully) better than the rest.
  • Win at the Preference Stage: What key factors determine the likes and dislikes of your personas? Nailing the right message can steer them down the funnel to make a purchasing decision. For example, highlighting your lower cost as compared to other products in your niche could separate your company from the pack. A memorable marketing campaign resulting in increased brand mentions can win over those who rely on social media.
  • Convert Leads into Sales: Emphasize convenience and an easy buying experience to get sales from personas more interested in online shopping. Talk up your in-house team of product experts to satisfy the consumers who demand in-depth knowledge before buying.

Step 10: Test Your Persona Marketing Outreach Strategies

You’ve done all the hard work to create your marketing personas, and now your teams are implementing marketing strategies across your brand. However, the question remains: Do they work?

Measuring return on investment (ROI) for outreach efforts isn’t about winning a quick buck or instant success.

Your departments — sales, product development, and marketing — need time to put out content to attract new customers and adjust tactics to close sales. Not every effort that your business implements will succeed, and that’s part of the process.

Testing conversion rates for campaigns provides insight into how right your personas are and what you might need to adjust:

  • Open Rates for Email Marketing: The rate at which consumers open emails varies by the industry. If your current campaign sags below your industry average, it’s time to review your subject headings and body content with effective targeting of personas in mind.
  • Use Google Analytics: Link Google Analytics to your business website to track conversions and contact forms. You can use multi-channel conversion settings in the platform to tell from what landing pages that visitors converted and which of your online marketing efforts led them to take action.
  • Talk to Your Customers: Continue to ask for customer feedback at every stage. While you don’t need to change your business model based on the whims of a few people, addressing the common concerns that you hear sends the message that you value outside opinions. Consumers want to know that their voices matter.

Persona Building is a Process, Not a Project

Targeted  Marketing Outreach

It’s important to remember that persona building is not something you do once. It’s a process that requires an open feedback loop for frequent updating.

Personas, just like your customers, are never stagnant.

You’ll need to update their profiles on a continual basis to keep up with emerging trends, new products, and changing economic times.

Staying diligent in your upkeep can help make sure that your business doesn’t send the right message to the wrong market segment.

With well built personas, not only will your marketing will become more effective, but your sales and customer service teams will do as well. Understanding your customers inside and out is vital to building a great, long-lasting business.

Go ahead and start creating your personas now (make sure to grab our FREE persona building template to make things even easier) or let us know if you need help by commenting below or requesting a consultation with us.

Need more guidance establishing useful personas for your business?



One Comment

    February 10, 2015

    Today, to create and develop a persona is not so easy. you have to create your persona and have to take some opinion. And I’m pretty much sure that, it will work.

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