Digital Marketing

A Guide to Customer Personas

Online marketing is, despite a common misconception, a very specialised branch in the field of marketing that requires thorough planning and research in order to penetrate the appropriate customer base. It is, therefore, essential for any online marketer to be able to compile an optimised customer persona so that the key traits of a large segment of the target audience can be successfully identified. With this guide, we will not only show you how to achieve just that, but also provide you with the tools to raise your customer targeting skills to the next level.

Are you in? Then let’s start with a few fundamental questions that will be answered at the end of this article:

  • What is a customer persona?
  • Which processes are followed?
  • How do we optimise a customer persona for targeting?
  • What information belongs on a customer persona?

First things first: In order to market a product or service properly, you must first have an in-depth understanding of who your ideal customer is. Where do they do their shopping? What problems are they faced with in their daily lives? How can your product or service add value to the lives of your targeted customers? You simply can’t avoid the process of compiling a customer persona if you want your knowledge of your ideal customer to be as relevant as possible, as this marketing tool will have an enormously positive effect on your entire marketing process.

However, the process of compiling a customer persona isn’t solely about who the potential customers of your business are; it is also a matter of general connectedness, whether in the form of customers, employees, stakeholders or multipliers. This concept is particularly important in establishing a digital brand that includes editors, journalists, industry experts and other individuals of particular interest to the business. Industry experts are extremely valuable to the trademark of any business, as the combination of popularity and a sound reputation is worth gold. When looking to potential customers specifically, it is necessary to examine their demands and needs, as those individuals who have the need, will and power to make a purchase, are the ones who will ultimately help you achieve the goals of your marketing campaign. It is pivotal that you always pay close attention to your target group when optimising your sales conversion rate.

The Swiss Army Knife (basics) of marketing

The compilation of customer personas will affect virtually every aspect of your marketing and sales process. Fittingly, the following points must be paid close attention to:

  • Content marketing: Which articles, blog posts, videos, podcasts or lead magnets are relevant to your persona?
  • Advertising: Which databases and platforms should you make use of? What targeting options should be invested in?
  • Product creation: What challenges and problems do you target group face? What solutions are they after?
  • Copywriting: How should you formulate your offers, advertisements and emails so that your prospective customer makes a purchase?
  • Email marketing: Which customers should receive which sequence of emails?

These five points are only the tip of the iceberg. It would be wise to also keep the following in mind for the long run: The more defined your customer persona is, the easier it will be for you to acquire new customers. Knowing their characteristics will be well worth your while, as being able to react and deliver on these characteristics is the key to involving customers in the long term.

Traditional business versus e-commerce

When looking at the process of compiling a customer persona in the field of e-commerce, it is important to supplement the classic persona with additional features; features that can be applied in reverse as direct measures for online marketing. Let’s use a classic stereotype as an example: Holger, a dominant patriarch and head of the Meyer family, is striving for power, freedom and wealth. A matching landing page is swiftly created according to these characteristics and even the content is easily put together. But how do you really form an accurate opinion around the persona of Holger, when the information provided does not help with the process of targeting?

The looming question is: How do we reach the desired target group in order to provide them with content to cheer from? After all, many resources have already been put into the compilation of the persona. Unfortunately, the classic persona of Holger offers no targeting options that could assist you online and therefore care needs to be taken to ensure that all target group definitions present enough targeting options. It’s only when you know who you are dealing with that you can provide dynamic and integrated content for specific personas. Failure to reach a specific target group will not only be ineffective and unproductive, but will also result in high bounce rates and low click-through rates (CTRs). The smart thing to do when compiling customer personas would be to always keep the targeting options for your distribution channels in mind so that you can arrange your content in a relevant way.

What should a customer persona consist of?

A classic customer persona consists of five main points. In some instances, you will be required to conduct further interviews with existing customers in order to reach these five criteria points and be able to accurately and continuously optimise your profile. In other instances, however, you may already be familiar with the specific characteristics of your customers. Whatever the case may be, it is vital for any online marketer to adopt an active outlook.

Don’t wait for surveys and interview to compile the first draft of your customer persona and always follow your gut to make reasonable assumptions if you haven’t yet received any tangible data or feedback. You should always continue your research and try to complete your personas as accurately as possible, even if it means working on and testing a preliminary persona.

