Everything you need to know about personas, segmentation and fueling customer insights with data.
Many brands use personas and persona-inspired segments in conjunction with analytics to uncover trends in data and obtain actionable customer insights. Persona analytics allow brands to better understand their customers and determine their motivations and what drives their purchasing habits.
In this article, we’ll look at how brands use personas and persona-based segments along with data-driven analytic research for marketing, sales and promotions to improve the customer journey.
What Is a Persona?
Customer personas are fictional representations of a unique group of users who share common goals — typically segments within a brand’s target audience. Through data-driven analytics, brands can better understand the motivations behind the purchasing of their products and services. Most brands have several different personas reflecting the diverse group that interacts with their touchpoints.
Personas can be seen as archetypal users (i.e., a very typical example of a certain person) that are based upon qualitative data which is analyzed to obtain the attitudes, behaviors, actions and interests of a brand’s actual customers, combined with demographic details that provide a much clearer representation of the character.
There are a number of persona types out there, and it seems that no matter who you ask, nobody can agree on the specific number, largely because it depends on the brand, industry, who they sell to and many other factors. Persona types include, but are not limited to:
As far back as 2014, three to four personas typically accounted for over 90% of a brand’s sales, and even today, it’s generally recognized that three to eight personas are sufficient for most businesses. For instance, if two personas are similar in their goals and behaviors, only one is needed — brands must prioritize and eliminate redundancies discovered between user groups.
Companies can also use personas to deliver the personalization customers demand today. “In today’s age of hyper-competition, personalization has become a key differentiator for brands,” explained Adam Greco, product evangelist at Amplitude. “Customers expect brands to recognize them and provide relevant products, content and offers across all digital platforms,”
Through personalized recommendations, buyer personas help brands target customers who are much more likely to buy their product instead of wasting time and energy marketing to unqualified prospects.
There are many types of persona-builder templates and tools available, including Atlassian, Xtensio, HubSpot and the online persona-building tool UXPressia, which enables brands to use four preexisting persona types or define their own to differentiate between user, buyer and customer personas, as well as build customer journey and impact maps.
UXPressia uses personas itself to better understand its customers. “We also built a customer journey map for each persona to better understand their experience with our platform, their challenges along the way, the jobs they do with our help (or want to do), etc.,” said Iryna Kandrashova, head of marketing at UXPressia.
“Importantly,” Kandrashova continued, “we used behavioral segmentation to group our user base into personas. Marketing team updates landing pages and ads based on the information we know about personas’ needs and goals.”
Related Article: How and When to Use Email Segmentation and Personalization
What Are Persona-Inspired Segments?
Once brands have created their personas, they can create segments in their favorite analytics tool, such as GA4, Adobe Analytics or Mix Panel. Segments allow brands to analyze the ways customers (or prospects) use their website, eliminating or validating any assumptions made during the persona creation process.
Companies can make persona-based segments by determining which characteristics of the persona should be included in the segment filters. According to a report from HubSpot, marketing personas make websites 2 to 5 times more effective and easier to use by targeted users.
Persona-based segmentation is important because often, website analytics alone are not enough to provide actionable insights or the “why” behind consumer behavior, said Greco. “Vanity metrics like web visits, downloads and total users lack context, don’t provide clear intent and cannot guide action or learning.” Instead, brands must turn to persona-inspired segments and an event-based model.
Greco explained that event-based analytics “can track and analyze interactions between users and the product, segments or cohorts, can be built to personalize the customer experience. These cohorts can be based upon event behavior, attributes or navigation behavior.” Some companies also create more extensive cohorts by adding offline events and qualities to user profiles.
“Once created,” said Greco, “cohorts can be used to compare different groups of customers, and cohorts can be automatically sent to other systems for personalization or marketing efforts.”
The Difference Between Personas and Segments
While personas can be used with segments, they are not the same thing. Customer segmentation can be thought of as a marketing tool that identifies different groups of customers (or leads) within a market. Brands can then target specific products, services or marketing messages to these segments.
Companies can create segments based on traits such as age, income level, education level — but in and of themselves, they do not provide actionable insights. Instead, they provide a way to differentiate and group customers.
Conversely, personas are design tools that create empathy with a group of real customers. Although fictional characters, they’re based on a robust amount of data that comes from actual people. As such, they’re designed to represent a group with similar characters, values and behaviors. Personas combine demographic data with archetypal behaviors to provide actionable insights.
Although different, personas can be mapped to segmentations to represent key customer segments. “With persona-based behavioral analytics, brands can better understand what is influencing their customers at every stage of the customer journey,” said Greco, “and ultimately increase high-value metrics like retention, conversion and engagement. And these insights often pay off — according to McKinsey & Company, ‘organizations that leverage customer behavioral insights outperform peers by 85 percent in sales growth and more than 25% in gross margin.’”
Related Article: How To Turn Online Customer Behavior Into Actionable Insights
Why Research Should Feed Personas
Performing quality research can be a long, arduous journey, but the amount of time brands devote to the process will often determine whether the brand can achieve its goals. Doing the proper research facilitates a greater understanding of customer behavior and, combined with data analytics, allows a brand to obtain the insights that drive business results.
“We’ve been using personas for a number of years now to gain a better understanding of our customers and how we should target different customer segments,” said Sean Nguyen, director of Internet Advisor. “It has helped us to fine-tune our marketing and get much better results due to the way we place certain ads and who we specifically target with those ads.” Nguyen added that brands must be very careful to do proper research into each persona to make sure they’re accurate and effective.
