What are customer personas? Why create them?

Customer Personas…What’s All The Hype?

Whether new to CX or looking to expand your current knowledge, it is important to learn about what, when, and how to develop personas so that you can serve your customers better. Knowing what personas are NOT is equally important to create desired outcomes versus hinder them. Let’s begin by defining:

WHAT ARE CUSTOMER PERSONAS?

In basic terms, it is simply a semi-fictional model that includes characteristics and mental models of target buyers. When developing customer personas, you need to thoroughly research and document all insights about them so you can create experiences that enable them to accomplish their goals and choose your products over competitive offers.

WHAT PERSONAS ARE NOT?

  • A Replacement For Market Segmentation. Think of market segmentation as a BROAD view. It is a way to divide customers into groups that can be targeted by demographics (i.e. age, race, religion, gender, ethnicity, income), psychographics (i.e. social class, personality characteristics), behavioral patterns (i.e. spending, usage) and geography (i.e. customer locations). Personas are formed by leveraging segmentation information, and are not based on a “one size fits all” mindset.
  • Buyer Journeys. Personas define WHO you are designing products, services, market messaging for. It is not about mapping out desired customer experiences across all  channels and touchpoints. (Read more about what and why journey maps matter here, and how to do it effectively with a free template to get started here.)
  • Based on a single observation. Understanding a particular customer experience (what went wrong or well) can be useful to inform business decisions, however, it cannot be generalized for an entire group of buyers.
  • Documented one time. Customer needs and interactions with brands are changing as well as their expectations as technology advances. Persona development is an evolution that needs to be reviewed, updated (small tweaks, not necessarily a complete redo) and communicated throughout organizations periodically.  
  • Based on assumptions. Research is an important part of making personas “real.” Interviewing and surveying customers are effective methods of learning what drives your target audience and appeals to them. There are more ways to gain customer insights, which I will share in upcoming articles. 
  • Constructed for every customer. You can’t please everyone, so prioritize and focus on the top buyers who provide the highest revenue potential.  
  • Based on one “right way.” There is no single correct method to developing personas. Yet, it does need to include certain components to help teams understand essential information about customers and target prospects. As a general rule, you want to keep your document to one page. If it’s too long, you likely did not focus on the most important points, and stakeholders may not read it. Key elements include
    • Who are typical customers? What do they do? Typical day?
    • What are their frustrations, pain points and challenges?
    • What are happy / satisfying moments? What does success looks like?
    • What are their goals. What do they want to accomplish?
    • What are they saying? (Quotes / verbatims)
    • Photographs to “humanize” customers

WHEN TO CREATE CUSTOMER PERSONAS?

Persona development typically occurs at very early stages of new product development and marketing launches. It needs to happen BEFORE journey mapping activities begin as maps are created from persona documents. Personas need to be referenced throughout the project lifecycle so that decisions consistently address customer needs.     

WHY DEVELOP CUSTOMER PERSONAS?

  • Helps identify what problems to solve for when developing new products, services and capabilities. 
  • Enables marketers to tailor content and messaging. A business executive, for example, relies on different sources of information for learning about brands and have unique buying criteria than a technical IT Manager.
  • Drives internal employee alignment. Including cross teams in the persona development process is an effective way to create a more customer-centric organization.  

 HOW TO BUIlD YOUR CX SKILLS?

  1. Take a course at a prestigious institution, such as Rutgers University, who offers an affordable online and offline certification course. (Read about my experience here.)
  2. Subscribe to DoingCXRight and gain access to helpful tools and resources. (My next article explains HOW to develop personas in detail, including a free template that Rutgers is offering to DoingCXRight readers.)
  3. Observe and learn from companies who are DoingCXRight. Hubspot shares a great article about “7 Companies That Totally ‘Get’ Their Buyer Personas.”
  4. Watch informative videos. I especially like one by Gregg Bernstein as he visually shows what persona development is all about in a simple, creative way. 

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*All opinions expressed on the DoingCXRight Blog and site pages are the authors’ alone and do not reflect the opinions of or imply the endorsement of employers or other organizations.

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