Marketing personas: where to start to define them?

Ah, marketing personas! You probably have been hearing about them for a few years now. I actually think that’s a good thing. Indeed, I hope that small and large organizations now recognize the importance of having this marketing tool.

Since the subject is still relevant to this day, I would like to push a little further the reflections that were started in an article we published in 2017. It covered the basics of persona marketing, without going far in how to develop them. For me, this aspect is important since there is always a difference between knowing about something, and knowing how to do that same thing.

So that’s what I’m trying to accomplish in this blog post. Remember that there is, in my opinion, no good or bad approach to defining personas. However, you have to ask the right questions, and also identify some essential information.

Thus, from the first brainstorming session to obtaining a global vision of your personas, I will try to help you in the starting process.


A first session on personas

I sincerely believe that the most difficult step when it comes to defining personas is the first. Indeed, knowing where to start is not always easy. The first work session on personas can be a bit chaotic. To try to guide the discussions, here are the three objectives that should be achieved during the first sessions:

  1. The differentiation criteria;
  2. The use cases for personas;
  3. The broad categories of information needed.

1. The differentiation criteria

Let’s get back to basics. We create personas to better express the segments with which we do business. One segment is necessarily different from another. It is then necessary to identify the points of differentiation on which we will separate the personas.

Traditionally, in B2B, they are based on the position they occupy. For example, it is assumed that a marketing persona will not have the same needs as another in HR or IT. This makes sense, since it does not perform the same tasks as the other two.

I am of the opinion that the position is not the only way to identify customer segments. Therefore, it should not be the only criterion use to differentiate personas. Based on that, my advice is to continue the discussions once these aspects are covered. The work must continue in order to identify the best criterion.

To express my point by way of an example, it might be that two CIOs have the same title, but not the same broadened objectives. One could be more technical, or work on projects architecture, while another would be more managerial, and his responsibility would be more in project management. Several such cases are possible regardless of the position, but you must identify them to get the clearest segments. To finalize my example, the position would not be a sufficient criterion, while the type of governance on IT projects / teams would be interesting.

If you’re in B2C, it’s a little bit more difficult, because there are a lot of possibilities in terms of these differentiations. Their nature can also change greatly. For example, demographic questions can further affect segments, as can the frequency of purchase, the aspects of the product / service that matter, the way it is used / consumed … in short, discussions will go in several directions. You must know how to eliminate those that are too broad, and others that do not differentiate enough segments.

Moreover, several criteria can be preselected as differentiators, but will be rejected later in the reflection process. I will cover this point later in the text.

2. The use cases for marketing personas

The definition of personas also involves identifying the reasons that led to their definition. This makes it possible to know how much research will have to be carried out, and also on which aspects.

Let me explain. Personas are not specific to marketing, let alone sales. We do not define them only to understand how we can sell better, or better communicate. Well, it’s possible to do just that, but personas are also useful for other purposes. For example, R & D (innovate according to market demands), human resources (hire according to customer expectations), or the development team (keeping in mind the final user).

It is also possible to identify secondary reasons. For example, a first phase of identification will retains that the sales team will use it, but it is possible to go further. For example, the team will use personas to create scenarios for objections or to create automated messages following requests for information.

This identification work is essential since it directs the aspects that are covered in the next section.

3. The main categories of information needed

Inevitably, personas have to serve something, or someone. To use them properly, one must first determine the information that will have a later value. So, even before starting research or take for granted certain things … we must identify the major themes that matter to those who will use personas.

Using my example on the sales team, if they want to create scenarios on objections, you need to know the most common reasons for refusal. Same thing for automated messages for information requests, it is necessary to know the most frequent needs of the segments. This connection work is important to achieve. It helps structure the research process.

Also, as I mentioned, it is here that the differentiation criterion will be validated, or that the different preselected criterions will be sorted out. Indeed, if the information collected for the personas are too similar, based on a criterion that differentiates them (let’s say the position), then it is not it. Indeed, a persona is worthwhile only if it is quite different from the others. If not, why have segments represented in 2 or 3 personas? This would mean that other aspects are minimized, and this is not ideal.


In conclusion

So here they are, my three objectives to reach in order to begin the first reflections on personas. I hope they will help you iron the current personas you have, or in a subsequent marketing work. You will then be ready for the next step, searching for information that can be found in a multitude of places around you. Who knows, maybe we’ll talk about it in a future article!