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The Quick Guide to Developing Customer Personas

Adria Saracino
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market-research-word-cloudBy now most marketers have heard the word "personas" buzzing around the industry and how we need to know our audience. However, there is less discussion about how to actually go about conducting persona research.

In order to develop successful persona profiles, you need to know where to get the information and the right questions to ask.

If you want to create detailed customer personas, then you'll need to gather the following information about your customers' behavior.

Where to Get Persona Information

Before diving into what specifically to ask, you need to know where to gather the information. Just like all good research, you want to gather a statistically significant amount of data directly from the source – your customers.

When developing personas, consider taking the following steps:

Analyze Your Analytics

One of the easiest ways to seed information related to your audience is to look through your analytics account. It can provide information on the most visited pages, where your customers are converting, and how they got there. Knowing the keywords used to find your site and whether the page they landed on provided the information (bounce rate), you can learn more about your existing and potential customers purchasing path.

This is a good article describing the type of story you can paint using Analytics' insights. Warning, it's an oldie but a goodie.

Survey Your Existing Audience

If you have a customer email list, use it. The bigger the better, as the response rate for surveys tends to be low. However, given the proper incentive (think gift cards, money, etc.) you can usually expect at least a percentage of your customers to respond. The key is to make your survey easy to understand and relatively short.

While you should email a survey regardless of how many customers are on your list, a healthy pool would include 2,000 to 5,000 recipients so even if there is only a 10 percent response rate you have a significant number of results to analyze.

Interview Key Customers

Conducting a survey is a great way to recruit customers for a more thorough interview. Within your survey, ask if any of the participants would be interested in a follow-up interview, and make sure it is worth their while (a.k.a. more money, gift cards, etc.).

Plan to spend about 30 to 60 minutes interviewing these participants not only to gather more information about their survey but to also ask additional questions that will give you a better sense of their wants and needs.

It's impossible to say exactly how many interviews you will need to conduct because it will vary by business. However, plan to interview at least 5-10 at first and determine if you need more data after analyzing the quality of the interviews and survey results.

Recruit Additional Research Participants

The format of gathering information will be pretty standard regardless of the group, as surveys, interviews, and sometimes focus groups are the norm. However, there are some additional outlets you can utilize to recruit potential research participants.

  1. Turn to reviews: If your business tends to receive online reviews from customers, search the web to find both good andbad reviews. Reach out to these customers and ask them for an interview. The key is learning from the customers who had a poor experience because they will give you more insights into your business' weaknesses.
  2. Outsource to a difference audience: Consider using tools like Mechanical Turk to get a more unbiased sample of research participants. This is typically more helpful if you have a recognizable brand, but some tools may have options for seeding participants based on their experience with your business. There is also an option to get more creative than just interviews/surveys with these tools, such as leveraging heat maps or screen shares to see how these participants perform specific tasks.
  3. Conduct some outreach to find relevant participants: Sending out a few emails to recruit some potential interview or survey participants could also provide significant results. For example, if your customers could also potentially be bloggers, reach out to a few key influencers for more research. Use networks like HARO. Even social media groups could offer a jackpot of different opinions. Get creative and you may find new sources of information in the least expected placed.

What Information You Need to Gather

Once you know who to ask, the trick is to ask the right questions. Remember, you want to be able to determine without outright asking:

  • How much content they consume at different stages of the buying process.
  • How the format of content they consume changes throughout the buying process.
  • The driving factors and pain points that lead to purchasing decisions.
  • Who and what influences their purchasing decisions (sources of influence).
  • Their role in the decision-making process.
  • Most common objections to your product/services (the perceived barriers).
  • Where they go for information.

While the exact questions will vary depending on your niche. After gathering the appropriate data, you'll be able to create hypothetical customer profiles and be on your way to memorable persona stories for your company to embrace.

Image courtesy of Bigstock Photos


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