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Personas 101, Part I

Understanding your customers seems like a very basic principal of business, but is it really worth the time investment?

You know who your customers are better than anyone, right? Or do you?

Researching, understanding and building character profiles for your customer base or target market, otherwise known as the persona development process, is the cornerstone of any business plan.

Truly knowing who your customers are unlocks the potential for highly attuned marketing personalization, product/service development and increased sales.

A Brief History of Persona Development

Persona Development is not just another buzzy marketing fad. In fact, the theory has roots tracing back to the sixties. You can thank Canadian professor Herbert Marshall McLuhan—the father of media theory—for the persona development concept.

McLuhan is well known for expressions such as “the medium is the message” and “global village”. A controversial academic, Marshall is credited with predicting the World Wide Web thirty years before it was invented.

More recently, Angus Jenkinson is credited with persona development, calling these fictionalized profiles Customer Prints. Developed in the nineties as "day-in-the-life archetype descriptions”, these fictional characters explore more than just gender, race and income. Personas and Customer Prints are a full-picture look at a customer, including what their pain points are and who they are versus who they want to be. These fictionalized profiles even drill down to a customer’s routine at different points in their day.

If this sounds a little too Kumbaya for you, hang in there and read on. There is more to personas than just talking about feelings.

Persona Development Through Data

When beginning to uncover who your customers truly are, it is imperative that you use both quantitative and qualitative data to fully develop a customer persona. Going with your gut can be useful, but anchoring that gut feeling in numbers and observable behaviors is an even better approach.

Quantitative data includes things that can be defined by numbers. Your traditional market research data is a good start. This includes:

  • Male/Female
  • Age Range
  • Income Level
  • Asset Level
  • Home Value
  • Marital Status
  • Family Status
  • Home Status
  • Home Location
  • Job Status
  • Job Location
  • Job title
  • Education

Qualitative data, on the other hand, includes things that are researched facts but not necessarily quantifiable. For instance, you could ask 5 random people what color is the sky today. Your answers could range from “blue” to “azure” to “The sky doesn’t have a color”. The data from this sample survey about the color of the sky is significant but cannot be expressed in numbers.

Examples of qualitative data in a customer persona includes:

  • Technology preferences
  • The customer’s sources of information
  • The customer’s morning routine
  • The customer’s feelings on a particular issue
  • The customer’s pain points and challenges at home or work

This qualitative data gives us a fuller picture of the customer. A customer is not just a number or data set but another fully complex human being. Understanding the psychology behind a customer’s actions gives you business insight into what motivates their buying preferences. Uncovering this golden nugget is the key to developing products, services and business communications that resonate with potential customers.

Harnessing Qualitative Data in Persona Development

There are an abundance of research tools at your disposal to help you develop full pictures of your customers. Before diving head first into your CRM or asking your current customers random questions, take some time to develop questions that address the 5W’s – the Who, What, Where, When and Why.

Who is the customer?

What does the customer do with our product/service?

Where does the customer interact with our product/service?

When does the customer interact with our product/service?

Why does the customer interact with our product/service?

Once you understand that Persona Development is a proven marketing approach with a deep history, a repeatable methodology and a track record of success, it’s much easier to carve out the time necessary to truly get to know your customer base and target market.

In our next blog installment, we’ll start to share the steps to take to define the five W’s, which will help you maximize your marketing results. 

So, go find your investigative newspaper reporter hat and get ready to get those hands dirty. Woodward and Bernstein have nothing on you.

Tune in again soon for more great content.

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