You’re just seven steps away from awesome audience personas.

Buyer persona in creative design layoutA well-researched buyer persona is probably the single-greatest tool you can invest in for your marketing efforts.

Having a quick visual reference of your priority audiences’ behavior, needs, challenges, and goals will keep your entire team focused on who and what is important. It’s also a great tool to help onboard new team members, agency partners, and salespeople about the customers most important to your business.

If you’re new to creating personas, follow Two Rivers Marketing’s seven-step process for creating buyer personas:

1. Determine your goals: What are you trying to achieve?

2. Define your target audiences: Who will help you achieve it?

3. Identify existing research: What data exists? Is there an opportunity for new research?

4. Interview internal experts: What does your company think they know about these people?

5. Write proto-personas: Draft initial outlines based on data and internal interviews

6. Interview customers: Validate assumptions by interviewing real people

7. Revise and design: Finalize and create your audience personas

What is a persona?

A buyer persona is a visual snapshot of a customer or prospect you want to reach through your marketing efforts. A persona gives you a face, name, and user story to relate to. It helps humanize your work and should be the starting point for building long-term relationships with your customers.

Step 1: Determine your goals

Most of our clients create personas as part of a content strategy plan. When a brand embraces the idea of creating useful, relevant content to attract new users, improve customer experience, and build long-term value, it’s smart to have a really good understanding of the people you’re trying to connect with.

Spend some time with your goals and write down:

• What are your overall business and marketing goals?

• What do you want to accomplish with personas?

• What information and insights do you hope to gain?

• How will this information improve your marketing and sales efforts?

• How will you rollout the personas to everyone who needs to see and use them?

It can be tempting to stop at the first goal, but dig deeper and ask “Why?” questions. Write down your results. Let these guide your persona creation process.

Step 2: Define your audiences

This is the million-dollar question: What personas should I create? And the ever-popular follow-up: How many personas should I have?

Like most things in marketing, there’s no simple, one-size-fits-all approach. It really depends on those goals you just wrote down. Some of the most popular ways to define audiences have been by:

• Job titles — engineer, procurement department, veterinarian, C-suite

• Market/industry — oil and gas, landscaping, K-12 education, independent restaurant

• Purchase role — are they a decision-maker, influencer, product user, or budget approver?

• Buyer’s journey stage — from prospects who are unaware that you exist all the way through to loyal repeat customers

Some brands create buyer personas based on lost customers to better understand why they couldn’t make the sale. Others define their audience by their product or service needs. And some use entirely different criteria, like people who spend time researching versus those who don’t.

If the decisions feel overwhelming, keep that basic question top of mind: Who has the strongest potential to impact my goal in the most positive way? Another important question to consider: Do we have the means and channels to reach each of these personas in a way that can be tracked and measured by persona?

Step 3: Identify existing research

Once you’ve identified your goals and target audiences, start collecting any existing customer research. It may not all be useful, but reviewing survey results, focus group transcripts, segmentation research, etc. will help you begin to understand your audiences and what questions to ask.

Good audience insights could be found in:

• Surveys, focus group videos or transcripts, voice of customer interviews

• Customer relationship management (CRM) data

• Digital and social behavior metrics and reports

• Sales reports and sales data

Do your best. And don’t feel like you have to take it all into consideration. Look back at what you said you wanted to learn through the persona process and weed out unneeded data.

Don’t have any research? You’re not alone. Many companies don’t. Sometimes it’s easier to start with a blank slate. There’s also free research that can help you define your audience — many trade associations and publications publish survey results and reader research each year. These are great places to find stats about communication preferences and habits.

Step 4: Interview internal experts

Next it’s time to start capturing your institutional customer knowledge. Identify people who have close contact with your customers — whose job it is to understand customer needs — like the:

• Sales team

• Field team

• Product specialists

• Senior leadership

• Dealers/distributors

• Customer service team

Do not overlook customer service teams. They have direct contact with customers and insights into experiences with your brand or products that may have been repeated challenges across multiple customers. This could yield insights like common product misuse among customers that is causing bad reports. The problem could be rectified by publishing content that shares how a product should be used for correct results.

There’s another important reason to spend time on internal interviews: support for your buyer persona project. When you include other departments, it increases visibility and improves your odds that everyone will agree with and adopt the final personas. Plus, you’ll learn new ways that marketing can help other departments with their content needs. It’s a win-win!

Step 5: Write proto-personas

You have some good information to work with — now it’s time to look for common answers, find trends, and begin drawing some early conclusions about these audiences. Finalize your persona template with all the fields you want, and begin filling them in. Popular fields include:

• Name, title, purchase role

• Key characteristics

• Real customer quotes

• First-person narrative about a typical day at his/her job

• Job duties

• Goals

• Trusted resources/influences

• Priority initiatives/why he/she buys your product

• Success factors/how you can win his/her business

• Purchase decision criteria/key factors driving his/her purchase decisions

• Purchase behaviors by stages of the buyer’s journey

• Negative and positive perceptions about the brand/products

• Communication preferences/behaviors

• Top challenges/pain points

Proto-personas are your first draft that you’ll validate or disprove during the customer interviews. Experience has shown that most companies have a good understanding of their customers, but there are always surprises you’ll learn from the customer interviews.

Step 6: Interview customers

This is definitely the most important and beneficial part of the persona process. And, to be blunt, it’s often the most difficult. People are busy. Sales teams are reluctant to hand over customer contact information. Interviews are hard to schedule.

Here are a few tips we’ve learned from the hundreds of customer interviews we’ve done:

• Give them an incentive — branded merchandise is OK, but cash and gift cards are king. A good rule of thumb: $50 for every half-hour you want to talk to them.

• Be flexible and offer interview time slots after normal business hours, especially if you’re interviewing people in different time zones.

• Ideally, interview at least five people per persona, but don’t be bummed if you can only get three or four. It’s still better than what you started with!

• Create an interview guide so your team understands all the information you need. But trust in them to go off script — good interviewers always do.

• Record every interview and pay for transcription services. (Don’t forget to ask every single person for permission to record them.) We use Rev.com for transcription — it’s cheap, fast and billing is easy.

Step 7: Revise and design

Now it’s time to put it together. This can be the most daunting part of the persona process. You’ll find yourself surrounded by pages and pages of notes, research, and transcripts. Reread everything. Continue filling in your template. Get the team together to review insights and decide which are most important.

Look for commonalities that will appeal to a large number of customers. Agree on the biggest and most important insights for each persona. And don’t cheap out on the design. After all this hard work, you deserve a well-designed buyer persona.

And that’s it — seven steps to creating your own awesome buyer personas. Feel overwhelmed by the process? Take it one step at a time and give yourself a deadline for each step to keep it moving. Whether you do it yourself or hire an agency like Two Rivers Marketing to create your buyer personas, read the research, listen to your customers, and really understand their needs and challenges. The most valuable part of every persona project is the journey to create them.

About Keesia Wirt

Keesia, sr. content marketing strategist at Two Rivers Marketing, is a self-proclaimed content nerd. Her favorite tools include audience personas, crochet hooks, whisks, and duct tape. If you want to talk content, email her at keesiaw@2rm.com.