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Understanding your audience: Creating online personas

For any business to be successful online, they must understand their audience. By this I mean, they must understand who their audience is and the challenges they face. This is where personas come in handy.

What is a persona?
The Buyer Persona Manifesto defines a persona as “an archetype, a composite picture of the real people who buy, or might buy, products like the ones you sell.” Put simply, they are fictional profiles created by you as a result of user research, that represent your ideal customer.

Persona Manifesto

To be clear, a persona is not the same as your target audience. A “target audience” considers demographic and geographic data such as gender, income, and location. A “persona” will take into consideration behavioral insight such as the problems your audience is trying to solve and the challenges they face.

To give an example, a website selling jewelry could have several different personas.  Their online personas could be:

  • Women shopping for themselves
  • Women shopping for a present
  • Men looking for presents for the women in their life.

Why do you need online personas?
There are several reasons why having clearly defined online personas are important.

1.  Greater understanding:  Creating online personas helps to define the needs, wants and desires of your prospect customers and ensures you and other people in your organization understand your audience better.

2.  Improved messaging: If you understand the needs, wants and the problems your audience faces you can then target messages specifically to them. This communication will be highly relevant and therefore will make your message much more powerful, which in turn should improve the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.

3.  Better insight:  Once you have defined the personas that make up your audience you can then do a deeper analysis into which of these personas make better customers with a higher lifetime value.

How are personas created?
Personas are created by conducting qualitative and quantitative research on your target audience. Sending surveys or doing in person interviews or observation studies will give you a better understanding of the needs and challenges facing your prospect customers. Although this kind of research can be extremely insightful it can also be expensive and time consuming.

A low cost way of finding out more about prospect customers is posting questions on Social Media. Alternatively, analyze how your competitors are speaking to their prospect customers. Beware though, making assumptions about your prospect customers based on your competitors’ communications can be dangerous as they may not have done any research themselves and therefore may not be communicating appropriately.

Analyzing data can also help with creating personas. Look at what types of marketing campaigns have resonated well with your audience and which drove the most conversions. Check to see which informational pages on your website are getting the most views so you can understand what prospects are interested in.


What does an online persona look like?
After you have conducted your research you can document your personas so you and other people in your organization can understand your audience better. These are main points to include in a persona:

  • Persona name: The name of the fictional profile you have created.
  • Background:  This may include either their personal or professional background or both. It can also include details about lifestyle, interests, hobbies and education.
  • Demographics:  Relevant information such as age range, gender, household income, urbanicity (e.g. urban/suburban/rural)
  • Key characteristics:  These are the key identifiers of this persona. For example, they could be mannerisms, specific words that characterize them or their actions or common traits.
  • Goals:  What are they hoping to achieve in order of priority.
  • Challenges: What do they have trouble with in order of priority. What specific points are getting in the way of these prospects achieving their goals above.
  • How we help: What do you offer as an organization that can help this prospect overcome their challenges and achieve their goals.
  • Quotes: Include actual quotes of your prospect customers from the interviews you have conducted that represent the persona.
  • Common objections:  Identify the most likely objection this persona will have within the sales process.
  • Marketing message:  How to communicate your product service to that particular type of prospect customer.

Once you have defined your online personas you will have a greater understanding of your audience. You will then be able to develop a marketing message that is more likely to resonate with them and improve the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.

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