Defining Customer Personas for Content Marketing Programs

A customer persona, also called a buyer persona, is a detailed portrait of an imaginary person. The customer profile or persona expresses the salient characteristics of the desired customer for your business. Details within the customer persona guide your digital marketing efforts so that you can choose promotional channels that reach similar customers, develop creative ads and other tactics that appeal to such customers, and choose products and services that they will like.

If it sounds like it’s an important part of your marketing program – it is. Without a customer persona or buyer profile developed for your company, you’ll tend to make decisions based on your tastes and choices, rather than on what your customer may want. That might work, or it might not.

With a well-developed customer profile in place, you can also expand your marketing team and task others to enact portions of it because you’ve got the persona on paper rather than simply in your head. When it’s written down, it’s easier to follow.

What Does a Customer Persona Include?

Customer profiles or personas are usually written, although some companies use a combination of written and visual materials to build a persona. Each company uses the technique that’s best for them when building a profile.

A typical customer profile includes:

  1. Demographic information about your best customers, such as their gender, age, race or nationality, zip codes, etc.
  2. Psychographic information about customers, which simply means their attitudes or how they think about things. This section includes their perceptions of the world, their values, and what they seek in life.
  3. Specific information about what they may want from your company. In this section, you list out the things you’ve found during your investigation into your existing customer data. You include information on the products your customers seek, related items they might like, and why they would like them.

Here’s an example of a customer profile for a garden center:

Jane Homeowner is a 40 year old mother of two. She is married to Sam, and the two own a home valued at $200,000 in the suburbs of the Big City. Jane works part time at the local mall but she likes to be home in time to greet the children at the school bus. Sam is an accountant working at a small local firm. The family enjoys spending time outdoors, and the backyard is essentially a place for the children to play. Jane plants a few flowers, but aside from that, and mowing the lawn, they do not know a lot about gardening. They would like to increase their knowledge about gardening so that they can have a beautiful home like the Millers next door. Jane often envies Mrs. Miller’s roses, while Sam admires his neighbor’s vegetable garden. The two would garden more if they had a fast, easy way to make their yard look nice. Jane visits the garden center twice a year, in May and September, to buy flowers, grass seed, and fertilizer for the lawn. She also likes to bring the children to the garden center in early October to buy pumpkins, and sometimes at Christmas, she stops by to see the decorated trees and buy an ornament or two.

A visual persona might include pictures clipped from magazines showing “Sam”, “Jane” and their children, a suburban home, and a rather plain yard. Notes tacked to a cork board around the images or on a virtual bulletin board like Pinterest can help visually-minded people understand personas better.

How does such a persona help the garden center? The manager at the garden center now has a clear understanding of the average customer: Jane. Jane doesn’t buy a lot, but many homeowners are Janes and Sams. They buy only what they need to maintain their home. They may like to do more, but they don’t know how to do it.

Such a profile can reveal ways in which the garden center can add free lectures and events to educate the Janes and Sams of their client base on how to grow vegetables, flowers, or tend other plants like roses or trees. They may offer fall activities for children, or have Santa for photo opportunities at Christmas. Online, they may add a beginner’s section to their website with content aimed at homeowners like Jane and Sam. Simple projects, videos of how to do or build things, and engaging info graphics or quick tips may be all that’s needed to increase the appeal of gardening to people like Jane and Sam, and increase the revenues for the garden center as these typical customers grow their knowledge and shop more from the business.

No matter what industry you’re in, having a customer profile like the sample above can help you refine your product strategy, discover marketing channels, and create new marketing campaigns that boost sales.

How to Create a Customer Persona

Different marketers use different methods to develop their customer profiles or personas. There’s no right way to go about creating a persona, but there are some tricks of the trade that you can use to streamline the process.

Use Existing Data

First, dive into your existing data. Mine it to discover what you can about your current customers.

Data may be found throughout your organization. Look for valuable customer data among the following places:

  1. Mailing lists: Zip codes provided in a mailing list can be plotted on maps or appended with demographic information to understand where people live. The government census data divides zip codes into ‘census blocks’, which are then given an average household size, income, and other data. Using census blocks for a local business can help you discover how far people drive to visit your business, their average wealth, and more.
  2. Google Analytics: Your website should be set up with Google’s free tool, called Google Analytics, so you can track and measure customers visiting your site. Analytics helps you see which keywords they are using to find your website, as well as which pages are the most popular. This can tell you a lot about what customers are interested in.
  3. Customer surveys: If you’ve taken a customer survey, use survey information to round out a simple customer profile. You may be able to tell how often someone shops on your website, uses your products, or contacts you for services.

