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The Ultimate Guide to Building and Using Personas

Written by Taylor Hawes

Monday, March 10th, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to Building and Using Personas

The local bakery down the street has a unique opportunity. By interacting with customers on a daily basis, the owners gain a deeper understanding of what their most valued patrons want. However, when you move from Main Street to the World Wide Web, the picture becomes blurrier as that one-on-one time becomes scarce. Fortunately, one tool is offering the opportunity to turn broad customer insight into a tailored approach that improves conversion, service, and satisfaction for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

 

Researching Your Audience

Buyer personas are a sophisticated approach to introducing the individual perspective back into broad-based demographic analysis. However, this approach requires that you start with a broad-based perspective in order to obtain an accurate understanding of buyer behavior.

For this reason, personas begin with audience research. This research can come in a number of forms, including:

  • Analytics

  • Surveys

  • Focus groups

  • Direct-mail responses

  • Interviews

  • Comments

 

Each of these formats provides its own insight. For example, analytics and high-volume surveys provide overarching trends for your audience that can be used to help narrow your focus. Focus groups and interviews, on the other hand, provide a more conversational opportunity to discover specific buyer behaviors and mentalities. Blog and social media comments are more informal, but contribute a fair degree of information that connects demographics with attitudes and values.

This initial step should focus on drawing the “boundaries” of your audience; essentially the broad characteristics of your regular customers. This way, you’ll understand who falls outside the boundaries of your audience and better comprehend the specific behaviors of your unique following.

 

Breaking it Down

With this broad cross-sectional data in hand, the next step is to break it down. As mentioned, the benefit of overarching data is that it frames the kind of personalities that fall within your target audience. Breaking this information down into individual personalities is what turns audience research into high-conversion personas.

Begin by looking at the characteristics that fall into the majority of responses. If most of your site hits occur around lunch and just after working hours, it’s likely that your audience is of employment age. If the majority of your audience falls into a below-average income bracket, then it is possible that your deals are what attract an audience.

Look at each trend in your data as a piece of a puzzle. If your comment-to-follower ratio is higher on Facebook than on Twitter, then this points to a demographic that is likely just out of college or older, since younger generations are trending toward Twitter. This one element becomes noteworthy due to its connection to audience behavior. For now, simply focus on collecting the pieces of your buyer profiles through data and interviews and leave the actual assembly for later.

 

Understanding Personas

At this juncture, it is important to understand precisely what a buyer persona is. Knowing this will render assembly of your data-driven “pieces” easier, and provide insight into how they can be used.

If your marketing team uses broad audience research to design advertising materials, certain results occur. For example, if your business finds that your customer base is overwhelmingly female, ads and content may be created to appeal to females. If you’re looking to expand into your reach, additional materials may be crafted to appeal to males. In either instance, business decisions are made on the basis of characteristics.

What this approach fails to understand is that behavior and characteristics are not so easily correlated. Buyer personas attempt to introduce the concept of buyer behavior to the equation, informing marketing efforts and product development with the user in mind. A buyer persona focuses on the daily life, habits, values, beliefs, and goals of customers instead of their raw demographic information, constructing a picture of their average day that can be utilized to great effect.

 

Building Personas

It is with this mentality that you should then approach assembling your data. Two mechanisms should influence your construction process: social trends and observation. Pinterest, for example is largely slanted toward females, indicating that activity on that account is likely linked to the female portion of your audience. This kind of analysis should then be balanced by observational data, i.e. focus group discussions that specifically indicate buyer behavior and predilections.

In this step, it is much easier to understand the concept through example. Here are some insights that may contribute to a buyer persona:

  • John Q checks Facebook in the morning and browses news sites at night

  • Tina H values safety for her family

  • David M watches product reviews on YouTube and CNET before making a purchase on our online shop

 

The names are, of course, fictitious, but the behaviors are not. Your data should outline behaviors such as these, providing insight into the day-to-day life of customers and identifying patterns in purchasing processes and consistent habits.

 

Putting them to Use

With this understanding of buyer behavior, it is now possible to put it to use. From advertising to product pages, everything about your operations can be influenced and improved using this powerful tool.

Marketing efforts stand to gain a great deal of insight from these profiles. Ads can be targeted toward relevant social media sites using keywords and schedules designed around customer habits. The content of ads and blog posts can be tailored to reflect the hobbies or interests of your customers. Finally, innovative engagement opportunities can be developed around specific knowledge of your customer base, helping lead to higher participation and conversion rates.

Next, product development can be influenced by this understanding of customer characteristics. If your eReader is mostly used at night after a long day at work, it should possess a backlight that makes text readable without straining the eyes. If you find that your software is used by an older generation, buttons and text can be made bigger to allow for easier interface and navigation.

Finally, sales can become more focused and targeted based on customer values. If a bargain is important, priority may be placed on offering deep discounts to help get your foot in the door. If family is important to your customers, then mentioning how your product can help them find more time with their loved ones is a great way to increase conversion rates.

 

From top to bottom, buyer personas provide an intimate portrait of your patrons that can influence all aspects of operations. Begin by understanding your audience at large and drill down to the specific behaviors that make them tick. Inform your efforts with this insight and your product, pitch, and website can all become a little more effective and a little more profitable.

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