The Beginner’s Guide to Creating Marketing Personas

Do you know who your customer really is?

Jen Clinehens
Jun 11 · 8 min read

“Personas are often met with opposition because they’re a lot of work to assemble, and once assembled they are living, evolving things and must be maintained.

Like people, buyer personas change over time with the market, the times, the ebbs and flows of products and services.

They absolutely require work, but they are entirely worth it.

— MarketingProfs.com

Photo by Jimmy Fermin on Unsplash

This article is adopted from my bestselling book, “Creating a CX That Sings: An introduction to Customer Journey Mapping for Marketers. You can check it out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon (affiliate link) or on Google Play.

Do you know who your customer is?

Personas are invaluable in crafting marketing and sales communications, customer journey maps, and understanding how to prioritize your budget.

They help you understand who your customer is, what they care about, and how to talk to them. Even better, they make your marketing more effective, and your sales cycles shorter.

What’s a Persona?

Personas bring your customers to life through both demographic and psychographic details.

Based on research and data from your existing customers, a persona is a mental shortcut that represents an important segment of your buyers.

Personas bring your customers to life

Customer focus during persona development is crucial. You’ll need to listen to what the data says about their lives, beliefs, and actions.

Avoid cherry-picking to support pre-existing assumptions about your customer.

Don’t let your own bias blind you from the truth about who your customers are.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Key Elements of a Marketing Persona

  • Photo: A photo that represents your persona is a key visual tool. It can be tempting to grab the first stock photo you find that’s a general match for your core customer, but that’s not ideal.

A better representation is a real-life picture from first-person research. It’s more relatable, and it’ll help you step out of the echo chamber that too many businesses find themselves in.

  • Name: It’s a simple as “Jill” or “The Haverford Family.” Naming your persona is a small detail that will bring them to life. It’ll also make it easier to reference your customer when discussing their journey.
  • Demographics: Factual information about your customer, like age, household income, location type, education, and family structure are all essential details.

They help you empathize with your persona’s day-to-day life and struggles.

Your customer isn’t spending all day thinking about their shopping experience with you, so don’t treat them as if they only come to life the moment they step through your doors.

Your customer isn’t spending all day thinking about their shopping experience with you, so don’t treat them as if they only come to life the moment they step through your doors.

  • Psychographics: These are the values, fears, attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria that define who your customer is, beyond the facts.

This might include hobbies, levels of mobile adoption, and computer literacy, where they get their news, other brands they love and where they go to get updates about the world around them. Psychographics help answer the question, “Why do they buy?”.

Psychographics help answer the question, “Why do my customers buy?”.

Don’t get caught up in minutiae here. The persona is part real and part fictionalized (even though the fictionalized piece is still based on data from real customers).

What makes a good Persona?

“Marketers sometimes make the mistake of gathering [persona] information that doesn’t really help them deliver more effective content or campaigns.

If your marketing team is debating whether your buyer persona is a man or a woman, or if you are bogged down finding just the right stock image of your persona, then you’re focusing on the wrong things.”

— Adele Revella, The Buyer Persona Institute

A good marketing persona makes it clear who your customer is, why they buy, and the areas of friction they face when dealing with your brand.

It also gives you insight into how to talk to them in ways and places that are relevant for them.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Great Personas Are Data-Driven

Although marketers are not generally known for empirical thinking, if you don’t take the time to dig through and rely on hard data, you’ll never to get to problems at scale.

This is where the “fictionalized” piece of your persona comes in. The problem is, your persona (let’s call her Sally) may start to become an avatar for yourself or someone you know.

So as a point of example, if Sally is a mom who visits Target for her weekly grocery shop, and there are 100 million moms that come into Target to do their weekly grocery shop, there’s going to be some different need states that drive them in*.

It could be that 60% of them are “value shoppers”, driven in because Target has everyday low prices.

20% of them could be “status shoppers” who go to Target because it’s perceived as “classier” than Walmart.