Surveys and Personal Interviews

Another great way to learn more about your customers is through surveys. Using your customer list, make a few phone calls to your customers. Ask questions about their satisfaction with your products or services, what they like best, and what they like least.

Industry-Specific Research Reports

Some companies like Hoover’s, Gartner and others sell industry research reports that provide you with insights into specific company types and issues relevant to your customers. Most are expensive, and may go into more details than you actually need as you get started. Some trade associations provide industry-specific reports to members; contact them and ask how you may gain access to such reports if you think they will be valuable for your business insights.

Using Customer Personas: Build Your Story

Customer personas are used as the basis for building out your brand story. You can’t tell a good story unless you understand the audience listening to it. When you know the wants, needs, desires, hopes, fears and dreams of your best customers, you can tell a brand story that resonates with them.

The way you tell that brand story is through the marketing channels you choose and the creative materials used to tell the story. The overarching story resonates to customer needs, while the places the story is told is the actual promotional or tactical plan to advertise your business. By starting with the customer persona, you can build out the story for your business, then decide whether to tell it.

Finding Customers Online: Find Your Audience

After you’ve developed your customer profile, it’s time to find out where those customers go online. Once you know where they go, you can develop a tactical marketing plan to target customers on various channels where they go for information, resources and more. You can then tell your story to people who not only want to hear it, but are eager to act upon the information they receive when they learn about what you do, what you offer, and most importantly, what you offer to them.

Social Media Advertising

Almost all of the social media platforms that offer advertising also offer demographics about their base. Before taking out ads on any platform, compare their demographics to your customer profile. Some sites skew younger, like Snapchat, which tends to attract a hip, cellphone addicted group of young and tech-savvy people. If you’re targeting seniors, Snapchat isn’t a great place to advertise – but Facebook might be. Facebook spans a broad spectrum of ages.

It’s important not to get carried away by big numbers and instead, focus on relevant numbers. If a website gets a million views per day, it still may not be a great place to advertise if those millions of views are from men when only women buy your product. Look at who is shopping, visiting, browsing or clicking, and try to match the demographics to your target profile as best as you can.

Content Marketing: Who Likes What

Another place to use your customer profile is in your content marketing efforts. Content marketing is the art and science of using various types of content to educate the buyers along the path to purchase.

Content marketing always begins with customer profiles. Then content gaps are identified, or opportunities where content can persuade, educate or help the target customer. Lastly, content is then placed or publisher where the target customer can access it. The result is information in the hands of the target audience at the time when they are searching for it online.

In our garden center example, content marketing might be ideal for customers like Jane and Sam in the profile. They want to do more gardening or have a pretty yard like the Millers, but they don’t know where to start. Educational materials, inspirational pins on Pinterest, how-to videos and more can all be used to educate Jane and Sam so that they feel empowered. With their newfound knowledge, they’ll head back to the garden center to buy the tools, plants and other materials they need to tackle the projects they’ve dreamed about for a long time.

Content for such a campaign may be released as blog posts dripped out on a garden center blog, guest posts on gardening and homeowner websites, pretty pictures on social media, and lots of project-based videos online. Such a combination of educational materials is ideal for a customer who needs more information to make a purchase decision.

Building and Testing Personas

The process of building customer personas isn’t cut and dried. It’s more art than science. You may need to build a few personas and test them in the marketplace, using each one to build a small mini marketing plan to see which one works best or to check back a year or half a year later to see how well your persona matches customer data.

If you don’t have a lot of money to build and test personas but you seem to have a mixed group of customer personas, look for a commonality among them, and try to market to the item they all share in common.

Some companies find that they have several unique customer personas without common ground. In that case, either something is wrong with your persona, or you have a confused mixture of products that are attracting diverse and different audiences. That can lead to brand confusion and dilution, and may defeat the efforts of your marketing program. Look through your personas, and if you feel they are accurate, consider which ones reflect your desired brand attributes the best, and which customer group has the most profit potential. You may consider tweaking your products or services to focus on that group of customers more.

Customer Personas: Get Started

If you don’t have customer personas available, it’s time to start one. Set up a file on your computer and begin analyzing data. Some companies have templates you can use to format profiles. These include: