Developing Personas that Guide your Communication & Messaging

Sep 23, 2020

If you don’t know exactly who you’re selling to, then it’s a lot more difficult to connect with your buyers, right? Fortunately, audience personas can help out quite a bit when you’re not sure what to say or how to say it. Personas are a representation of your ideal customers and their needs, expectations, preferences, and behaviors, and persona development is a critical capability for companies that want to truly understand their target audience. Because once you know who your customers are, you can develop and optimize your communication and messaging to drive action.

With personas, you’ll know with a higher degree of certainty how to speak more directly and effectively to your customers in the places where they’re most likely to be, through the channels they’re mostly likely to use, and with the language that’s most likely to resonate. Something as complex as a philosophical organizational shift to as simple as an email marketing campaign will benefit from properly executed persona development.

Personas don’t just help you hone your brand messaging. You can use them to qualify leads, inform innovation and product development, test and prioritize new features, develop creative, and align everyone across your internal teams— whether it be marketing, customer insights, sales, or the C-suite—to the same goals and initiatives. Personas even help you improve customer retention and revenue and according to some experts, if you can increase your customer retention rates by just 5%, you could grow profits by 25% to 95%.

However, persona development isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it exercise. Yet with traditional or DIY research methods, that’s often what it amounts to: a one-time creation of a static document to be used for years. And even if each persona includes a host of pertinent details, those details tend to be one-dimensional at best and don’t end up being very actionable. The problem is, customers—and their persona counterparts—aren’t one-dimensional. They are complex, and always changing. For personas to be as effective as possible, you need to make them as deep and multi-layered as you can. And to do that, you need the right approach.

Let’s take a closer look at why personas matter and how you can get started creating basic personas. Then we’ll explore how you can kick it up a notch and make your personas truly actionable by combining behavioral and survey data.

Why personas matter now more than ever

We live in a time of accelerated change, and industries and consumers are evolving faster than ever before. Businesses can either adapt or accept the fact that they’ll lose customers and revenue. It’s inevitable that every brand out there will experience the effects of change on some level, which brings a new sense of urgency and significance to market research.

For example, consumers are spending a lot of time buying products online these days. This requires businesses to find out exactly how their customers want the eCommerce experience to go and revamp their online shopping platform accordingly. For the first time ever, you may be offering a new mobile app, free shipping, and curbside delivery, and you need to know how to optimize those aspects of the customer experience. But even though online shopping has increased in popularity, in-store shopping hasn’t gone away. As such, brands and companies have had to navigate new in-store shopping rules without alienating their customers. Going forward, they also have to know which consumer segments may return permanently to in-store shopping and which ones won’t, making sure they’re prepared for and can respond to another course adjustment.

When we stated that industries and consumers were evolving faster than ever before, we weren’t joking. You may discover through your own consumer research that your new product development strategy will need an overhaul, or that you need to redirect your advertising efforts into new channels.

But it’s important to know that understanding your consumers is about more than just predicting what they’re most likely to buy. Who your customers are deep down inside—their desires, emotions, fears, values, and conscious or unconscious motivations—plays a huge role in determining how you can stay relevant in the market by quickly identifying and acting on new opportunities. Audience personas act as a helpful bridge between the information that’s easier to obtain through survey data and those deeper, psychological motivators.

As one expert notes, “The reason personas are so effective is they help you see the human side of customers… When you see customers as the complex humans that they are, it’s easier to provide them with what they’re looking for.”

Thinking of your customer as a constantly evolving and as a real person is crucial to successful persona development. Instead of static and one-dimensional, audience personas should be as dynamic and deep as the complex customers they represent.

So, how do you go about building effective personas?

Persona development: starting with the basics

If you’ve seen a persona document before, you know each “person” has a name, a face (usually a stock image that acts like a profile picture), demographic details, and a list of individual interests, pain points, purchase patterns, and other data you can glean from research.

There are plenty of places online where you can find a persona template to guide you in creating your personas. The process typically involves several steps that can look something like this:

1. Research your potential and existing customers. Capture customer information on a feedback form, if possible, or during any customer interaction, and also check with the sales and customer service teams to get information about the types of customers they interact with the most. Interview existing customers to find out what attracts them to your product or service and prospective customers about the types of problems they’re trying to solve. Online surveys work really well for this step.

2. Identify patterns. Use the information you’ve gathered above to identify patterns and commonalities. For example, is everyone trying to solve a similar problem? What frustrations are happening across the board? What are the common triggers to purchase your product or service? It’s also important to note the words and phrases customers consistently used when they gave feedback.

3. Develop a primary persona. Distill the information into a primary persona. Give your persona a name and a picture so everyone can envision and empathize with the persona a bit more easily. Include basic demographic information collected from phone calls, in-person interactions, and online surveys. Just as importantly, include the descriptive words you noted above to lend greater texture to the persona and zero in on what they really want. As part of this step, explain how your brand or business can help the persona, and come up with a list of objections to help your sales team know what to address in a conversation.

