The value of user personas - it's not just tech
The University of USER PERSONA DEVELOPMENT
Reading time: 6 minutes.
Regardless of where my marketing and growth career has taken me, and no matter where it takes me next, one thing remains true. You have to know who you're marketing to.
It's remarkable how often people overlook this. In STB's experience we've found that this fundamental, basic step isn't overlooked because it's too hard. But rather, because it's almost too easy. We have a tendency, whether we're fresh-faced or weathered from experience, to skip the basics. We assume we're good enough to start at step three.
This is often true. We skip the working in math without making mistakes. We rely on habit to the point where we have no conscious memory of driving to the office. When’s the last time you consciously thought about brushing your teeth? Our brains great at relying on habit to reduce the load of less menial tasks. Until it comes to marketing, sales, and growth.
Designers and developers have nailed personas. It’s part of their process. As Growth professionals, we need to catch up. STB believes that there’s a key difference between marketers and growth professionals. The latter have a thorough understanding of who they’re selling to. The former have target markets.
Course pre-requisite: Getting into the Growth Mindset
Digital Marketing has reached a point where it’s all about beating a system. There’s no denying that this can return results. But they’re short lived. Networks are becoming more intelligent and consumers more savvy.
Are you trying to gain more eyeballs, optimise your clickthrough rates, and reach an industry-standard conversion rate? If you’re shooting for average then, congratulations, your job is done and you can stop reading.
If you’re still here, then let’s take this back to basics and get into the Growth Mindset. Take a good look at your product or service and start thinking through these questions:
Who is your customer?
Where do people who are like your customer tend to gather, whether online or off?
How can you connect with these people in those places, without coming across as spammy?
Now you’re in the mindset that all great growth people share. It’s User Persona time.
User Personas 101: Getting in Your Target’s Mind
Before we go any further let’s give your customer a name. For the sake of our exercise we’re going to do this for you. Ready? Your customer’s name is Jessica.
To help demonstrate this, let’s also define a product. In this example, you’re selling high-end headphones. Congratulations: you’re in business. Let’s figure out how to make Jessica care about your audiophile-worthy headphones.
As we said earlier, it’s time to define three things: who, where and how.
Ok so you have a bunch of premium headphones on your hands. They’re not for everyone. Who appreciates headphones enough to want to spend over $300 on a pair? Jessica. That’s who.
Jessica has always been into the finer things in life. She’s not pretentious, but definitely appreciates attention to detail and nice touches. This isn’t limited to her taste in headphones. This attitude is something that she applies to everything she cares about. We’re not saying she’s rich, but she works hard to pay a little extra for the things she values.
Let's dig into Jessica's habits to find out where we should be communicating with her.
What’s a day in Jessica’s life like?
She works an office job, but nothing too traditional. She’s more likely to be in an advertising or publishing firm because she enjoys the creativity. Jessica doesn’t call herself a hipster (some of her friends do) but has a distinct, toned down style. Most of her friends are like her.
What kind of music is she into? What apps does she use?
Jessica avoids describing herself as a fan of any one genre, preferring to listen to a broad range of styles. She’s an iPhone user and consumes music primarily through Spotify. She loves ‘Discover Weekly’. She’s also an avid Youtube viewer, both for music and other forms of entertainment
What are her consumption habits like? Where does she turn for information?
Jessica is advanced enough in her career to have decent purchasing power. She’s just on either side of 30 and trusts her friends recommendations for fashion and gear. She uses the same social media platforms as most people her age. She keeps her networks tight preferring to connect only with friends. She follows a select few brands and publishers, the ones she respects.
When did Jessica last buy headphones? Why?
Jessica hasn’t bought headphones for at least a year. The last time she bought headphones was to upgrade to a pair that were more suitable for travelling. Travelling is something she’s been doing more of, both professionally and personally.
This is the million dollar question. You now have a decent picture of your customer, Jessica, written down. This is where we’ll leave our headphones example behind.
Whatever your Jessica looks like and wherever her and her friends hangout, you need to study that channel and work out how to engage there in a natural way.
It’s helpful at this point to not forget your inner Don Draper. Marketing has become about analytics and optimisation, but creative copy and effective strategy still wins.
User Personas 201: You thought you were done?
As much as fun as inventing Jessica was, 101 was all about getting into the right mindset. Creating initial marketing personas will help you as you launch or grow from an early stage. Yet, that initial persona is nothing but an imagination. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we’re still human. Your first user persona is probably idealised. It might be a bit like you, and designed from the inside out, rather from the outside in.
You will need to refine your Jessicas and Johns as your business starts to gather real analytics and insight based on traffic, content consumption, and purchase behaviour.
Refining your User Personas means that you can start tailoring content and marketing to suit a more accurate representation of the people who buy your product.
There are two key ways to do this, whether you’re early-stage or mature:
WEBSITE AND CONVERSION DATA
Real, quantifiable data about your customers through website and connected information. This is a blog series in and of itself. Subscribe to the STB blog for our upcoming “What to track, for no bullshit insight” post.
TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS/LEADS
You know what’s better than imagining what Jessica or John are like? Asking them. How? Exactly like this. Send them this email:
It’s Steffen from STB Collaborations here. Apologies for invading your inbox. I don’t expect you to believe this, but this isn’t a mass email. I’ve sent this specifically to you.
Why? I’m emailing to ask you a massive favour. I’m trying to learn how to better serve our current customers and how to effectively reach potential new customers.
It would mean a lot to me and the team if you’d have a short chat with me to discuss your STB experience so far. All I need is 15 minutes and I would appreciate it. Let me know if you’re up for it.
Then, when they say reply saying yes (and in our experience >30% do) set up a video call and jam with them. Be respectful and don’t hide your intentions. No bullshit.
User Personas 301: Segmentation
OK, so now you have your first target market user persona which you’ve started refining based on real-customer data and both qualitative (chats) and quantitative (tracking) methods. There’s only one more step to the initial User Persona puzzle.
While in the refining process (this process doesn’t have an end date) you will quickly notice that it would be impossible, and counterintuitive, to try to represent all your customers with one persona. Jessica isn’t for everyone.
You will need multiple buyer personas to represent the different customer segments that your business serves. All that means is adding a John to the mix. Maybe an Alicia. A word of warning, though: the temptation is to create vast arrays of user personas from the start. The danger then is that it makes your growth efforts unwieldy and tough to scale or manage.
This is because every persona demands its own communications approach. They like different blogs. They respond to different types of email subject lines. They want to be contacted at different times or frequencies. For a small team, this can completely fuck up your efforts. You have two options at that point:
Email email@example.com and ask for help
Take a sensible, data-driven, approach to segmentation and persona creation
If, through testing different campaigns and strategies, you start to notice the signs of two very distinct groups that are no longer responding well to the ‘same-same’ treatment, analyse the data and split them into two personas. Be careful: as with any breakup or divorce, this does make your job more complicated. Ultimately, though, it’s this breakup that makes your tactics resonate more strongly and generate a higher return.
The Takeaway: This is one tool in your kit that will generate real short and long term benefits. User personas give you a real representation of your audience. They also guide marketing efforts. Resist the temptation to run rampant with persona population growth. Remember the mindset and take a rational, data-backed approach to developing the User Personas for your business.
If you want the STB team working on your User Personas like, now, then email hey@stbcollaborations and we'll get after it. Together. No bullshit.