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Personas: Who Are You?

One of digital marketing’s latest buzzwords is “personas”.  But what are personas, how do you create them and what do they mean for your business?

Let’s take a step back in time, say to the beginning of the 20th century, and look at Webster’s definition of personaIt was (and, still is) “an individual’s social façade…that reflects the role in life the individual is playing; the personality that a person projects in public; also known as image, via a vivid or graphic representation or description”.  

Then, in 1998, Alan Cooper (father of the visual basic programming language) published his book “The Inmates are Running the Asylum and coined the term  “persona” as it applied towards “Goal Directed” computer software design. Rather than looking at real-word software users, he proposed personas, or “characters”, whose goals, rather than their actual tasks, would help generate the best software usage experiences. But, therein lies the rub.  Cooper did not come up with a detailed way to flesh out those personas…so someone else had to!

Fast-forward to 2005 and Hubspot came onto the scene. As the industry leaders in inbound marketing (they invented the term), Hubspot finally came up with some very specific ways to generate personas.  According to Hubspot, Personas are “fictional, generalized characters that encompass the various needs, goals, and observed behavior patterns among your real and potential customers. They help you understand your customers better.”

But in layman’s terms…what do personas really do?

Well, personas are supposed to allow you to market your product or service, all the way down to the individual level, by conducting research based on demographic, geographic, psychographic, and geographic elements.

Does this really differ from target marketing or market segmentation, tactics that have been used in traditional marketing for decades?

Essentially, personas do the same things, but they take “deeper dive” into the individual, by examining search behavior, current job, hobbies, wants and needs.  They also come up with a picture and name for each fictional person created. That used to be called market research!

So, how do you create a Persona?

Start by jotting down what you already know about your customers, existing research that can be gleaned from your sales team, focus groups or surveys. Then monitor their online and social media behavior. What your customers say they want or need may be different that what they really want or need.  Interact with them in real time.  Whether it’s a quick response from your customer service team to a negative Tweet or thanking someone for positive feedback via a Yelp! post, real time interaction is some of the best (and most cost-effective) research you can conduct.

Then create a fictitious version (or versions) of your customer base. Depending on the products or services you sell, you will likely have more than one.  

Start with a name, age, face and body and what they’re wearing. Move on to where they live and what’s in their immediate surroundings.

Do they live in an apartment or house, do they have pets? What kind and how many?

Create their job title, consider their education, figure out if they’re single, if they have kids or if they are trying to have kids; Are they on their second marriage, starting a new career, into fitness or gaming?  

Where do they spend their free time? Is it in the virtual world or the real world? Where do they spend their disposable income? Do they dine out or prefer to cook at home? Do they like to host intimate gatherings or do they prefer going out to bars?

Do they spend money on air travel and hotels or do they prefer local activities and staying with friends? What to they want and what are they willing to do to get what they want?  What are their challenges, problems and concerns? How do they feel about your product or service?

Here’s an example of a persona that could be used for an online dating app or offline Matchmaking service

Persona of Automotive Sales Guru Tara

© Hubspot / Ami B. Cadugan 2018

After you hunt and gather all of this data, you can begin to target your personas when and where they spend most of their time. It could be Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. But they could also be watching HGTV or a listening to a local radio station. Do they watch “The Today Show” in the morning while drinking their coffee, or do they read the news (online or a physical newspaper)? Or is it some combination of all of these?

So many things to think about!  By taking the time to engage in Persona creation, you can strategically direct your marketing budget to the proper channels.  The goal at the end of the day is to generate positive ROI – in whatever sense it applies to you and your company!

Ami B. Cadugan is a freelance content creator/writer and media buyer. Fresh off a three-year stint in Paris, she has blogged extensively about travel, food, wine, the arts and architecture. Follow her continuing adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

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