The remaining 20% could be “health-driven shoppers” who go to Target looking for the latest health brands and organic produce.

In that case, the Sally persona should take on the attributes of a “value shopper,””because she makes up the majority of the “Moms” segment.

*Fictional use case and numbers.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Where Do You Find the Data to Create Your Persona?

Make sure to include sales, analysts, finance, IT operations, and even front-line and support staff in your research. Anyone who interacts with your customer or their data is a key resource.

  • Social media, product reviews, and call center logs: This is where your customers give you honest opinions about your brand.

If there’s something you’re failing on or common roadblocks, they’ll become obvious through customer support channels.

  • Marketing research: Existing research is invaluable when designing your persona. But it’s not the only source for data. You’re better off combining several data and research sources to avoid cherry-picking or confirmation bias.

If you notice something in qualitative research, see if it’s supported at scale.

If it’s a one-off comment from a focus group participant that’s not found in the data, it may not be applicable to your final persona.

  • Online customer journeys: Analysis tools like Google Analytics and Adobe are great starting places if one of your key channels is online.

This isn’t always the case, as some industries may have digital touchpoints that aren’t often used by customers in their “most likely” journey.

But, depending on how robust your data is, you’ll find this is a key resource for other brands and sites your persona frequents.

  • Customer interviews, focus groups, and surveys: Who knows your customers better than they know themselves?

First-person research is a critical data source. In particular, interviews can help you test your hypotheses about your persona’s goals, values, needs, and pain points.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

3 Common Mistakes When Creating Marketing Personas

“Too often, [Personas] are nothing more than an attractive way to display obvious or demographic data.

Defining markets based on demographics — data such as a person’s age, income, marital status, and education — is the legacy of 60 years of selling to the mass market.”

— Adele Revella

As with any big research project, there’s a myriad of ways Personas can fall down. But there are a few common mistakes I over and over:

1. Being obvious and purely demographic. Go beyond the facts here. By bringing in unexpected insights and fleshing out your persona (without getting too detailed), will help bring them to life.

2. Focusing on your ideal customer and not your real customer. Don’t get caught up in who you think your ideal customer should be. When brands start to reject their core customer, it’s often the start of a slippery trip downhill.

Unless there is a broad, organization-wide reorientation of the business happening, don’t let your ego be bruised by a core persona that may be value-focused, older, or otherwise “uncool.” Not every brand can or should be hip, Millenial-obsessed, Instagram-driven companies.

3. Relying on your gut and not allowing the data to tell a story. I could write for hours about how marketing has become an industry that relies on “experts” far too much and data, education, and research far too little.

But for now, I’ll refer you to this Harvard Business Review article that explains it far better than I could.

Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash

10 Key Questions to Answer When Developing a Marketing Persona

  1. Is your persona single, married, or cohabitating?
  2. Do they have kids now? If so, how many and what ages? If not, are they planning on having kids soon?
  3. How old are they?
  4. What’s their income level?
  5. How much expendable income do they have to buy your product? Do they have to make trade-offs to be able to afford it?
  6. What are their five favorite sites, social networks, and brands?
  7. If they could describe your customer experience in three words, what would those words be?
  8. What kind of environment do they live in? Are they living with roommates, renting, or own their home?
  9. What responsibilities and recurring costs do they have? Pets, a car, a mortgage, going out every Saturday night with friends, pedicures, etc.?

When your Persona is complete, remember to refresh it

You’ll need to revisit this exercise from time to time.

Given the proliferation of touchpoints, changes in the economy and your business, a yearly gut check of your personas is needed.


Found this article useful? Check out my most popular articles below!

This article is adopted from my bestselling book, “Creating a CX That Sings: An introduction to Customer Journey Mapping for Marketers. You can check it out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon (affiliate link) or on Google Play.

Note: This article contains affiliate links. This means if you click a link and buy something, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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Jen Clinehens

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Writing at the intersection of marketing, design, science, and business. Head of CX at The Marketing Store, EU. Author, CX That Sings http://bit.ly/cxthatsings

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