A comprehensive guide to develop your Customer Persona and zoom in on your market

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Often times business people, and marketers even more, think about customers in terms of segments: young entrepreneurs, mums at home, single professionals, you name it.

This can be useful to think broadly about who you're hoping to serve in the long run, but offers little value to plan and execute on your next move.

The person that you're hoping to serve with your product is much more than a bunch of demographics: they are a human being with problems, needs, goals, habits, that live and work in certain environments.

It's only when you truly understand that that you can hope to be effective at serving them well, which goes from reaching out to them to creating a great experience for them.

This is universally true, even in a B2B setting you don't sell to corporations, it's a human being that cuts you a check and that person will have his own agenda.

What is Persona development?

Persona development is a process to represent in a usable format that information I mentioned above.

When I first spoke to FC she was targeting anybody with an internet line which is the equivalent of targeting nobody as your offering will be lost in the noise.

Going through a Persona development exercise helped her bring clarity to her marketing and product development and dramatically increased the odds of her startup.

There are various ways to put together a Persona archetype, but the one FC and I used is borrowed from Luxr.

But my product can really be used by anybody!

I get it, FC told me the same, I told the same to my first startup mentor. And it's true, I can see how years from now, if she's successful, her product could be used by all sorts of people.

But not today.

Today she needs her first customer because without that she is never gonna get to next month, let alone years.

And likely the person that will want her product today is different than the one that will buy the product when she's an established brand on the market. This is the idea of early adopters that I've expanded upon in this other post and won't go into details here.

Persona sounds singular, do you always have only one?

Actually, most startups deal with more than one persona, often times at least two. In the case of FC she's looking at a marketplace so at minimum she has a buyer and a seller. Now those might be the same persona, but also not, think of Amazon Vs Ebay: on Ebay sellers can be buyers too, on Amazon most sellers aren't buyers and the way being a reseller on Amazon works is different than selling something on Ebay.

In the case of a B2B product, for example an IT management system like I used to build, the persons that's cutting the check is the CFO, but they have no clue about IT management so it will likely be the CTO to make the call. The user however is the sysadmin, not the CTO, and he's gonna have a completely different outlook on your product.

Depending on the business, you can have as many as 5 personas:

  1. decision maker - whoever decides to buy your product
  2. economic buyer - the one with the money that will cut you the check
  3. recommenders - which can be the decision maker herself or other peers
  4. influencers - generally known figures in the industry your customer is in
  5. end users - those that actually will use the product day in day out

This is often easier to picture if you're working in B2B with larger corporations, but it's actually true for B2C as well, just think about your friends or husband/wife, especially in the case of a family product the decision maker can often not be the economic buyer.

Customers Vs users

One special case of a multiple persona scenario that's worth highlighting is the one that's actually the cause of many startups' failure: they have users, not customers.

A customer is someone that pays you, a user just uses your product. Any product hoping to make money from advertising falls in this bucket with the people using the product being the users and the marketers being the customers.

In a case like this you have at minimum two personas and failing to be clear about it will kill your business. Furthermore once you have the two persons with stated needs & goals it should also be more obvious how the two are potentially in conflict, a problem you'll have to deal with.

Your Persona is still a hypothesis to test

As much as you want to use all available information and develop a Persona that you're likely to be able to meet somewhere (or possibly even know already), it still remains an hypothesis to test.

The most important thing you'll have to test for is obviously their needs and goals, which must be alined with your product offering, but you may also find that the demographics you put down were incorrect or that the person doesn't engage in the behaviors you thought they would.

Some of them you will have to specifically test for, others will just be side-effects of more important experiments, but it's crucial that you treat what you wrote as a living document that you need to update based on the outcomes of your experiments.

Luxr's Persona Development Framework

There are several frameworks to develop a persona and while most are very similar we all have our preferences and I happen to favor Luxr's model.

