Personas are a pretty fundamental part of any product marketing strategy.
Whether you’re launching a new product or feature, revisiting a battle card, or building a product demo, they should be at the forefront of your mind throughout and shape what you create - and how.
We've made it our mission to have you feeling like a personas pro by the end of this article. But before we do anything, let's take it back to basics...
What are personas?
Personas are fictional characters you create based on research, and they represent segments of your market. We can’t emphasize enough how important that research is because personas cannot be built on internal assumptions. You might start with internal assumptions, but they must then be validated by real customers and always updated as you learn and evolve.
Buyer vs. user personas
Before we move onto how to create your personas, we wanted to spend a bit of time talking through the difference between buyer personas and user personas. More often than not, the difference only applies to the B2B setting because in B2C, the buyer’s usually the user and so you only have to focus on buyer personas.
With B2B purchases though, according to the Harvard Business Review, there are 6.8 people involved in the purchase process and that’s a lot of people to convince for one sale.
It’s worth noting though, some job titles might have more than one role. For example, your approver could also be the user and the initiator could also be the buyer, etc. These positions also aren’t gospel from product-to- product and industry-to-industry.
And finally, although we said users and buyers aren’t as relevant in a B2C setting when you think about it, the customer ends up filling all seven roles - they hear about your product, they’ll be the ones using it, they convince themselves they need it, they decide whether to buy it, they’re in charge of their spending, they push the final button, and they can talk themselves out of the purchase.
In terms of applying these roles to your personas, we’re not suggesting you always need seven different personas to fit each title - yes, some of you might, but when you’re creating your buyer and user personas it’s worth referring to these so you’re accommodating your persona’s roadblocks.
For example, if you know user persona A has to convince the return on investment (RoI) of your product to their influencer, a sales asset focussed solely on RoI case studies and examples could be introduced as part of their sales funnel.
The importance of understanding the difference:
As a product marketer, it’s essential you know the difference between a buyer persona and a user persona because your job isn’t just to help people buy the product, it’s to help the user use the product after that purchase has taken place. Your job and the job of personas isn’t just to align with sales and help them sell, it’s to drive adoption and usage because otherwise, you might have a lot of sales, but you’ll also have a lot of churns.
Why are personas important?
Here's why personas are such an integral part of any product marketing plan-of-action:
- When done right, personas first and foremost help you create products your personas are crying out for and guide the roadmap in terms of priorities. Product marketers often forget about this role personas play but it’s crucial, you must build for your personas, and if you want to build the right products and features for the right people, this persona work is paramount.
- The second piece to personas is that they equip you with the tools you need to effectively market your product to specific audiences in a way that resonates with them, targets their touch points, and increases conversions, because as with any type of marketing, personalization is key, and all this helps to shape how your sales and marketing teams encourage people to buy.
- Thirdly, your personas help your engineers keep those end users in mind as they’re building out any products or features, and this kind of focus is key in ensuring what’s built is what people want.
- And finally, personas are important for your support teams because they help them understand why someone might have bought your product in the first place, and what’s important to them when they talk to them, and all this comes together to create a better, more tailored customer experience all-round.
The benefits of creating personas
Let’s set the scene and say you’re launching an online, AI transcription company and during your persona work, you discover that:
When you’re marketing to persona A, your message might be more along the lines of: “Spend less time decoding meeting notes and more time acting on the outcomes,” and persona B’s angle might be more like: “Take your case studies from audio to written with accuracy ensured throughout.”
By tailoring your approach to meet each persona’s goals, you’re getting on their level and resonating with what they want and need, not what someone else wants and needs - and that understanding can work wonders for your revenue.
How many personas do I need?
Because different people buy your product for different reasons, you’ll usually have several personas for any one product, and that number can double if you’re operating in more than one market.
Let’s use Skyscanner’s flight booking feature as an example.
One thing we know is everyone using this wants to book a flight, right? However, Jon who’s a husband and father of three will have very different reasons behind his purchases than Mark, a recent graduate who’s looking to go on his first holiday with the lads, and Mark again will have very different criteria to Amy, a 27-year-old looking to get away for a romantic break with her partner.
These differences fundamentally change how each persona uses and views Skyscanner’s app and subsequently, how they need to be spoken and marketed to. Sending Jon an email along the lines of: “Book cheap return flights to Las Vegas for you and the guys this week” isn’t going to cut it if he wants family-friendly vacations for him and the kids.
Remember, personas are for products, not companies, so sticking with Skyscanner again, you wouldn’t have the same personas for all of their offerings, you’d have different personas for their flights, hotels, and car hire products.
There is no such thing as a set number for this and it’s not as easy as saying “everyone should have four personas per product” because for some products and industries, four might be too many and for others, four might barely scratch the surface.
If we had to put a number on it though, we’d suggest aiming for around three personas per product to ensure you’re covering enough of a variety of needs, behaviors, and goals, but as we said, take that number with a pinch of salt and think about what makes sense for you.
