Three key questions all marketers (should) ask themselves at some early point in marketing program development, and obviously have a great answer, are:

Who are we talking to?

Why should they listen to us?

What do we want them to do now?

These are the exact questions that  a well-crafted persona can help answer.

It will help you make good decisions about the content you create, and the channels you use to communicate to those who are most important to your success.

A persona is a composite picture of someone who incorporates  of all the behavioural and personal characteristics of your ideal customer. You can take it to the extent of being ‘hyper-personal’ and in some circumstances such as the sale of a very expensive, luxury car, that may be an effort well worth making, but in others, it may exclude many who may have minor variations, inconsequential to the purchase decision.

I have used the ‘Who, What, Where, Why’ model extensively to define the ideal customer with my clients. It is an iterative process, deceptively demanding, as it requires decisions about who is not an ideal customer, and therefore excluded from primary consideration.

Most small and medium businesses really struggle with this exclusion. It does not mean you do not sell to them if they walk in with money in their hand, but it does mean that you do not expend limited marketing resources trying to convert them, as there are better returns for your marketing dollar elsewhere.

Who: is the demographics they may exhibit. Where they live, age, sex, education, job, and all the other quantitative characteristics that are available. These parameters are all that was available until digital tools came along.

How to create a customer persona

Customer persona

What: are their behaviours. Do they go to the opera or rock concerts, perhaps both, do they travel overseas for holidays, what sort of causes, if any, do they support, are they likely to demonstrate their beliefs publicly, or are they just internal. All the sorts of things that offer a picture of how they think, feel, and behave in all sorts of situations.

Where: will you  find them digitally, as well as in the analogue (perhaps real) world, and what means can you use to make a connection. Are they likely to be avid users of Facebook, Linkedin or other social platforms, are they comfortable buying on line, do they ‘showroom’ digitally then visit the physical retailer, do they get their news from facebook and Reddit, or more focussed news sites, or even, surprise, surprise, newspapers.

Why: should they respond to your entreaties, to do whatever it is you are asking of them. Normally it will be something that will alter or manage their behaviour in some way. In every commercial case, this will end up being persuading them to buy from you, and certainly from you in preference to an alternative.  Interim steps may be to get some sort of conversion on the way to a sale, download a brochure, visit a location, whatever it is you are asking them to do.

Having built something of a picture, from the Who What Where Why method, it often leaves you well short of a complete picture that will determine the sort of material required, and the best means to communicate it. In any event, the process is iterative, and every step helps, and every misstep teaches you something.

An essential adjunct to the creation of a persona is to create a customer journey map. This is the process that your ideal customer will go through from the initial itch, to awareness, consideration, preference, then to the transaction. This will enable you to use the persona to inject yourself into the decision making and buying process a customer is going through to optimise your chances of success.

Identify. A potential customer only comes into the market when they see a need to be addressed, or a problem to be solved. In some way, the first stirrings that lead to them recognising that there is a need to do something, which may involve a purchase at some point, will start the process that leads to the transaction.

how customers arrive at a decision

Customer journey

Research. These days almost everyone goes to Mr Google as a first step in research for anything beyond the most mundane and regular purchase. Often the purchase decision is made before potential suppliers know a buyer is in the market, but it is in this research phase that canny marketers who understand the profile of their ideal customers have the opportunity to seed the sort of information that will get them onto the buyers short list, at least.

Evaluate. Emerging customers will evaluate the alternatives on all sorts of parameters important to them. Performance, delivery, style, price, after sales service, brand reputation, what their neighbours might think, and many others. It is this point where the parameters of the problem to be solved  becomes increasingly important as the customer removes options from the ‘possibles’ list to come up with a choice. It is also this point where the purchase decision still often moves off line. Not many people buy a new car on line without going to a dealer to drive it, or a shop to try on the new evening wear.

Buy. The transaction, now a tiny part of the whole customer journey, but still where the cash to pay the bills is generated.

Use. For many purchases, the transaction is only the beginning of a following process that seeks to ensure that the product meets or better, exceeds the expectation that led to its purchase, thus creating loyalty. Loyalty can be expresses as a willingness to recommend your product to others, the strongest marketing tool there is. When the product delivers less than the expectation, the purchase process is re-started the next time, and even worse, the poor experience is spread.

There is nothing routine or easy about all this, it is a journey for both the buyer and the seller. The sellers job is to find the ways to get into the buyers head as early as possible in the process, and better yet, assist the buyer to define the parameters against which the alternatives will be evaluated. This in not always possible in B2C markets, but in B2B marketing, being able to influence at an early stage is a crucial competitive tool.

The combination of a clear persona and therefore a definable market niche to which you are able to deliver a differentiated and valuable product is the foundation of commercial success.