4. Create messaging. Get very specific about how to talk to the persona, down to the exact words and phrases used in campaigns and ads to position your product or service in a relevant way. Develop some common language than anyone in your business can use when talking with the persona to ensure everyone is delivering a consistent message.

You may go through steps 3 and 4 a few times if your customer base is varied, which means you could end up with a handful of personas, some of which may be primary, others secondary. Or you could even create personas for typical and atypical customers to know who you do and don’t particularly want as a customer. Once you have your personas, you’ll need to share them with sales and other teams in your organization so everyone is on the same page.

This might seem like a lot of work – and it is. However, it’s just the start. To really take your persona analysis beyond the basics and into the realm of the psyche where some of the most valuable and actionable insights are, you’ll need to utilize behavioral data.

Increasing the effectiveness of your personas with behavioral data

As we’ve learned, personas are a critical tool. But once you’ve created them, what do you do with them? How do you know what’s most important to, and unique about, your target audience? How do you drive your audience to take the actions you want?

When researching your potential and existing customers, surveys are a good way to obtain the data and insights you need to start building your personas, especially if you want to understand customer preferences around a certain product. But survey data alone doesn’t necessarily tell you much about customer behavior within the larger product category, nor can it be extrapolated to the marketplace very well.

To get to that level of insight, combining survey data with an analysis of behavioral data is an incredibly useful way to tell a more complete story that goes beyond self-reported customer feedback and doesn’t involve additional surveys or interviews.

More specifically, conducting a behavioral data analysis can uncover the “Big 5” audience personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion, and Nervousness, also known as the OCEAN model. Identifying and measuring these personality traits helps you update your ideas and ascertain deeper conclusions about your prospective and existing customers that you weren’t aware of before.

Because like tends to attract like, behavioral data shows you that certain customers with personality traits in common tend to want the same things, share the same attitudes, and exhibit the same behaviors. This makes it easier to create targeted marketing and communications that will resonate with your target audience. It also allows you to compare those consumers to the general population so you can further build and refine your messaging.

Some of the more sophisticated behavioral data analysis tools use artificial intelligence learning algorithms to assess unconscious tendencies and needs. Knowing what unconsciously makes your customers tick helps you understand to a greater degree what motivates them to take certain actions—motivations that they may not even be aware of themselves.

Behavioral data increases the effectiveness of persona development because it provides a much more granular level of insight you can use to develop far more relevant communications and messaging. If your target audience shares certain traits, some of which may be unconscious, you can create messaging that sets the right tone with them and deliver it in the appropriate media channels. For instance, you can make a targeted effort to appeal to extroverts over introverts, while also speaking to the unconscious motivators that might drive the audience to make a first-time purchase or establish long-term loyalty with your brand or company. You can even use behavioral data to successfully lure business away from the competition, since your team will have a better understanding of customer behavior within the product category.

Through the implicit and explicit measurement of behavioral data, you can profile your target audience with much greater precision, down to some of the psychographic details that would otherwise remain elusive if you were to rely on survey data alone. From there, you can create appealing, tailored content that moves the profit needle.

To summarize, survey data helps you understand the what and the why as well as collect basic customer information such as demographics. It’s the starting point for creating your personas. Behavioral data enriches your survey data by helping you understand the who and the how—the conscious and unconscious layers of your target audience. This deeper approach “illuminates” your customers so you can build out truly actionable personas and use them to your advantage by informing more precise marketing and communications.

Earning brand equity with enhanced personas

Enhancing your personas with personality data also includes the benefit of building brand equity. By speaking to your target audience in a way that appeals to their emotions, assuages their fears, and reinforces their values, you’ve tapped into something much deeper that can result in more than just name recognition for your brand. You can create the perception that you understand your audience inside and out, perhaps even better than they understand themselves. In turn, this creates a deeper bond with them.

It’s this level of understanding that builds trust and loyalty and earns repeat business. It also helps you introduce new products or services into your existing lines that are more likely to be tried out and accepted by your customers, since they’ve developed trust in you.

In an age when industries are constantly being disrupted and consumer attitudes and behaviors are evolving faster than ever before you need to take every step possible to understand your target audience on a deeper, more empathic level. By doing so, you’ll be better equipped to retain your existing customers while simultaneously seeking out new revenue streams to drive growth.

Ensuring persona success

But it’s important to remember that part of the effectiveness of your personas is to revise them on an ongoing basis. Consumers are always changing, and your brand needs to put them at the center of every decision you make and adapt along with them. Approach persona development with the same flexibility and rigor that you would with other aspects of market research to ensure your brand is strong, competitive, and well-positioned for growth.

One way to ensure you’re creating more actionable personas is to work with an agile market research partner that can help you gather survey data and scan behavioral data sources for you. Your partner can conduct an analysis of the data and make recommendations about specific actions you should be taking based on the personas you develop.

For example, if improving your communication and messaging strategy is one of your goals, your market research partner can help you focus on the right tone, language, and media channels to more effectively reach your target audience where they are and in the ways that will be most relevant to them.

GutCheck recently released Audience Illuminator, a revolutionary new product that is aimed at maximizing the effectiveness and actionability of audience personas. Download our product guide for more information on how it works, and contact us to get started.

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