In an ideal world, your marketing would deliver exactly the right message to the right person at the right time. And while there are a whole host of challenges that come with this scenario, modern marketing is taking us closer to this ideal than ever before. One tool professional services marketers are using to create these more resonant messages to their audiences is called a “marketing persona.” Persona development allows us to see the world through our clients’ eyes and understand what they care about and how they think. A persona arms your team with the information they need to convince a buyer to buy from you. So a persona has to be more than a description — it’s a prescription, too. In other words, it should provide key arguments and language to convince a prospect to hire you. In this post, I’m going to introduce you to this powerful tool and explain how you can build your own marketing personas.
What is a Marketing Persona?
A marketing persona is a fictional profile of an important segment of your audience, and it equips you with the insights to create more effective marketing messages and offers. Many firms develop a range of personas covering their key buyer segments, influencers, and even prospective employees.
A typical persona fits on a single page — though they can run multiple pages, too — and includes a fictional name and photo, title or job function, demographic information, common challenges, key messages, and any additional information that would help a marketer or sales professional customize a campaign or pitch an audience. Often it includes sample language a marketer might use to persuade a person to buy or take the next step in the relationship. Of course, you can supplement the one-page profile with additional information, research data and messaging. When it comes down to it, there’s no right or wrong way to build a persona — you can craft yours to provide just the information you need.
To give you some context, however, let’s take a look at how you gather the raw materials for your persona. Then we’ll explore a few elements that go into a typical persona.
Collect Your Data
Where do you get the information to flesh out your personas? You can take one of three approaches:
- Conduct market research. Hire an experienced third party to talk to clients, prospective clients and individuals in other companies who fit each persona type. A third party will get more honest answers than if you try to do it yourself.
- Interview real clients. Develop a standard questionnaire and set up calls with clients that fit in each persona segment.
- Model it on a client you know. If you just can’t do the research, think of one or two clients who fit the persona role you want to profile. Then build out the persona with them in mind. It won’t be as robust or reliable as research, but it will be a lot better than nothing.
If you go the route of research, think about what you need to know about each persona and then design and conduct your research accordingly. Consider what insights into these people will make your messaging stronger and more relevant to their situation.
A persona, while based on actual people, is a composite profile. It is a fiction designed to represent real people in real roles. To help bring this fictional person to life, we need to turn him or her into a character.
Here are some typical elements of a persona:
- Photo — A headshot lets us imagine what this persona might look like. If you determine that the demographics of the persona skew male or female, use that information to help you select an appropriate model. Try to pick a photo that looks like a real person, however, and be sure they are dressed appropriately for the position they hold.
- Name — A first name, like Don or Stephanie, helps us engage with the persona. Don’t worry too much over what name to use.
- Demographics — When you think about this role, what does the average person look like? You may want to include information such as age (a typical range is fine), gender, education and income (if relevant).
- Challenges — What are the common challenges this role faces? More specifically, what challenges do they struggle with that your firm can solve?
- Business Goals — What does this person need to do to be successful at his or her job?
- Objections — What obstacles will you have to overcome to earn this person’s trust?
- Information Sources— What business-related blogs, journals, newspapers, etc. does this person read?
- Key Messages — In this section, craft a few important messages that are likely to resonate with this audience. What do they need or want to hear? What do you offer that helps them get past their challenges?
You may see personas out there that dive into personal details, such as hobbies, marriage status, location and more, but since these characteristics are so variable — however, if they don’t have clear relevance to your messaging they can be more of a distraction than a help.
While you may not need all of the components listed above, or you decide to include other details, this list should give you a good place to begin thinking about your marketing personas.
Marketing Persona Example
So what does a finished persona look like? Here is an example of a simple marketing persona targeting HR directors.
Limitations of Personas
Like any tool, personas do come with limitations. They can be useful in many situations, but you also need to understand what they aren’t great at.
For one thing, personas are generic. While they tell you about a whole category of people, they say much less about a particular individual. That means personas are most useful when addressing a large group — a segment of your email list, for instance — where statistics can work in your favor. But if you are speaking or writing to an individual or even a small group, a persona profile has the potential to lead you astray if you put too much faith in it.
Personas are also limited to a narrow range of insights. These are not complex, three-dimensional portraits of a class of people. That would be impossible to put into practical application. Instead, they are sketches, intentionally simplified to emphasize key points and opportunities. Keep in mind; it’s inevitable that personas are going to get a few specifics wrong when applied to a particular situation. So you can’t be dogmatic when you use them. The language you use needs to be flexible enough to accommodate different situations, backgrounds and perspectives.
Marketing personas can help your team speak with greater relevance and persuasion to a variety of audiences. But, at the end of the day, they are only as good as the quality of the insights that go into them. If at all possible, try to interview multiple people in those roles and dig into their motivations, operational challenges, and experiences buying services like yours. When you turn this intelligence into persona profiles you’ll have a treasure trove of information about each of your key audiences at your fingertips, and you’ll be speaking to your audience in a way that resonates with them.
- Check out this related post: How to Identify Buyer Personas for Professional Services Marketing
- Download a free copy of the book Inside the Buyer’s Brain to learn what motivates buyers to choose one firm over another.
- Hinge University offers a wealth of practical, step-by-step How-Tos and in-depth courses to strengthen all aspects of your marketing.
How Hinge Can Help:
The most useful personas are based on research into your target audience, including interviews with your buyers and influencers. Hinge offers a complete suite of research services, including persona research. Check out our Research Services to learn more.