How Marketers Create a Strong Persona

Jul 22, 2019

Because marketing strategy encourages an accurate grasp of the needs of the customer, the process of developing and expanding this understanding can be complex. One tool used is personas…creating descriptions of customers in specific segments. I asked Randy Frisch, CMO of content experience platform Uberflip, for his take on the challenges marketers face with creating personas.

Paul Talbot: When marketers work on creating personas, where are mistakes most likely to be made?

Randy Frisch: I’ll highlight mistakes my team has made in the past, which I believe are common among marketers. Many of us have a product or service and we believe it will empower a very specific buyer. We then assume as long as we set that power user as our ‘persona’ and market to them that they’ll have the authority to push their product or service forward.

If it was only that simple. The reality is that purchase decisions happen in buying groups. Gartner’s CEB division has pointed to the growth of this buyer group from 5.4 to 6.8, and last I read somewhere after their Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo, there are between 6-10 people who weigh into what we purchase.

This means we may need to develop marketing strategies from engagement to content that will appeal to many buyers, not just one.

Talbot: Classic marketing strategy relies on the accurate definition of target markets. Does the creation of personas mirror this task?

Frisch: There is a lot of crossover in this exercise with the key to success for both being research. The key is balancing the need for personalization when it comes to how we remain relevant to both the persona and the target market. When we deal with personas, we are trying to figure out how to capture the attention of the buyer and there are many nuances to account for in this challenge.

The same can be said on the need for relevance to your target market. Say you are a company selling to architectural engineers in a B2B sales cycle. Understanding what makes an architectural engineer tick is really about connecting with the persona so you can sell to their goals, targets, and ambitions.

Layering on the target market approach would be looking at what makes the engineer successful within the industry where they are trying to compete.

Think of it this way. That same buyer could jump in their career between a firm focused on commercial skyscrapers to one that does sports arenas. If our solution works for both target marketers, we need to be able to personalize for a combination of the persona (the architectural engineer) and the target market (skyscraper vs. arena) to maintain the relationship.

Talbot: To what extent are surveys useful in working on personas?

Frisch: Surveys are a tricky beast. They are often built in the same way as the interview questions delivered to an athlete after a big game. We deliver softball after softball. ‘How do you think you won tonight?’

That said, I tune in to watch these post-game interviews so I can confirm I know my theories are holding up. That to me is the story of a survey.

I think the way we get real responses from our customers and more general personas is getting on a call and chatting with them. Lately, my go-to question for some of our customers, who are generally demand, digital and content marketers, is to simply ask: ‘What’s your current go-to market strategy?’ This question gives them the opportunity to open up and talk about their goals and challenges.

Talbot: How many personas are too many?

Frisch: I believe it’s acceptable to have many personas, but the bigger question is how many of them should we develop and integrate marketing strategy for? As mentioned earlier, Gartner now anticipates 6-10 individuals in the buying committee.

Talbot: Does a persona change when a prospect becomes a client, and when a client becomes a repeat client?

Frisch: In these situations, the persona does not change but the way we speak to them might. As an example, at my own company, we move our focus to educate our buyers on other use cases once they’ve bought and how to leverage their voice as an advocate.

By Paul Talbot