Personas, Part Two: How to Create a Persona

In the first part of this blog, we talked about the value personas provide for our marketing and product teams. Now, let’s take a look at how to create them.

Strong buyer personas are created through the amalgamation of different sources, particularly from insights of your target audience. 

Creating a persona involves:

  • Collecting preliminary data through market research
  • Interviewing the target audience. 
  • Using this preliminary data to form the scaffolding—a hypothesis.
  • Interviewing the target audience (again), expanding the sample set and validating the hypothesis.
  • Synthesizing research and noticing common patterns, paying attention to outliers—they could be anomalies or idiosyncrasies of a subset of your audience.
  • Personifying these data points into a digestible format and sharing it with the broader team, defining where and how they will be used.
  • Updating personas with adjustments.

Where to Find Answers

Data can and should come from a variety of sources. When collecting data, ensure that the sample set is broad and varied. Constructing personas from skewed data will inevitably create a skewed persona. Garbage in, garbage out. 

Candidates for interviewees can come from the following pools:

  1. Existing customers. Your existing customer base—if one exists already—is a great place to start. There’s bound to be data on them, there’s less friction to reach out, and they likely will resemble your ideal persona. After all, they voted for your product with their money. 
  2. Prospects. Data, in conjunction with real interviews, can help indicate what types of individuals are most receptive to your product. You can also shadow sales calls and understand the requirements of prospective customers. Great interviewees are prospects you’ve lost. You can find out what are non-negotiable requirements and why your product didn’t meet their buying criteria.
  3. Your network. Interviewees are all around you. In a B2C (business-to-consumer) context, potential interviewees can be friends, family, and others in your personal network. In a B2B (business-to-business) context, look through your professional contacts and around your workplace. If crafting a software developer persona, for example, start at your company: reach out to and interview peers in the engineering department at your job.

Collecting this data isn’t limited to solely constructing personas. You can discover unmet needs in current product lines, new areas for product expansion, and threats in the competitive landscape. This sets the stage for product marketing’s true role in a company: incorporating the voice of the customer in defining a product and going to market. Incorporating their voices starts with listening.

Questions to Consider 

Many of the following questions are intentionally broad. During this step, the goal is to collect as much unfiltered data as possible. Unfiltered also means unguarded. Clarify to your interviewee that this isn’t a sales call. Doing so will encourage a more honest, open, and likely, a less brusque conversation. The following questions are divided categorically and meant to guide your conversation:

Role

  1. What is your job title? What is your role?
  2. How is your job measured?
  3. What does a typical day look like?
  4. What does a great day look like? 

Background

  1. Describe your personal demographics.
  2. Describe your career path. 

Knowledge

  1. Where do you learn new skills for your job?
  2. What websites or blogs do you read?
  3. What associations and social networks are you engaged in?

Challenges

  1. How do you know if you’re succeeding in your role?
  2. How do you prioritize your (typical) day?
  3. What are your biggest challenges?
  4. What really frustrates you in the process of how you develop/[do x] now? What would you change about your day?

Desires

  1. What’s your favorite product [in this domain] and why? (Look for attributes they appreciate in a peripheral domain.)
  2. Describe a recent purchase. What problem were you trying to solve, what was your purchase evaluation process, and how did you decide to purchase that product or service?

These questions are starting points. Often, probing deeper into an answer helps you discover underlying pain points and helps capture unarticulated needs. 

For example, when I interviewed developers, the general answer to “what does a great day look like was unhelpful and obvious. “When I can come to my desk with things planned to do and you execute them all,” was the response I got from developers. Stopping there would have rendered this exercise ineffective. The answer is far too generic. By probing deeper and asking why, I was able to notice tangible and specific pain points, including the need for clear documentation, consideration for scalable design, and the need for the availability of infrastructure resources. These guiding questions help set the guardrails on what. It’s up to you to push for understanding why.

Syndication and Personification

Once you’ve interviewed and surveyed your customers, prospects, and churned customers, it’s time to distill the personas into a digestible format. A slide deck that’s hosted on a central resource works well—the simpler the tool the better. The focus should be on making it easy for your colleagues to reference and incorporate your insights into decision making on product strategy, marketing campaigns, and many other elements in taking a product to market.

Personas should include:

  • A brief summary of who they are. Sum up their psychographics and demographics in a few lines. What do they do and what drives them? Example: Jack leads the DevOps team in an enterprise business unit. His great days are when things are running smoothly—no emergencies, no escalations, or one-off requests. The mantra for Jack is to eliminate toil and automate processes in a reusable, scalable way. 
  • Common job titles. Who specifically are you targeting during marketing campaigns? Example: DevOps Manager.
  • Demographics. Example: Male, 35-45 years old. Jack has a technical background and dabbled with Python, PowerShell, and Linux.
  • Roles and responsibilities. Example: In charge of designing, building, and optimizing the business’s data infrastructure operations. 
  • How their success is measured. Example: Meeting internal service level agreements (SLAs) for reliability, availability, and performance.
  • Their role in the decision-making process. What is their decision-making clout—how do they influence the purchase decision? Are they the technical decision maker? 
  • Their challenges, frustrations, and pain points. What are they frustrated about in their situation or with their current solution? What are their criteria for buying their next solution?
  • What motivates them to buy your product or a product like yours. What are their purchase triggers?
  • Quotes from actual interviews. A defining quote from one of your interviews that captures the essence of the persona.
  • What they love—or hate—about your product. If they’re an existing or a churned customer, how does your product solve (or fail to solve) their problem?
  • The content they consume and their influencers. What avenues do they go to for information on solutions to their problems in this domain? Who are the individuals that typically influence their decisions? Example: The blogs they read.
  • A memorable name, title, and photo that captures the essence of the persona. Example: “Jack, the efficiency master.”

Jenny: An Example

Here’s a persona at work. To investigate the viability of a new product that tracks the carbon footprint of everyday purchases, you frame a hypothesis around the type of individual that may use it and decide to expand and validate that assumption by interviewing a number of individuals. The result might look like the following persona: Jenny.

Jenny James | The Green Hero
Jenny is a young, passionate individual striving to reduce her impact on
the planet. She is conscious of her carbon footprint and waste generated.

She has a challenge in tracking her actions and seeing if she needs to change anything. 

Her typical week’s climate-intensive activities typically include taking a
short round-trip flight for work, eating 6x at a vegan restaurant, and
buying a new article of clothing.
    Personal Background

– Field Marketing Manager
– 24 years old
– An avid user of her smartphone (4+ hours per day)
    Goals

– Reduce her carbon footprint
– Inspire her family and friends to reduce their impact  
    Challenges

– She travels and consumes quite a bit—there’s no way to track all the
activities in her life.
– There’s no way to connect with others and benchmark her footprint
with that of others
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