We have compiled a list of the five most important criteria points needed to prepare an impeccable customer persona for online marketing. They are:

Values and objectives

The first thing you should know about your specific target group is their ideals, values and goals. In other words: What does Holger want to achieve with your product or service? This information is vital in the process of developing appropriate product descriptions, landing pages and the content of email marketing, among other things.

Sources of information

The next question to ask yourself is: How and where do I reach Holger? By stating specific preferences and interests, certain advertising platforms and targeting options will slowly emerge with which you can reach your customer in an effective way. If Holger only does X – something that nobody else does – you will be hard-pressed to obtain any useful information, but if you can make your search a little more accurate, you are sure to come to a useful conclusion:

  • Holger would likely read book X, which hardly anyone else reads
  • Holger would subscribe to magazine X, which hardly anyone else subscribes to
  • Holger would visit event X, which hardly anyone else visit

Can you see the picture slowly becoming clearer? The idea is to identify Holger’s niches as specifically as possible; in other words, all relevant magazines, blogs, events or musicians (or anything else) that interests him and that he consumes.

Let’s assume you’re a passionate distributor of golf products and you are looking for a professional player to list as a testimonial on your website. Would you like to work with Tiger Woods? Tiger Woods is indeed someone with whom golfers and non-golfers alike are very familiar, but he is also someone who is notorious for his personal escapades off the course. He might, therefore, not be the best choice – not because of his escapades, but because of his level of fame. Also non-golfers know him, and you don’t want non-golfers to be in your target audience. Instead, someone like Rory McIlroy would be a much better fit for this niche. He is well-known to all golfers, but hardly anyone outside a golf club has ever heard of him. In this way, you can include a professional testimonial on your products whilst eliminating other irrelevant factors (and people) from the process.

Demographic information

By including information on demographics, you inspire potential customers like Holger to take action. Even though demographics in marketing are often deemed inaccurate, this information can be extremely helpful to put you in the shoes of your customers, as well as focussing your attention on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Demographic information is also particularly helpful in the process of composing emails and other sales texts. Through information such as age, gender and origin, you will be able to better introduce your customers to your product or service and also write more relevant and personalised texts.

A helpful trick is to imagine your customer persona literally sitting in front of you, so that you are able to cater your product or service specifically to the person sitting in front of you.

Challenges and problems

This section is all about optimising the creation process of your text so that your customer is inspired to take action. Think about the problems facing Holger in his daily life and the challenges that are causing him headaches. If you want to sell your product or service, you will have to refer back to the tone and style of your text.

Doubts and the role they play in the purchasing process

Why would people like Holger not want to purchase your product? The reason is mostly due to doubts; something that always has to be taken into account in your online marketing process. Supposing we know that Hotel Manager Heiko has too little time and money to support his sales team in the long-term, we will have to send him an email with the following subject and text: “B2B cold calling: From amateur to professional in one week.”

The role of the customer must also be taken into account in the purchasing process. Is he a decision-maker? Can he be externally influenced during his decision-making process? It is essential – for the success of your marketing and sales campaign – to have a fundamental understanding of your ideal customer and their decision-making process.

How to research information about your customer personas

We’ve just established that we need quite a lot of information before compiling a customer persona, but it is virtually impossible to create a completely factual description of our ideal customers. So what can we do? When all the necessary information has been researched, we can easily fill the remaining gaps in the persona with reasonable assumptions. Generally, interviews are one of the most reliable ways of gathering information for your customer personas, but they are also very time-consuming. Luckily, a number of other options exist that you can make use of, depending on the phase your business is in.

Established companies

There are quite a few tools available for already-established companies in the process of identifying current customers. If, for example, you are managing an active and well-maintained Facebook page, Facebook Insights will assist you in defining your target group accurately. You can also make use of the Google Analytics audience, which provides useful demographic and psychographic information, to help you with your client-identifying process.

Interviews remain the best and most reliable source of gathering information from your existing customers – those who have already purchased from you. And, of course, you want more of these people than any singular sale, so it is advisable for any marketer to conduct no less than ten interviews in order to obtain reasonably representative values. It is hard work, worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears in the end. Of this you can be guaranteed.

Non-established companies

Unless you have a running online business from the start, the best option is to observe your competitors. Ask yourself what they are doing and what you could be doing better. With services such as SimilarWeb, you can easily analyse the traffic of your competitors – from the origin of the page visitors, traffic sources to top keywords – and you will be able to see everything that could be of importance to your business. Another, more elaborate method is to analyse the engagements on the blogs and social media channels of your competitors. Can you identify any patterns?

