Nearly every business believes they understand and know its audience. And, from the 10,000-foot view, they are mostly correct. However, when you get into individual departments and teams, individual perceptions can begin to shape the picture of the target audience. When companies say generalized things like "our target audience is young adults ages 8-25," the design team may picture that audience differently than the product or customer experience teams. It’s not a bad thing, per se; it’s a human thing—we all bring our preconceived notions and assumptions to the table when creating categories.
Creating a customer persona is one way that brands can begin to define and shape their audience while providing production teams with the information they need to better understand who their audience is and how to best serve them. However, not all personas are created equally. In fact, there are a few consistent mistakes brands make when building personas. If you’re familiar with personas, you’ve likely seen one like this.
There are so many things wrong with this persona. First of all, if Jenny does exist—there are not enough of her to create a target audience. Second, it’s incredibly difficult for a brand to build an audience target based on this description. While this is a great aspirational feeling—it’s not a target audience. It’s an idea.
Understanding the Job That Personas Do
At the end of the day, personas should be actionable by the departments in your organization. Great personas are designed through research and reasons to purchase from your brand or highlight customer pain points and frustrations with the current market solutions. The persona answers the fundamental question, what problem are they solving when they buy our products?
The entire purpose of a persona is to ensure that every person who touches the brand and product is building for the same person. When done well, a persona eliminates the gray areas and clarifies who the company, brand, and product are serving and why.
Personas should deliver the following cross-functional information.
Is your company looking for young adults? Business owners? Moms? Dads? What about income—does your product require a level of disposable income to purchase? What about gender—is your product gender specific?
Demographics help your marketing team identify targets to drive advertising, placement, brand positioning, etc. Remember, when you build for everyone, you build for no one. Get clear on who in the world you are focused on serving.
Reasons for Purchasing
Why does your audience buy your brand? What are they trying to accomplish or avoid by purchasing your product?
Understanding why a person buys your brand informs the product team on desirable features and functionality, helps your marketing team communicate the value proposition, and helps direct strategy on future growth. If you don’t know why your audience will buy the product—it’s a good idea to halt and redirect energy to figure it out.
Frustrations or Pain Points
Where does this audience get frustrated or encounter pain points in their journey? What may prevent them from purchasing?
Knowing what slows an audience from engaging or what creates frustrations can provide the product team with the insight they need to deliver solutions and helps the sales team identify key messaging to answer potential questions in the sales cycle.
What You’ll Need To Build a Customer Persona
The good news is that most of the data required to build a customer persona already exists within the departments of your organization. Here are a few types of data to collect that will help inform your customer persona.
Existing sales and customer data—Take a look at your current customers and book of business—you are looking for segments of audiences that are repeated in your customer list. Is there an audience segment that you see more frequently in your customers? Looking at your sales data, does this segment have repeat sales or cross-product purchases?
Industry data—Start with what you know about your industry and competitors. What is your industry focused on? We’re not suggesting you copy what you see the market is doing. However, knowing where the market is focused can help you understand if there are opportunities to scale in a potentially different direction.
Customer and market research—Spend time getting to know your current, prospective, and lapsed customers. Interviews, focus groups, ethnographies, and surveys are all really great ways to learn more about your audience's goals, pain points, and frustrations.
How To Construct a Useful Persona
Now that you’ve collected your data, it’s time to create a persona. Remember the ineffective persona we covered above? Let’s revisit that same persona but incorporate some of the information we know a useful persona should have. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s tailor this persona for a brand selling luxury athleisure for women.
Age 20-35, income $120K
Female or identifies as female
Stylish clothes that transition easily from work to life.
She travels quite a bit for work, so polished comfort is key—iron-free is a huge plus.
She is keen on styles that are flattering and versatile
As a professional leader, she needs to look put together without sacrificing comfort.
She likes to be able to move in her clothes—so feeling stuffy, restricted, or overly rigid is not going to work.
Pain Points or Frustrations
She doesn’t have a ton of time to shop for new styles or clothes. She prefers it when brands make it easy for her to make a decision quickly.
It seems like most of the comfortable, professional fashion options for women her age are oversized or overly casual—not everyone works from home all the time.
Not being able to answer questions about the product from the website—she doesn’t have time to go to the store. If she can’t find it online, she’s not buying it.
Reasons to Buy
She’s a loyalist—mostly due to lack of time, but once she finds a brand she loves, she sticks with it.
Good reviews of the product and the product fits “true to size”—no second guessing required.
She has more than one use for the clothes—they can be worn in the office or after work without having to change.
How She Discovers Brands
She pays attention to her Instagram feed and the ads that pop up. When she finds something that is interesting, she’ll save it for when she’s ready to buy.
She gets ideas from her friends—if it’s recommended, she’ll look it up.
Instagram is her number one platform, followed by TikTok.
She does not use Snapchat or Facebook.
For this persona, we replaced the more anecdotal information with information that can be identified and used to create real solutions. No one looking at this persona would think, "we should build a 3-piece business suit for this buyer and sell it on Facebook."
That’s the point of personas. To keep everyone focused on the most important people to your brand—your customers.
Download our customer persona template to get started.
Customer Persona Template
Create your own customer persona with this free, fillable-PDF template.