How Personal are Your Marketing Personas?

In some of our previous posts (not to mention our highly recommended e-books, now available on Amazon), we’ve gone into a bit of detail describing our process for creating marketing personas – profiles of our best potential customers that allow us to communicate with them in a way that speaks to them.

This is something we do in our own marketing, and for our clients, with great results. But, it’s also something we see other companies and digital agencies struggling with on a regular basis.

The biggest problem people have with marketing personas is that they simply aren’t personal enough. The business in question might gather some vague demographic information, or take a few details they’ve learned from questionnaires, but they don’t really know their potential customers as well as they should, and that can be a big problem.

To understand why, think about things this way: What sorts of things do you know about your best friends or closest family members that wouldn’t show up on a simple profile? Obviously, there are going to be levels of detail that you can’t fill in with your customer base, or that wouldn’t apply to all the people you want to reach. The point, however, is that you really should have a personal element to your marketing that lets you feel like you know these people as friends and partners before you ever begin working on a new website or marketing campaign.

If you’re wondering how to make that jump, and go from information to insight, you’re in luck; today, we are going to share some of our favorite tips with you. Here are a few of the things we do at Kayak to make marketing personas just a little more personal:

Give them names and faces.

It’s a lot easier to understand people, and communicate with them, if you can visualize them as individuals. That’s the same reason most of us tend to picture a face with our favorite character from a novel, even if they are only given vague physical descriptions. The more you can fill in the blanks in your mind’s eye, the more “real” that person becomes, so give viewers a name and a face that you can associate a particular customer group with.

Create back stories for your personas.

Short of addresses and tax numbers, your marketing personas should have everything they would need to “come to life.” Knowing things like what kind of school they went to, how many children they might have, what stage in life, and what their overall career motivations are can help you gain a better understanding of why they make the decisions they do, and what really motivates them to work with you instead of one of your competitors.

Have “conversations” with them.

If you aren’t sure how your marketing personas would respond to an offer or idea, don’t be afraid to ask them. Of course, you can’t ever really get firm answers from fictionalized people, but by thinking through hypothetical conversations and interviews in your mind (or during a brainstorming session), you might uncover ideas and objections that wouldn’t have been discovered otherwise.

Follow real-life examples.

If you’re lucky, your marketing personas will be based on several real-life clients or customers you already have. If so, learn what you can about these people and apply it to the personas you create. In other words, as your company grows, keep refining key personas and making them more and more accurate. Do that long enough and attracting new customers will seem more like meeting new friends than trying to put together generic marketing campaigns.

Separate them if needed.

Note that, even though marketing personas are always going to be approximations, you want them to be as specific as they can. That means that, if there are major differences between one group of customers and another, each should probably have its own persona that you are aware of and focus some of your attention (and content) toward.

Following these steps obviously takes a lot more work than most people are used to putting in when it comes to thinking about their customers and laying the groundwork for a new marketing plan. But really, that’s the point. The more you know about your buyers and your own personality as a marketer – and make no mistake, your own “persona” is just as important as the ones you have for customers – the easier it gets to develop a distinctive voice and talk to prospects in a way that moves them to action.

Isn’t it time you got more personal with the men and women who will keep you in business for years to come? Check out our communications briefing tool. It is self-guiding for more experienced marketers, and very helpful if you are taking your clients or colleagues through the process. And, it us free to use.

[ On a side note, Kayak’s personas are described as “the humanized persona” by HubSpot and showcased in HubSpot’s personas training program for marketers. The backstory is key to the humanization. ]

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