How to Create Marketing Personas: А Comprehensive Guide

How to Create Marketing Personas: А Comprehensive Guide
03 November, 2023 • ... • 168 views
Natasha Zack
by Natasha Zack

Knowing your target audience well is one of the key elements of your business’s success. But a general description of that audience is never enough to really understand your customers, existing and potential. Creating a marketing persona based on research data is a proven way to go beyond assumptions and tap into your audience’s actual needs and pains. 

In this article, we’ll explain what marketing personas are, why you need them, and how to create personas that really work. Let’s dive in.

What is a persona in marketing?

A marketing persona is a research-based collective image of the brand’s key target audience segment, presented as a detailed fictional character. 

Now, let’s break that down a bit. 

  • First, “marketing persona” is an umbrella term that covers different types of personas in marketing — customer personas, buyer personas, user personas, and more. 
  • “Research-based” means that your marketing personas must be based on data acquired through research rather than on assumptions. 
  • “Collective image of the brand’s key target audience segment” means that each marketing persona needs to have the most typical features the majority of the key segment of your audience share. 
  • And, finally, “presented in the form of a detailed fictional character” entails creating an actual character, i.e., giving that persona a name and a face, and describing their behavior, goals, motivations, and other aspects.

But how detailed should this collective image be? Typically, marketing persona templates should include aspects such as: 

  • Demographic information (age, gender, location, occupation or job position, income level) 
  • Personality traits
  • Needs and pains (as related to your product) 

You may also include your persona’s short bio, favorite brands, popular places to hang out, and more. 

That’s what marketing personas are in theory. But what do they look like in practice?

Marketing persona examples

Sometimes, one example is worth a thousand words. So, let’s examine a typical marketing persona example before we move on. 

The template below is a detailed profile of a company’s customer persona. This description goes far beyond the basic demographic information such as age, occupation, location, and other similar aspects. By featuring other aspects, we can gain a deeper understanding of who this fictional character is. The result is a profile that looks like a description of a living person we might meet in real life.

Marketing persona template with multiple sections including demographics, bio, goals and frustrations, motivations, skills, and personality traits.

There are also other ways than one to describe your marketing persona, because there is no set standard for a marketing persona template. You can use any format as long as it helps you gain the necessary insights about your target audience. However, it does help to develop a standard template (or templates) for your company to streamline the process of creating marketing personas and make the most of your persona profiles.

Now that you know what a marketing persona looks like, let’s continue with some more theory. 

The many faces of a marketing persona

As mentioned above, “marketing persona” is an umbrella term. That’s because typically, businesses need more than one marketing persona to represent all their customer base. How many personas your business needs depends on your company’s size and other specifics. 

The average sufficient number most marketers recommend is 3-5 personas

If you go for the bare minimum, you will likely need at least two: a buyer and a user persona.

Buyer personas vs. user personas

A buyer persona is different from a user persona because people who buy your product are not necessarily those who use it. 

For example, parents can purchase educational courses for their kids. Here, the parents are buyers, and the kids are users. Another example is a manager choosing a SaaS solution for their department: though the manager makes the purchase on behalf of the company, these are their team members who will be the end users.

As a rule, buyers make purchasing decisions with the users’ best interests in mind. However, they also have their own considerations. For example, users might not care about the price tag, while to the buyers, this can be a major decisive factor. To successfully promote the product, marketers should know both their buyers and users. Developing user personas as well as buyer personas is an effective way to gain insights about both these segments.

Additionally, there are other marketing personas businesses can use to gain even more insights about their audiences, namely: 

  • Influencers. These are the people who influence the buyer’s purchasing decisions. These include users (for example, when parents buy clothes for their kids, the latter have a say), as well as family, friends, and other people one might ask for advice. 
  • Detractors. They can influence your buyers’ decisions in a negative way, providing them with reasons not to purchase your product. They are typically present in the B2B sector where many people are involved in the buying cycle, but can sometimes appear in B2C sales too.   
  • Negative personas (anti-personas). These are the direct opposite of your buyer/customer personas because they represent people who will never purchase your product. People who can purchase but will be inadequately expensive to convert also fall into this category.

What about customer personas? 

Customer personas are often used interchangeably with buyer personas. That is not exactly correct, yet there are several points of view among marketers regarding this term.  For example, some marketers recommend perceiving customer personas as successfully converted buyers. Others (and we tend to agree with them) argue that the term “customer” encapsulates both the buyer and the user. A good example is a business on the whole as opposed to certain people that represent it. In this paradigm, the company CEO is the buyer, the employees are users, and the company itself is a customer.

How important are personas in marketing?

Up to this moment, we discussed the “what” of personas in marketing. But what about the “why”? Why do you need them, and how can they help your business grow? 

