GuidesUser experience (UX)Five steps to create your customer persona

Five steps to create your customer persona

Last updated

28 February 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Our digital world allows consumers to connect with brands from across the globe. Whether you're operating in multiple markets across the globe or a single community, you need to know your customers. This knowledge helps you understand why they buy from you, what messages appeal to them, and how to deliver a great user experience

You’ll also need to track how your audience's preferences and pain points evolve to ensure your marketing messaging, product, and tactics evolve alongside theirs.

Customer personas (also known as buyer personas) are a very effective tool for understanding the audience for your products and services. Here's how you can use personas to understand your customers better and grow your business.

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What are customer personas?

Customer personas are fictional composites of the people who will buy your product. Through research, you develop personas for marketers and sales teams to use. With these personas, these teams can develop effective communications strategies and tactics to sell products. 

Insights you obtain from developing or refining customer personas can help your business develop new products, improve packaging, perfect pricing, and try new marketing and sales approaches.

A fully developed customer persona will have: 

  • A name

  • A short narrative bio

  • Demographic details

  • A description of their behaviors, skills, goals, and attitudes

Marketers commonly find a stock photo that appropriately represents their customer persona. 

A realistic, relatable customer persona can make it easier for sales teams to craft effective strategies.

What are negative customer personas?

Negative customer personas are the opposite of customer personas. They are fictional representations of the consumers who are the least likely to buy your product or service. 

Building negative consumer personas can help you better understand where to avoid focusing your marketing and sales. Your product teams may be able to identify features you should avoid wasting time and resources developing.

You may also find negative personas useful in refining aspects of your positive personas.

What are user personas, and how are they different than customer personas?

It's important to distinguish between user personas and customer personas. A user persona is a fictional composite of the people who use your product. Sometimes, your customers and users may be the same. 

Consider a small business where one person handles the accounting, finances, and procurement. In this case, the buyer for Quickbooks would be the same as its user. 

In a large corporation, a CFO would likely have purchasing authority and purchase Quickbooks for their company. However, someone else would directly manage and maintain the company's Quickbooks account. Here, the buyer persona would be the CFO, and the user persona would be his employed accountants.

Companies also form user personas to develop products that satisfy their customers. In cases where the buyer and user are likely to be the same, it's helpful to incorporate user needs and wants into customer personas. 

Even if your target audience is unlikely to be directly using your product, it's crucial to develop user personas and consider them in your marketing efforts. If the accountant reports to the CFO that Quickbooks doesn’t perform as expected, you may lose them as a customer.  

Why are customer personas important?

A well-developed customer persona captures what the average customer in a particular segment looks like. Chances are you cannot craft a single persona that effectively captures every customer's average behavior and motivation.

Typically, marketing and product teams create between two and four personas. If you create too many, you run the risk that you'll dilute your marketing messages. 

If your market research shows that you have more than four discrete groups of customers who respond to different marketing messages, you should create additional personas.

Once you have realistic and complete customer personas, your business can craft messages and products for them. Because these personas are composites of your actual customers, you'll develop messaging that’s significantly more likely to resonate with your customer base.

Customer personas can guide: 

  • Your choice of channels to connect with them

  • How you communicate and engage with them on these channels

  • How you sell and build the products around them

How to build customer personas

Building a customer persona takes time and resources. But it's a fairly straightforward process that can help your revenue and business grow quickly. 

It will require efforts from your marketing and sales teams, analysis of your existing consumer data, conducting interviews, and new market research. 

Using these five steps can help you develop the most effective messaging possible.  

Evaluate your existing customers

It's helpful to identify what characteristics your existing customers share to build your customer persona. Still, you're not just examining information about all of your customers. 

You're looking to compile information about your happiest and most satisfied customers. These are the customers who: 

  • Have a longstanding relationship with your brand

  • Have a high lifetime customer value

  • Consistently leave positive feedback in surveys and on social media

  • Likely refer friends and family to your business

Identify your customers who show their enthusiasm for your company in these ways. 

Now, take a look at your customer relationship management system (CRM) and other in-house resources to determine basic demographic information about these customers, such as:

  • City and state

  • Age

  • Language

  • Educational background

  • Occupation

  • Industry

  • Income

Dig deeper. Consider why they buy from you and why they are happy with your product or service. 

  • What kinds of products do they report looking for?

  • What kinds of products do they buy from us?

  • Why feedback do they provide? 

  • What do they appreciate about our product, service, or brand?

The answers to these questions provide a great starting point. Trends may emerge. For example, if you're selling project management software, you may see that you've sold heavily to B2C sole proprietors in a specific region and nonprofit COOs concentrated in a different city. 

Your in-house data is likely too limited to paint a complete picture of your customers. To craft useful personas, you need more data about your customer's behavior, such as their:

  • Skills

  • Interests

  • Personality

  • Motivations

  • Goals

  • Needs

  • Challenges

To get this information, you'll need some focused research projects. A great start is to contact five to 10 of your most satisfied customers and conduct interviews with them. 

In these interviews, you're seeking to understand: 

  • Why they purchased your product

  • What decision-making process they undertook

  • What challenges they faced during that process

  • How they ultimately chose what you offer

  • Why they’re satisfied with your product

  • More about their traits, as above

This data will help you craft a customer persona that is as accurate as possible. Ultimately, it’ll help you understand and create products and marketing communications that resonate.

