Updated: Jul 7
On this blog we often emphasise the importance of tailoring what you write to the needs of your readers, as opposed to creating content and hoping to find an audience for it later. The better you know your audience, the more engaging your posts will be. The more engaging your posts, the better your relationship with your audience will be. The better your relationship, the better your business will do... And so on.
This can sometimes feel a little easier said than done, though. After all, it’s impossible to know each and every individual that makes up your consumer-base, right?
That’s where audience personas come in.
Personas are a tool designed to help marketers bridge this difficult gap between your general assumptions and actual customer experience and expectations. They’re archetypal character profiles, imaginary people with names and histories that represent different key slices of your audience, which you can refer to as often as you need to look at what you’re doing from your consumers’ perspective.
So, how do you get started?
Step 1 - Research audience personas
First of all, you’ve got to collect as much data on your audience as possible. The more you can manage to amalgamate now, the more accurate your profiles will be later on. On a broad level you’re trying to get basic information like age, gender, location, job role, average income, education etc. - but any extra details you can garner will also be more useful later on when you’re fleshing things out.
There are a variety of different ways you can collect this information:
Free analytics tools are available on most social media platforms, which will offer you plenty of basic demographic information and a great starting point.
Email / online surveys can be a great way to get specific information from your existing client base. Survey Monkey is a particularly popular tool for creating these, plus it will suggest ‘certified’ questions to help you get your wording right and ensure you receive the answers you’re looking for without any confusion.
Involving your team can also be really useful - check in with client managers and customer service members in particular to find out what kinds of customers they find themselves talking with most frequently.
If you have the time and the funds, focus groups are also a great way to talk to your customers directly and get to know them on a more personal level.
Step 2 - Look for trends
Now that you’ve collected all your research together, it’s time to analyse it to try and find what your audience members have in common. Is there a particular concentration of women in their 40s, for example, or do you notice that a lot of your customers tend to be self-employed, or live in a particular city?
Connecting the dots like this is where you start to shape that raw data into something that kinda-sorta resembles a person. Start separating the different characters that emerge into your primary, secondary, and tertiary customers, depending on how prominent they are in your consumer-base. On average, having 2-5 profiles is a good idea, as this number is big enough to cover the majority of your audience and small enough to retain the value of specificity.
Step 3 - Fill in the blanks
A lot of marketers might make the mistake of stopping there. You have a few characters with demographic information filled out, so what more do you need? The trouble with these basic profiles is that they only really scrape the surface. These characters probably aren’t an awful lot more developed than the vague idea of your audience you were holding in your head based on assumptions anyway, so they won’t do a lot for your content.
That’s why at this stage, you need to start filling in the blanks yourself. Use your data along with the little details you’ve managed to get from conversations with customers or colleagues and make some educated guesses. You’ll want to consider things like…
What goals does this person have?
What’s stopping them from achieving those goals?
What does their daily routine look like?
Where do they get their news?
What people do they have depending on them?
What hurdles and frustrations do they face on the day-to-day?
Why would they be interested in your product or service?
What’s stopping them from buying your product or service?
What would need to happen to allow them to buy your product or service?
These questions will help you uncover the connection between your demographic models and your business, making it clear how your product or service relates to or impacts their life.
Step 4 - Personalise
Once all of these blanks are filled in, you’re still not quite done.
In a recent article by Ann Gynn for the Content Marketing Institute, marketing consultant Elliott Brown made the great point that you need to ensure your persona is more than just a ‘stock photo’:
“A small business owner is not some guy in a striped apron who smiles with pride as he turns around the “open” sign and picks up a broom to sweep up his shop. That’s the stock photo of a small business owner.
A small business owner persona needs to have a name. Let’s say it’s Mike. And Mike needs to wake up super early every weekday because it’s the only time he can respond to emails without being constantly interrupted. He wears an ugly pair of khakis on Fridays because he hasn’t had a chance to do laundry.
He’s down one team member, which means he needs to spend a lot more of the day working directly with customers. He likes doing it, but it keeps him from getting all kinds of other stuff done during the workday. Tonight, Mike has big plans to watch Friends reruns on the couch while running the payroll he wasn’t able to complete this afternoon.
Does Mike need a blog post on six tips to improve productivity at work? No way. He needs a post about six lifesavers to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.”
It’s all about being able to empathise with your customer and see them as a real individual you could have a conversation with. Don’t be afraid to challenge your assumptions about them, either. Try asking questions that might seem silly, but that will help you flesh out their personalities. For example…
Are they a cat or a dog person?
What sort of time do they aim to go to bed - and what time do they actually go to bed?
How computer-literate are they?
What are their hobbies?
Who do they turn to for advice?
How many pairs of shoes to they own?
How old is their mobile phone?
How do they go about making decisions?
It can be tempting to try and keep your personas as broad and vague as possible (or not to bother with them at all), because that way you don’t feel like you’re excluding any potential prospects that don’t fit your categories. But personas shouldn’t act as a strict limitation, just a guide to help you think about things from a customer perspective more often. And if they feel specific, that’s not a bad thing.They should be unique to your business after all. Being able to add more detail simply means you’re developing a more accurate representation, and that’s what will be most beneficial to your content in the long run.
Check out the images below for a few examples to give you some inspiration: