Make Your Marketing Personas Actionable

February 21, 2017
Contributor: Chris Pemberton

How to craft marketing personas that guide strategies and inform decisions across the enterprise.

Marketers at a leading B2B2C brand wanted to develop more actionable personas as a way to improve the entire marketing function. To develop personas that would guide content strategy, the brand gathered first- and third-party data and conducted an in-home ethnographic study. Armed with this information, the marketers developed personas that provided specific information on research approach, content needs and preferred buying patterns of select customers. The personas outlined the motivations, challenges and purchase preferences to help the marketers change perceptions and better understand their primary target customers.

“Personas should be readily available across the company via sharing mechanisms such as intranet, videos, webinars or other internal channels.”

Personas can be powerful marketing tools to inform decisions, guide strategies, improve customer experience and enhance collaboration. However, personas are only a starting point. They are most powerful when marketers support, evangelize and use them to understand customers and their journeys. “To make personas actionable, marketing leaders must follow a data-driven process and stand ready to tailor them when necessary,” said Augie Ray, research director, Gartner for Marketers.


Clarify the difference between personas and segments

One common challenge is understanding the difference between customer segments and personas. Segments are used to categorize customers. Personas are fictional representations of people created to understand key customers.

For example, a healthcare company may classify people into three different segments:

  1. Patients who need orthopedic treatment
  2. Patients who need cardiovascular care
  3. Patients who only require preventative care.

When developing personas, the company may group or divide these segments as needed to suit specific purposes. For example, from the segments above, those with chronic orthopedic or cardiovascular conditions may share exactly the same needs, expectations and behaviors and thus could be reflected in a single persona. The reverse is also true: patients in need of orthopedic care could be represented by different personas such as athletes managing a sports injury, seniors in need of a joint replacement and those who will require long-term care to manage a chronic condition.

Read More: What’s in a Name? Creating Personas for Digital Marketing


Define key information

To make personas actionable and maximize adoption across the organization, gather new data and tailor personas for different needs. The best personas mix qualitative insight that expresses a human customer with quantitative data that enables smart decision-making. To guide data collection decisions, ask a series of clarifying questions:

  • How will the persona be used? Will it guide decisions about mobile application, web content or advertising messaging?
  • What decisions need to be made by marketing or customer experience leaders?
  • What parts of the organization, both within marketing and without, will use the personas?

The answers to these questions will guide the decisions you make about what data to collect and what information to convey in your persona documentation.

Educate others: To prevent personas from being forgotten or underutilized and to extract maximum value, advocate, educate and extend personas across the organization.

Evangelize and energize: Communicate why personas are important, what insights they provide and how they can be customized and used in multiple areas of the business.  

Ensure easy accessibility: Personas should be readily available across the company via sharing mechanisms such as intranet, videos, webinars or other internal channels.

Clarify important processes:  Have clear points of contact and processes for making ongoing improvement recommendations.

Connect the dots: Personas work well when prescriptive recommendations and examples can be provided such as highlighting that a particular stage in the customer journey may be driven more by emotion than information.

“Deliver data-rich personas that include factual insight to increase trust, quell debate and inform action,” said Mr. Ray.

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