In my line of work, I speak to a lot of startups and small-medium sized businesses. When user personas come up, founders or whoever’s in charge of marketing often remark that they’re something they wish they had the resources for. Or, they think it’s too early to develop a user persona template.
The reality is, personas are a helpful tool at any stage of business, and especially before you’ve written any copy.
If you were giving a presentation on yourself as a human to an audience, you’d want to have at least a rough idea of who you’re talking to before saying something, right? You’d want to know what tone to take, which parts of your story will be most relevant, what type of delivery will keep them interested. The same stands for brands communicating online.
Defining your audience(s) creates a foundation on which to build your brand messaging, social media strategy and style guide, and overall communications strategy. Knowing the nuances of your user will drive every strategy from product to promotions.
So why are so many businesses wary of user personas? Because they see them as these huge research projects—undertakings their small team doesn’t have time for. The good news is, they don’t need to be. As with anything, you can start anywhere. It makes sense to keep them light at first, as personas are living, breathing documents that will evolve and change as your business does. Using the user persona template and following the steps below, we cover the essentials of your first personas.
The ultimate goal of personas is to identify your target audience’s specific challenges and then position your business as uniquely qualified to solve them. Below, we walk you through the basics of developing a lightweight but effective user persona that any team can make the time for.
How To Create A Persona Document
Creating a persona doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Focus your research efforts on key insight areas that yield the most actionable results. If you’re a B2B business, focus on your audience from a business perspective. What are their most pressing needs, wants, interests, and challenges at work that your product or service solves for them?
If you’re a B2C business, your key focus might be your audience’s habits as an online shopper or understanding their travel needs, for example.
A few years ago when I led content marketing for an innovation consulting firm in the Bay Area, we developed a B2B persona template that we used to further develop a social media style guide, a content marketing interests guide, and an editorial calendar.
The user persona template laid the groundwork for which to build on our content strategy. After you download it here, walk through the steps below on how to create a persona, and develop these templates to be a part of your company’s content strategy.
Step 1. Describe Your Audience
Start with a composite sketch of your audience with a focus on qualitative data. You should be able to pull some of this from your Google Analytics data or social media accounts. If you don’t have access to those analytics, jot down the demographics of your first few customers. If you don’t know them, send a brief survey to the customers you do have.
(Side note: data collection is something to keep in mind when designing your customer onboarding flow.)
Some key demographics to pull:
- Job title
- Income range
- Challenges they face as they relate to your offering
- Who they follow online / relevant thought leaders and influencers
- Relevant interests (analytics platforms gather these based on their online activity)
Then go deeper, start sketching out some real-life characteristics.
Using a B2B example, are you describing an individual who works at a startup or a Fortune 500? This is important because a marketing manager at a startup will have different concerns than one at a Fortune 500. These distinctions are crucial when you launch a campaign and need to understand the nuances.
You’ll also want to know where your audience is doing their research and finding information relevant to your offering, as well as who is influencing them. Compile a list of relevant interests and then influencers, publications, forums, and platforms that fall under those interest categories.
What to include when describing your audience for a B2B persona:
Job title — What title might she have in her organization? Head of Marketing, Marketing Director, etc. For example, Taylor, Head of Marketing
What size organization does she work at? Start-up, Fortune 500, etc.
Job role — What is Taylor’s job role? Describe what Taylor needs to do her job well.
Challenges — What are the unique challenges of Taylor’s role (i.e not enough technical support, too many meetings, undefined workflows)?
Step 2: Interview Early Adopters To Fill In Gaps
Collect as much early customer data as you can. Data may come in the form of telephone or email interviews, surveys, or tracking user buying habits if you are selling a product.
When interviewing clients, ask open-ended questions (i.e., questions that require explanation, not just a “Yes” or “No” answer). Their answers will help you create a sketch of your audience based on personal and social beliefs, household income, financial status, hobbies, where they get news, what type of entertainment they like, and more.
If you’re a B2B company, these interviews are your opportunity for diving deep into their challenges at work. Or if you’re an eCommerce brand, this is your chance to gather intel on where they learn about new products, what platforms they’re making purchases from (you can make purchases directly on Instagram and Facebook now!), and more.
Here are additional ideas from Hubspot. As you begin to fill in the gaps, you will be able to make informed assumptions about your base.
Continue to expand your user persona template as live data comes in.
Step 3. Conduct Market Research
Google searches, public documents, and information, online periodicals, survey questionnaires, educational institutions, Google analytics, financial institutions, etc. are valuable sources for finding key insights on behaviors, demographic information, job titles and descriptions, and much more.
From customer data, market research data, and your educated assumptions, track patterns in behaviors and purchasing motivations so that you can continue expanding the persona and identifying even more unique traits.
Step 4. Research Your Organic Competitors on Social Media
First, you need to know who your organic competitors are. Your organic search competitors are businesses that are nearest to you in search results (not who you think they are from a business perspective). You also want to get a handle on who ranks in the top three positions in a Google search as these are the top players in your industry.
A good way to get insight into your competitors is by seeing who they follow on social media and identifying influencers in their industry. The audience you are targeting will likely be following these people as well.
Once you’ve identified your competitors, use SimilarWeb to research their websites.
Put on your spy hat and nose around to see who they’re attracting on social media, then follow those same people and engage with them as well. You can learn a lot from watching your competitors — wins and fails, hits and misses, successes, and stagnation. They are saving you the trouble of trial and error.
Step 5. Build Your Personas & Interests Documents
Here is the simple outline we use to organize our research, it’s the same as what you just downloaded above:
- Primary buyer personas (this is your primary target).
- Secondary personas (this is an important target but not as crucial to developing as your primary persona at the start).
And this is additional info we include in our personas and our content marketing & interest document:
- What are their online interests?
- Who do they follow on social media (thought-leaders)?
- What content topics fall under each interest?
- Which online resources/publications fall under each interest?
- What events do they attend to learn about and pursue each interest, i.e. conferences?
- For example, if your target audience is interested in tech innovation culture, here are some possible topics:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Internet of Things (IoT)
Resources for these topics are publications like Medium, VentureBeat, and TechCrunch. Some events could include tech conferences like SXSW or An Event Apart.
Step 6. Target Your Audience In Marketing
Use the Content Marketing and Interests document you downloaded to keep track of your audience online and engage with and follow things they care about on social media channels they are active on.
As you become part of a community that shares interests and habits with your target audience, you can use this intel to get to know your audience better and build products and services around them.
You can also mine these communities for content topics for your blog and newsletter.
B2B Persona vs. B2C Persona
Keep in mind that a B2B persona is different from a B2C persona. A B2B persona focuses on an individual’s job and role in the business. A B2C persona focuses on personal interests, social beliefs, and buying habits for an entire population.
You’ll find that the template you downloaded is well organized and easy to read. Your colleagues should be able to open a persona doc and identify an audience’s pain point that your product/service solves and start creating content that addresses these pain points.
Update your persona and content interest document as you uncover more information about your population. If you’re not making the type of progress you were hoping for, go back and conduct more market research and refine your templates.
Need Some Assistance? Got Questions About How To Use These Documents?