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Use personas to create more effective marketing campaigns

Imagining your ideal customers helps you to be more precise about how, when and where to market

4-minute read

To market your business effectively, you need to know who you’re trying to reach. Who are your best customers? What do they want from your business?

Personas help you to come up with clear answers to those questions and use them to improve your marketing efforts.

Personas are portraits of ideal customers that many businesses use to better target their marketing efforts. You create them by making imaginary characters that represent customer types you are trying to attract and retain.

“Most small business owners are surprised to find out how much of this information they already know,” says BDC Senior Business Advisor Rebecca Chan. “It doesn’t have to be a daunting exercise, and the benefits are powerful.”

Chan, who advises businesses on marketing, offered the following tips on creating and using personas.

1. Start simply

Chan recommends creating a maximum of three personas. One may not give you enough perspective on the range of customers you serve. More than three can be unmanageable and dilute your marketing efforts.

“I tell people to start with a sheet of paper divided into three columns,” Chan says. “Think of your three best customers—the people you want more of in your business. Then, in each column, write what you know about each of them. How old are they? Male or female? Where do they live? Are they well-off or lower income? How much education do they have? What do they buy from you?”

Chan says you should write down as much as you can. If you need more information, talk to your frontline salespeople, since they interact with your customers every day.

Hint: If you decide to survey your customers to learn more about them, keep it focused. Don’t ask more than two questions—and make those questions count.

2. Use your imagination

With the basic facts about your customers on paper, you can now make them come alive.

“This is really fun because you are creating realistic characters that should reflect the people who actually walk into your business, visit your website and order from you online,” Chan says.

Her technique is to imagine a typical day in the life of each customer type. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What they do from the moment they get up in the morning to the time they go to bed at night. Thinking this through will generate lots of ideas about when and how to interact with them during their day.

“Say one persona is a mom in her late thirties with two kids under eight,” says Chan. “Her mornings probably start early and are busy with breakfast, lunches, backpacks, getting the kids onto the school bus. So that’s probably not a good time to try to get her attention. But if she has a downtown job and eats lunch at the food court, putting up messages on digital signage or an ad on her Facebook feed might reach her when she’s receptive and looking for a diversion.”

Think about what your personas’ hobbies might be. What media would they consume? What keeps them up at night? All of that information will help you determine what messages will be most effective.

Hint: Give each of your personas a name that’s easy to remember and highlights their major attributes. If one of your customer types is middle-aged men who like sports, especially football, you could call that persona Freddy Football. A mom with young kids and no time to herself, could be Carpool Carrie.

3. Validate your assumptions

Once you’ve let your imagination run wild, test your theories about your customers. There are a lot of ways to do this, Chan says.

“Use your company’s Facebook and other social media pages to see who is engaging with your content. Look at a few profiles to learn more about who they are and what is important to them,” she says. “It’s an amazingly rich source of information about your customers.”

Share the personas with your staff and ask if they seem accurate representations of your real-life customers. Have conversations with customers to see if your assumptions are on the mark or not. Adjust your personas based on the feedback.

Hint: Review your personas each year and make updates as necessary. People don’t stay the same, so your personas shouldn’t either.

Digital promotions are a great place to start putting your personas to work. They are inexpensive and can serve as a testing ground.

4. Put them into action

Now, you’re ready to start using your personas to plan your marketing initiatives.

Use them to develop messages that will resonate with your customers and choose the communication channels where you know they can be reached.

As you use personas for marketing, you’ll learn more and more about your customers. That in turn will help you refine your personas and the tactics you employ to reach customers.

Increasing the precision of your marketing will translate into higher sales and a growing business.

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