How to Create a Persona (to inform your content strategy & creation)
The persona is the basis to inform all your marketing from your content strategy, idea generation and content production. Time invested in creating personas will pay back with a more focused content plan and content that connects with your intended audience.
Imagine you are at a party, and an attractive girl starts talking to you about how much she loves her dog. She goes into great detail about the dog, he’s her best friend and he looks so cute in a doggy t-shirt. She presents photo after photo from her phone. How interested would you be in asking the girl out for a date?
What if you were a cat person and hated dogs? What if you had a bad experience with a dog when you were younger and it left you with a phobia about dogs? Would you still want to date or spend time with this girl?
Or, maybe you love dogs, and she had you at ‘Fred is my furry BFF.’ You can already visualise your wedding.
Dating and marketing are very much alike, they both involve engaging the attention of a niche audience that you want to develop a relationship with. And in both instances having a clear idea of who you want to engage is going to make the outcome more successful.
If you love waking up early, going to the gym and lots of outdoor physical exercise, then a nightclub is not going to be the best location to find someone who shares your fitness passions. Likewise, if your idea of holiday heaven is going to Ibiza for a seven day hedonistic non-stop party experience, then approaching a potential date in a walking group reduces your match potential to minimal.
We connect with people that are similar to us. Like attracts like. So, if you have a product to sell, by knowing who your audience is you have an insight into what you can say that will capture their attention and connect with your company and product.
If you can identify your audience first, understand their needs, challenges and pain points and then address those needs with your message and your product, then your content is going to speak to your audience.
Over ten years ago I read Call To Action by Bryan Eisenberg, and opened up so many new ideas for me. At the time, I was creating websites for clients and my interest in online marketing was just starting to pique. I still cite this quote today as being the fundamental concept of all marketing:
“Speak to the dog, in the language of the dog, about what matters to the heart of a dog.” Bryan Eisenberg
Why create a buyer persona?
Business is customer centric, without a customer you don’t have a business. Therefore, the starting point for any business/product should be first to define who you want to sell to and then create your product and marketing directly focused on that person. Not the other way around.
Content marketing is all about questions and about being in the right place, with the right answer at the right time.
Marketing has turned away from a one-way broadcasting style and through the catalyst of social media has become a two-way conversation with their audience. Marketing is now dominated by the audience and not the brand. A complete role reversal.
Therefore, understanding as much about who you are talking to is essential so that you can have a direct conversation.
You can’t engage a cat person if you are talking about dogs and you wouldn’t read a Stephen King novel to a five-year-old or Peppa Pig to a teenager.
I’m going to walk you through creating a persona and have provided a template for you to download (at the end) so you can complete your own version.
What is a persona?
A persona is a detailed profile and summary of a person’s life, likes, dislikes, challenges and dreams.
A persona is NOT a stereotype such as Emo, Snowflake or Millenial, which is merely a caricature and is susceptible to the reader injecting their own interpretation.
Nor is it a customer profile, which is a generalisation of demographic and not descriptive enough for persona requirements. Eg. ‘Tweenager’ or ‘Mid-Lifer’.
The persona must be realistic and believable to enable you to envisage dialogue and interaction. You should be able to imagine the persona sat across a table having coffee with you. How do they look, act, speak? What do they talk about, respond to, get turned off by?
Where to find information to inform your persona:
The first stage is to gather your data to inform your persona creation. Experts suggest speaking to or gathering information from between 5-30 people, as long as there are patterns and trends that emerge on which to base your persona.
Ideally, you would have an existing customer database that you can send a survey to or get on the phone and interview.
Depending on the resources you have available you can comfortably use social media for an informed persona.
The people with the most knowledge about your customer are the team that interacts with them, and they can tell you everything you need to know to build your detailed persona. What you want to know are the questions most often asked about the product or the most common problems and challenges that customers experience.
If you have the opportunity, sitting in on calls with a customer facing team can offer real insights.
A survey is always my first go-to when starting a content strategy. Asking direct questions such as:
- What was your most pressing need when searching for
- What is your biggest challenge when doing
- What is the main reason you decided to use us
- Is there any information that we could offer you to make your decision easier
The single most useful nugget of information that you need is to understand what your customer pain points are. Once you know this, you can build a solid and effective content marketing plan and strategy.
Mine your analytics data for what your prospects are searching for and to get clues to their personality and behaviour. Look at metrics such as landing pages, bounce rate, pages dropped out from, user journey through the site and any keyword data you have.
The depth of detail you can gather from social is staggering. If you have a group or page with followers, by viewing each person you can see their movies, books, sports, likes, groups and check-ins. The detail of information you can gather by this process alone is so powerful ten years ago a marketer could only have dreamt of having free access to a tool like this.
