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

July 30, 2015
Contributor: Heather Pemberton Levy

Part III in our series shows you how to create and manage marketing personas to deliver exceptional customer experiences.

Customers increasingly expect a personalized, or at least relevant, experience and what better way to get it right than to start with personas with rich details about the motivations and goals of your customers? Personas have been around for a long time, but they’re growing in popularity because customers expect more and demographic, market segments and role descriptors do little to help marketing teams understand what people want and how to interact with them such as their daily behaviors and preferences, according to Jake Sorofman, research vice president, Gartner for Marketing Leaders. Creating a vivid, intuitive picture of your audience targets requires an understanding of how to create and manage personas over the long haul.

Read Part I in our series: How to Build Digital Marketing Segments

What is a persona?

A persona is a fictional character created as a proxy for a target audience. These audience archetypes commonly include illustrative pictures and fictional names that make them tangible to digital designers and marketers. Personas identify similar patterns of behavior that result in commonly held goals. Digital marketers craft personas by analyzing primary and secondary sources, including ethnographic insight arising from direct observation of people and from data on their behavioral patterns.

“Personas identify similar patterns of behavior that result in commonly held goals.”

Here’s an example of the value of personas. According to CyberCollege, only about 22% of people without a high school education use the Internet, while almost 90% of people with a college education are regularly online. This demographic insight doesn’t help define a specific interaction design or engagement plan. Similarly, comScore has found that women account for 71% of the money spent in online shopping for apparel and accessories. This knowledge wouldn’t help you craft the right experience for your specific target audience.

Now take the persona of Carey, a college-educated professional woman whose time constraints require frequent multitasking. She uses her mobile device to buy name-brand clothes for her two-year-old son (usually at home but sometimes when catching up over coffee with friends who have children of the same age) at competitive prices (because her peers see frugality as a virtue). Carey shops this way so she can spend more quality time with her family rather than waste it on stress-filled shopping trips. The persona provides much richer insight for digital designers and marketers, guiding the design of campaigns, engagement plans and digital experiences.

How to create a persona

Personas are derived from a combination of five research modalities:

  • Demographic — Defines the basic structure of a population based on geography, income, level of education, and other standard descriptive attributes.
  • Psychographic — Focuses on values, opinions, interests, aspirations, attitudes and lifestyles.
  • Ethnographic — Involves participatory observation where insights are gleaned by watching subjects in their daily routines and capturing what isn’t explicitly reported.
  • Transactional — Reveals insights through a historical customer relationship, including first- and third-party purchase histories and post-sale service records.
  • Behavioral — Captures data passively through engagement with websites, mobile devices and other media, content and channels that reveal how audiences engage over the course of a relationship.

Digital designers blend the persona’s behaviors and goal descriptions with a context (such as the availability of a mobile device) to create scenarios. These scenarios form the backbone of an initial campaign, storytelling or UX design. Personas and scenarios also help to make complex situations comprehensible to management.

Manage personas over time

Consider applying an estimated lifetime economic value to each persona based on the idea that customers aren’t valued equally. This will help you prioritize customer experience investments based on what delivers the highest yield to the business. It’s typical to develop four to eight different personas as a series of abstracted profiles that help illuminate your target audiences.

“Personas are not a “set and forget” activity.”

Personas are not a “set and forget” activity. They do not lend themselves well to an initial flurry of activity to create a poster that’s pinned to cubicle walls. Your audience’s behavior links tightly to its context or environment. When the environment changes, audience behavior will likely change, too. Thus, personas should be dynamic — at times you’ll even need to retire them. Here, persona research informs your top-down view while continuous measurement with analytics informs your bottom-up optimization of these personas over time.

After creating your personas, map each one to specific moments on the buying journey. We’ll explore how to design a journey map that becomes the backbone of your customer experience architecture in Part III of our series: Branded Moments: Creating Persona-Driven Buying Journeys.

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