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The 5 best guides for creating customer personas

| February 19, 2016
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How well do you know your customers?

If you’re like most of us, probably not as well as you should.

One of the biggest mistakes I see marketers and UX designers make is not developing a deep understanding of their customer’s needs. And we end up making a lot of assumptions about how to solve for them.

That’s why creating customer personas is so important.

What is a customer persona?

A customer persona (also known as a buyer persona) is a semi-fictional archetype that represents the key traits of a large segment of your audience, based on the data you’ve collected from user research and web analytics.

It gives you insight into what your prospective customers are thinking and doing as they weigh potential options that address the problem they want to solve. 

Adele Revella, founder of Buyer Persona Institute describes it like this:

“Actionable buyer personas reveal insights about your buyers’ decisions — the specific attitudes, concerns and criteria that drive prospective customers to choose you, your competitor or the status quo.”

Here’s what the final deliverable looks like:

customer-persona-example

Why are customer personas important?

Customer personas can provide tremendous value and insight to your organization. For example, they can help everyone on your team:

  • Develop a deeper understanding of customer needs and how to solve for them
  • Guide product development by creating features that help them achieve their desired outcomes
  • Prioritize which projects, campaigns, and initiatives to invest time and resources on
  • Create alignment across the organization and rally other teams around a customer-centric vision

And as a result, you’ll be better equipped to serve your customers and deliver a superior experience that keeps them coming back for more. But if you don’t nail down your personas, every aspect of your product development process, user experience, and marketing campaigns, will suffer.

A lot has been written about how to create customer personas. But wading through all the noise to find the best resources takes a long time. Here are the five best resources to help you create effective customer personas.

1. The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Marketing Personas

If you’ve never created a customer persona before, or if you need a quick refresher, I recommend starting with this guide from Buffer. You’ll get a high-level understanding of what customer personas are, why they’re important, and how to create them. While it doesn’t go into as much depth as some of the other resources below, it’s a great place to start learning.

2. How To Create Customer Personas With Actual, Real Life Data

This guide from ConversionXL makes the case that, in order to be effective, personas need to be based on data-driven research, rather than opinions and assumptions. This section from the book sums it up well:

“Patching together actionable information about your customers with gut feelings, good intentions and some duct tape is not a recipe for conversion success… The problem with many personas is that they are either based on irrelevant data, poorly sourced data, or no data at all.”

You’ll learn three ways to collect qualitative user feedback, and how to combine those insights with your web analytics data to get the complete picture of your customer’s behavior. You’ll learn that you need to use multiple sources of data to understand the motivations, attitudes, behaviors, and desired outcomes of your customers.

3. How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business

This guide from HubSpot gives you a step-by-step guide on how to conduct in-person customer interviews for your persona research. It goes into specific detail on how to set up your interviews, tips for recruiting interviewees, and exact questions you can ask during your interviews.

4. Personas: The Art and Science of Understanding the Person Behind the Visit

Although the introduction of this guide from Moz initially makes it sound like it’s only for marketers, it’s equally applicable to any UX designer or Product Manager who wants to create a persona. This guide gets really specific about how to collect:

  • Qualitative feedback — using customer interviews, focus groups, and ethnographic research
  • Quantitative research — using your web analytics, market segmentation tools, multiple choice surveys, and other internal data

It also explains the difference between segments, cohorts, and personas, and gives specific use cases for how you can implement personas into your organization.

5. How to Avoid 4 Buyer Persona Mistakes

This guide from Content Marketing Institute will teach you the four most common traps people fall into when creating their customer personas:

  • Making stuff up about customers
  • Getting sidetracked by irrelevant trivia
  • Developing too many personas
  • Conducting scripted Q&A interviews 

Although it was originally written for content marketers, the underlying principles apply to UX designers, Product Managers, and other marketers too.

Bonus resources:

If you’d like to learn more about how to create customer personas and use them to enhance your entire customer journey, check out these resources:

Final thoughts

Whether you’re a product manager, UX designer, or marketer, customer personas can help you develop a deeper understanding of:

  • Your customer’s needs
  • How to solve for them, and
  • Which features, campaigns, and initiatives to prioritize

But remember: your personas are only as good as the data-driven research that goes into them. They should be based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative data collected from multiple sources—not from the opinions and assumptions of your team.