The previous three articles in this series covered three of the four elements of defining a market niche:
- Your industry
- Your company
- Your product/service
This article covers the final element: your customers.
Discovering and defining your ideal customer is important. In his book Customer Pillars, Curt Clinkinbeard writes, “No company—not McDonald’s, not Microsoft, not Disney—sells to everyone. Narrowing the scope, defining the customer, and developing intelligent strategies which cater to your customers’ specific, individual needs can’t happen if your target is ‘everyone.’”
Since you can’t succeed in business by trying to sell to everyone, developing a customer profile helps you answer the question, “Who is my product really for?”
In this article, you will learn the What, Why, and How of creating buyer personas, also known as customer personas or customer profiles. When I use the word customer, in most cases, it also includes your prospective customers, the ones you are trying to reach.
What is a customer persona?
If you have an established business, you likely relate to many different customers every week. Each one has their unique background, circumstances, needs, and desires. Of course, each one is a living soul that is special to God.
As you develop your marketing, it is difficult to get a good grasp on all these different customers and how you can best connect with them. A customer persona simplifies this problem for you by allowing you to focus on a single “person” who represents all the other similar customers.
Your business may have only one or several personas that it serves. Take for example a sandwich vendor in a farmers market. Several possible personas could be:
- Shopping moms with children
- Business people
- Retired couples
A customer persona is a tool that you create by distilling the essence of your best customers into a single description of an imaginary customer. This customer profile does not describe just any customer, but your ideal customer, the ones whom you can serve the best and are the best fit for what you offer.
If I would ask you to describe the first type of customer that came to your mind as I listed various vocations, we’d probably have some great persona types immediately. What kind of customer comes to your mind if I say, “Organic, high-end, outdoor food market”? What about this one, “Local, small-town, hardware store”? With a bit of imagination, we would soon be nodding in agreement over the type of people who would be shopping at these places. Doing this with your team would be a fun activity.
In her book Buyer Personas, author Adele Revella says, “In the simplest terms, buyer personas are examples or archetypes of real buyers that allow marketers to craft strategies to promote products and services to the people who might buy them.”
To be the most effective, your customer persona should be based on your real-life observations and interactions with your customers and may include interviews or surveys. Hubspot, which makes marketing software, gives this definition: “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.”
Why create customer personas?
You are probably already thinking about how a customer persona could help you in your marketing. Just the process of developing customer personas causes us to research and think more deeply about our customers, which may yield new insights into their motivation, behavior, and underlying problems. Research is an invaluable tool when it comes to understanding your business’s market. We plan to take a deep dive into “research” in next month’s article.
- Developing accurate personas helps us know who to market to (and who not to market to).
- Personas help us understand and remember how our customers/prospects live, how they think, and the challenges they face.
- Personas help us create better solutions for our customers’ needs.
- Personas help us communicate better with customers because we truly understand their frustrations and motivations.
Don was frustrated with the lack of traffic through his woodworking shop after two years of business. He was trying hard to have a “little bit of something for everyone” on hand. Top-of-the-line bedroom suites for couples. Intricately designed spoons for homemakers. Heavy-duty toy barns with complimentary animals for little boys. Only once a young couple complained about his lack of options for bedroom furniture did he realize what he was doing wrong. Those types of folks were his best customers. But, in the process of trying to make everyone else happy too, he didn’t have time to offer his furniture customers the options they really wanted. As he weeded out the “extras” and began to focus solely on bedroom suites, his business began to thrive.
Focusing on select, ideal customers simplifies the business. It also clarifies how to best develop processes and products that give high value to your buyers.
How do I create customer personas?
Start the process by thinking of the main categories that your customers fall into. Some businesses may only have one, but others may have three or more. Start simple by limiting yourself to the three most important categories of customers. Create a persona for each category. If you have both wholesale and retails sales, you will need to create a separate persona for each.
Following is a sample persona for a fictional company that produces high-quality wooden toys. You may use this framework to develop your own personas and adapt as needed. For example, if you serve customers within a specific geographical area or a particular age group, that fact should be reflected in your persona.
Name: Choose a name that characterizes this group of people.
