Develop Target Personas

New York Times best-selling author Ramit Sethi said: “Algorithms change. Tactics change. But the fundamentals of learning what people want, seeing exactly where you can help them, and then telling the right people about it (emphasis mine) are classic strategies that worked 1,000 years ago and will work 1,000 years from now.”

Knowing who your ideal customer is the first step towards creating compelling content that adds value at every step of the buyer’s decision-making journey. It drives your product and service offerings, shapes your value proposition, tone of voice, partnerships, and more. So while the previous section introduced strategies for researching your audience, here we walk you through the how to develop a composite of your core buyer(s), by creating target personas.


Defining your target persona can feel like you are excluding other potential buyers. In reality, it brings clarity and focuses you on your “market center” customer, the 80% who have the most to gain from your offerings, and are most likely to respond to your marketing.

In this flight plan you will learn:

  • Who are these people?
  • What are their primary needs and priorities?
  • What are their biggest challenges and blockers?
  • Why would they buy your product or service?

What follows is essential questions to ask to address each of the above. Let’s get started.

1. Who are they?

What is your buyer’s profile? What is their title in the organization (e.g. VP Marketing)? What is their role in the buying process? (e.g. executive sponsor, evaluator, influencer, decision maker). What level of authority do they have - can they sign checks? Are they on the straight and narrow carrying their company’s purse, or forward-thinking mavericks who are willing to bet in innovation and make under-the-radar investments?

Where do they work? Define some example companies where your target audience might work, currently and formerly. Identify the verticals or sectors that you are targeting, in order to focus your messaging, pricing and packaging. Classify the size of your target companies, since there are typically strong relationships between organizational buying processes, organizational structures, budgets, and pain points.

  • Typically, companies can be sized by number of employees or annual revenue, with employee sizes being the easiest.
  • Common employee-size bands are 1-9 (Very Small Business), 10-49 employees (Small business I), 50 - 249 employees (small business II), 250 - 2499 (mid-sized business I), 2500 - 10,000 employees (mid-market II), >10,000 employees (Enterprise)

How do they research? When your audience is in research mode, where do they go? Google? Influential blogs? General business press, or targeted verticals? Community review sites? Quora or discussion forums? LinkedIn or Facebook? Do they click on advertisements?

Where do they hang out? Learn both the digital and physical spaces. “Hangs out on Facebook” is too general. “Hangs out in the Wine Lovers of Atlanta Facebook group” is more precise and actionable. “Likes the outdoors” is too general. “Likes going to the park every Saturday morning with their kids” shows habits and values. “Reads blogs” isn’t targeted enough. “Obsessively reads Lifehacker, Techcrunch, and Reddit” is revealing.

What brands or positioning do they identify with? Make a list of the brands your audience likes. Are they Mac or PC people? Prefer Star Wars or Star Trek? Are they conservative or liberal? Will they respond better to simplicity and design, or to easy access to large quantities of data? Do they fight for the underdog, or play it safe with the sure thing?

What is the best way to connect? Do they tweet? Text? Chat? Email? Or prefer physical mail? At what times of the day or month? For example, a number of brands use Snapchat to communicate with teenagers. Why? Because teenagers aren’t spending their screen time checking Facebook. Communicate with your audience where they already are.

How do they talk? There is already language in your customer’s mind to describe their problems, needs, and desires. Your job is to listen and write it down. People are naturally attracted to other people who speak their language, get their sense of humor or have the same point of view. It provides a feeling of belonging and connection that can create loyalty towards your brand. Your goal is for customers to say to themselves “Whoa it’s like they’re talking to me” every time they read your writing.

2. What are their needs and priorities?

A customer need is not a solution, product feature, or idea. Nor is it a statement that describes how to make products easier to purchase, set up, install, or interface with. A need is a compelling reason that drives a prospective customer to evaluate a range of solutions their their needs, in a finite period of time such that they can resolve that need.

Extracting and dissecting your customers’ need can be tough, but not having a concrete understanding of their needs and priorities is a recipe for poorly performing marketing and sales activities marred by low performance, inefficiency, cost overruns, and missed goals.

