Adria Fischer, Director of Customer Marketing at Sovos says that “it’s the job of the customer marketer to extrapolate the meaning of personas”, and we would add, communicate the significance of them to other teams.
In this article we’ll cover:
- The difference between an ICP and a persona,
- Why personas are important,
- How customer marketers can leverage them to have more impact on their programs,
- How personas can be used to impact the customer journey, and
- What can go wrong with personas, and what to do about it.
What is a persona?
Personas can be best thought of as a living, evolving blueprint of a given customer segment. Personas may also be referred to as ICPs (ideal customer profiles), but the two are actually slightly different.
What is an ICP?
An ICP determines what kind of buyer or ‘profile’ would be a good fit for your brand, i.e. they have a problem that can be solved by your products. Further parameters are typically added to an ICP, such as industry, company size, geography, and even legality, and they can be a good tool for identifying potential leads.
What is a persona?
A persona does not represent the entirety of your target base. You may have multiple personas for a segment of your audience that make sense for your organization. For example, you could choose to break this down by job title or industry.
- Bio: Jane is a driven Campaign Manager at the center of her team’s activities and she’s looking for an automated solution to deliver more campaigns and leads at less cost. Price and reviews are focal points during decisions and external support is something she yearns for.
- Role in buying process: Jane is an influencer. She does not have the final say but she drives the business case to get internal buy-in.
- Background: Job - Campaign Manager. Industry - Computer Software. Reports to - Digital Marketing Director.
- Demographics: Age - 25-35-years-olds. Location - UK, Ireland, France.
- Personality: Jane is ambitious, driven and loves being at the center of her department and getting deep into the numbers. However, she can get flustered when colleagues are leaning on her for results and would describe herself as reliant on external support.
- Responsibilities: Planning, executing and reporting on digital campaigns, delivering leads to internal sales teams, campaign optimisation, meeting the marketing department’s deliverables.
Let’s take a look at an example. This one from a B2B standpoint. You can see in the bio section that Jane is a campaign manager in the computer software industry. Her pain point is that she needs more external support. Her role in the buying process is also outlined: she has some clout in getting internal buy-in.
- Motivators: Price, familiarity, speed, reviews, user-friendly.
- Goals: Bring more automation into day-to-day activities, get various campaign apps to talk to each other, find cost-effective, user-friendly, and one-stop-shop-type tools to help deliver more at less cost, prove ROI to leadership.
- Challenges: Ability to have a holistic view of all active campaigns, keeping up with the business’ campaign demand, providing sales with enough qualified leads
- Real-life quotes: “I’ve tried campaign solutions in the past but they didn’t seem to actually make my job much easier.” / “The business has ambitious goals but limited budget and at the moment, it’s hard to meet those targets with limited resources and so much manual intervention needed.”
There are some basic demographic information, too, as well as responsibilities, motivators, goals and challenges.
The pain points are further elaborated on as Jane comments that there’s ‘limited budget’ which makes some targets ‘hard to meet’. You can also see suggested messaging including features to emphasize, and lastly communications preferences.
Good personas are specific and well researched. And although there is no such thing as a set list of information that might be included in a persona, the basics usually cover demographics, age, buying power, company outline, and responsibilities. All of these are relevant in one way or another to customer marketing, but the specific areas to hone in on might be:
- The professional background and influence of that persona, including the decision making power they might have.
- Their day to day activity, from their own perspective: How this persona typically behaves.
- The main problems that this persona encounters: What customer needs do they have?
- Their approach to their job and goals: Are they incredibly career-driven? Have they landed this job almost by accident?
- The questions that personas might have at different touchpoints along the customer journey.
- Communication preferences.
Let’s briefly take a look at a B2C example and how they may differ.
- Bio: John is a sun-seeker and looks forward to his family summer vacation every year. With kids to fork out for, price is a sticking point and trawling through pages upon pages of deals definitely doesn’t appeal to him. He wants something that’s affordable, easy-to-find and totally trusted.
- Personal details: Age - 35-55-years-old, Job - Accountant, Income - $90,000, Education - Bachelors, Location - Australia, New Zealand.
- Interests: John is a family man, has an avid passion for travel and goes on holiday every summer. He has been in the same job for a long time, works a standard 9-5, and would describe himself as active.