First and foremost, creating marketing personas is essential to devising a solid marketing strategy

Here’s what they can help you with in this regard: 

  • Positioning. To find your niche and set your brand apart from the competition, you need to appeal to a specific audience. The better you know that audience, the more precise your positioning is.  
  • Targeting. In digital marketing, targeting is a proven way to get more responses and increase ROI. But this only holds true if your targeting is correct. To set the right audience parameters for your ads and segment your mailing list, you need detailed information about different segments of your customers.   
  • Messaging. In content marketing, the right messaging is the major decisive factor in whether your content will work or not. If you miss the mark, your strategy — be it an email marketing strategy, a social media marketing strategy, or a blog content strategy, — will fail to deliver positive results. And vice versa: knowing your audience will help you better engage your audience, get more positive responses, and secure more leads. 
  • Pricing. Are your customers on a budget or well off? How much are they willing to spend on your product, and is your price tag affordable for them? To answer these questions, you need buyer personas.   
  • Choosing marketing channels. There are multiple marketing channels available nowadays, both offline and online. To pick the ones with the highest potential to reach your audience, you need to understand where your customers typically hang out. Do they go to local stores or buy stuff on social media? Buyer personas will help you find out. 

Moreover, personas can be useful in other departments. For example, they can help sales reps to develop scripts, or give your customer support team insights about how people typically use your product. You can even use marketing personas to build new products by better understanding your customers’ needs and pains.

Now, time to move on from theory to practice. In the following sections, we’ll show you the steps to creating your own marketing personas like a pro.

How to create a marketing persona step-by-step

As mentioned earlier, marketing personas should not be based on assumptions; instead, you need to use research data to build a relevant persona.

That’s why creating a marketing persona usually starts with quantitative analysis — i.e., collecting and analyzing data about your customers. Here are the steps to take at this stage.

  1. Putting together a list of customers

Using data about existing customers is the most reliable way to create a relevant persona for your business. So, a good place to start is collecting a list of these customers, along with the meaningful information available on them. 

For B2C businesses, data points should include the following: 

  • Demographics 
  • Products purchased by the customer 
  • Revenue earned from the customer

For B2B businesses, add information about company size and the industry the company operates in to the “demographics” section. 

For SaaS companies, you might also want to document how customers are using your product: how often they log in to their account, how many campaigns they create, etc. This will help you identify your most engaged clients. For other products, measure engagement by tracking product reviews and mentions on social media if possible.

Take care to record and store this data properly, too. Use a convenient and reliable tool for this purpose — for example, Microsoft Excel, Google Spreadsheets, or a database of your choice. 

  1. Analyzing this list

Next, it’s time to analyze your list to identify patterns and trends. The best way to do it is to use data visualization and analytics tools such as Tableau, Grafana, Coupler.io, Google Charts, and other similar software. Once you feed data to these tools, they will create graphs and charts that will make analysis easier for you. 

Here’s an example of marketing data visualization in Coupler.io, a data analytics and integration tool.  

Marketing data visualization in Coupler.io
Source: Coupler.io

Patterns and trends you should be looking for during your data analysis include the following:  

  • Customer groups bringing in the highest revenue 
  • Customer groups with the longest LTV 
  • Industries yielding the biggest number of customers (for B2B products) 
  • Company size type yielding the biggest number of customers (for B2B products) 
  • Locations where your customers are from, and more

With this data, you’ll be able to identify the groups of customers (for B2C) or certain industries (for B2B) that bring your company the bulk of its revenue. 

For B2B businesses, you might also want to analyze your data at the individual level because these are the people within the companies, not the companies themselves, who make purchasing decisions after all. In the course of this analysis, you will identify not only the industries and business types that bring you the maximum profit, but also the job titles, seniority levels, and demographics of decision-makers — i.e., your actual customers. 

Now, you can move to the next stage. 

At the second stage, you will perform qualitative analysis to get even more details about your audience. Here are the steps it involves.

  1. Arranging interviews with clients

When you have the overall picture, you are ready to reach out to actual clients and speak to them personally to learn more about their goals, motivations, frustrations, and other important aspects. 

The easiest way to reach out to customers for both B2C and B2B companies is by email. The easiest way to do it is by sending out a newsletter containing an interview request. Alternatively, send a survey email and add an interview request at the end of the survey. To motivate clients to participate, offer them something in return for their time and effort — for example, a gift, a bonus, or a discount.

