The AMA MicroDigital Guide to developing personas of your ideal customer
Customer personas can provide a wealth of actionable insight for your organisation. This comprehensive guide by Roisin Kirby, Refresh Marketing, outlines the key steps to get started and is packed with further resources to learn more.
What is a user persona?
A user persona is an archetypical character that represents your target customer. They are also sometimes called Buyer Personas or Avatars.
In essence it's just a character sketch that allows you to understand your audience in a meaningful way by adding a human face to your data and statistics. So a persona is a fictional person that you create, who represents your target audience and lets you see how they might respond to your marketing offer.
They are a named character who embodies all of the attributes that your segment has. Developing a user persona is a fun and creative exercise as you can provide them with likes, needs and wants based on your market insight, and a full back story to give them personality.
The benefits of using personas
The use of personas has really grown in recent years and are now commonly used throughout arts and cultural organisations. Let's look at the benefits:
- keeps your users front of mind in all aspects of service provision, from building design and programming to marketing communications
- helps you focus your efforts on the audience segments that are most important to you
- lets you think and act on what your persona needs and wants and what they value
- combats unconscious bias by creating and using a persona based on real evidence
- helps you identify potential barriers to attendance and deeper engagement
- tailoring your messages helps you develop a marketing strategy that is more personal and effective across all of your channels
- helps you rally everyone in the organisations around a customer-focussed vision
- gives a shared understanding of your personas so that when ‘Mary’ or ‘Samir’ are referenced to describe a target market everyone knows what is meant
Now let's drill down on the benefits for marketing and communications. In marketing we use personas to keep our target audience(s) front of mind. This is particularly useful when you have several personas and may be switching between them in your work. They are useful for instance:
- When developing new products or services
- In developing new experiences
- In selecting channels for communications campaigns
- To help allocate budget to separate initiatives
- In content creation
- When creating design work for events or promotional campaigns
- To optimise web pages
- In projects such as new website developments, online user journeys and so on.
In these instances it can be really helpful to remind yourself about your personas' characteristics, how they gather information, what their needs and pain points are, to help inform your decision making.
By way of example, you could visualise your persona as you write copy for an email campaign so that you use the same language that they would, and focus on the benefits of your offer to help solve their problems.
When to create user personas
A segmentation and targeting exercise will have surfaced useful insights and data points which you can use to develop each persona. Indeed user personas are normally the next logical step after segmentation. You may not choose to develop personas for every target audience, only the key ‘personalities’ involved in the decision making process.
Conversely, it can be useful to create an initial user persona before a full segmentation exercise – to pin down your primary audience type, on which you can then build further personas as your understanding of other segments evolves. This approach is useful if you are short of time, if you don’t have buy in to a full segmentation exercise, or if your knowledge of your target markets is limited and there is a need to get off the starting blocks quickly.
How to create personas
Step 1: gather all the insight and data that you can
Useful data sources will include:
- Existing segmentation and targeting plans, if you have them
- Your email list
- Google Analytics data
- Postcodes of your current users
- Ticketing data
- Survey reports
- Segment pen portraits from tools like Audience Finder or Culture Segments, if you have them
Here's what you should be looking for:
- spending habits
- pain points
Try to get a wide mix of information on your current audience but starting small is better than not starting at all.
involve your wider team
creating a user persona is not an excuse to avoid talking to your users and audiences
Step 2: look for common themes across this data
Analyse your data to try to identify ‘groups’ who share particular features.
For instance, you may find a segment who are regular, committed users of your services, others who attend for special occasions only, and a third who attend only particular types of performances.
Whatever your basis for creating the segments, there is no right or wrong answer as the important factor is to base your segments on insight rather than conjecture.
Step 3: add detail to this initial outline
Your personas are starting to take shape, but as yet they are an outline based on a few characteristics. Start adding qualitative insight to create a rounded portrait that is fully completed.