How to create your personas
Now let’s look at how you create those personas:
Step 1: Collaboration
The first step is getting other business departments involved. Personas shouldn’t be created in a product marketing vacuum and you’re by no means the only team who’ll use them. Sales will use them to personalize their pitches, customer success might use them during their conversations, and product teams might use them to shape their roadmaps, and then there are your marketing (including content and growth marketing), engineering, and account executive teams too.
If you don’t bring these teams into the process you run the risk of creating personas that are hyper-relevant to you, but miss the mark and important details for other people to get the most out of them, and if they’ve not got the right information in, driving uptake is going to be very much an uphill battle.
So, step one is mapping out who else should be involved in the process and bringing all those people together for the next phase.
Step 2: Outline goals
Start by working backward and first understanding what you want to achieve from your persona interviews. Without these goals in place coming up with the right questions will be tough and unlikely to render the results you need.
So, with all the relevant stakeholders in a room, sit down and start brainstorming what information would be really useful in your personas, and how people can use that information in certain scenarios - looking into this is important because personas aren’t supposed to be pages and pages long, you have a finite amount of space, which means everything that’s in there has to be valuable, and some people might think knowing the persona’s age, for example, is essential, but when it boils down to it that might not be the case.
During this meeting, take tons of notes but don’t promise anything. Go away, reevaluate all the requests you’ve got, and then use your product marketing expertise to whittle down what will and won’t make the cut to create the most effective persona. And remember, just because something doesn’t make sense to be included in the persona, doesn’t mean you can’t still ask the questions - knowledge is power wherever that knowledge lives, persona or not.
Step 3: Question time
Once you know the aim of your persona work it’s time to sit down and understand which questions will pull out the answers you need and in your head, remember to follow each question up with a ‘why’.
Sticking with Skyscanner, let’s say you want to understand the motivations behind why Jon, the husband and father of three, books a family vacation each year. You might ask something as simple as “What’s the reason you and your family go on holiday every year?” and he might say something along the lines of “Because I like to treat the family and have two weeks’ of solid family time".
Most people leave it there, but if you ask “Why?” again, you’ll drill deeper into the motivator and could uncover information like “I work 60+ hours a week and don’t normally get much family time throughout the year” or “My parents could never afford a family holiday when I was young and I want to make sure my kids get that,” and so on. All these tidbits of knowledge add up and create the most complete pictures of your personas.
Let’s take a look at another example using the fictitious transcription company we mentioned earlier, and let’s say one of the things you want to validate with real customers is a day in their life.
Here are a few questions that would help you understand that answer:
• What are your main responsibilities?
• Who do you report to?
• What does your immediate team look like?
• Do you manage anyone else? If so, who?
• What takes up most of your time?
• What slows you down?
• Which teams do you interact with most?
• How many hours do you typically work a day?
• What are your KPIs?
Step 4: Interviews
Once you’ve worked out what information you need and what questions you need to ask to get it, it’s time to go out and start speaking to people, and that includes both prospects and customers.
In terms of the medium, it’s always best to speak to interviewees either over the phone or in-person. This will enable you to gather more robust data and pick your customers’ brains outside of your ‘script’ and ask those ‘why’ questions. Face to face can be tricky if you’re a global organization, but something as simple as a Zoom call can get you face-to-face from opposite sides of the world.
If you struggle to get customers to sign up to a call with you consider adding an incentive to the call - honestly, you’d be surprised at how far a $50 Amazon voucher can get you. This incentive doesn’t always have to be monetary either, it could be inviting them to your Customer Advisory Board, or giving them early access to a new product, for example. Also, when you’re conducting your persona interviews, don’t forget to record the conversation so you can play it back at a later date - and ask for permission too, of course. Although it’s a good idea to make notes throughout, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to take sufficient notes while being attentive on the call, so this allows you to carefully play the callback and make sure you’re not missing any important details.
Here are a few tips for this part of your persona work:
- When you’re inviting people to take part, make sure you’re clear that the call won’t be sales-related at all. Any whiff of this can be a huge deterrent.
- Although prospects will be harder to get time with, don’t use this as an excuse to neglect them. Prospects can be great because they’re not involved with your product and are unbiased. Also, try to speak to people who haven’t heard about you at all; that’ll give you a great look into how perceptions and expectations differ.
- When you’re reaching out to customers, don’t just go after the ones that rave about you. Going after the good and bad will give you a more complete picture and more to go at in terms of learning what your customers’ challenges are and how you can overcome this and eradicate it to bring more future customers in.
For example, if it becomes apparent that customers in persona A find your product too technical to understand that provides an opportunity to a) deliver an education piece to people who fall into that persona to ensure they’re able to get the most out of your product and stay loyal, and b) it can shape how your target prospects who sit in that persona, and you might decide to strip back and simplify how you take about your product even more.
- Support your interview recruitment by asking people for referrals. For example, if you’ve finished your persona interview with Jane, before you hang up, ask her if she knows anyone who fits the bill and might be willing to spare 15-20 minutes to help you out. This introduction can give you a nice in and saves you some time sourcing people yourself.
