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How to create customer personas: 5 steps + template

Julia Miashkova
by Julia Miashkova on September 7, 2020

What do marketers and Ingmar Bergman circa 1966 have in common? We're all about personas.

Marketing persona, customer persona, buyer persona, audience persona are all sides of the same 4-sided coin — the people we serve content, services, and products to. They're the living, beating heart of every marketing operation because ultimately, any marketing strategy is built around customers, existing and potential.

While the objective is clear — putting the audience first — sorting out the specifics often gets messy. The terminology is ambiguous, methods vary, and priorities aren't always straightforward. To help you navigate the troubled waters of putting the audience first, I invite you on a step-by-step tour around customer personas. Below are some of the landmarks to look forward to.

  1. What is a customer persona and how is it different from similar terms?
  2. Why are customer personas so important?
  3. How do you create a customer persona?
  4. How do you use social listening in creating customer personas?
  5. If nothing makes sense, where do you find a free customer persona template?

Ready? Let's hit the road then.

1. What is a customer persona (and what about other terms)?

First things first: marketing, customer, buyer, and audience personas are indeed sides of the same coin. By this, I mean that choosing the term is a matter of perspective, while the essence remains the same.

Marketing, customer, buyer, and audience personas are used interchangeably to define the best members of your target audience. 

It might be that a marketer favors the term marketing persona, a sales team prefer the buyer persona option, and a PR pro uses audience persona the most — or not at all! The question is of personal preference rather than fundamental differences in definitions, of which there are none.

If we go on with parallels between marketers and filmmakers, we can think of a buyer persona as a lead actor. For one, a buyer persona and a lead in a movie are both fictional characters. Second, they each embody a number of characteristics or traits that make up a trope. Much like a lead actor, a customer persona is supposed to represent the best version of a character — a perfect prospective buyer in this case — and guide marketers towards other buyers that match the criteria.

A rough sketch of a buyer persona looks something like this:

  • name,
  • age and gender,
  • location and languages,
  • occupation and interests, 
  • pain points and goals,
  • behavioral characteristics,
  • spending patterns, etc.

Depending on how much detail you have on your perfect buyer, the rough sketch will evolve into a nuanced portrait that will guide your marketing and business decisions. To move from theory to practice, let's move to the use cases.

2. Why are customer personas important?

Customer personas are important because they help marketers see people in their audiences. When researching a target audience, it's easy to get caught up on metrics and start perceiving an audience as a homogenous entity. The thing about audience research is that it calls for a granular approach, where a target market is studied layer after layer, with key buyer personas representing each audience segment.

Another thing about audience research is that most businesses do have multiple customer profiles to worry about. Unless what your business does is so specific that there's only one buyer profile to think of (scroll up a notch in case you need another look at what constitutes a customer persona), understanding your customer segments in all their variety is crucial to making sense of what your target audience is all about. 

Although buyer personas are fictional, they're meant to represent real people behind your target audience. Having thoroughly developed buyer personas — people with names, aspirations, and needs — helps build a more humanized marketing workflow.

  1. Putting customer hopes and pain points at the heart of your content marketing.
  2. Reaching the people who need your services via better-targeted ads.
  3. Connecting with your best buyers through the channels they favor the most.
  4. Keeping track of any fluctuations in customer moods for timely adjustments to the strategy.

All of these serve the purpose of shifting the focus from company needs to customer needs when framing messages and developing marketing campaigns and, ultimately, products and services.

Since the absolute majority of businesses have several buyer personas in their audience, it's unrealistic to expect that each persona's needs and wants will be equally prioritized every time you're considering a marketing move. However, making sure at least one of your buyer personas is fully covered is a good starting point.

3. How do you create a customer persona?

Creating a customer persona is all about collecting the data that constitutes one. Approaches to gathering that data vary, but ultimately, it all boils down to knowing your sources and mastering the tools. Let's take a closer look at where you could be getting data points from.

Name

While giving your best potential customer a name might seem like an overstretch, it actually makes all the difference when thinking of your buyers as real people. You might have a couple of names in mind after conducting demos or interviews, you might make one up based on your personal associations, or you might turn to the list of popular names or some other directory. 

Some marketers prefer assigning common, generic names to their buyer personas, some favor alliterations and plosives — choose whatever feels right for you and stay away from celebrity or famous fictional character names to avoid confusion and confusing associations.

Age and gender

Age and gender are the most basic components of demographic data used to define an audience persona. While you could, of course, gather this data from demos and interviews, there's a much smoother way that goes by the name of social media analytics

From a native tool like Facebook Audience Insights to a social listening tool like Awario or Talkwalker, collecting age and gender data boils down to choosing an audience to study and fetching analytics based on the users' ongoing social media activity.

