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Building personas that guide your online marketing

You’d assume that personas are a commonly used research technique used by digital marketers to inform their work. However, they are not always used to the full and in some cases, they aren’t used at all!


This often leads to a dysfunctional strategy that isn’t focused in any meaningful way and doesn’t satisfy stakeholders.

This is surprising as it isn’t particularly difficult to build them. There are many ways in which you can approach personas, so I thought it would be worthwhile outlining some of the options and how personas can shape your strategy and become integral to your thinking.

How to Build Personas

In their simplest format, they can be pen-portraits of your different customer types in relation to your offering, but the minimum requirement is that they are based on some form of research. It doesn’t have to be detailed primary research with customer interviews. You can look at your website analytics and undertake secondary research into the market and then validate your findings with people who have regular contact with customers, such as sales or customer service teams.

If you can’t get this front line based information or want more detail, then you’ll need to conduct some research directly with customers. 5- 10 interviews per customer type will usually suffice – or stop when you start to see common patterns emerging. Gather information on variables such as:

Background: demographics, overall aspirations, level of knowledge and attitude to your offering.

Context: how do they look to fulfil their needs? Where do they go for information and how much time do they spend or have available to do this?

Motivations: what are their aspirations around your product or service and unfulfilled information needs?

Preferences: what content formats do they enjoy and what level of detail do they need?

Goals: what do they want to achieve and what frustrates them currently in terms of obstacles and barriers?

The next stage is critical. Reviewing the information available to build personas that reflect the most common themes. Looking for patterns and common themes will enable the personas to be focused and meaningful. The findings should be refined into a simple output, preferably a one page portrayal per persona. They need to be memorable and succinct so you can use them internally and with your suppliers.

Using Personas

From a digital perspective, they should inform your search strategy, website design and content strategy. For example, good websites will align with your personas and answer their needs quickly and effectively. Visitors will be able to find content that helps them with their needs, whether it be finding out more about products and services, finding reassurance through reviews and case studies or being able to transact quickly. Also from a search perspective it can guide outreach and remarketing activities by identifying other digital resources that are used by the customers.

This process can provide good insights but the key is using them to guide your digital marketing. At key stages of the process where choices are available refer back to the personas to inform your decision making. They are particularly useful in pushing back on internal random requests to shape the website in a particular way that isn’t in line with customer needs.

There are some good resources out there so there’s no excuse for not making a start! 

In terms of a beginners guide we’d recommend Buffer's blog post here

Also, a hub page that links to various resources that are helpful when building personas

A detailed 2-part article on building personas

An empowering article about the experiences of using patient personas by a US physician