You'll want to follow this initial research study with one or more surveys. You can send out a survey with closed-ended questions to reaffirm some insights you obtained during the interview. Adding open-ended questions is a great way to dive deeper into your customers' mindsets.

How to find interviewees for customer persona research

Whether you're crafting a customer persona for the first time or updating your existing one, you may need to conduct focus groups. In some cases, you may also need one-on-one or small-group interviews. To ensure your customer persona's accuracy, you'll need focus groups and interview participants who closely match your customers' demographics and behavioral profiles.

Finding ideal candidates can be challenging. However, you can usually find a few good candidates by combing through your list of current customers. Prospect lists and referrals can also be helpful. If you have a budget, tap into third-party networks that specialize in compiling focus groups.

When recruiting focus group participants, you'll want to budget an appropriate amount of time. Chances are you'll hear a lot more nos than yeses. Making it clear to your prospects that you're not trying to sell them anything can incentivize participation. Offering convenient participation options will maximize your chances of finding candidates.

Analyze customer goals, motivations, and pain points

Next, analyze your data for insights into their goals, motivations, and pain points. Combine quantitative data from your CRM or surveys with your qualitative sessions and any market research. Start defining the emerging patterns to explore:

  • Why your customers buy your product

  • How they use your product

  • What problem(s) it solves for them

  • What challenges they face in solving their problems

  • What motivates them

  • How they make decisions

  • What factors influence the decisions they make

  • How they perceive and interact with your brand

As you explore how and why your customers make decisions, evaluate what motivates and influences them intrinsically and extrinsically. It's essential to understand how they arrive at purchasing decisions and what marketing channels help in that decision. 

Your final customer persona should include social media consumption and similar information to inform your marketing outreach tactics.

It's common for marketers to revisit demographic data once they've assessed customer behavioral data. Sometimes, the segments you've targeted won't present the best growth opportunity. Or you may learn that a set of customers you're evaluating uses your product in ways that ultimately harm your brand.

Maybe you realize one or more of your customer personas don’t make sense after developing a clear picture of each segment. Perhaps their goals, motivations, and pain points don’t align with your brand. It’s okay to discard irrelevant personas and focus on developing those that help you target the most valuable customer segments.

Craft your customer personas

Using what you've learned, create your personas one by one with the most actionable and noteworthy characteristics. Each profile should include demographic and behavioral information and a short biography. Find a stock photo to help your team visualize your persona and add it to your personas' respective profiles.

At this point, you should have a rough draft of a realistic profile of someone you might see buying your products. Each persona should be relatively short, with the bio taking up no more than three to four sentences and the behavioral information listed as adjectives. 

The longer your persona is, the less likely your team members will read it. Still, it should be compelling enough to be memorable. Consider including a short quote from one of the initial interviews that epitomizes your persona in your document.

Share your customer personas with your team

When you've developed a few complete personas, share them with sales, marketing, and product team members, and solicit feedback. Work alongside your colleagues, especially long-tenured ones, before finalizing your personas to gather insights you may have missed. 

By taking this approach, you may gain some needed buy-in for your efforts, making it more likely that your organization will adopt your customer personas as intended.

Develop targeted messaging

Once you've finalized your customer personas, it’s time to craft targeted messaging. Consider how you'd communicate with them across multiple channels. Use marketing and sales appeals to engage them in light of their goals, motivations, and pain points.

Review your pricing and distribution strategies to determine whether you need to make adjustments. Work with your product teams to identify ways to improve your product's appeal in light of what you've learned.

Customer personas can be a tremendously helpful guide for crafting marketing and sales content, improving your odds of it connecting with customers. 

Continue to test how your marketing campaigns resonate with your target audience, as your customers and their needs will change over time. Periodically revisit and update your customer personas to ensure they are still optimal. 

If you review and update them every six months, you won't need the same extensive amount of market research. You can also be much more confident that they’ll capture the changing dynamic of your customer base.

FAQs

What are the main components of a customer persona?

An effective consumer persona includes: 

  • Relevant demographic information

  • The goals the persona wants to achieve

  • Personal characteristics that drive those goals

  • The challenges they face

  • What influences them when they attempt to achieve their goals/address their challenges 

A persona may include more or less of these components. What's important is they implore actionable and relevant data as conversation devices in customer strategy discussions.

What is the difference between persona and customer?

A persona is a fictional composite of an existing customer segment. Businesses use customer personas to craft mass marketing messages that appeal to their target audience. 

Simply put, a customer persona is a fictional person that represents the whole or part of your customer base.

What is a persona for a product?

A product or user persona is a fictional representation of a product's users. It typically includes relevant demographic and behavioral information. It helps business product teams better understand what features are important to existing and prospective customers. 

Marketing and sales teams also find product personas helpful to craft messaging to distinguish their products from competing ones.

How do you create a user persona for a product?

Developing a product persona is similar to developing a customer persona. Beyond representative demographic data, you'll need to obtain or conduct market research to understand how your product's users are using it, what problems it solves, and why they chose to use it.

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