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What are personas?

Sapio’s guide to the different types of personas and what you should include in yours.

Personas are created and used by organisations to gain a deeper understanding of their customer base and target audience.

Graphic template by PresentationGO.com

The purpose of creating personas is to identify, understand and address the needs, motivations, attitudes and behaviours of a specific audience, typically customers or prospective customers. This understanding of an existing or potential client base can be leveraged for a number of different purposes. They can help organisations tailor and improve their products and services, determine marketing strategies and messaging with the highest ROI, identify potential growth opportunities, as well as supporting a general business strategy. – They help to bridge the gap between a brand and its buyers.

How do you identify a persona?

Personas are one possible output of audience research and there are two methods with which personas can be created. They can be

  1. Indicative and based on assumptions: pen portrait personas
  2. Representative of a specific audience and based on data: data driven personas

The first type of persona provides a general overview of the type of people an organisation is dealing with, while the second is based on audience data points that are segmented to identify specific and key customer or audience groups to understand and quantify their typical needs, attitudes and behaviours.

What is a buyer pen portrait?

Indicative (or pen portrait) personas that are created based on assumptions and a limited amount of research often turn into stereotypes and add little value to an organisation. They often tend to be heavy on the job title, and low on emotional needs & drivers. Moreover, making strategic business decisions based on pigeonholing your target audience can easily backfire and project a damaging lack of social awareness.


What is a data driven persona?

Data driven, evidence based buyer personas are created through a systematic and objective approach, using tried and trusted research methodologies . As such, a data driven persona can, for example, be based on data gathered through an online survey conducted with a representative sample of the target audience. Running a cluster analysis on this data can provide organisations with a clear, needs based segmentation of their audience that is quantifiable and actionable.

Sapio’s data driven personas

Download Data Driven persona Explainer

How do you use personas in marketing?

Mostly personas are employed by organisations to inform a marketing strategy, campaigns, content and business development activity. Data driven personas can support a number of key marketing and business development aspects. Overall, they help organisations understand, target and capture or grow a specific and high value audience segment.

Marketing or business development activityPersonas add value by identifying…
Defining a marketing strategy…the marketing efforts with the highest return on investment
Evaluating marketing channels…the most effective channels for capturing or growing a specific audience segments
Developing marketing messaging…the messaging that will resonate most with specific audience segments
Creating a business development plan…the audience segments with the greatest short- and long-term growth potential

Customer segmentation using data-driven personas, depending on their design and objective, can be used to target and enable growth with existing customer, as well as new customer segments. They can be leveraged to increase existing customer satisfaction, drive repeat business, grow market share by winning new customers and to successfully launch new products.

Data driven personas not only break the audience into manageable chunks but enable you to size, value and prioritise each market segment, as they are based on real data that can be grossed up to the universe. Depending on the objective personas are usually developed from a sample of customers and service users, prospective customers or the population at large (or a specific segment thereof). Personas record a detailed snapshot of a customer or prospect group and as such, it is important for organisations to continue to evolve these, as they themselves grow and evolve.

What should be included in user persona?

A user or customer persona for a B2C or B2B business typically contains a mixture of the following elements.

Persona elementsDescription
The traits that define the groupThis typically includes selected demographic and background data and depending on the type of personas being created can cover:

Basic demographic data, e.g. age, gender, type of employment, household income, level of education, etc.Specific background data, e.g. the amount of budget they or their department has to spend, their level of responsibility, the industry their business is active in, etc.
The group’s interests and goalsA B2B customer persona might include things like the current objectives and goals of their business or department, as well as their organisation’s fundamental values.

A B2C or consumer persona might include their relevant interests, hobbies, leisure activities and life-stage goals.
The challenges they facePersonas will typically always aim to identify any relevant challenges these groups may be facing, which will be specific to the context and brief of the research. These are usually relatively fundamental, often representing the underlying reasons for specific behaviour, including purchasing decisions.
Their pain pointsAn audience’s pain points are elementary to data driven personas, as these can easily be translated into opportunities for any organisation.
Their attitude towards a specific product, service or businessPersonas will capture a group’s view of an organisation and their offering or of an industry or market as a whole. The objective is to identify those personas with a favourable or unfavourable perception.

