Brands often use segmentation to help understand and target an audience. This means taking into consideration general details about the average customer, such as their demographic, gender, socio-economic status and so on.

What is less common is the practice of creating customer personas. 

However, as highlighted in Econsultancy’s Content Strategy Best Practice Guide, personas can be one of the most effective ways of bringing this customer segmentation to life. 

So, what exactly are customer personas, and why are they so important? Let’s get back to basics on the subject, using insight from the report.

What is a customer persona?

Let’s start with the difference between customer segments and personas. 

First, segmentation allows a brand to understand different sets or groups of customers. This might tell us where a particular group lives, their age range, and maybe even some of their typical buying behaviour. A customer persona, on the other hand, allows brands to better understand these homogenous groups, and to recognise key traits within them. 

In order to create a representative sample of an audience, personas are based on the analysis and research of real customers. This helps to build a much more detailed picture of the (hypothetical) customer, including far more emotive information such as personal motivations, what they value in a brand, what kind of communication they prefer, etc.

Brands are then able to take this insight and use it to deliver a much more relevant and less one-dimensional experience.

How to create a customer persona

The below image is an example of how to lay out key elements of the customer persona, integrating information such as similar brands of interest, frustrations and motivations. 

But where exactly does this information come from? 

Keyword research is one effective tool for generating data, allowing brands to discover exactly what customers are searching for in relation to their product or website. For example, if a retailer discovers that a popular search term is its brand-name alongside the word ‘discount’ or ‘offer’, it could be the case that customers value price over other factors like entertaining content or fast delivery – informing the ‘motivations’ part of a persona.

Social media is another important tool for establishing personas, with most platforms already having in-built analytics that can offer key data sets. 

Facebook Insights, for example, allows brands to tap into how users are responding to ads, as well as what kind of content is generating the most engagement. By comparing this to specific user data, such as gender, relationship status and so on, brands are able to flesh out personas even more.

Finally, alongside data-driven tools, customer personas can also be largely influenced by surveys, feedback, and one-to-one interviews. 

Building empathy between marketers and personas

While generating information about the customer might be fairly straightforward, it is far more difficult for brands to step into the shoes of the customer, as well as sustain this perspective long-term. There is always the danger of slipping back into marketing jargon. Would the customer use the same terminology? Perhaps not. 

Empathy mapping is a great way to maintain the customer perspective, helping brands to visualise what the person is hearing, seeing, thinking and feeling. In other words, it can reveal less tangible insights, such as obstacles throughout the customer journey and opportunities for communication. 

What about negative personas?

Once the ideal customer persona has been established, it can also be worthwhile to build a negative one. 

This means identifying the kind of person that brands don’t want as a customer. Not to be all ‘Mean Girls’ about it, that is, but by identifying who is not a good fit – companies can avoid wasted resources and misspent budget. 

Characteristics of a negative persona could involve someone who is overly negative or unrealistic in their expectations, someone who typically abandons purchases, or who has a high acquisition cost. Recognising these types of customers early on can allow marketers to hone their communication and marketing messages accordingly, and instead target the most worthwhile.

Turning insight into action

So, while it’s all well and good creating customer personas, how do you turn insight into strategic actions? Here are just a few key takeaways.

Focus on where customers spend their time. Are a larger percentage of people using Facebook or Instagram? Do they read the Guardian or watch YouTube videos? Information on where customers live can help brands to plan advertising and marketing spend accordingly, informing where and how they use ads to target users.

Speak their language. Does a customer use slang and emojis? Are they a lover of hashtags? Taking this kind of information into consideration can help brands to hone and refine their communication style to mirror how customers speak.

Creating persona-specific content. Instead of creating content and marketing it to a specific segment, customer personas can help to inform what kind of content is created in the first place. Insight into whether the customer cares about topics like charity, technology or the environment can also provide an indication of what else they might want to hear about.

Partner with people your personas love. Finally, by working with a company or influencer that will definitely appeal to the customer, brands can be sure that they are spending both time and budget wisely – and also helping to prevent miss-judged and potentially damaging brand-associations.

For more information, subscribers can download Econsultancy's Content Strategy Best Practice Guide.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 10 August, 2017 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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