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What is a Persona and How Can It Help Small Businesses?

Learn how personas can help your small business improve its online marketing strategy

The internet provides a direct pathway to consumers that businesses of previous generations could only dream about, but how can you tell if your marketing ideas will actually work? The answer: audience research. There are countless services on the web, both free and paid, that give business owners access to all kinds of useful information. Most website building platforms have optional plug-ins that will capture traffic and consumer data when users connect to your web pages. Many of these platforms have intuitive interfaces that make it easy to review the collected information, empowering small businesses to compete with larger companies that spend thousands on their marketing teams. But what are you supposed to do with all that data?

What is a persona?

According to Usability.gov, a persona is “a reliable and realistic representation of your key audience segments used for reference.” In essence, they are fictional characters created through user research and web analytics that represent your primary and secondary customer bases. Rather than relying on guesswork, digital marketers aggregate massive amounts of data into accurate user profiles that reflect the type of consumer most likely to engage with your website, connect with your brand, and purchase your products/services.

From a sales perspective, your most important user groups are those who want or need what your business has to offer. The goal of these profiles is to describe real people as meticulously as possible, including basic demographic info, personal backgrounds, and even their goals or values. These data points help to give marketers a clearer picture about their customers’ major needs and expectations, which can streamline the development of personalized content and advertisements. Some important information included in personas include:

  • Age, gender, ethnicity, economic status, and level of education
  • Job titles and work-related responsibilities
  • Physical, social, and technological characteristics
  • Personal goals and tasks your product can help them achieve
  • Quotes that solidify their personality traits
  • A fictional name and casual photograph

The trick is to make your persona(s) as lifelike you can, the more realistic the better. Remember, customers are people. And people are complicated. Creating a vague or poorly realized persona will only hurt your chances of forming meaningful connections with your target audience.

4 Tips for Developing Accurate Personas

One of the major benefits of personas is that they’re incredibly inexpensive, requiring little more than your time and attention. Persona development is often a starting place for new marketing campaigns or website redesigns, as they can help focus your efforts on specific user groups and highlight sales opportunities you may have missed. If you’re interested in developing a persona for your small business, consider these helpful tips:

1. Use online research tools

While many of the industry-leading research tools are locked behind paywalls, there are plenty of free alternatives that provide comprehensive user data for all your persona development needs. The most important factor for the info-gathering phase is to ask the right questions, as the sheer volume of data you can find may be overwhelming. Before you start collecting information, create a detailed list of questions that will focus your research on the specific goals you’re trying to accomplish, such as:

  • Who are your customers and why are they using your product/service?
  • What common online behaviors do your customers exhibit?
  • What assumptions and expectations do they have regarding your brand?
  • How do they engage with your content? Social media? Mobile phones?

These questions will narrow the scope of your research and strip away information that may be less relevant to your personas. The best free resources for answering these questions are Google Analytics, Google Trends, and Facebook Audience Insights. These demographic research tools will help you gather essential user data and discover valuable information about your target audience.

2. Conduct customer interviews

Audience research is undoubtedly useful, but the best way to connect with your customer base is to engage them on a person-to-person basis. This direct method of user research can help you humanize the personas you create, allowing for the development of more intuitive consumer profiles. The process for conducting customer interviews is similar to using online research tools, so be sure to create a list of targeted questions before you get started.

If you’re not in a position to administer in-person interviews, consider making use of online survey platforms like SurveyMonkey and Mailchimp. You can also check out customer reviews on popular websites like Amazon, Angie’s List, and the Better Business Bureau. While the intensity of these reviews tend to vary, many customers provide a good deal of context in their responses.

3. Create more than one persona

Depending on the particulars of your business, you may want to create multiple personas to capture the full breadth of your customer base. Products and services with wide appeal make it difficult to distill your research into a single user group, though the needs of your largest consumer population should take precedence. Creating a persona for niche products is usually easier, as they allow you to develop specialized profiles without the risk of leaving out a significant portion of your audience.

If you are planning to create several personas, make sure each is distinct from the others. Too much overlap in basic demographics or personality traits can unbalance your overall marketing strategy, so it’s best to find creative ways of tailoring each profile. Even if your small business mainly interacts with a niche audience, developing several personas may help you notice something you would have otherwise missed.

4. Check for accuracy after each marketing campaign

The truth is, personas are never truly complete. If anything is certain, it’s that customer preferences change over time and in response to their shifting needs and desires. An effective persona can become obsolete overnight (under the right conditions) so it’s important for business owners to check the accuracy of their consumer profiles after each marketing campaign. Adjusting your personas may be as easy as tweaking a few demographic details, or it may require a complete overhaul. Remember, these fictional representations are static, but your customers are complex and dynamic. Online marketing relies on your ability to check the pulse of your users and course-correct as necessary.

If you’re looking to build accurate and realistic personas, Interactive Palette can work with you to uncover the unique characteristics that make your customers who they are. We offer personalized content development solutions that can provide actionable insights into your target audience and keep your marketing strategy on target.

Do you have questions about personas or content development? Feel free to shoot me an email at kmcnally@interactivepalette.com or check out our blog posts on the topic.