Background: Education, Job, Family, Experiences
Grew up in rural America, raised 1-4 children, retired from a middle-income job
Demographics: Age, Gender, Income, Location
65 years and up, $65,000 family income, rural residence
Psychographics: Values, Preferences, Motivations
Has grandchildren, children and grandchildren are very important, has old-fashioned values, concerned about negative effects of digital entertainment.
Goals: Primary, Secondary
Be a loving grandma, give good memories to grandchildren.
Problems/Challenges: Primary, Secondary
Hard to choose gifts that she feels good about for the grandchildren
Common Objections: Reasons they don’t buy
Fears grandchildren won’t like the toy since it doesn’t have a superhero theme. Price. Seems too boring.
Unique Values We Provide: Reasons they should buy
Old-fashioned play, long-lasting value
This fictional company has three personas:
- Grandma Jones, representing older buyers whose nostalgia for the old days makes them receptive to buying wooden toys.
- Charlie Child, a young boy representing the children who play with the toys.
- Daycare Diane, a daycare manager who needs safe, high-quality toys that enhance childhood development.
Here’s the first step to creating a persona for your business. Choose a real customer that represents a group of customers with about 80% accuracy. Write out their characteristics in all the categories. Then consider other people in the group. What additional characteristics, desires, or beliefs do they have that are shared by 80% or more of this group? Revise your persona until you have created a fictional character that is a general representation of this group.
Market research is necessary to understand your customers. In the book Tuned In: Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities that Lead to Business Breakthroughs, the authors identify guessing and assuming as common mistakes that cause products to fail:
“Guessing—Assuming company insiders know more than buyers about what they want to buy.”
“Assuming—Basing products and services on what current customers request rather than on an understanding of unsolved problems that other people will pay money to fix.”
The most important part of the persona is accurately identifying the customer’s true problems/challenges. This can be difficult because there are both stated needs and silent needs.
Stated needs are the ones your customers tell you about: The handle is too short. I wish you would have a live person answer the phone. It takes too long to place an order.
Silent needs are needs that people don’t tell you about. They may not even be aware they have a problem. No one knew they needed a smartphone until Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone in 2007.
Hard and soft needs (discussed in the previous article in this series) also come into play here. From our example persona, Grandma Jones’ hard need is a birthday gift for her grandson. Her soft need is to be respected and loved for her gift or to be a loving grandma who is a blessing to her grandchildren.
How do I use a persona?
Congratulations! You’ve completed your first ever customer persona. Now what? Since a customer profile is a tool to help you identify and understand your target customers, the next step is to put your persona to work. Consult your newly-created customer profiles to help guide your marketing decisions.
- Create marketing messages directed to each persona.
- Use language they understand.
- Focus on their particular issues.
- Use images that relate to them.
- Advertise in outlets where you can reach particular personas.
- Create customer experiences fitting for each persona.
- Make offers that resonate with each persona.
A buyer persona is exclusive—that is, it excludes people who don’t fit the profile of an ideal customer. It helps remind you to focus your marketing and product development on your ideal customers. As hard as it may be for us to recognize, our product is not for everyone.
For example, instead of targeting all consumers in the surrounding area, an upscale grocery store may market only to those interested in and able to afford gourmet or organic foods. One construction company might build high-end new homes while another focuses on affordable houses. Each of these companies will focus their marketing on a particular type of customer while excluding others.
Discussing his views of American foreign policy before he was elected president, George W. Bush said that “we can’t be all things to all people.” This concept applies to our businesses too. We don’t make something for everyone—we make it for our ideal customer.
In This Is Marketing, Seth Godin writes, “When we seek to serve the largest possible audience, that audience will turn us down.” Your business will not succeed unless you reach the right people. IKEA, which sells ready-to-assemble furniture that comes in a box, sells to one kind of customer. Your local Amish furniture maker, while also making furniture, sells to another type of customer. While we could say they both make the same thing, IKEA and the local craftsmen are actually selling something quite different to different kinds of customers who have a different set of values.
Trying to sell your products to someone who is not your ideal customer is wasteful. It wastes your time and money. When someone buys from you who does not fit your ideal customer profile, they are more likely to be dissatisfied with your product or service, because you didn’t create it for them in the first place. They may return the product or give your business negative reviews.
Aligning your product with your ideal customer is a rewarding experience. You find fulfillment in helping customers who, in turn, find satisfaction and joy in your product or service because it meets a need in their life or makes them feel how they want to feel.