In today’s competitive environment, it’s more important than ever to not only engage with customers—but the right customers. The more targeted your marketing, the more likely it is to reach people who will appreciate your brand and your products. A good way to target these key customers is to create fictional, generalized representations of them. These are called personas. Personas help you to better understand your customers. They also make it easier for you to tailor content to their specific needs. For example, instead of sending the same lead-nurturing emails to your entire database, you can segment them by persona profiles and tailor your messages specifically to them.

How to Create Personas

The strongest personas are based on market research as well as what you already know about your customer base. This information is gathered through interviews, surveys, and the like. A good way to begin is by interviewing current customers—either in person or over the phone—to discover what they like best and least about your company and products. Look through your database to uncover trends that reveal how your customers find and use your products or services. Consider adding a form to your website to gather pertinent information. Use the form to ask relevant questions that relate to your marketing and sales needs. For example, the size of their company, what social media accounts they use, income range, gender, etc. In addition, your sales team may provide intuitive insights based on their personal experience with customers.

Next, use the information you’ve gathered to define specific types of customers and create a fictitious persona to represent them. For example, you may discover through your research that a high percentage of your products are purchased by young professional women. You might create a persona called Career Cathy. Define her background, demographic, personality characteristics, goals, challenges, and concerns. Try to answer these questions:

1. What is her educational background?

2. What is her typical job?

3. What is her career path?

4. What is her family situation?

5. What is her age range?

6. What is her typical income?

7. Where does she live?

8. What is her personal demeanor?

9. What are her communication preferences?

10. What are her goals?

11. What unique challenges does she face?

Creating Targeted Messages

Once these questions are answered you should have a good mental picture of who Career Cathy is, her wants and needs, and what issues she struggles with. Using these insights, define what your company and products can do to help her succeed and overcome her challenges. Ask yourself what reasons she may have to buy your product or service. What objections might she have and how can you overcome them?

With this in mind, formulate a marketing message aimed specifically at this persona. What solutions can you offer her? Finally, encapsulate it into a short elevator pitch no longer than a single paragraph. Now you can create focused messages directed specifically at this persona representing a key segment of your market.

How Many Personas Will You Need?

Depending on the size and diversity of your business, you may need as few as one or two personas to as many as 10 or even more. But the fewer the better. It’s always best to start small. At first, focus on just a few that represent your most important customer profiles and expand from there. It’s better to develop as much detail as possible on a few than to risk becoming overwhelmed by taking on too many. Remember, once you’ve created your first personas, you can always develop more over time and they will become easier to create with experience.

An Example Persona

Let’s imagine you have a company that sells a unique electronic/motorized guitar tuner. Its biggest selling point is its ability to wind guitar strings to perfect pitch automatically. A typical customer persona might look something like this:

Persona Name: Andy Axeman

Background: Professional musician, plays 3-4 shows per week; bachelor’s degree

Demographic: Mostly male, age 25-35, income of $25,000 – $45,000 per year; urban; single

Goals: To build a professional following, play more lucrative gigs and become more professional

Challenges: To spend less time dealing with gear and focus more on music; to avoid losing audience engagement by taking time to tune during performance; to avoid tuning by ear in a noisy environment

How we can help: Make it easier and faster to keep multiple instruments tuned and ready on stage and reduce setup time

Marketing Pitch: Ensure that your stringed instruments are tuned perfectly and quickly—even in a noisy environment

Creating personas can make it easier to visualize your customers as real people and appeal to them emotionally as well as intellectually.

Today, customers are in the driver’s seat. Your brand will thrive or fail based on whether or not they feel an affinity for who you are and what you can offer them. At the very least, you need to develop a deep understanding of who they are, what they value, and how best to communicate with them. This is where personas are particularly useful.