Jennifer Joyce, president of SpotOn Fence, told CMSWire that the research her business did to create personas included shared psychographics and buying habits. It allowed her brand to identify the groups with the highest likelihood to purchase and select the most desirable ones to target. Those, she said, formed the basis of four main personas.
“This work was transformative for our business,” said Joyce, “pushing us to focus less on dog owners in suburbs, who had lots of fencing choices, and more on people on larger properties, where our solution outshined other options. This changed our total brand positioning, messaging strategy and visual strategy.”
Without doing data-driven research, brands may fall into the trap of relying upon preconceived notions of who their customers are, what drives them and how their products or services are used. These preconceived notions often fall far from the truth.
“These [preconceived notions] can be based on a limited number of conversations with customers or on who they hope is the customer,” Joyce explained. “Founders have dreams for building a hard-core outdoor company, so they dream their customers are backpackers who back-country ski when really, their product best resonates with someone who occasionally hikes with their kids and skis a couple of weekends a year. Without doing external, data-driven market research it’s hard to get a true picture of the customer.”
Understanding Buyer Personas
One of the most common types of personas, buyer personas, allow brands to metaphorically paint a picture of who their customers are and, more importantly, what motivates them to purchase a product or service. Such a picture can drive strategic decisions along every intersection in the customer journey. Although marketers can use these pictures to help with campaigns, they can also aid sales, product and service development.
To get started with buyer personas, brands first analyze their current customer base, identifying any common characteristics. Buyer personas do not represent a specific customer because marketing to one specific person instead of groups of people with similar interests can eliminate the ability to reach wider audiences.
Keep in mind that instead of defining personas by age, education level or salary (i.e., demographics), brands should focus on real-world situations or activities that are likely to have led to the point of sale. For example, the desire to have the best equipment possible, to collect things, to have better attire, to engage in a hobby, etc.
Persona Traps to Avoid
Because the creation of personas involves detailed market research, there are many common pitfalls that brands should avoid:
- Creating personas based on ideal buyers rather than actual buyers: “The main pitfall to avoid around persona analytics is failing to view customers as real people that are trying to accomplish goals,” said Greco. “Behavioral data should be complemented with in-person conversations with representative customer personas to add a human lens.”
- Lack of accurate identity resolution: “Many organizations struggle to correctly place customers into personas due to a lack of accurate identity resolution functionality,” Greco reflected. “Without proper identity resolution, organizations may treat the same customer as two different customers, thus negating the advantages of personalization.”
- Fixating on demographic information: Demographic information, such as age, location, education level, income level, etc., does not provide the details required to obtain actionable insights.
- Using too many personas: The majority of brands will find that several personas will be the most useful, rather than trying to break down personas into subsets, which can dilute the brand’s messaging.
- Stereotypes can be misleading: “While there is some truth to stereotypes,” said Nguyen, “if these stereotypes are deciding factors of how you create your personas, you’re simply not going to end up benefiting from the use of personas. If you create your personas in this way, chances are your marketing content isn’t going to meet your audience’s true needs.”
- Personas are based on old, out-of-date data: Older, historical data may have some uses, but for personas, brands should focus on relatively new customer data rather than data from the last decade.
Related Article: How to Use GA4’s AI-Driven Insights to Your Advantage
Examples of Buyer Personas
By analyzing customer data and differentiating such characteristics, brands can create a fictional buyer persona that describes one type of person that’s a typical customer of the brand. The following could be a buyer persona for a high-end store that sells musical instruments:
Name: Billy Strings
Demographic Info: Male, 29 years old.
Job: Professional bluegrass musician, guitar player, singer.
Interests: Bluegrass, country, rock music, art, instruments.
Motivations: Top-of-the-line musical instruments, trendy clothing.
Behavior: Not price-conscious; likes to splurge on new instruments; tends to support brands that have similar liberal values as him.
Pain Points: Having to explain, again, to an in-store salesperson about his past purchases and the type of instruments he’s looking for.
Another persona for the same business could be:
Name: Jamie Butler
Demographic Info: Female, 19 years old.
Job: College student.
Interests: Old-time gospel country music, singing.
Motivations: Learning to sing old-time gospel country music, finding rare sheet music.
Behavior: Price-conscious; like to purchase sheet music; is apolitical.
Pain Points: The lack of an adequate website search for locating specific old-time gospel country sheet music.
Finally, yet another persona could be:
Name: Steve Martindale
Demographic Info: Male, 36 years old.
Interests: T-shirts from indie rock bands and 80s punk rock bands.
Motivations: Finding unique band T-shirts that none of his friends have.
Behavior: Price-conscious; like to purchase T-shirts; prefers to buy from brands that support his values.
Pain Points: The inconsistency between the website and what is sold in their brick-and-mortar storefront.
Essentially, these buyer personas represent:
- Professional musicians who buy high-end musical instruments
- College students who buy sheet music
- People who buy unique music-related t-shirts
Although buyer personas can (and typically do) feature stock photographs or illustrations to represent the person(s) in the group, they are, like the persona itself, fictional (though based on real customer data), so they should not be used alone to drive business strategies.
Understanding the motivation behind customer purchases and actions enables brands to better determine how to market, sell and advertise their products and services.
By using personas, persona-based segments and analytics, businesses can derive actionable insights that will improve not only ROI but also the entire customer journey.