Capturing a view on a number of competing products or businesses can be the basis of competitive benchmarking
The reasons they would consider using a specific product, service or businessPersonas can identify the explicit and potential drivers behind making a purchasing decision or switching to a different product, and how these differ across different audience segments.
The issues that would drive them to switch or stop using a specific product, service or business
How they typically find out about specific products, services or businessThe way a group finds out about a product or organisation identifies the best way they can be reached. This allows organisations to leverage the right channel (with the right messaging) for each persona.
What messages resonate most strongly with themIdentifying the kind of messaging with the greatest impact for each group is usually constructed by analysing their interests and goals, challenges, pain points and views. This can be supplemented by exploring and testing different messaging approaches.

How do you define user needs?

Understanding the different needs of the key groups within an organisation’s current or potential customers is the central aspect to audience research and personas.

Consumer or user needs are the underlying driver that assign value to a product or service. These needs not only vary significantly depending on the type of industry and organisation that is segmenting its audience into personas, but also between the different audience segments themselves.

For example, a standard bank will offer its services to a large customer audience, servicing businesses and individuals, the asset rich and poor, old and young, etc., through a number of different channels (e.g. in branch, over the phone, online, via their app). Many of these groups will have fundamentally different needs and preferences around the products and services they use, the way they can use them and so on. Data driven personas and cluster analysis can unravel this complex set of variables and identify the groupings of that are core to an organisation’s success.

How data driven personas are created?

Robust analysis uses needs-based segmentation or k-means clustering analysis to index the characteristics that define the personas.  

Alternatively, latent class analysis can be used if a Max Diff study if conducted.

What can personas do for my company?

There a number of brands, whose success is based upon the deep understanding of their target audience that can be achieved by leveraging personas.

Example of persona use : Seventeen

One of the first businesses to leverage personas for marketing, growth and development purposes was the American magazine for teenagers Seventeen. Shortly after Seventeen was launched in 1944 its promotion director used a persona named Teena to sell ad-space. The persona Teena introduced the advertisers to the lives of teenage girls. The magazine continued to regularly survey its readership, continuously aligning and optimising its strategy and content. Seventeen flourished on newsstands for more than half a century until, in 2018, the magazine moved online.

Example of persona use : Lush

Lush has managed to record continuous growth in an incredibly saturated market place. This success is based on understanding their core buyers’ values that centre around social and corporate responsibility as well as high quality, chemical free product. Knowing what drivers their target demographic has enabled the company to grow their profits, as well as an international expansion. In 2017 Lush reported $530 million USD in sales in North America.

Example of persona use : Apple

Apple has always been known to do things a little differently. At first this was just based on Steve Job’s hunch, but as the company’s success and product portfolio grew Apple began making business and product design decision based on detailed knowledge of their target audience. Their level of insight into their customer base is demonstrated by their successful ad campaigns that leverage persona-type insights to speak to customer groups.

Take the TV advert for Apple’s iPad 2, for example. Here the narrator scrolls through stock prices, analytical graphs and even brain scans, alongside some of the more expected, wholesome family-feel-good images. These clearly reference activities, which Apple knows appeal to one of their core customer groups. : Download Data Driven Persona Explainer

In Conclusion

“It is superiority of knowledge which can alone lift you above the heads of your competitors, and ensure your success.”
Thomas Jefferson”

As the prior examples demonstrate; success for all types of organisations is based on and driven by their superior knowledge of their market and customer target groups. And data-based, objective personas can help provide the foundation of insight for this success.

Are you wondering how personas might be able to help you and your organisation? Get in touch, we would be happy to discuss it with you!

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