Originally published in 2016, this post has been updated and revised to make your personas as helpful as possible.
Oftentimes, marketers vet their story ideas by asking, “Would I be interested in this?” This is a huge mistake. Content marketing isn’t about what your brand wants or what you’re interested in. It’s about what your audience is interested in. When you create content without a clear idea of who you’re trying to educate, engage, or inspire, you’re just sending content into the ether with the blind hope that someone somewhere will come across it and like it. (Unsurprisingly, this strategy usually fails.)
So how do you craft meaningful, useful, and valuable content marketing that people will care about? By creating marketing personas that help you intimately understand your audience: who they are, the challenges they’re facing, and—most importantly—how you can help them solve their problems.
What Are Marketing Personas?
In essence, they’re a combination of someone’s attributes (e.g., age, gender, etc.) and psychographic information (what makes them tick).
Basically, marketing personas are a comprehensive “map” of your audience’s minds and personalities, helping you see the world from their perspective. By compiling these traits and distilling them down into different personas, you create a solid representation of the actual humans you want to attract.
How Do Marketing Personas Help Marketers?
By using personas to get inside your audience’s mind, you can brainstorm, vet, and tailor your ideas to the right people, ensuring your content is always interesting, relevant, and valuable. (This intel can also influence other brand elements, such as your tone or design aesthetic.)
The better your content, the easier it is to build a strong community of like-minded people who will support your brand long term. This is why marketing personas matter.
BTW, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2021 B2B Content Marketing Report, 44% of marketers don’t use marketing personas to influence their content. Doing this can immediately give you a leg up on your competition.
What Makes a Good Marketing Persona?
The Internet is full of all sorts of guides to create good marketing personas. (You may have even checked out a few before you landed here.) Each has its own merit, but what we’ve found is that good personas come down to three key elements:
- They’re accurate. As you’ll see in this guide, good personas require solid research. Even if you’ve been in business 50 years and think you know everything there is to know about your customers, going to the source is the only way to get the truth.
- They’re succinct. You want your personas to be thorough, but you can easily drown yourself in data. Admittedly, we’ve been guilty of this in the past, logging every single piece of information about them (e.g., What podcasts do they listen to? What’s their pet’s name?). While these details can paint a picture of a person, they don’t really speak to their core needs and how you can serve them.
- They’re useful. There’s no point in doing all the work to create personas for them to just sit in a doc somewhere, forgotten. This is one reason why brevity is so important. If you can create clear, distinct, and distilled personas, you can use them in your day-to-day content practice.
With these elements in mind, we have pared down our process (and template) to help you create personas that are practical and applicable.
How to Create Marketing Personas in 4 Steps
There are many ways to create marketing personas. It can feel intimidating and overwhelming, which is why some marketers give up entirely or end up with half-formed personas that don’t really give them the insights they need.
We don’t want you to get stuck, so we’ve broken down the process into simple steps that make it easy. Before you dive in, download our free marketing personas template.
This template will guide your conversations with customers and help you craft your finalized personas.
Step 1: Talk to people.
It all starts with a research phase. Even if you have long-standing relationships with your clients, it’s important to take the guesswork out and go directly to the source to interview them about who they are and what they need.
Caveat: If you have an established customer base, you’re in an ideal position. If you are just starting out and working through product-market fit, look for surveys, studies, and other relevant research that might give you similar insights.
First, you’ll identify the information you want to get from your customers. To do this, take a look at the inputs we’ve included in the template:
- Gender (if applicable)
- Job title (if applicable)
- Channels (where you can connect with them)
- Pain points (the barriers to what they want/need)
- How your product/service helps solve their problems (the messages you want your content to deliver)
This is the core information you’ll need to craft your personas, and you can use these attributes to shape the questions you will be asking people. Of course, depending on your unique business, you can add or tweak these inputs as you see fit. (For example, if you’re a makeup brand, you might also want to know what products your demo is most likely to splurge on.) That said, try to keep your questions simple.
Next, start researching, reaching out, and documenting your findings. You can ask questions via in-person chats, calls, and emails. You can comb through customer surveys or online feedback. (It’s also helpful to loop in sales and customer service at this stage, as these are the people who have the most direct contact with your customers and can relay feedback.)
