Many of the same people's heads in boxes. Uniformity, humanity, solitude

Customer centric marketing is pivotal when creating a successful sales and marketing strategy.  When it comes to growing your business and improving your bottom line, nothing is more important than knowing what makes your customers and prospects tick.

Whatever industry or sector you operate in, understanding and creating semi-fictional characters (more commonly known as personas) that personify your ideal customer is imperative to making your business a success.

In this post, we’ll explain why personas are so important to customer centric marketing, and not just as a one-off exercise to enable your business to flourish and thrive in the short-term.  We’ll also help you explore what approach SMEs might take in developing personas to realise their full benefit throughout the customer lifecycle.  To simplify this for those who are new to the subject, we have provided a simple 6 stage process.

What is a Persona and why does it matter?

A persona, according to Aurora Harley from Nielsen, is “a semi-fictional, yet realistic description of a typical or target user of your product or service – it is an archetype of an actual living human but described as a real person.”

Personas are important for a whole host of reasons.  Firstly, a persona helps businesses build customer-centric products and services, keeping the user at the forefront of every design decision.  It also helps in segmenting the user types of a product or service.  They go far deeper than just looking at the demographics of users, looking at what can be termed as their psychographics or motivations and behaviours behind the choices they make in their service or product decision-making process.

This all leads to a win-win result, your business develops a product or service that a customer truly needs and they hear about in a way that is insightful and empathetic.  In short it enables you to completely nail your marketing messaging.

How to enable your business to flourish and thrive using personas

Whilst many large businesses invest many thousands of pounds and significant time in developing their customer centric marketing approach, businesses of any size, can develop their key personas by following these 6 steps:

Graphical depiction of a typical customer journey

Step 1 – Map out customer journey from acquisition to retention

Mapping out the customer lifecycle is critical for success, not just for developing a persona. It will also help you as a business better understand the needs and desires of your customers so that you can provide the optimal customer experience they are looking for.

You may be aware that 5 times the investment is needed to attract new customers than to retain existing ones.  With this in mind mapping out all the touch points for the complete customer journey from prospect to repeat purchase or contract renewal will help you develop a far more authentic persona. What’s more, it will enable you to achieve better retention rates and with it, ongoing usage and loyalty.  This approach helps to identify the key decision-makers of maybe 2-5 roles within the buying process.  It will be these individuals who you will build your personas around.

Step 2 – Engage all stakeholders

In order to complete a robust mapping exercise, involvement from each of the departments with a touchpoint to the customer, early in the process is paramount.  If there isn’t buy-in from these departments, success may be possible in the initial adoption of a product or service but will diminish over time, risking longer term success when a contract is needing to be renewed.

Step 3 – Research

Now that the stakeholders are on board and the customer journey has been mapped, the next step is to undertake desk research to start to gain an insight into a typical profile of the role you are interested in.

Mark Ritson, weekly columnist in Marketing Week and professor at the world-renowned Melbourne Business School recently gave the CIM’s annual lecture.  He shared with delegates the importance of undertaking research ahead of doing any marketing.   

For example, if you are wanting to target a new customer type, such as a Facilities Manager, searching on Google with a long tail query such as “typical profile of a facilities manager” will be a good way to start.  However, a general rule of thumb is to dis-count any research that is over 5-years old. 

Having completed some initial research, analysing data on your CRM system will help to gain further insight in starting to shape a broader picture of the “who” of the ideal customer.  However, to understand the “why”, interviews will add further psychographic depth.

Graphic depicting various customer types ready to be interviewed

Step 4 – Interviews

The key to success here is conducting one-to-one interviews and surveys with a wide demographic of the targeted audience.  Having said that the sample size does not need to be any greater than about 5-10 people.  As from a sample of this size, some trends and patterns of behaviour and motivations will be identifiable.

To get to these behaviours and motivations you are trying to uncover an individual’s:

  • Likes and dislikes
  • Interests and values
  • Motivation
  • What they are passionate about
  • Pain points
  • How you can help them

These can be uncovered by asking customer centric marketing questions like:

  • What is the real problem you are trying to solve?
  • Why did you choose our product to help you?
  • What could the product do better to help you?
  • What would you have liked to know before you selected our product?

Step 5 – Create and design a persona

Whilst there are paid-for systems available to design and publish your personas (aha! for example) designing something in Word or Powerpoint that is then shared across the organisation is equally as good.  It is how you USE the persona to help you deliver growth rather than purely developing them that matters.

Whichever way you share them, make sure that you give each persona a true and credible identity.

For example (it helps to provide a picture of this person), meet Francisco……

Smiling supervisor looking at stock arranged on shelves in warehouse
  • Francisco the FM Manager
  • UK based, in the M1 and M40 corridor
  • 40 years of age
  • Focus on creating a great place for their clients and staff to work
  • They feel they know everything and they don’t like to be proved wrong
  • Have immense attention to detail
  • Desperately wants to show their client they know how to make this a great place to work

Or

Francisco is a 40 year-old FM Manager.  He has more than 5 years’ experience in the industry and has a business degree.  His key concern is to create a great place for the business’ clients and staff to work at by ensuring it is safe and optimises people’s health and wellbeing.  He has an immense attention to detail and never wants to be proven that others know better.  He wants to show their client that they know how to make this a great place to work.

Step 6 – Review and refine

Always remember that things are up for change.  Up until the turn of the 21st century the fastest method of sending documents was often using a fax machine.  Consequently, businesses need to regularly review, revise and refine their personas, perhaps as part of your annual business planning process.  If personas are key to customer centric marketing then you need to ensure that they are still in line with modern customers and their changing behaviours.

Tips and reminders

#1 Personas help you keep your finger on the pulse of what matters and motivates target audiences to do business with you

#2 Use every interaction with your client (sales, finance, operations, HR and customer care) to refine your persona

#3 Invest time in understanding what matters and motivates your target audiences through desk and one-to-one research, using between 5-10 subjects as your sample size

#4 Ensure your personas feel like real people, not just a list of variables to target on.

#5 Encourage adoption of the personas across every department in the business.  This will mean your customers get a consistent customer experience from everyone in the business.

#6 Revisit and refine regularly.  Time does not stand still as the needs of customers change either because their customers’ expectations change or your competitors develop new ways of doing things.  

So, in concluding, personas are important to customer centric marketing as they can help you define and refine, not just your marketing, but every aspect of how you engage with your customers and prospects across the business.  Following the steps, tips and reminders above will enable you to realise an increased customer lifetime value, resulting in stronger initial adoption, ongoing usage and long-term loyalty. 

What do you think?

What have been your experiences of using personas to help you engage with your target audiences?

What are your top tips for creating and refining personas?

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Fiona is Opportunity Marketing’s consultant covering the South and has over 20 years’ experience in strategic marketing, covering brand management, service development, marketing communications, product life cycle development, and market intelligence. Vastly experienced and respected consultant, offering significant strategic management experience with a passion for marketing strategy and a keen eye for detail and a solid focus on return on investment.

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