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How to create user personas (and reasons why you should)

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All successful content strategies start with an in-depth understanding of your customer persona. Without doing this groundwork, you could produce pages and pages of content, dozens of infographics, and hundreds of videos, and still fail to connect with your intended audience. With this in mind this blog post examines how to create user personas. 

According to the Content Marketing Institute, only 30% of B2B marketers believe that their organisation has an effective content marketing plan - something that we’d guess is largely down to not having a strategic focus.

Researching your audience will take time. Don’t rely on assumptions; you need to ask questions and build out real user personas. Once your understand your market you will know:

  • WHO you’re marketing to
  • WHAT their problem is
  • HOW you can solve it

Creating user personas

You can’t create impactful content if you don’t know who it’s for, which is why you should start with creating your user personas. User Personas are a visualisation of your ideal customer.

You can capture any information that you believe is relevant to your own understanding of your customer, although we recommend including the following information:

Name, age, personal background

  • Although not vital, creating a character for your user persona is likely to help you empathise with them more - you’ll see them as a real person instead of just a bunch of ideas.
Problem statement
  • Distilling this person’s problem into one clear statement will help you appreciate what’s most important to them, so you can hone your message accordingly.
Role (B2B only)
  • Detailing the persona’s role and responsibilities will further develop their character, and will get you thinking about how they spend their time (and, therefore, where you could help).
Goals
  • Understanding your persona’s priorities will make you understand what it is they want to achieve, so you can easily pitch your product/service to them in a way that helps them to accomplish their goals.
  • How your product/service helps them achieve these goals
Challenges
  • Similarly, clarifying where your potential customers experience challenges enables you to develop statements that will convince them that you could relieve their burdens.
  • How your product/service helps them overcome these challenges
Objections
  • Putting yourself into the user’s shoes and pre-empting why they might resist becoming a customer is a great way of identifying sticking points.
  • How you can overcome these objections
Watering holes (where your persona consumes content)
  • Working out where your target customers hang out is vital because it will help you focus your marketing efforts where they’ll be most effective.
Preferences (how they like to be communicated with)
  • People appreciate thoughtfulness, so making sure you communicate with them in a way they prefer can win you brownie points.
Elevator pitch
  • Create a separate pitch for each user persona.

Did you know?

Hubspot offer user persona templates.

Click here to download yours!

How many personas should you create?

You should create a user persona for every type of customer you identify. This can be based on a number of factors, not just their role or demographics. We recommend taking the problem statement as a starting point - if you can identify several of these, create a persona for each one (but make sure you’re not going overboard). Think about their motivation, as this will be key to appealing to them. Perhaps saving money is the most important thing; perhaps they value convenience more.

Here’s a pro tip: “Be ruthless when creating your personas. If you don't have enough information on a particular persona, remove it. In fact, don't be afraid to add or remove personas over time - this guide will help you understand how and when you should do so.”

You can always split personas into groups if they share many characteristics but are different enough to warrant their own approach. For example, you may have two personas who have the same problem, goals, and challenges, but are completely different when it comes to their job role and watering holes. Look at how their behaviours differentiate and develop as many personas as you need to cover these.

Gathering information

If you’re already knee-deep in your business or think you have a pretty comprehensive understanding of your market, it can be really tempting to make assumptions about your users and create your personas without doing any more digging. This is a huge mistake for several reasons:

  • Your assumptions might be based on things that used to be true but aren’t anymore - users and products change over time.
  • You may know everything there is to know about the kind of people who use your product or service, but you may know very little about those who choose not to be your customers - unless your market share is 100%, these are people you should be marketing to.
  • You might only be familiar with a subset of your overall user base; this is especially true if they’re a particularly vocal subset.
  • Your existing knowledge might be based on research you’ve done previously, which might not cover all the bases you need - for example, you might have done a survey to find out what challenges people face, but you may not have asked why people who aren’t your customers have objections to your product or service.
  • It’s very possible that you’ll struggle to not be biased.

Your persona planning should approached as a market research exercise; we recommend carrying out the steps below to ensure you get the information you need, though you may wish to tweak this list based on your industry or capacity.

  1. Draw up surveys that will help you get the information you need. You may wish to create a survey for your existing users that asks them what they like about your business, and a separate one for potential customers that focuses more generally around their goals and challenges. Typeform and Google Forms both offer free versions (though you may want to upgrade to the Pro version of Typeform if you anticipate more than 100 responses).
  2. Distribute your surveys amongst your existing users, as well as anywhere else you can - think mailing lists, social media, communities you’re a member of or that are relevant for your product or service. Try and make it visible where your audience hang out, but don’t be spammy or you may sully your reputation.
  3. Talk to people. If you’ve got any particularly loyal customers who wouldn’t mind sparing a bit of time, pick up the phone or meet them for a coffee if possible (on you, obviously). Giving people a chance to talk freely will provide you with a wealth of information.
  4. Use your website! If you collect data in forms, try and capture info that will help you to get a better idea of who you’re dealing with. Don’t overwhelm people by asking too much of them, just pick what’s most important. You could phrase it like this: “Bonus question: what’s the biggest challenge you’re facing in your role at the moment?’
  5. Gather data automatically. If your product or service is online (e.g. an app or ecommerce store), make sure you’ve got a decent analytics setup so you can mine it for data.
  6. Channel your inner Sherlock. B2B businesses with smaller, higher value customer bases can also do some sleuthing about individual customers to build up a better picture - for example, you could look at their social media profiles and try and get a really good understanding of their goals and challenges.
  7. Conduct keyword research to find out what people are searching for. This information can be used as a proxy for challenges and problems. If there’s a lot more search traffic for a term like “cheap service” than “fast service”, you can probably assume that your users are more concerned about price than speed.
  8. Talk to customer-facing colleagues so you can get their opinions. Team members in customer service and sales will be able to provide you with bucketloads of information about goals, challenges, and objections.
  9. Look at how your competitors do it, especially if you’re starting a new business. Compare their messages and see how they address issues, then use this information to try and work out what they’ve decided are their users’ goals, challenges, and objections.

Make sure you’ve got a solid process for sorting all the information you collect so you don’t let any of it fall by the wayside. Once you’re happy that you’ve got enough data to cover all of your different user personas, get these firmed up and distributed around your company - marketing, sales, and customer support teams will all benefit from an increased understanding of your audience.

Content marketing isn’t an overnight thing; it can be weeks or months before you see significant uplift, especially in terms of search rankings, so a head start can be hugely beneficial.

This post is an extract from our ebook ‘How to Create Content That Converts’, available to download here:

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Phill Burrows

Phill is a Hubspot certified inbound professional and is passionate about helping people in all aspects of digital marketing. Phill provides advice on SEO, growth driven design and digital strategy.