When it comes to how many people you need to talk to, there isn’t a set number. The more the better, but, as a rule, for a persona to be considered credible you should aim for between 5 - 10 matching patterns.
Outside of your core persona work, there are other ways you can look to continually top up your knowledge base too, like:
• Adding a couple of fields into your website’s form,
• Including relevant questions as part of your onboarding process, and
• Getting your sales and customer success teams to ask certain questions before, during, or after their prospect and customer conversations. If you do this though, just remember to make sure you’ve got a central location to store their findings - a simple spreadsheet or Slack channel ought to do.
Step 5: Consolidation
If more than one of you is conducting persona calls and/or consolidating the data, make sure you have a standard process in place before you get to work - if you’re all using different documents it’ll make cross-referencing and validating your findings much harder. This doesn’t need to be complex and could be something as simple as:
If you’re not picking up any trends, as painful as it might be, just keep going and keep speaking to people until you identify a clear pattern.
Step 6: Persona documents
Last but not least, once you’ve consolidated your interviews and identified trends, you need to input all that information into persona documents that can be shared with other internal teams. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to the format of these and here are just a few samples we found online:
As you can see, each is very different, and that’s fine. It’s all about figuring out which works best for your set-up, and how the people who’ll be using them are most likely to digest and use them, and then coming to a solution based on that.
Once you have that final version we’d recommend including space for a ‘Last reviewed’ field so you can easily keep on top of how fresh they are and ensure everyone’s working off the most recent version.
How to use personas effectively
So, at this point, you have your persona ready and raring to work for you, but that doesn’t just happen by itself. You might know how they’re gonna shape your campaigns and plans but for teams outside of product marketing, it’s not always as simple as that and it’s on you to demonstrate the role and value of these persona documents.
So, to make sure all your hard work doesn’t go to waste, set-up meetings with the people who benefit from these personas and explain what they are, how they will benefit them, and when and how they can be used. We’d recommend separating these meetings and speaking to people on a team level and the reason for this is the benefits and use cases will vary a lot depending on who you’re talking to.
For example, for your demand-gen team, it might be that they can now create hyper-targeted ads for each persona. For sales, it might be that they can tailor their calls to specific goals. For content marketing, it might be that they can create tailored landing pages that speak directly to that persona’s pain points, and so on.
Book those meetings in and make sure you clearly articulate the value to each team, but then don’t stop there. Around two to four weeks later, put another meeting in their calendar to check in and see if or how those personas have benefited their teams. If they listened to you and implemented them this conversation will provide you with valuable feedback.
If they didn’t listen and the personas have been left untouched, it’ll give them another nudge to take action. To drive that adoption it could be worth including internal case studies in those follow-up meetings.
For example, if your PPC team or some of your sales reps started personalizing their ads and calls using your persona documents and saw an uplift in conversions, use those stats to hammer home the importance and value of them. As soon as people see and understand tangible, data-driven benefits like that, the adoption will take care of itself.
Where can personas be used?
Honestly? Almost everywhere. Specifically though, they should feed into your:
• Sales enablement collateral like battle cards and sales scripts.
• Product or feature launch assets - like landing pages, blogs, onboarding flows, and product demos.
• Positioning and messaging work - different personas might require different positioning and will almost certainly require different messaging.
• Pricing strategy.
• OKRs and analysis, in that you might want to track metrics against individual personas, rather than collectively, to understand how each performs in isolation.
And then for your sales teams, it’ll be in the form of differentiated pitches - whether that be over the phone or via email, for customer success it could impact how they liaise with customers and handle complaints, for marketing personas will feed into everything from PPC, referral and retargeting campaigns to blog posts, website copy and social media posts, and then for product they can help mould the future of their roadmap.
For example, going back to Skyscanner, if you discover persona A’s main barrier is that they can’t see flight prices for more than 12 months’ in advance, maybe a new feature could be predictive flight prices for up to 24 months’ after today’s date. The number of touch points your persona work will have will vary depending on your business’ unique structure, so it’s worth sitting down with those same people you gathered at the beginning of the process to understand how your personas could slot into their various activities and objectives.
The last thing we’ll touch on to take your persona work to the next level is connecting those dots between a customer’s stage in the buying funnel to what content they need, and then tailoring that content to each persona. The example above is a pretty standard buying funnel graphic you’ve probably seen a lot.
At that first awareness stage, potential customers are probably just having internal conversations around things like:
- Do we have a problem here?
- Does this need to be a problem?
- How much will it cost us to fix this problem?
When you jump over to that consideration stage, you’re looking at sticking points like:
- Will this solution solve 100% of my problem?
- How easy is this solution to use?
- Is there anyone out there who’s better at solving it?
And then when you move along again to intent, they start looking at things like:
- Who else is using this product?
- How soon can I get it up and running?
Each of these stages of the funnel requires different content pieces to meet the customer’s needs and to take your efforts to the next level. Those content pieces should meet specific persona requirements - yes, that means more work, but it’ll also likely result in a much better, more optimized funnel.
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