Customer Persona Definition

This post is part of the Brand Messaging for Startups Framework, an open-source marketing project. Contributions are welcome :)

📎 Template: Customer Persona Definition

In Man and His Symbols, Carl Jung writes:

Man, as we realize if we reflect for a moment, never perceives anything fully or comprehends anything completely.

He goes on to describe the scientific process of observing, collecting data, using our senses to make sense of the world, and how at some point, we still come up short of full comprehension. This is why humans rely on symbolic representations — our unconscious holds a more nuanced understanding of the world than we can ever grasp based only on a perfect recall of a set of facts. It’s this dynamic that makes personas so powerful.

We create personas by building a body of data (qualitative and quantitative):

  • Where do they work?
  • What are their job titles?
  • How old are they?
  • What do they love spending their time on?
  • What are they afraid of?

And then we synthesize these facts into a sort of symbolic representation, a composite sketch that allows our entire organization to develop a shared, intuitive understanding of what our customer needs, even though none of us has complete comprehension of the topic. Tom Tunguz puts the value of customer personas in more business-like language:

Personas are valuable tools for creating a common language to discuss customers and customer needs. In addition, they ensure all the key stakeholders’ needs are met. Last, personas align a startup’s efforts around particular needs, and focus all the different teams on the same customer issues and needs, saving time and improving the company’s sales effectiveness. Consider using them with your team.

Creating Your Customer Persona Framework

There are a ton of resources out there to help marketers model their personas. It’s worth reading through these and picking out the elements that make the most sense to your organization.

Some persona approaches swear by answering the demographic questions like: where does this person shop? how much money do they make? how many kids do they have? Other approaches say it’s a waste of time. Some insist on fun names like “Mary the Marketer.” Some approaches are more quantitatively focused. How deep you go and where you go deep is going to depend on your business.

Here are some great resources to get you started:

My Framework

I’ll throw my own framework into the mix with one important caveat — personas are effective only to the degree by the which they are adopted by the entire organization. The persona framework you choose needs to take your culture into consideration. Are people more persuaded by data? Do you have a lot of qualitative insight from your interviews conducted by your product team? Do people have a large appetite for reading or are attention spans short? Make sure the framework you choose is optimized for adoption.

In the framework my team built, we included four dimensions of information:

  • Name and description: What we call the persona and a short description of their day-to-day job and how it overlaps with the problem our product solves.
  • Get to know the Persona (Quotes): In this section we found articles, blog posts, and interviews online with people who match our Persona profile. We collect pull quotes that help us understand how they think, what they care about, who they are.
  • Get to know the Persona (Skills): In this section we find people who match our persona profile on LinkedIn and get an understanding of their past work history and skills. Again, this just helps us better understand their unique perspective on the world.
  • Identification framework: One common problem with personas is that they behave differently based on industry and company size. You might want to tightly scope your personas to only focus on one industry or revenue bracket. This didn’t make sense for us. So, we created some short bullets explaining how this persona’s title and concerns change based on company size.

Here’s the Google Presentations template I used to document all of this information:

Getting Your Customer Personas Adopted

Modeling your customer personas is the first step. The next step is getting people to actually use them. The first time I created customer personas at RJMetrics I did it in a vacuum, just me and some spreadsheets, and a bunch of research from old, failed persona projects. Not surprisingly, adoption was low.

The second time I was part of a persona team we had cross-functional representation with representatives from marketing, sales, product, and customer success. Not surprisingly, adoption of those personas was better, but low on the engineering team (they weren’t represented on the team).

While I think tech marketers have gotten pretty good at creating personas, I’m not sure that there’s a lot of institutional knowledge around adoption. It seems my approach is still the default — drop it into a Google doc, get feedback, hope adoption takes off.

Here’s a mixture of adoption tactics that I’ve seen work and that I think have the potential to work:

  • Work with presenters at company all-hands meetings to frame their announcements and initiatives in terms of how it helps a certain customer persona.
  • Create giant poster boards with high-level persona information and hang them around the office.
  • Create Twitter accounts for your personas and tweet content and news they care about (have your CEO encourage everyone to follow these accounts).
  • Have representation from every team involved in the persona modeling process.
  • Coach your individual teams on incorporating personas. Are they being used in product roadmaps? Do they show up in your content calendar? Do the correct fields exist in your CRM?

Your personas are a powerful symbol for your customer. They have the ability to transcend our lack of knowledge into every customer, and deliver rich insights on your target audience. But the symbol is only as powerful as its universality. What have you done to drive adoption? What has and hasn’t worked?

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