Every business has a target audience—the group of people they best serve.
This audience is typically defined by demographics—age, gender, ethnic background—and psychographics, such as their interests, hobbies, and budgets. But target audiences are deliberately abstract. They are used primarily for high-level decision-making around your business’s market size and brand goals.
When it comes to making informed decisions about your product and marketing plan, to win your customers’ hearts you may need something more concrete than a broad target audience. You need to understand their values, pain points, goals, and make them feel like your business was made just for them.
Personas are a powerful tool for making decisions about your product or your marketing.
What is a persona?
A persona is a fictional, generalized character that your business would typically serve, created to target users or customers. In fact, it’s the perfect person for your business to serve: someone who has the exact pain points your product solves, the goals that your product or service helps achieve, and sensibilities that align and connect with your brand.
A persona is typically defined as a single, nameable person, for example, “Our persona’s name is Emma.” They have specific characteristics instead of ranges. For example, Emma would be 34, not “31–45” or “mid 30s.” However, the most important part of a persona typically isn’t their demographics; it’s their goals and pain points as they relate to your product.
Why create personas?
The purpose of creating personas is to make better decisions for your business by more thoroughly understanding the customer or end user. It’s hard to identify the specific goals of an entire group of people, like your target audience. By giving your hypothetical customer a name and a story, you can imagine yourself in their shoes.
User personas vs. buyer personas
Different teams or functional roles at a company will use a persona for specific reasons. But while the use cases are different, the hypothetical customer behind the persona should be the same. You wouldn’t want your marketing team designing messaging to reach one person while the product team builds for someone else. Here are the two main types of personas:
- User personas. User personas are used by design teams, either product design or UX (user experience) design. They use personas to inform their design decisions. For example, if they know their persona obsessively manages their email inbox, they would prioritize a feature to let users control what notifications their email app sends them.
- Buyer personas. Buyer personas are used in every form of marketing, from branding to digital. These personas help teams craft their marketing messages and decide what marketing channels to leverage in their strategy.
If you have more than one product, use case, or target market, you can consider creating multiple personas, as each market segment will align with its own persona. But it is important in this case to use sales/usage data to understand which persona is more important to your business (your primary persona) and which are less so (secondary personas).
What makes a good persona?
Personas are all about specificity. The more you can do as a designer or marketer to make your persona specific, the more your team will be able to make great products and run effective marketing campaigns.
For example, if you are a mattress company like Endy, you might say your persona’s pain point is that “typical, affordable mattresses are uncomfortable.” That would help you write copy about how comfortable the mattress is, but ultimately, it is a limited amount of insight.
Be more specific when creating a realistic character. For example: “Ana lives in a big city and feels like she’s already paying too much on rent, so the idea of spending a month’s rent on a mattress feels excessive. At the same time, she doesn’t want to feel like she’s in college anymore. She also shares a bed with her partner and they often get too warm. So she’s open to making a big investment in the right product if she feels like it’s sensible.” This level of detail will lead to more evocative marketing copy, focused on the product’s cooling materials, and better decisions about the overall product roadmap.
How to create a persona
- Research your customer
- Hypothesize based on findings
- Test and validate
To create a persona, both product and marketing teams will follow a similar three-step process.
1. Research your customer
Start by learning as much as you can about your customers or potential customers. You can do this through market research work like individual customer interviews, focus groups, surveys, and reviewing third-party research. If your product is digital, such as an app, you can also find trends in the data and behavioral patterns of its users.
Customer research allows you to remove personal bias from the process. You might assume your customer values one feature of your product over others, but thorough research could tell you something different.
2. Hypothesize based on findings
Once you feel you’ve gathered enough data to understand your customers’ profiles, pain points, and goals, begin creating hypotheses for how to define personas based on your research findings. You could create a short persona description that includes everything from their name, their pain points, and their job title. However, every detail on your one-pager remains a hypothesis until you’re able to validate it through testing.
The clearer detail you can add to your persona, the better. These buyer persona examples can function as templates for achieving the level of detail needed to be effective.
3. Test and validate
There are many ways to test your persona. This phase is where product and marketing teams will take different approaches to get to the same outcome: establishing confidence in their persona’s definition.
A product team will validate their personas through additional UX research, such as watching their user base interact with prototype designs, and asking UX-driven questions. They may also test their hypothesis by making a persona-oriented change to their product, and then tracking usage data for improvements. Their goal is to see activity in the answers or data that validates their hypotheses about their persona.
A marketing team will validate their persona’s definition through quantitative test marketing campaigns. For example, they might launch social media advertising campaigns targeting users representing two versions of their persona and see which performs better. Or they may target one audience, but with multiple messages, to see which best speaks to their pain point. This can be a highly effective way to prove your persona hypotheses.
Remember that your persona is never going to be 100% “true,” as it’s based on a fictional character. But the exercise of creating and validating personas can help develop a better understanding of your customer. Whether you’re on a product team, marketing team, or a business owner doing it all yourself, there’s almost nothing more important than that.
How do you define personas in design thinking?
Design thinking is the practice of starting with the user when making decisions, instead of starting with a business/usage goal. Creating a persona is inherently design thinking, as it focuses on the user/buyer. There are several principles of the design thinking process, such as prototyping and testing, that can help bring personas to life.
Is a persona a real person?
A persona is not a real person. It is a hypothetical character based on your real customers’ traits. However, if your persona is well-crafted, you’ll likely be able to point to examples of real customers who very closely resemble your persona.
What are the three steps to create a persona?
There are three main steps to creating a persona:
1. Research your customer
2. Hypothesize based on findings
3. Validate and test
What are the different types of personas?
The main two types of personas are “buyer personas” (for marketing teams) and “user personas” (for product teams). They are defined similarly but have slightly different purposes.