Your goal is to gather as much information as possible about your customers so that you can create the most relevant, accurate personas.
Step 2: Consolidate your responses.
If you’ve done your research thoroughly, you probably have a lot of great intel—emphasis on a lot. Once you’ve collected your responses, gather your team to collate, consolidate, and categorize them. List out every pain point customers identified, their ages, etc. You’ll refine later, but right now you want to see the big picture.
During this stage you will probably start to identify the common themes or even phrases in people’s answers. You may even be surprised to see people identifying challenges you didn’t consider before. These are the best insights to develop well-rounded and thoughtful marketing personas.
Step 3: Write a rough draft.
Block off an hour or 90 minutes, depending on how fast you move and how many personas you’re attempting to map. You might also want to whiteboard this out first to help your team to stay focused.
First, identify how many personas you’re going to create. Your business and your goals should dictate this. We recommend creating 3-5 personas—any more than that and you’re probably getting off course. (When we did this for Column Five, we created 3 different personas and envisioned them as individuals who work at the same organization but at different levels of seniority.)
Next, start to identify your audience segments.
- Name: Give each persona a relevant name.
- Age: You will likely include a range here (e.g., 25-35).
- Gender: Include if applicable.
- Job title: Include if applicable. In lieu of this, you may want to identify another defining characteristic.
- Channels: Identify where they spend the most time online.
- Pain points: You probably have a significant list of pain points. To narrow these down and consolidate them, try to identify three most popular pain points/themes.
- How your product/service helps solve their problems: This should directly address the main pain points you’ve outlined. Let’s say you’re marketing Yum Snackz, a healthy kid snack, to moms. If one of mom’s biggest pain points is a lack of time to make healthy food, you might talk about the grab-and-go convenience of your product.
By the end, you should have a defined group of personas that are both specific and distinct.
Step 4: Finalize your personas.
Once you have your “rough” personas, it’s time to vet them. Circulate your personas for feedback from relevant people (e.g., your sales team or brand team), and refine as needed.
You can also use the info you’ve distilled for each persona to craft a simple story (just a paragraph or so) that captures who the target customer is. This can really help bring your personas to life and make them “stick” in people’s minds.
Let’s go back to our personas for Yum Snackz. Here’s what one persona story might look like:
Sara is a 35-year-old suburban mom of twin boys who are super picky eaters. She has an active lifestyle and wants to feed her kids healthy food. But as the owner of a popular Etsy shop, she doesn’t have the time or energy to make homemade snacks for their preschool lunches. While waiting in her car before school pickup, she was scrolling through Instagram and saw one of her favorite lifestyle bloggers post about how popular Yum Snackz are with her own kids. Sara made a note to pick some up on her next grocery run, and she’s been a fan ever since. Since Yum Snackz are perfectly portioned and easy to take on the go, she can confidently give the boys the nutrition they need without having to think about it. Plus, the variety of delicious flavors lets each finicky boy pick his favorite—without a fight. The truth is Sara loves Yum Snackz so much she keeps one in her yoga bag—just in case she needs a quick fix. But don’t tell the boys that or the snacks will disappear in a snap.
Once you’ve made your edits and have final approval, you can memorialize them in the template, Google Docs, an Excel spreadsheet—whatever works for your team. Just make sure to regularly review and update personas as well, especially any time you make changes to your content strategy.
How to Use Your New Personas
Once you have your brand new personas in hand, put them to work in your content strategy.
- Use empathy when you brainstorm. Whether it’s inspirational, educational, or entertaining, make sure your content delivers something that they need or want. Note: If you can’t identify which persona a piece of content is for—and why they would be interested in it—it’s probably not going to work. For more ideas, learn how to do empathetic content marketing, and try these prompts to come up with strong content ideas.
- Tell a consistent story. Use this brand messaging framework to help you tell a cohesive story that resonates with your personas.
- Measure your success. Make sure you’re tracking the right metrics for your content strategy to find out if the stories you’re telling are working.
And if you need help with any aspect of your content strategy, bring in some re-enforcements. Find out what doing your content strategy with Column Five is like, or hit us up directly. We’re always down to chat.