How to Create Customer Personas That Make an Impact

Email marketers are starting to master timely messaging. However, this is as far as many brands go down the path of relevancy. Once the purchase confirmation, abandoned cart, or welcome program ends, subscribers receive the same treatment, as if they were all the same. But we know better. We can expand into even more relevant messaging by creating and using customer personas in our campaigns.

Persona creation can be difficult to accomplish and difficult to actually derive benefit from. The most basic persona creation exercise is to simply sit around and talk about who your customers are, how they behave, and what they want. This approach is fast, but it’s also low quality since you are not your customer and you don’t know who they are or what they want. You may have an idea based on experience with your brand and knowledge of what has “worked” in the past. That type of intuitive understanding of the customer is valuable, but a much more vivid understanding can come from data collected from the customers themselves.

Here are just three of the ways you can collect and analyze data from your customers to create personas:

1. Use the data you already have. Chances are you’ve collected and stored data about email behavior, website behavior, and purchase/conversion behavior on your customers already. If so, you already have a number of personas just waiting to be uncovered. Anything from a simple review of relevant data points (e.g., who has purchased more than once in the last month, or more than 10 times?) may uncover some interesting correlations upon which to begin building a customer persona.

Taking it to a more advanced level, marketers can also conduct a cluster analysis on relevant variables to identify personas. One restaurant group did this and identified seven unique personas, including people who came only on holidays and people who ate once a week! Don’t you think your marketing campaigns should treat people in those two groups differently?

2. Use someone else’s data. There may be an opportunity to work with a strategic partner to see what they identify as their different customer personas. What data do they have? What types of analysis have they completed or not completed? What personas would be interested in both of your products? What personas would be interested in just one or the other?

3. Ask your customers. Even in these data-devouring days, good old self-reported information from your customers is hard to replace. These types of studies will provide a depth that will fill in the blanks that your other data left behind. Once again, there is an easy way to do this with poor quality (e.g., site surveys or email surveys) and there is a hard way to do this to achieve much higher quality (e.g., person-to-person interviews).

Once you’ve collected the data, begin to identify customers who are similar. Then visualize an archetypal customer of that group. Give that customer a name…Larry, for example.

Describe Larry. Is Larry 45 or 15? Does Larry drive to work? From his house or apartment? When he comes home, is it to two kids waiting for him, or a small chihuahua? The more detail (backed by data) a persona you can create, the better.

For example, consider the following persona:

Sharon is a 30-38-year-old single woman living in an urban city on the West Coast. She is an office professional, takes public transit to work, and eats out about four times a week.

Now, imagine you’re a shoe seller. What shoes are you going to highlight for Sharon? Probably not a pair of uncomfortable formal heels. You’ll probably focus on versatile, business appropriate flats. This is of course different from how you would treat Lisa, a 45-year-old married woman who lives in the suburbs and does not work.

Persona creation is just another tool in the marketer’s toolbox to achieve relevance. With inbox shifts like the recent Gmail Tabs and the ever-increasing competition for attention, being more relevant to your subscribers is no longer a nice-to-have – it’s a necessity.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

Editor’s Note: As 2013 comes to a close, we’re pleased to share our top email columns of the year. This article was originally published September 3rd.

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