- Goals: Continue annual holidays with his family, travel further afield when his kids are grown up, spend less time and money booking trips
- Emotional drivers: John loves being able to spoil his family once a year and create lots of new memories. As long as it fits his budget though. He’s savvy with his money and gives himself a pat on the back when he bags a good deal.
- Barriers: Going abroad with children gets expensive, researching holidays can be time-consuming, he doesn’t know which booking sites should and shouldn’t be trusted, he doesn’t like the thought of long haul flights with his kids
- Personality: Active, Analytical, Loyal.
- Motivators: Money, simplicity, trustworthiness, family-friendly.
As you can see at first glance, there are additional elements that aren’t generally present in a B2B persona, primarily education level, income, and location.
The similarities between B2B and B2C personas are motivation, goals, communication preferences and suggested messaging, in this instance, appealing to the ‘family man’ archetype.
Buyer vs user personas
Roles in the cycle and their involvement:
- Initiator: Shows initial interest in your product or service and starts the process journey.
- User: The person who actually uses your product.
- Influencer: Your advocate - i.e the one who convinces the other six they need your solution.
- Decision-maker: Gives the final approval and, therefore, is usually more senior.
- Buyer: In charge of the team/company’s budget.
- Approver: Pushes adoption of your product on a larger scale and has the final say - this is usually someone in the C-suite.
- Gatekeeper: Someone who gets in the way of your product being bought.
It’s worthwhile to mention here that in a B2B setting, there’ll be a distinction between buyer and user personas. In B2C environments, the buyer is usually the user, so the user persona will be the focus.
With B2B purchases, according to the Harvard Business Review, there’re 6.8 people behind each purchase decision, which adds a layer of complexity, as there are several ‘screens’ that a purchase will have to go through before it’s either approved or rejected.
Knowing more about these people and what they think of your offering is key:
- The initiator kick starts the journey, opening the conversation.
- The user, followed by the influencer: a linchpin in selling the solution to the other members of the cycle.
- Next, we have the typically more senior decision-maker.
- The buyer is in charge of the budget, and the approver will drive adoption.
- The gatekeeper may jump in at any stage to block a purchase.
These roles, of course, sometimes overlap; the user may be the initiator, or the buyer may end up being the gatekeeper.
In a B2C setting, it may be useful to imagine the customer as inhabiting all of these seven roles. They might convince themselves that they need the product, they hold the spending reins, but can act as their own ‘gatekeeper’ as doubt or lack of product knowledge begin to set in.
This framework is malleable enough to be shaped to your organization, but the key takeaway here is that you focus on what makes sense for you. Run with what enables you to get under the skin of the customer at this stage of the process and offer personalized solutions that reduce friction at these touchpoints.
Reaping the benefits of personas
As customer marketing evolves and moves to the forefront of discussion in many businesses, each customer marketer will have varying levels of involvement with the persona process depending on internal structure; typically creation is owned by product marketing.
Regardless, personas can be used to your advantage, and communicating their benefits to your own teams can deepen your understanding of the needs, desires, and aspirations of your customers.
So why start off with personas?
They can give insights into communication and content preferences and campaigns. Not just whether they’d like to receive your monthly newsletter, but also information about the tone or type of content they would be more likely to interact with.
Have a think about which personas would prefer: who would prefer a podcast? Who’s more likely to download a white paper? Would sales need to use a slightly different register with x versus y persona?
Personas can also be used to hook into case studies and feedback. Knowing why and how a certain persona could behave can be leveraged to your advantage in gaining valuable information.
Personas may also give insights into which types of customers are more likely to agree to give a testimonial and in which format. For example, persona x may prefer to do a written piece, while persona y may well be more likely to share their experience on social media, and persona z will enthusiastically jump in front of a camera.
When you should ask, will also be tied to how your customers progress through the customer journey. Did they just give very high feedback on a survey? Are they coming close to advocacy? What kind of advocacy requests will they most likely respond to? This persona work can also have a larger impact on advocacy, too.
They can give you invaluable information about your audience’s habits.
Ingraining your offering into the habits of your customers is often crucial to a product’s success. Knowing the how, when, and why of a particular group’s routine can fine-tune activities such as onboarding, cross-selling and upselling.
They can be used for positioning work.