Common errors

The same rules apply in the process of compiling customer personas as with many other marketing activities: Do not overthink and ruin the entire process. Not every characteristic has to be defined with numbers and if you break your head, for hours at a time, on something trivial such as what kind of shower foam your persona could use, you won’t be able to come up with an effective target group definition at all. This is precisely where the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 Rule, comes into play: You reach 80% of the results with about 20% of the total expenditure, whereas the remaining 20% of the results require 80% of the available time.

It doesn’t matter if your customer persona is called Gerald or Harold, or if he has a German Shepherd or a Pug. The breed, for example, has no relevance to your customer persona, unless you are running a dropshipping store for dog accessories. What is important, however, is if the dog is male or female. It is also important to keep in mind that your persona shouldn’t describe your own marketing team to a great extent, as it is no easy task to put yourself in the shoes of others. Once your team succeeds, valuable long-term insights can be gained and a representative target group can be identified.

You must always be very cautious to ensure that all of your employees use the same data as the basis of their work.

The application of the customer persona in everyday business

Customer personas are not only useful for targeting and there are many uses of this potent marketing tool in daily business. Let’s use product development as an example: By defining the needs and problem of your target group, your product can be placed at the appropriate position to solve these problems. What’s more, product variations can even be created so that Variation A is be optimal for the persona of Harold and Variation B can be more suited toward the needs of the persona of Gerald.

Your customer personas will also help you with other marketing activities, such as determining which social media platforms to make use of, whether it be TV advertising, radio advertising or any other option that makes sense. Simply ask yourself where and how you will most likely reach Gerald. Will it be via Facebook or maybe by means of personalised emails?

One of the many benefits of utilising customer personas as a marketing tool, is that it not only indicates the advertisement platform, but also the content they trigger. In other words: What do you want to see or read and in what tone do you want to be addressed?

The great advantage that can be experienced when making use of customer personas is the detachment from product-orientated marketing to marketing that is orientated toward target groups. Don’t argue over how great your product is, but rather over how it will make the lives of your customers easier. It is always better to place emphasis on your prospects, rather than praising you and your solution.

Initially-created customer personas are usually accurate enough to remain up to date and relevant from the product development stage, straight through to the introduction of the product on the market. Of course, the more research done, the higher the chance of lasting personas. This saves huge amounts of time in corporate communication, as misunderstandings are sure to be avoided in the target and marketing process if the same staff is involved from the beginning.

Jack, the sample persona

It will be very wise to start off with a customer persona at your own time and pace. Once you get a hang of it, you can start compiling more intricate personas that represent different customer types. Yes, it is a lot of work, but because every type of client is profitable – with their own specific set of goals and challenges – every type demands its own persona. Let’s assume you are distributing a product in the field of online marketing. Your layout will look something like this:

  • Name: Jack
  • Gender: Male
  • Age: 25 to 34
  • Occupation: Online Marketing Manager at an middle-sized agency
  • Industry: Marketing agency
  • Position in the company: Employee
  • Potential employers: Marketing or advertising agencies
  • Marital status: Married, with a desire to have children
  • Place of residence: San Francisco
  • Language/Tonality: “Others can be normal” and “Nothing comes from nothing”
  • Expectations: Would like to find clothes that he can define for himself. The products should correspond with his understanding of ‘hip’. He has the drive to participate in sporting activities and is looking for a gym to join
  • Devices: iPhone 8 or better, iMac or MacBook Pro
  • Interests: Marketing, fitness and fashion, also music
  • Information gathering: Instagram, Tumblr, Marketing Magazines, Facebook, XING and YouTube, news sites
  • Depth of information: Would like detailed information and expertise on the subjects of marketing, fashion and music. Wants quick and simple tips in the field of health, sport and fitness
  • Consumer behaviour: Impulse buyer. Requires on average one to two days to make a purchase decision. Acquires information from one to two sources beforehand
  • Living situation: Rent, but wants to purchase property in the long-term
  • Holiday activities: Out of town once in a year. Mostly outdoor vacations

So, this is Jack, one of your ideal customers. By utilising the above information, it is now possible for you to appeal to a large group of Jacks and to provide them with an effective solution. The thing is, compiling one or several customer personas requires a lot of time for preparation, research and implementation, but once they are created, they enable you to achieve optimal targeting based on sound facts.

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