Want to find out how user personas can change your content marketing strategy for the better? Here, we’ll cover what they are and how you can use them for your business. You can download our free user persona template and follow our guide below to use user personas for your next marketing campaign.
User personas are key personality traits and broad characteristics used to define your ideal or target customer. They give businesses an idea of who to market towards, what aspects of their products to highlight, and how to structure your content marketing strategy.
In this guide, you'll learn how to create a user persona in five easy steps, along with receiving a free user persona template to use for your projects.
What Is a User Persona?
“Know your audience.” It's an age-old marketing adage and for good reason. After all, if you don't know your audience, how can you market to them?
User personas are important because they give you a strong understanding of your target market. They can define your product strategy and guide your sales team to create better campaigns. By understanding who your ideal user is, you can lead them through a customer journey and even grow to become one of their favorite brands.
Of course, to target a particular demographic, you need to do market research. Specifically, you need to create user personas. Also known as marketing or buyer personas, user personas are detailed profiles that represent your ideal customer.
But how exactly do user personas help your marketing strategy? Keep reading to find out.
Why Are User Personas Important?
You've developed the latest and best product for solving a common problem, a new energy-efficient space heater for pets or an ergonomic mouse for PC gaming, for example.
If you try to sell these products to any and everyone, you're probably going to have hit-or-miss results. Why? Not everyone has a pet, nor does everyone play computer games.
User personas can guide every marketing decision you make, allowing you to focus on the needs of target customers and appeal to what's important to them.
This is where detailed personas come in.
Created from the results of market research, user personas guide businesses in executing a content strategy that matches the needs and tastes of real customers.
For our user persona examples, that means carving out the various buyer personas that might need a space heater for pets or a top-of-the-line gaming mouse.
With Dana the Dog Mom in mind, you’d probably want to tout how your space heater is ideal for cold climates and pets that are sensitive to low temperatures, like greyhounds. For Andrew the Budget Gamer, you might focus on how your gaming mouse has the most bang for its buck compared to other models.
Negative User Personas - Who Shouldn't You Market To?
Besides clearly identifying your target personas, these personas affirm what types of customers you don't want to market to. In the case of our user persona examples, that means customers living in tropical climates or owners of long-haired pets, and people who have zero interest in PC gaming.
You can even develop a negative persona, someone considered your “worst customer” in terms of product alignment. These customers are hard to win over because of conflicting needs and values, making it a waste of time and resources to pursue or retain them. Although some fear that negative personas drive away potential business, this kind of persona can help direct your focus on customers that offer the greatest return.
User Persona Examples
For a real-world example of how buyer personas are put into practice, take a look at Fitbit’s blog.
The company specializes in wearable activity-tracking technology, so it’s no surprise that its content revolves around endorsing healthy lifestyle habits. You’d be hard-pressed to find one of Fitbit’s blog posts promoting junk food or extreme dieting. With that in mind, the user personas Fitbit’s marketing team has created likely include health-conscious individuals looking to maintain or improve their fitness.
Want some more persona inspiration?
Consider the following businesses and how their messaging caters to their respective customer bases.
How Many User Personas Do You Need?
Our sample personas, Dana and Andrew, represent just a few of the multiple possibilities for our make-believe products.
Besides Dana the Dog Mom, you might also have Gabrien the Animal Enthusiast. Similarly, Andrew the Budget Gamer might be joined by Mackenzie the Twitch Streamer, and Darius the eSports Professional.
Like Dana and Andrew, these personas represent other potential customers, though they have different traits and backgrounds. Make note of this: user personas should be distinct from one another.
If two or more personas possess significant overlap, ask yourself: can they be condensed into one? What is it that distinguishes one type of customer from another?
There’s no definitive number for how many personas you should have, but a rule of thumb advises having as many personas as there are customer subgroups. This is generally just a handful — no more than seven and no less than two.
A word of caution about having too many marketing personas: going overboard can be overwhelming and distract you from who matters most, your core audience.
Marketing expert and author Bryan Eisenberg describes a client that once announced its need for 42 personas.
Does any product or service need 42 personas? It’s hard to think of what would.