Audience breakdown by gender. Screenshot from Awario

With a social listening tool, all you need to do is create a project, set up a monitoring alert using your brand name, campaign hashtag, or any other keyword that links to your audience. Then, it's only a matter of time (depending on how many keywords and sources you're monitoring) before you have all the social data analytics presented in a neat dashboard.

Awario empowers you to run audience research non-stop, so be sure you'll be using it way past creating customer personas, especially when we've implemented age (in addition to gender) insights in a couple of months!

Location and languages

Understanding where your perfect buyer is located and what languages they use is a crucial part of putting together a buyer persona. Similar to other demographic data, it's best sourced via social media analytics tools as they provide real-user data and let you ground your buyer persona choices in your actual audience members.

Alternatively, you could fetch locations and languages data, among other user data, from Google Analytics. By going through Audience reports, you get to geo insights, specifically languages and locations. Armed with those, you can complete your customer personas with further demographic info.

Audience reports. Screenshot from Google Analytics

Occupation and interests

Occupation and interests are the primary social characteristics that constitute a buyer persona. If you don't have this kind of information from the now infamous demos and interviews, you can always rely on social media listening and analytics software like Brandwatch. Among other audience insights, it delivers occupations and interests of not only your existing customers but also potential ones, empowering you to research your perfect buyers with minimum effort. 

Occupations breakdown. Screenshot from Brandwatch

Pain points and goals

Pain points and goals are the psychological characteristics that go into a buyer persona and help marketers understand customers' motivations in relation to particular products. Psychological characteristics are the trickiest to study even through face-to-face interviews, let alone questionnaires or opinion polls.

On this blog, we've demonstrated over and over again the power of sentiment analysis and the Topic cloud as a means of researching the attitudes, concerns, and aspirations within an audience. To determine your customer persona's pain points and goals, you're welcome to experiment with Awario's audience analysis tools — or try other tools that perform similar tasks.

Behavioral characteristics

Behavioral characteristics of a buyer persona are meant to illustrate patterns of behavior meaningful to the marketing journey you're creating. A common technique used by marketers to establish behavioral patterns of their ideal customer is constructing a day-in-the-life. As the name suggests, it serves the purpose of describing a daily sequence of events and activities your buyer persona would go through, therefore establishing how your products or services could be of use to them.

One segment of behavioral characteristics valuable to any marketer at any point of campaign development is online behaviors.

  1. What social networks does your customer persona favor?
  2. What kind of content do they engage with the most?
  3. Which influencers and opinion leaders they follow?

These are some of the questions that set the direction here. The more behavioral analytics you can gather, the better you understand your perfect buyers. With these insights on hand, you can improve your targeting, content, and SMM strategy, and approach your customers in ways that feel the most natural to them.

Breakdown of user activity by social network. Screenshot from Awario

Spending patterns

Spending patterns are behavioral patterns put in USD (or any other currency you're operating with). When defining a buyer persona, it's important to understand what kind of resources they have and what kind of expenditures they're used to. To determine buying patterns, you could use a spending calculator or turn to household expenditure stats. Alternatively, you could go through your perfect customer's day-in-the-life once again, with a special focus on purchases, daily transactions, and the room left for products similar to yours.

4. How to use social listening in creating customer personas?

We've turned to social listening quite a lot when gaining insight into customer persona analytics. From demographics to behavioral patterns, most social listening tools will give you a lot of analytics for consideration. Some would even say that social listening is continuous audience analysis, and developing customer personas is a human touch to what social listening tools are built to do 24/7 — collecting audience feedback on marketing decisions. 

On top of all the analytics used in putting together a customer persona, social listening tools like Awario offer an additional approach to developing perfect buyer profiles. I'm talking about the Leads mode. 

Hear me out: Awario Leads was built to search social media for people on the lookout for your products and services. It operates by scanning social networks for mentions of your product description + mentions of your competitors' products to deliver to you a feed full of people who display purchase intent for what you're offering. If that is not a perfect buyer profile, I don't know what is.

Leeds feed. Screenshot from Awario

Because social listening tools give you access to raw user data, you get to meet and interact with the actual people looking for your products right now. Whenever you don't feel like switching between data sources and want a legit customer persona delivered to you, feel free to research any of the leads fetched by Awario. More often than not, you'll find everything you're looking for — occupation to pain points — by going through publicly available social data.

5. If nothing makes sense, where do you find a free customer persona template?

I hear you. Customer personas are only a fraction of your marketing tasks, and however carefully you've read this guide, some points might have gotten lost along the way and nobody has the time for revisiting every marketing guide they read. 

I hear you and I got you covered: to make sure you don't miss out on any components of a buyer persona, I put together a customer persona template you can copy and use to develop your own personas. Feel free to add your own criteria and see what makes the best customer persona for you and your business. 

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