If you don’t have an existing list of followers, you can still access the same information. Consider your keywords that define your brand or product and make a list then:
- Search for keywords and study the bios of people tweeting
- Use Twitter search to find people talking and hashtags about your keywords
- Ask questions to users identified as your target, ask them questions
Facebook – for consumer profiles
- Use Graph Search to find profiles associated with your keywords
- Search competitors profiles and who their followers are
- See what other brands users are associated with on their profiles to build a picture
- Mine profiles to see other interests and groups your prospects are engaging with
Linkedin – for business profiles
- Search profiles to find qualifications and level of education
- See other companies they associate with and follow
- See groups they are members of
- Assess level of success and earnings
I recommend reading this article about using Facebook Graph Search
And this webinar: Understanding your audience using social media
How to create a buyer persona:
When you have gathered all your data, start to answer the following questions:
- Age, sex, ethnicity
- Family (and pets)
- Where do they live
- What is their job title and salary
- What is their education standard (inc reading level)
- Social status
- What are their social groups/interests (clubs, gyms, photographers, cyclists, etc.)
- Level of digital and online ability
- Level of data trust and sharing online
- Their brand associations (are they an Apple user, do they shop at Asda or Tesco?)
- Media and news sources
Create a story for your persona – this will help you to visualise the person while you generate ideas or write for them. When I say story: consider what their daily routine is like, what they want out of life, what their daily challenges are and try to get the essence of their life/character.
Jane Walker is 34 and lives in Manchester with her boyfriend of five years. They have a city centre apartment and one car. She works in a designer clothing store as a manager and loves the perks of discounted clothing. Her parents live an hour’s drive away and she sees them on average every two weeks. She has one sister who lives and works in London, but they are not very close. Jane works from 9.30am till 6 pm and has to work every Saturday. She goes to the gym three evenings a week and meets her girlfriends for a drink every Friday night. Jane is internet savvy and uses email, facebook and twitter on a daily basis.
It would be a safe assumption that Jane would be engaged reading an article about: The Top Five Fashionista Bars to Visit in Ibiza or an ebook titled: How To Find Designer Fashion Sample Sales, (the secret that fashion houses don’t want you to know) or an infographic titled: Train Harder For Less Time – how to get the most out of your gym session and look younger.
Pain and pleasure – carrot and stick
Psychology dictates that people are motivated by pain and pleasure. It’s a carrot and stick situation, pain (stick) moves them away and pleasure (carrot) moves them towards. For example, going to the gym can be motivated by the fear of being unhealthy, having a heart attack or being over-weight, which is something you are moving away from (pain). Or, you can be motivated by the desire to have a bikini body and see yourself walking on a beach looking and feeling fantastic while catching admiring glances from men and women – that’s moving towards (pleasure).
In a content marketing strategy, we want to map the pain points, challenges and questions that a user has at each stage the funnel. The intention is to preempt all the questions that a buyer may have and be there with the answers. It’s a classic sales process to remove any obstacles to purchase by directly addressing concerns and questions, so a buyer has no reason left to say no.
In our persona template we want to consider their pain/pleasure motivators:
- Day to day goals
- Daily challenges they face
- Long term goals and aspirations
- What keeps them awake a 3 am
For Jane, we can then begin to structure our information into a table such as:
|Busy||Always in a rush||More time|
|Fashionable||Out-of-date||Being first and unique|
|Broody||Ticking clock||Getting married|
Referring to this table when planning your content will help you to generate ideas, and when writing, you can imagine Jane’s worries and fears and speak to her directly. Form that emotional connection through understanding her pains.
Tone of voice
Consider their tone of voice, what language would they use? What is their level of vocabulary, how would they construct a sentence, what local (colloquial) phrases and sayings might they use? You wouldn’t use street-slang to speak to a banker and you wouldn’t use corporate jargon with a builder.
A great tip is to imagine your persona being played by an actor/actress. Then visualise the actor speaking in the role as Jane. For example, imagine Anne Hathaway as our Hero Jane. As you think about writing you can hear her voice and imagine how she would hold a conversation. You then have a clear person in your mind to who you are speaking.
Use a photograph for your persona (but avoid illustrations):
Finally, a selection of photographs will bring Jane to life and as Anne Hathaway brings the tone of voice to life, the photograph will present you with how Jane looks.
“Using illustrations instead of photographs of the persona would seem to reduce effectiveness. It can lead to selective consideration of the persona characteristics and can increase the risk of self-referential details being superimposed onto the persona. The study also reported a lower level of empathy towards the illustrated persona and a diminished ability among students to recall details about the persona after time.“
Frank Long at the National College of Art and Design
User Persona Template
You now should be looking at a document like this:
Download a copy of the User Persona Template here…
How many personas should you create?
I would suggest that you always have a minimum of two and up to four or more for any business or product to cover your audience.
Where to use your persona
Once you have created your persona have it close to hand; stick it on the wall and refer to it whenever you create content. Ideally, I would suggest creating ‘mood boards’ which are a visual collection of imagery relating to your persona. Much like an ideas wall, seeing this visual information in front of you will help to connect information and brainstorm ideas.
As suggested above, when you are working on idea generation or writing content, imagine Anne Hathaway speaking as Jane and look at your images of Jane so that you can get into her skin and understand how she feels and thinks.
The persona is the basis to inform all your marketing from your content strategy, idea generation, content writing to which influencers to approach to find and reach Jane.
Time invested in creating personas will pay back with a more focused content plan and content that connects with your intended audience. And more possibility that you will get that date!
Updated for 2019.