Positioning, the internal exercise used to examine and affirm where a product or brand will ‘sit’ inside the mind of a consumer, is often backed up by persona work. If you’re unclear about your customer’s pain points, behaviors, and goals, your positioning is unlikely to be effective.
They can influence sales and support teams.
Detailed persona work can inform the approach and shape of conversations. It makes a great training tool for sales, who can experiment with different question sets for distinct personas, in line with their particular pain points.
It’s easy to see how all of this valuable information can be scattered throughout the customer journey, and our advice is to map out the potential path for each persona, connecting the dots between touchpoints.
It can have significant implications for your customer experience and adds an additional layer of understanding to your map and elevate the status of moments that really matter.
For example, in a SaaS business, one given persona might opt for a freemium membership initially. Your persona work suggests that their interest might wane early on, so for this specific user type, highlighting particular features or add ons that tips them over the edge to purchase a full subscription.
Because of their experience with product features and so on, onboarding will be relatively fast and all being well there shouldn’t be any issues. This should flag up that this persona might well need some further content and nudges to perform particular actions that’ll increase engagement.
At this point it could be beneficial to drip early information about community activities such as forums or socials, or point them in the direction of some more advanced knowledge-based content, like a podcast or article.
Your persona work might even give you insights into which types of content a particular persona would prefer. These interventions can reduce churn, increase engagement and improve communications overall.
What can go wrong with personas?
Sometimes personas can go awry when there is too much focus on demographic information and too little on the why.
It’s useful to keep coming back to the baseline point when looking at personas: that they’re a crucial insight into why people choose to buy something, or not (not necessarily how old they are or where they live).
If you find yourself involved in creating personas, some points to consider might be:
- Don’t be too rigid: You want to gather information about why and how customers first decided that they needed to solve this kind of problem or achieve a certain goal.
When interviewing customers, walk them through the mental processes they took. Human memory is not the most reliable at the best of times, and giving customers the chance to really think it through is beneficial. Adding a question like ‘what exactly changed at the time?’ Or: ‘why didn’t you do this / have this problem sooner?’ can really help.
- Seek out similarities: finding patterns in customer responses is key, and keeping an eye on the following areas can be super informative when doing persona work, and for further onboarding, education or retention activity later on.
Bear in mind:
- Any solutions used previously
- Alternatives they checked out and considered
- Who, if anyone, influenced their decision and how
- The mediums they used to do any of this activity
Our last piece of advice? If you’re not utilizing personas to their full potential, pull together what work has already been done and consider refreshing it. Especially if you’re seeing inconsistencies, it might be time to go back to the drawing board and give them a revamp.
But If your persona work is up to date and resonates, it’s still worthwhile to consider how your function and the other teams you collaborate with will benefit, and how you’ll communicate those benefits.
What to do when revisiting your personas
If you have existing personas, have you revisited them recently? Choose one or two, and put yourself in their shoes as they progress through the most common interactions with your brand.
You can use these questions as self-reflection prompts:
- Is this a buyer/user persona? (this’ll influence how you answer the remaining questions)
- How would this persona interact with onboarding processes?
- What kind of content appeals to them most, and in which format?
- How would they be most likely to interact with a brand community?
- Which acts of advocacy would most appeal to them, and why?
- What rewards/bonuses would they find most attractive? Swag, charity donations, vouchers, and so on
- If featured in a customer story, what format would it take? written/video?
- At what point is this persona typically engaging with advocacy/community activities?
As a customer marketer, these questions are invaluable to get into the mindset and behaviors of some of your customers.
If you begin to spot inconsistencies or room for development, make a note and see what is possible to action. If there are gaps between what you’re seeing in customer behavior and your personas, it might be time to talk to some colleagues and revisit your persona work.
Personas in detail
Can’t get enough of personas? Want to keep your learning journey going?
Our sister community, Product Marketing Alliance, has published a complete course covering this topic with hours of exclusive content, unique tasks, with an exam and certification once it’s completed.
By the end of this course, you’ll be able to:
👷 Create, build, and deliver personas that work.
⚒️ Streamline the persona process by focussing only on extracting and mining data that drive bottom-line impact.
🔥 Take your entire company’s product, marketing, sales, and customer-focussed efforts to the next level.