An email from Miro containing an interview request. To motivate clients to participate, the company offers a $50 gift as a compensation for their time and effort. The email also contains a clear call to action (“Book a slot”).
Source: Really Good Emails

For B2B clients, reaching out with a more personalized email (or an email series) is often a preferable option. To increase your chances of getting a response, be brief and to-the-point, include a link to your online calendar with available slots, and mention you’ll use the insights gained from the interview to improve your product and customer experience. Yet again, offering some tangible compensation can boost your recipients’ motivation.

Here’s an email template you can use to reach out to your B2B clients. 

Hello [Recipient’s name],

Hope you are doing well. 

I am [Your name], the [Job Title] at [Your company]. We are happy to have you as our client, and we would love to make our product even better for you.  

Would you mind helping us by answering a few questions about your experience with our product? The interview will only take 20-30 minutes. If you are willing to help, please feel free to book a slot in my online calendar [link to the calendar] right away. Any information you share will be for internal use only. 

Looking forward to hearing from you! 

Best regards,

[Your name]

  1. Creating a list of interview questions

Secured the interviews? Time to prepare the questions! 

Here are some sample questions you can ask your clients if you are in the B2C business. 

  • Tell a bit about yourself (age, location, occupation, and any other details the respondent is willing to share). 
  • What prompted you to seek out a product like ours? 
  • What do you use our product for? 
  • How exactly do you use it? Give some examples. 
  • What was the major decisive factor in choosing our product? 
  • Was there anything that almost stopped you from making the purchase? 
  • What other similar products did you use before and why did you choose ours instead? 
  • What needs do you have that our product could have catered to but doesn’t? 
  • Where do you get information about products like ours? 

For B2B businesses, throw in a couple more questions about the company and the role of your client within that company. For example: 

  • What are the main specifics of your business (size, industry, location, etc.)?
  • What is your job position? What do you do within the company? 
  • What KPIs do you have to meet? 
  • Are you the sole decision-maker, or are there other people within the organization you have to consult before making a purchase? 

You can add or omit some questions, of course. The goal is to gain enough insights about your customers, their goals and motivations, and the ways they interact with your product or service. 

  1. Conducting the interview

With the list of questions at hand, conducting an interview comes down to maintaining the flow of your conversation while making sure you stick to the time limits and elicit all the necessary information from your vis-a-vis. To achieve that, arrange the questions in a logical order beforehand and try to not veer off the script too often. 

That said, make sure you listen more than you talk, and don’t interrupt your clients when they digress. Sometimes, the information they convey in passing might turn out to be a precious insight you wouldn’t gain otherwise.  

Once you’ve learned all you wanted to know, cordially thank your vis-a-vis and assure them you are always there to help if they have any questions or problems.

Important

After the interview wraps up, write down the responses in a spreadsheet or a database. Don’t put this task off because you may forget some important details later. Also, don’t rely solely on the meeting recording even if you have one: revising the interview later will require more time and effort than structuring your notes immediately. 

We also recommend grouping the responses by certain characteristics in your spreadsheet — for example, by location”, goals, frustrations, product use cases, etc.. This will help you segment your audience and identify patterns more easily.

  1. Creating your marketing persona

With a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data you have at this point, you are all set to create your marketing personas. One way to do this is to use a ready-made template such as the ones shown in the “examples” section. You can find free, semi-free, and paid templates in various sources on the internet — for example, Canva (offers some 100% free templates as well as paid ones), Venngage, or Visme

Earlier in this article (in the “examples” section), we’ve already given you some templates. Here’s one more example of a marketing persona template. 

User persona template with multiple sections including occupation, location, short bio, needs, product experience and personal information like interests.

Often, filling out the sections in standard templates with your research data is enough to draft a marketing persona you can use. However, you might want to edit these templates or even design your own to include more information and/or replace some sections. 

Or you can draft your personas in a text document, a table, or a spreadsheet first. In this case, you can include any sections you need that are not normally included in ready-made templates. These might include the following: 

  • Use cases to describe how a persona interacts with your product 
  • Purchasing triggers to point out why a persona seeks out the product 
  • Buying process description is particularly important in the B2B business where it can be quite complex, and more.  

That said, it’s essential to understand how you are going to use the information you include in your marketing persona descriptions. Oftentimes, going with one of the standard templates is more reasonable than creating a custom design loaded with superfluous information that adds nothing new to your customer insights.

But what if I don’t have a customer base?

Without a customer base, you won’t be able to follow the procedure described above step-by-step. But it doesn’t necessarily entail postponing the creation of personas for your business.

Here are the alternative steps to follow if your business is a startup. 