Now is the time to talk to users directly to find out the real nuggets of information that will really add value to your personas.
You could use an ‘empathy map’ to help you draw this information out.
How to use an empathy map (Courtesy of CultureConnect)
Gather stakeholders together. We recommend snacks or coffee find their way into the mix.
- Agree on the target user.
- Review the empathy map concept, purpose and goals with the group.
- Distribute materials (copies of maps, sticky notes, pens etc.)
- Break into groups of 2-3 people and work together on filling out the empathy map for 5-10 minutes. Alternatively, work on the empathy maps individually for 5 - 7 minutes.
- Share your work and discuss your thinking with the group while documenting a master empathy map for this user that reflects the group’s thinking.
- Rinse and repeat for each additional target user.
A typical empathy map includes four quadrants:
- Say – What the user says about the product. Ideally, this section contains real quotes from users recorded during interviews or user testing sessions.
- Think – What is the user thinking about when interacting with a product? What occupies the user’s thoughts? What matters to the user?
- Feel – This section contains information about the user’s emotional state. What worries the user? What does the user get excited about? How does the user feel about the experience?
- Do – What actions does the user take? What actions and behaviours did you notice?
You will need to think beyond sociodemographic data such as age and location, to delve into their habits, their needs, their pain points to find groups of customers who share behavioural or psychographic characteristics:
- which channels of communication do they prefer
- what is their attitude to tech and digital marketing
- how do they like to experience your offer?
- what problem does your service solve for them?
Try to avoid your personas merging into one – the intention if you have several personas is to keep them distinct and unique from each other as they represent the different ‘types’ that use your venue, your website, your services.
Ultimately we want to get to the point of understanding what really matters to each persona on a range of factors, so that we can use them to inform decision making across the organisation.
Step 4: give them a personality
Give each persona a name, a stock photo, and some interesting attributes. I like to include a quote of a typical phrase you might hear them say. This will give each persona a sense of personality, that distinguishes them from the others.
As your personas are representative of your users the names, photos and attributes that you assign them should also represent the diversity of your audience.
Step 5: represent your persona visually
Time to get creative by putting all of your persona’s details into one ‘bio’ style document. This creative representation makes it much easier for team members understand the personas, and will help you sell in your personas internally.
There are lots of templates available online, linked to below, which you can adapt to suit your needs.
Step 6: socialise your persona internally
Whilst you won’t be talking about your personas externally, it is important that there is a common understanding of your user personas internally. Now is the time to present your personas across your wider organisation for discussion and buy in. This is why the robust development process above is important as you may be challenged on your insights.
We have all probably encountered colleagues who present facts which are based on hearsay or individual one-off experiences. Whilst those observations are valid and useful to feed into the process, our personas are intended to represent common ‘types’ of users, and are not intended to embody 100% of your users. Take all feedback on board and verify insights before adjusting your user personas to ensure that they are not dramatically influenced without firm foundations.
Always remember that user personas are generalisations, which represent particular segments of your audiences as archetypes. Their purpose is to remind you of who your users are, so that your marketing and communications (and other functions) can continue to be customer-centric.
Revisit, review and update
As with any marketing activity, it is good practice to revisit your user personas on a regular basis to ensure that they are still accurate and up to date.
If your organisational offer changes considerably, or new user behaviour is observed, then it is important to update your user personas to reflect that.
Here are some really useful examples of personas to build on the guide above:
The story of Spotify’s personas https://spotify.design/article/the-story-of-spotify-personas
10 buyer persona examples https://blog.alexa.com/10-buyer-persona-examples-help-create/
20 must see user persona templates https://www.justinmind.com/blog/user-persona-templates/
How to... develop audience personas https://www.culturehive.co.uk/resources/audience-persona-template/
Roisin has been an advocate of digital marketing throughout her career. She has helped organisations of all sizes evaluate their current marketing activity and refresh their approach to get better results from their marketing activity.