26 August 2022

What is a customer persona - and does your business really need one?

Rob Croxall
Written by Rob Croxall

Rob Croxall is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years’ experience working in the media, engineering and charity sectors, focussing on UK as well as global markets.

As a business owner, you’ve probably heard of customer personas. And you might be wondering: Do I really need one? How will this help my business?

There’s a lot of misleading advice online about personas. And a lot of the personas we come across in our work are, to be honest, pretty useless.

Read on to find out what a customer persona is, why most companies get them wrong and how to create a really good one.


What is a customer persona and what does it need to do?

A customer persona is a representation of your customers that’s based on real-life research and data. It shouldn’t be based on what you or your team think you know about your customers. It should be based on real-life conversations with them (qualitative insights) or reliable data (quantitative insights).

A persona is a useful way of collating and documenting these insights that helps you and your team understand who your customers are, what they want and how your business can help them.

There are many other tools that you can use to understand these - including value proposition exercises, customer research, and customer data segmentation - and building a customer persona is just one of them. 


Why are personas important?

Personas help your team to see things from your customers’ perspectives.

If you don’t take the time to do this, you risk reverting to just talking about yourself, what you do and what you think your customers should care about - rather than what they actually care about. 

For example, we worked with a packaging and shipping company that specialised in moving high-precision tools and equipment. The business had always assumed that what the customers cared about was delivery speed and coverage.

But when we spoke to their customers, we found that the key need was the specific packaging safety certifications they offered. It was a regulatory requirement. 

Customer personas are key to helping you understand what your customers are really looking for - rather than what you’re trying to sell.

So, where do most businesses go wrong when writing their personas? 


What’s wrong with most customer personas?

A lot of customer personas we see today are pretty useless. 

Here are three key mistakes that businesses make - and what you should avoid if you want to create one.


Skipping customer research 

It’s no good to pull together your marketing team, salespeople and executives, stick them in a room, pump them with coffee and expect them to come out with an accurate persona. 

Because, by doing that, you’ve missed the most important step of this whole process: you haven’t spoken to your customer. 

As a result, you’re going to end up with a representation of what you think your customers want - instead of what they actually want.


Including details that aren’t actionable 

Most online advice on building personas will tell you to make your personas as detailed as you can. What do they do on weekends? What car do they drive? Dog person or cat person?

While it pays to be detailed, it doesn’t mean you should include information that you can’t act on. Or that’s totally irrelevant to your business.

Being sparing about what you include is actually a good thing, because it helps your team to focus on insights that genuinely matter, instead of distracting them with things that don’t.


Missing out customer challenges and pain points 

Lastly, a lot of personas are too focused on demographics and fail to include the really important stuff - your customers’ key challenges, pain points and reasons for buying. 

These challenges, pain points and reasons for buying are at the heart of your value proposition. These are the things that really matter.

Demographic details can tell you who you target, but they can’t tell you what they care about or what you should say to them. This is why most personas quickly get forgotten about - because they have very little day-to-day utility.


Do you need a customer persona? Our Marketing Directors can help you decide. Get in touch


How to do customer personas right 

So, now you know how to get it wrong, let’s look at how to do it right. Here are three key things to bear in mind.


Get to the facts 

Make sure your customer persona isn’t opinion dressed up as research.

It shouldn’t be a brainstorm with your team or suppliers - it needs to be based on genuine conversations with customers or meaningful data. 

The best way to do that is by conducting customer research and surveys. This can involve setting up phone calls with as few as 6-10 existing customers to talk through their needs and how your service helps fulfil them. 

But it’s important to make sure these are for genuine research - and not just sales calls in disguise.

You can also add to this quantitatively by looking at your sales or marketing data.


Use it

If you’ve set aside the time and budget to create a detailed persona, are you now going to let that document sit untouched in an untitled folder on an intern’s PC?

It’s no use having a firecracker of a persona if nobody’s using it - so, use it!

Make sure you regularly talk through and refer to your persona, and cross-reference ideas against it. It’s the whole reason you created it, after all. 


Don’t assume that it won’t change 

As time goes on, circumstances alter, people change, and markets shift. So, don’t assume that your persona won’t change either.

What’s true of your customers today is unlikely to always be that way - so make sure you challenge and review your persona on a regular basis. 


Don’t create another useless persona

Creating a useless customer persona is not only a waste of your time and budget, it also impacts your marketing going forward. A bad customer persona won’t give your team the insights or the focus they need to do marketing that has a real impact.

By working with one of our seasoned Marketing Directors, you can get it right first time. They’ll help you figure out the best way to conduct customer research, write out your persona document, and actually use it as part of your strategy.

If you’re struggling to create a persona the right way - or are wondering whether you even need one in the first place - feel free to get in touch at any time.



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