Look for persona data that matters to your marketing team

Posted 1/29/2015 8:47 PM by Jeff Julian

Have you ever sat down to build a persona and struggled with finding the right occupation for the person?  Or maybe you were struggling with their age or location.  You sit and scratch you head thinking, “Well maybe Dallas, TX.”  When you start to research personas, it is very difficult to determine what data makes sense to your organization or initiative.  The problem is amplified by the fact that sales, marketing, user experience, project management, and development teams all use personas and each have their own take on what is important.

Start with the profile

When creating personas, you want to give them a name immediately.  The more familiar you can make yourself with persona, the result will be richer integration into your initiatives.  Just like when you meet someone for the first time, it is important to repeat their name a few times to help you remember.  Stop referring to the persona by whatever corporate term you have given then such as “CMO”, “millennial”, or “engineer”.  Instead use their persona name over and over. 

Next, select a picture.  You can find these on Flickr, 500px, or other sources of images with royalty-free licensing.  Since you will want to print these personas and use them, you need to make sure you have permission to use the image. 

At this point, you have identified the gender of the individual.  No matter what industry you are in, mix it up.  If you think of all of your teachers as female or your construction foreman as male, you could miss on key insights that will allow you to think beyond the gender and more toward the other demographic data you need to consider.

Decide what demographics matter to you

Each demographic should tell you something specific about the persona to set them apart from the others.  When you start looking for persona examples, you will see these fields used often:

  • Location
  • Occupation
  • Age (or Age Range)
  • Marital Status
  • Industry

These fields may be exactly what you need and if they are, awesome!  If they don’t really mean anything to you then don’t use them.  Just like anything in agile (I consider persona development to be part of an agile process), you are in control. 

Ask the sales team for a list of your existing customers that are in line with their current goals.  Get people you can find and use their LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook profile information to start to look for demographic groups.  I can’t tell you in a blog post what those groups are, but you should see them pretty quickly.

Once you are finish with the existing customer pool, make sure you talk with executive teams about their future initiatives.  You might see some adjustments that you didn’t consider.  Your company may be expanding into new industry sectors, locations, or creating a new product line.  Once these aspects are introduced, what didn’t matter before is now important.

To get started, I suggest starting with two or three demographic measures at first. As you create new personas over time, it might make sense to add or remove these measures based on your business needs. 

Goals are personal

Put yourself in this personas shoes and remove yourself from what you’re selling.  It is easy to make your persona’s goal buying what you are selling, read what you are writing, and share everything you produce.  You have created a unicorn and it will be harder to think outside the box about what will impact real people.

While we are thinking outside the box, get out of your box and find some of these people.  Grab a few local coffee shop gift cards (Starbucks already makes enough money) and go to a few industry events.  Interview people who best model your persona and ask them what their initiatives are for this year and over the next few years.  Find out what makes them happy and how they learn new things.  In this short amount of time, you will learn more about your persona than most other forms of research.

Consider the value proposition

Now that we have some authentic goals for our persona, consider what marketing initiatives we have in place and how we can create assets or provide value to the persona based on their goals and our goals.  Start producing content in your current initiatives and don’t think you have to start doing something new.  Podcasts are cool and infographics are insightful, but very difficult to execute if you are not equipped.

On another note, just because your persona wants something, it doesn’t mean you should provide it for them.  You always need to find the balance of what makes sense for your company, what your personas want, and the path you plan to guide them on to get from A to B.  Once you have your content initiatives underway, immediate pressure to show ROI, Return on Investment, will occur.  It is best to explain the paths you have planned, before you get started, to decision makers and the estimate duration of the journey. 

Quotes help make the persona real

I think a quote or two from the persona add a conversational aspect to your fake person that helps bring them to life.  The quotes can be pulled straight from your interviews or from other sources, but they should be as authentic as possible. 

In your final layout of your persona profile, decorate the page with these quotes and make them pop.  When you walk by one taped to your wall, you should see the quote and consider what they are saying.  We remember people by what they say and recall conversations we have had when we think about them.  We need something embedded in our brains to associate with this person and the quotes and photo will help do that.

Final thoughts

I love personas and think they provide so much value for everything you are doing, to reach an audience or help customer interact with our companies.  When I write posts, I like to think I am writing emails to Nancy and James, a couple of our personas.  I consider what they are trying to achieve and ways I can help them.  I know if I continue to provide these personas value, they will do better at their jobs and be more fulfilled and rewarded for their good work. 

We do a lot of business with these individuals and the content marketing approach really does work.  I could not have reached the new audience we have reached over the past few years without researching and developing the personas that mattered to us.