This is what it'll look like in the end:

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As you can see there are four sections to it:

  1. Give it a face
  2. Demographics
  3. Behaviors
  4. Needs & Goals

The goal is to have a visual and contextual (to the problem you solve) representation of your customer, an idea of what that person may look like, what things they engage with and what they are looking for (again in the context of the market you're in).

Lets do an example on paper

You can do this in any way you want and later I will show you a couple of alternatives working on a wall or digitally with Google docs, but I find paper to be the best compromise to quickly iterate over some ideas.

1. Preparing for the exercise

The base for the exercise is really simple, just copy from image below:

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As far as filling the quadrants goes, you can think about stuff in your head and write it down into the boxes, but experience suggests that it leads to poor results.

A much better method is to apply a technique called dump & sort.

This approach separates the creative phase from the analytic phase allowing you to go deeper and generate much richer insights.

2. Give it a face

This box is all about visualizing your customer. There are four components to this:

  1. a name
  2. a face
  3. a place
  4. a bubble speech

The face really means a face and a body, potentially clothing, accessories and gadgets. The idea if that if your persona walks by you will instantly recognize her.

The name is another detail to render the persona more real and remind you that you are dealing with a human being and not a market segment.

The place helps you give the whole thing a context, generally it's the location/setting where your persona will be using your product.

The bubble speech is the finishing touch, externalizing the problem you're trying to solve.

By the time you're done your persona archetype should totally pop out, you should feel like you know this person and could find a way to meet her tomorrow if you wished so.

As we move to the next quadrants keep referring to this drawing as you fill them in. Again, it's crucial that you keep in mind we're talking about this person you just drawn and named, not some faceless, nameless manikin.

3. Facts

Think of facts as added information to identify your customer. They often take the form of demographics, but feel free to add other relevant pieces of information. Classic examples are age, yearly income, where they live, marital status etc. This may be more important for some products than others.

For example if your service is very expensive, lower income individuals might not be customers, especially early adopters. If you are targeting certain locations instead, where they live or work may be of particular relevance.

4. Behaviors

As the name suggests, this box is all about behaviors your persona engages with. These should be written starting with an active verb and should be actions that you can observe.

For example, she likes to read is not a valid behavior. Rather write that as she reads a book while sitting at the park on sundays.

One very important thing to point out about behaviors is that they will often map to channels you can use to reach your customers. For example in the case above it's obvious you should be able to find your persona in a park on sunday mornings holding a book and reading.

5. Needs & Goals

In the context of your problem space, what does your persona want to accomplish? what does she need?

It's important to avoid to be too generic and put things in here that anybody would want and a lot of products would provide like more money or more time.

Working on a wall

When we started with the example above I said paper was the best compromise. The actual best way to work in my experience, alone but especially with a team, is on a wall with post-its and sharpies.

The is the best approach because it gives you space to add, remove and move things around and fits perfectly with the dump & sort method we talked about.

You can either work on a wall by making the cross with duct tape or on a big whiteboard drawing the template like you did on paper.

It will look something like this:

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An example on Google Docs

If you happen to be in a remote team, or need to go digital, that's fine as well and you don't need more than Google docs.

Here's a template you can use, but otherwise it's just a cross with 3 titles that you can quickly put together in Google draw to your liking.

Once you've gone digital you may as well, one thing you may do here is to actually find an image rather than do a drawing, this can make it even more real.

Free online workshop and Persona review

Would you like a free online workshop and build your archetype together?

I've done my best to explain the process I follow in my workshops, but I realize that sometimes written instructions aren't enough so I'm making myself available during the next two weeks for an online session if enough people sign up.

If you'd like to participate leave your name and email below and I'll get in touch when quorum is reached with a date and place for the hangout.

The Hangout event page is here. You can watch the past events on my YouTube Channel.

If you would like a free 1:1 session to help you build your persona or get feedback on what you already have just book a call below.

It's as easy as picking a time that works for you and it won't cost you anything.



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