Why personas are important and how to develop them in just a few steps

If you want to sell something to a potential customer, you’re in a much better position to do so if the customer address, timing, channel and tonality are tailored perfectly to the person in question.
We’ve been working with personas for a while now – and quite successfully. So I was all the more stunned when I talked to a salesman the other day and he questioned the purpose of persona development. The reason for his skepticism was that his company caters to almost ten sectors, which means the decision-makers, influencers and users there are so different that he would have to develop at least 30 personas. Although we assured him that it would definitely be worth the effort because it would bring us closer to the people with whom we need to communicate, we just weren’t able to convince the salesman.

But is marketing with personas really more successful than simply describing target groups and market segments?

Yes, quite definitely. If you want to sell something to a potential customer, you’re in a much better position to do so if the customer address, timing, channel and tonality are tailored perfectly to the person in question. The level of detail increases as you go from market segmentation to the description of target groups to persona development. As an agency, the more we know about the target person’s wishes and preferences as well as his or her concrete goals and problems in the workplace, the better we can communicate with that person. And even more than that: We can put ourselves in the shoes of that person (who in reality lends a face to a whole group of people). On the way from potential customer to actual customer and buyer, we can provide the person with the right information via the right channels and specifically address his or her pain points. That applies to sales conversations and consultations as well as brochures, product descriptions, blog posts, videos or e-mails. Of course, this also means that you provide different personas with different content: In the past, one product brochure was supposed to cater to all target groups, but nowadays it’s possible to highlight different aspects of a product in different media to suit the persona you’re addressing. There’s a line in Goethe’s Faust that reads “You’ll give a piece, why then give it them in pieces! With such a stew you’re destined for success”. Accordingly, today’s recipe for success is to divide the available information up and provide the right piece of information to the right target person at the right time. But how do you develop a persona?

Step 1: Gather information

To develop personas, you first of all need as much information as possible about the company’s customers. Then you have to divide this information up into meaningful categories – a task that requires a fine feeling. What’s important is that you retrieve all relevant information. Besides the demography, this also includes data on likes and dislikes, hobbies and professional and personal needs. Which data is relevant depends on the company and its products or services. A chocolate factory would probably want to know in what situations the personas eat chocolate and how their shopping behavior in the supermarket differs. A mechanical engineering company, on the other hand, will want to know which media the personas use for professional development and what their day-to-day challenges in the workplace look like. It may also be interesting to have the kind of information you’d find in a psychological profile: Is the person temperamental or more reserved? Conservative or modern? Creative or pragmatic?
All of this data can be collected in two ways: through well-prepared interviews with as many customers as possible (professional persona) or using the experience already gathered by all departments (speculative persona). The first option takes more effort, but the results come much closer to reality. In general, speculative persona descriptions are never entirely free of the company’s internal take on the target group, a current product or the current corporate objectives. But even a speculative persona description can already lead to the development of target group-appropriate content.

Step 2: Categorize the information

Let’s assume you’ve gathered all the data you need. Then you have to put the various kinds of personal data into meaningful categories. A common initial categorization is by age, since you will later assign an age to the individual personas. Start categorizing in steps of 20 years and then see whether this categorization is too broad or already too narrow. After that, you can start taking a closer look at the function: Which occupational groups tend to be users, who are the decision-makers, who influences the decisions through professional expertise and so on. Step by step, this approach will take you closer to a meaningful categorization. You will soon realize that not all persons in a cluster have given the same answers to the questions. Careful judgment is needed here: If the answers to a question contain several pieces of information that are roughly equal, it can be helpful to include them all. But sometimes weighing the information can help give the persona a better profile. The concrete categorization process is strongly dependent on the objective, the company and the target persons. It’s possible, for example, that a globally active company will first have to make regional classifications that don’t necessarily correspond with national borders. In contrast, a local handicraft firm will be able to come up with the 2-3 personas that are decisive for its business relatively quickly.

Step 3: Create the personas

Finally, the various clusters you have formed become concrete personas. That means:
• You give your persona a name (one that is as authentic as possible please, since names also help us classify people and their attitudes)
• You assign a photo to the persona (again: make sure you choose the most suitable photo from a stock photo provider)
• You fill in the information fields defined earlier on (profession, demography, lifestyle, quality expectations, day-to-day challenges in the workplace, information channels used, etc.)
Perhaps you’d also like to add a motto or guiding principle in life that could be helpful in classifying the persona.

Now the actual work begins

Once you have created the personas, you need to review the available information to find out which persona to address during which stage of the customer journey. It’s possible that you will switch from one medium to several in order to cater to the different personas and their reading and information gathering habits. All future marketing activities will naturally be coordinated with these new imaginary colleagues in advance, so that you can address your customers with even greater accuracy.
By the way: We have also developed personas ourselves. Would you like to know the name of the persona that best matches you? Then write to us or send us a message via Facebook Messenger. We’d be happy to create personas for your corporate goals with you!

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  • 21. September 2018
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