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Introduction to Personas

Altaf Shaikh | February 22, 2016 

Merriam Webster defines persona as an “individual’s social facade or front that, especially in the analytic psychology of C. G. Jung, reflects the role in life the individual is playing,” and, “the personality that a person (as an actor or politician) projects in public.” A persona, as applied to marketing, is a written representation of your ideal customer audience for any kind of message … including email.

The goal of a persona is to create a realistic, reliable, and useful representation of a typical customer. These representations are then divided into segments based on analytics and research. Using personas can help provide a clearer picture of your customers’ expectations, their needs, and the paths they take when engaging with your brand.

Benefits of Personas

Personas help bring focus to your marketing by bringing to life real-world considerations and conversations. They offer an inexpensive way to prioritize and test features throughout the email marketing process. Effective use of personas can help significantly increase email open, click-through, and even forwarding rates.

Personas can help:

  • Marketers evaluate new features on web sites, landing pages, social media sites, and emails.
  • Designers create better-informed wireframes, User Interfaces (UI), behaviors, and labels. A designer who can envision the way different people might respond to a design is better able to utilize the design to encourage a desired behavior.
  • System engineers and developers develop more user-friendly systems and infrastructure.
  • Copywriters ensure emails have the right content and tone for each audience.
  • Customers have greater trust and affinity with a brand, making them more likely to buy.

Best Practices for Developing Personas

Generally speaking, it is better to start your new marketing effort or product development with the creation of personas. However, many marketers fall into the trap of believing that it’s too late to think about creating them. Not true! It’s never too late to listen to your customers and prospects and guide your marketing efforts around them.

Personas can help inform functionality, discover gaps in communication, or highlight great new opportunities. For example, an airline may want to send an email coupon to a traveler right when he or she lands in Las Vegas. Or, a veterinary clinic might send an invitation for a discounted grooming a week after an office visit. By developing a persona for different customer categories, it makes it easier to identify the individuals in your database who fit into each.

Personas and Brand Storytelling

Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How are important keys in basic storytelling and information-gathering.

These questions have been foundational for decades in journalism, research, police investigations, etc., and they apply to personas, as well. You can look at them as a formula for getting the complete story on a subject. As both a designer and developer, I always try to find the answers to these questions, even if official research isn’t conducted. These parts of the story are critical first steps in discovering the right personas for your project or brand.

Problem Questions

1 Who is experiencing the problem?

2 What is the specific problem?

3 When does the problem happen?

4 Where does the problem happen?

5 Why does the problem happen?

6 How is the problem discovered?

Solution Questions

1 Who is needed to provide the solution?

2 What things are needed to provide the solution?

3 When will the solution be provided?

4 Where should the solution be provided?

5 Why is it necessary to provide the solution?

6 How will the problem be solved?

As you’re answering each of these questions, also take the following into consideration:

  • Lessons learned from past marketing efforts.
  • Customer information you’ve already gathered.
  • Information provided by subject matter experts.
  • Your company’s business goals and objectives.
  • Current market conditions for your industry.

To ensure that your personas represent an accurate picture of your customers and prospects — and have the support of your stakeholders — you should:

  • Conduct user research. Who are your customers and why are they using your product or service? What behaviors, assumptions, and expectations are coloring their views? When are they using it? Where are they using it (home, work, on vacation)? How are they using it? How are they receiving information about your product (mobile, desktop, tablet, radio, television, print)?
  • Condense the research. Look for themes and characteristics that are specific, relevant, and universal to your intended marketing message or product.
  • Brainstorm. Organize elements into persona groups that represent your target customers. Name or classify each group.
  • Refine. Combine and sketch out rough personas. Separate them into virtual “buckets” by primary, secondary, and, if needed, complementary categories. You should have 3 to 5 personas and their characteristics identified.
  • Make them realistic. Develop descriptions of each persona with its motivation, background, expectations and preferences.

Sample Persona Template

Following is a good example of a basic Persona Template, using someone named Tobi McGuiness to develop the character:

Sample Persona Template

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Altaf Shaikh

Altaf Shaikh | Founder, CEO

Altaf Shaikh is ListEngage’s Founder and CEO. Altaf has been in software development and digital marketing for more than 25 years. He started ListEngage in 2003 to help businesses transform their email and digital marketing. ListEngage has supported the Salesforce Marketing Cloud since 2003 when it was ExactTarget. As a dedicated Salesforce Partner, ListEngage has served 900+ customers and earned multiple awards, such as: 2013 ExactTarget Global Services Award, the Inc. 5000 three consecutive years, and the Boston Business Journal's FAST 50 two years in a row. Contact Altaf at