A straightforward way to develop a view of your customer’s needs is to ask them what brings them to your service. Start by asking open-ended questions:

  • Do they need to get their company or new product traction in the market?
  • Are they looking to grow qualified leads by xx% in the coming 6 months?
  • Are they dissatisfied with an existing service or supplier, and looking to switch by the end of their current term?
  • Are they losing revenue and customers due to an inability to deliver their own service?
  • Are they responsible for attaining a specific business goal, such as attaining a defined percentage of their business from a new channel like ecommerce?
  • Do they need to provide reports or greater transparency to their organization based on actual recent customer data?
  • Are they getting beaten by competitors, and need to invest to keep up?
  • Do they need to streamline their customer experience in order to slow down cancellations or churn?
  • Do they need to conserve cash, or drive down their total cost of ownership, by changing their payment terms?

With a grasp of your target persona’s core needs, prioritize those needs by mapping them to pre-defined company initiatives or priorities. Are they working for companies who have a stated company priority to increase customer retention by investing in automation technology? To drive down cost of ownership by investing in cloud technologies? To penetrate a new industry or geography by partnering with domain experts?

In defining target personas, your objective is to identify the 3-4 needs, each of which map to stated company priorities, and for which you have a unique sales proposition (USP). These are needs that you should understand, and be able to call out, extract, and solve through a combination of marketing, product, and sales engagements.

3. What are their challenges?

Understanding a prospective customer’s needs can help with developing marketing content that attracts their attention and interests. However only by stepping into your customer’s shoes, and developing empathy for their challenges, can you move to help them overcome their blockers and then purchase your services.

By understanding what it’s like walking in their shoes, you’ll be able to position your services to  address their pain points and problems. Here are a few examples to jog your creativity:

  • I can’t figure out how to re-learn my customer communication tool, so I have not improved the quality of our customer interactions.
  • I am failing to move beyond this step in my initial account configuration process because the software is too expensive.
  • If I could schedule my tweets, I would post twice as many social media updates.
  • I wish someone would just edit this video for me.
  • I need to lose ten pounds before spring break.
  • I am almost out of budget for this year, but would be able to purchase using allocation from next year’s budget.
  • I have pre-paid for my current technology offering through the end of the year.

4. Why would they buy your service?

The last primary consideration in building your target customer persona, is confirming the top reasons why they might choose to buy your service. These typically fall into the following areas:

Unique features and intellectual property (IP). Unique functionality that are unique to your offering, and solves one of the top 3 needs and challenges that we address above.

Alignment with your vision or brand. Your company clearly stands for something that is attractive and compelling. Examples of this might be Levi’s Jeans, Nike, or Apple.

Budget. Price too low and people will undervalue you, but price too high and no one will buy, or the sales process will be too long and complex. The sweet spot is to charge the maximum amount that ideal customer is ready to purchase with a minimum of push-back, while still attaining attractive financial terms for your company, both upfront and later as they grow.

Customer / User Experience. Companies like Zappos and Amazon rewrote the rules of customer service by going to extreme lengths to deliver a wow experience. For many, this is enough to overcome technical, budget, or even alignment concerns.

Ease of set up. When the risk of failed installations or setup is low because your service is easy to use or has a bulletproof getting started process, then customers will be far more willing to try.

Integration and connectedness. The rise in popularity of API-based app ecosystems means that connected and open technology platforms win clients seeking highly customizable configurations. Furthermore, customer retention improves as clients develop increasingly intertwined mission-critical systems.

Referred by a trusted peer. A startling 71% of purchases are more likely if referred via social media, while 90% of people believe brand references recommended from friends.

Wrapping it all up

Creating target personas is an essential company-building exercise that helps teams create compelling customer journeys, build winning products, and write content that sells.

The customer journey is more than robotic transactions and the exchange of money for goods and services. As emotional beings, people want to interact with brands that makes them feel good about themselves (and make their lives easier).

Learn how you can insert surprises, do the unexpected, and bring a smile to your customer’s face. Maybe it’s a handwritten thank you note after signing up for your service, a personalized email sent on their birthday, or free shipping for all deliveries (who doesn’t love free shipping?).

Inserting happiness into specific touchpoints can create a deeper level of emotional connection that grows loyal and raving fans for the long-term. Or as Marty Neumeier would say, improves that “gut feeling” people get when they hear about your product, service, or company.

Now that you've developed your target personas, learn how to attract them online 

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