  1. Draft hypothetical personas based on your assumptions about your potential buyers and users. Who do you think is going to buy your product? Why? How will they use it? 
  2. Refine your personas using data from your competitive environment analysis and from relevant studies available on the internet. For example, if you assume your product is similar to another brand’s product and you have data about that brand’s audience, you can use it to build your personas. 
  3. Get in touch with your potential customers. You can’t interview your existing customers yet, but you can at least gain some insights from people who you believe can become your customers in the future. To elicit information from them, use the techniques mentioned above, such as interviews and surveys.   
  4. Test your hypotheses and make the necessary corrections. For example, if you start writing social media posts and they don’t get responses, chances are you’ve chosen the wrong messaging because your personas were not relevant enough.  
  5. Keep updating your personas based on the incoming information about your target audience. At some point, if all goes well, you will have a large enough customer base to do more research using all the techniques described in the previous section. 

Additional steps to creating marketing personas

Now that you have your core marketing personas, what else can you do? Here are the extra steps to help your company understand its customers even better. 

Identifying negative personas

As mentioned earlier, negative personas represent the opposite of your ideal customer. So why bother about them? First and foremost, because knowing your “anti-customer” can help you fine-tune your targeting by narrowing down the audience you want to focus on. This can come in handy for paid search ads, targeted email marketing, social media advertising, and more.

For example, if you offer educational courses for $100+, your anti-persona is someone who is only interested in free courses. Advertising to this persona makes little sense: even if you manage to close the deal, the cost of acquisition will likely exceed the profit. Likewise, if your plumbing business only operates in California, everyone who lives outside of that area falls into the “anti-persona” category because they simply can’t use your services.

Other red flags besides budget limitations and location include: 

  • Demographics (if your company sells baby food, chances of engaging non-parent audiences are slim) 
  • Specific behavior patterns (for example, spending a long time discussing a product only to decide against purchasing it after all) 
  • Occupations that indicate a person might be interested in your product for research purposes (for example, for analyzing competitors or writing an article)

Using these “red flags”, you can draft your negative personas even at the early stages of your business’ life cycle. Later, you can identify these “anti-customers” more precisely by analyzing why some leads don’t convert and interviewing customers who don’t return. 

Socializing personas

Once you’ve created your marketing personas, it’s time to share them with your colleagues — i.e., socialize them. This is important in order to be on the same page with other departments within your organization about who your customers are. Socializing personas is also instrumental to devising a cohesive strategy that will stretch across departments — primarily, sales and customer support, — and help your company achieve better results overall. 

Here are some of the most effective ways to socialize your personas. 

  • Create a presentation. Tell other departments what marketing personas, present the personas you’ve created, and explain how your colleagues can use them in their work. 
  • Use images. To help your colleagues keep customers top of mind, create illustrations representing your most important personas, print them out and ask colleagues to put these images where they can always see them.
  • Meet your customers in person. If you already have loyal customers, invite them over to a corporate event. This way, you and your colleagues will be able to ask some questions and gain more insights about how customers interact with your product. Offering something exclusive in exchange for the favor can increase your chances of securing a visit.

How to get more information about your customers

Need to refine your personas? Here’s where to get even more data. 

Interviews with sales and customer support staff

Sales reps and customer support specialists interact with customers more often than other departments do, plus they can benefit the most from having marketing personas at hand. So, it makes sense to interview these people to collect additional information about your leads and customers. For example, sales reps can shed light on typical objections potential customers have, and customer support can share common problems clients encounter when using your product. 

Phone and website surveys

Securing interviews with customers might be tricky sometimes. In that case, phone and website surveys can help fill in some of the gaps. Many people don’t mind a brief talk over the phone if you ask nicely, and filling out a survey doesn’t require any personal interaction at all, which is a great option for many. Besides, there are more ways than one to organize a survey: emails, pop-ups, social media ads, sms, and direct mail can all help. To boost response rates, try offering an incentive to those who complete the survey.

Conclusion

Having a good grasp of your target audience is essential for the success of your marketing efforts. By creating fictional characters called marketing personas, you can learn more about your customers, build a better strategy, fine-tune messaging and communication, and, ultimately, improve your company’s bottom line.   

In this guide, we’ve provided you with all the information necessary to understand what marketing personas are, how they work, and how to create them from scratch step-by-step. Whether your business already has customers or is a startup, you can use our instructions to build any number of personas you need to fine-tune your marketing strategy, gain insights on how to engage subscribers, create better content, and more. We’ve also provided some template examples to give you an idea of what a fully shaped and visualized marketing persona should look like. To make your personas really work, remember to socialize them (i.e., introduce them to your colleagues within the company) and update regularly. Good luck!  

03 November, 2023
Article by
Natasha Zack
I’m a professional journalist with 10+ years of experience. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with various kinds of media — print, online, broadcast. Currently, I write copy for brand media and teach English part-time. I also have my own edtech passion project dedicated to teaching English via Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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