In any case, the client later reduced this number to 7. How? Eisenberg’s company presented a variety of scenarios to demonstrate how similar multiple personas were to one another.
Free User Persona Template
We at Compose.ly put together our own user persona template for our readers to use!
Of course, there are plenty more persona infographics around the web. Here are just a few other styles below.
As you can see, the format varies slightly across these infographics, but the gist remains the same.
How Much Detail Should a User Persona Have?
Your audience is made up of real people — that means real people with idiosyncratic needs and preferences.
As a result, more information enhances your personas and generally benefits them.
However, beware of getting too bogged down in the details. You don’t want to get carried away and begin targeting a single individual that may or may not exist.
Instead, think of your persona as a representative of a broader subgroup. For instance, Dana the Dog Mom represents middle-income pet-owners living in colder climates, and Andrew the Budget Gamer represents informed gamers who are financially constrained.
These broader descriptions on their own do not suffice because they’re still too vague to shape your marketing decisions. Moreover, such generalized descriptions reduce your customers into stereotypes.
Conversely, as archetypes for your target audience, user personas allow marketers to better understand customer behavior patterns and motives.
How to Create User Personas: A Step-by-Step Guide
Ready to create your own user personas? This guide teaches you how to create user personas in five easy steps. Use it along with our user persona template to better understand your target audience.
Step 1: Determine Your Endpoint
First, consider your business “endpoint,” your goal for those that click on your website, or view your advertising materials. Is it a signup or purchase? And for what kind of product or service?
Establishing your endpoint helps to clarify how your persona's goal connects to it.
Do not confuse this endpoint with your business goals, though. A business goal is a broader, organization-level goal, like achieving a target amount of revenue, whereas your endpoint is the specific, micro-level outcome you want of your customer.
This might be:
- Registering and making an account
- Signing up for an email list
- Placing an order for a product or service
- Clicking on and watching a video
Once you've set your endpoint, it's time to identify who you want to get there.
Step 2: Perform Market Research
Perhaps you’ve already begun marketing your product. Or, you haven’t because you’re not sure of your customer base yet.
Regardless, it pays to research your customer base before building your user personas; after all, personas are based on real-life customers.
To do persona research, you can:
- Administer surveys. That doesn’t mean going door to door with paper questionnaires. Rather, you can set up an online survey on your website or deliver it via email to get a sense of customers’ backgrounds and expectations.
- Conduct ethnographic research. This entails observing your prospective customers and recording how they behave, though this can be far more time-consuming than giving a survey.
- Conduct interviews and/or focus groups. Interviews and focus groups act as a happy medium between surveys and ethnographic research. By creating the opportunity for follow-up questions, real-time interviews provide more depth and detail than a survey with limited options. Of course, saying isn’t the same as doing, which is what ethnographic methods excel at capturing.
- Use web analytics. If you’ve already got your website up and running, you can use web analytic tools like Google Analytics to get a sense of who your current users are. While this approach won’t reveal your users’ motives, it sheds light on your current customers’ demographics. Peaks and dips in usage can also give you a hint of what content performs best.
Look for patterns and trends among your customers, and begin organizing this data into subgroups accordingly. What commonalities unite a certain customer subgroup? Perhaps it’s their demographic background, occupation, or another trait.
Regardless, organizing and classifying this research is crucial to the next step of the user persona creation process: creating your persona’s description.
Step 3: Create a Description
This is the fun part:
Using the results of your research, develop a complete description of your user persona.
This description should dig deep. In other words, it should be a comprehensive customer overview that’s rich with detail, not just a shallow caricature stating age, gender, and location.
Information to Include in Your User Persona Profile
Some marketing teams go as far as using a photo and developing a stylized infographic, which can help in visualizing your buyer personas further.
<div class="tip">If you’re interested in digging deeper into your target, check out ProductFaculty’s playbook on user psychology. You might find the chapter on persuasion boosts relevant, as it covers what exactly drives a user to action.</div>
Step 4: Identify User Scenarios or Potential Opportunities for Contact
You’ve got one (or a few) user personas — now what?
It’s time to identify scenarios for your personas.
Scenarios are the hypothetical situations your personas run into, the context of which may lead them to need your product or service. Thus, you can also think of scenarios as potential opportunities for contact with your business.
User scenarios can be written in several ways, e.g., as a detailed narrative or step-by-step flowchart, but generally speaking, they consist of:
- Primary Persona: Who, or which persona, would this scenario happen to?
- Motive: Why does the persona need your product/service?
- Goal: What is the persona’s target outcome?
To demonstrate, we’ve come up with scenarios for each of our personas, Dana and Andrew.
Example 1: Space Heater for Pets
It’s beginning to get colder now that autumn is ending and winter is approaching. As a result, Dana the Dog Mom (primary persona) has recently noticed Novak, her greyhound, shivering more, even inside the house (motive). With the colder months ahead, Dana wants to ensure Novak stays warm (goal), so she is considering buying products such as a dog sweater or space heater.
Example 2: Gaming Mouse
Andrew the Budget Gamer (primary persona) recently started playing Starcraft, thanks to the recommendation of a classmate. He’s had the same mouse since he moved into his dorm, which is in severe need of an upgrade (motive). As a gaming hobbyist and knowledgeable techie, Andrew won’t settle for any run-of-the-mill mouse. He wants a quality gaming mouse that delivers precision but also fits into his student budget (goal).
<div class="tip">Note that one scenario does not apply to all personas. Different personas have different motives, after all. As such, you’ll have to develop unique scenarios for your personas.</div>
Using scenarios helps marketers understand their customers’ motives, a crucial piece of understanding how to appeal to them. In that sense, scenarios act as the launchpad for what comes next — your business plan.
Step 5: Create Your Business Plan
User personas and scenarios guide this step, the point at which you develop a game plan for attracting your customers.
But how exactly do personas factor into this process?
Consider your personas and their scenarios. Their motives and goals should provide a framework for you to base your marketing plan on.
In other words, user personas should inform your marketing decisions, giving pointers for your business plan and content strategy.
For instance, take our sample personas, Dana and Andrew:
What would make the space heater a more appealing purchase to Dana than a dog sweater? And for Andrew, what separates this gaming mouse from others?
User personas provide another vantage point to see your product from, helping to foster empathy for your customer. By imagining yourself in your persona’s shoes, you can identify particular selling points that may appeal more to a customer, as well as potential concerns one might bring up.
Thus, to draw customers like Dana, the pet space heater company’s marketing team might emphasize how the product’s variety of heat settings is more versatile and accommodating than a dog sweater. In a similar vein, to draw in budget customers like Andrew, the gaming mouse’s marketers might create a price comparison chart and showcase how competitors have nearly identical products but at far more exorbitant prices.
For a real-world user persona case study, check out how marketing firm Aamplify helped Deloitte Private improve its messaging for its target customers.
Additional Resources for Creating User Personas
Looking for ways to make the persona-building process easier? The following templates and resources provide shortcuts to help you bring your personas to life.
- Demand Metric's Buyer Persona Template - Formatted as an Excel spreadsheet, Demand Metric’s template makes it easy to manage multiple personas in one file. Separate tabs can be used to collect customer data that align with a single buyer persona.
- HubSpot’s Persona Development Worksheet - If you prefer a questionnaire format, check out HubSpot’s printable worksheet for creating a persona. It asks for the fundamentals and can be easily copied and distributed to large teams.
- Persona Core Poster - Planning a team meeting to carve out your business’s user personas? This template poster, available in A3 dimensions, is the perfect printout for a group brainstorm session.
- Xtensio User Persona Creator - From Myer-Briggs personality type to preferred brands and influencers, Xtensio’s comprehensive persona creator is rich with detail. Though not all features are available on its free version, the creator will save you lots of time with its exportable infographics.
Should You Incorporate User Persona Templates Into Your Marketing Strategy?
To recap, creating and using marketing personas can help you anticipate your consumers’ needs and in turn, shape the content creation process.
Though the persona creation process may be daunting, the payoff is well worth it. Combined with thorough research, user personas shed light on your target audience and can help you take your conversion rate to the next level.
Have you successfully used user personas for your content strategy? Or are you just getting started using our user persona guide? Let us know in the comments below!