Customer Personas: Creating Personas You'll Use (and Profit From)

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Sun Tzu


The product that’s for everyone ends up having no character. It’s not memorable.


As Paul Graham once said, “Better to make a few users love you than a lot who are ambivalent.”


In time you want to have a large number of customers love you. But since you cannot create an exceptional product right away, each feature will either:

  1. Increase customers.
  2. Increase satisfaction.


It's easier to get more customers than it is to increase satisfaction. And if the right customers feel satisfied, they will bring more customers to you.


To do this, you will want to create a customer persona to represent the customers you serve.

What Are Customer Personas?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:


“Marketing Mary is a professional marketer. She’s either a VP of Marketing, Director of Marketing, or Marketing Manager. Mary works at a mid-sized company between 25 to 200 people and is the head of a small marketing team between 1 to 5 people. She drives a Subaru, married to Ollie Owner, and has two kids who are 10 and 6.”


Let me ask you three questions to show you the problem with this persona:

  1. How much of this information comes from actual data from your customers?
  2. How much of this information will help you focus on creating a better product for Marketing Mary?
  3. How much of this information is relevant to your business and marketing goals?


If the data you use isn’t accurate to create a better product or improve messaging, it is a waste of time and money.


Let me state this clearly:

Customer personas are a fictional representation of your best customers. The information comes from actual customers who share similar goals, behaviors, and characteristics. This data needs to be relevant and meaningful to your business and marketing goals.


If the information won’t help you grow your business faster, then the data is a distraction. 


Let’s say 70% of customers in one customer persona runs a marathon. Should you include that information in your customer persona? 


I would if I could tie running a marathon back to the product. 


Let’s say I have a software product to help people improve their business operations. These small business owners (SBOs) feel stressed out and want the freedom to run a marathon. 


Knowing 70% of SBO customers I interviewed want to run a marathon is a desire to tap into to get them to buy my product.

Why Are Customer Personas Important for Marketing?

"It's only by saying 'no' that you can concentrate on the things that are really important." Steve Jobs


Big companies have the luxury of serving many customer personas. You do not.


Yet big companies cannot care for each customer persona as you can. Because you have the luxury of focusing your attention on the vital few.

Why does focusing on one customer persona improve your product and marketing?

Let me give you three reasons why you should focus on one customer type:


1. Different customers have different problems. 


When Spencer Fry was creating Podia, he originally built it to serve tutors. Tutors needed invoicing and scheduling features.


After learning most of his customers were content creators, he removed features this audience did not need.


2. Different customers use different language to talk about the same topic.


Every culture has its own vocabulary and terminology.


If you asked my dad what I do for a living, he would tell you I do “social media.” If you were to talk to a small business owner in their 50s, it’s likely they would say I focus on “brand awareness.” But if you were to talk to my peers, they would tell you I focus on “growth marketing” or “growth strategy.”


The services I provide is exactly the same. But each person describes the same activity in a different way. And each phrase means something different to every audience.


As a result, your messaging will strike a chord with one customer while distancing you from another.


3. Different customers have different behaviors, goals, and shared characteristics.


God has created each of us uniquely. But even if we have the same problem and use the same language, we may have different desires.


The CMO and the Junior SEO both want to increase organic traffic. They both understand organic traffic refers to traffic from Google, not word-of-mouth. But their goals and motivation are different.


The Junior SEO may focus only on top-of-funnel traffic coming to the website. But the CMO may care more about the number of new customers from organic traffic.


The Junior SEO may feel accomplished when he doubles organic traffic. The CMO may feel relieved when lifetime value to acquisition costs are above 3-to-1.


The Junior SEO may get a promotion. The CMO may get a quarterly bonus.


The customer you focus on will change the features you build, the messaging you include, and even the name of your product.

How Do I Create a Customer Persona? And How Detailed Should Customer Personas Be?

As an early-stage startup, the best way to create a customer persona is to talk to your customers.


While doing customer discovery interviews, you are gathering data about your customers.


After your customer discovery interviews, you should find out this information about your customers:

  1. What is your customer’s age, gender, location, job title and industry, and favorite hobbies and interests?
  2. What are the challenges and problems you face?
  3. What is the outcome you want from using my product? Or my favorite way to ask this question, "What's preventing you from loving this product?"
  4. What is your dream outcome after using this product?
  5. What objections and questions do you have to buying our product?
  6. What solutions have you used in the past? You will also use this information when creating your competitor analysis and positioning your product.


If you pre-sell your product, you will create your persona on everyone who buys your product.


Related: Business Validation: How to Presell a Product Before You Launch


Otherwise, you should choose the customer who has the highest pain. The higher the pain, the easier it will be to use your product. Often these customers have a higher willingness to pay for your product too.


Every detail in your customer persona should improve your product or marketing strategy.


It’s not uncommon to start with very simple customer personas and build on each persona as you get more data.


As I mentioned above, Fry began Podia by targeting tutors. So he reached out to everyone on Craigslist who was a tutor. 


At this stage, he did not need to worry if the tutor drove a Jeep, had four kids, or voted Libertarian. But the amount a tutor charges, if it is her main source of income, or what subject she teaches may matter.


Again, the goal isn’t to fulfill out every random detail you come across. The only information you want should help you sell more products.

How Do You Develop Customer Personas for a Startup Without Existing Customers?

Like a savvy scientist, you should start by creating a hypothesis. Who do you think will love your product the most? Once you have a hypothesis, you can confirm it by talking to those people.


When you do customer discovery and customer validation interviews, you will get a sense of how much someone wants what you offer.


Keep in mind that you have two goals during these conversations:

  1. Validate your hypothesis.
  2. Invalidate your null hypothesis.


Or in simple terms, you prove who your best customers are and disprove other customers are not your best customers.


At Growth Ramp, one way we filter out non-buyers early on is during the customer validation stage. We do this by asking potential customers, “How likely are you to buy this product?” The customer scores their answer from 1 to 5, with 1 being “Very Unlikely” and 5 being “Very Likely.”


Anyone who answers a “4” or “5” is likely to buy your product. Therefore you can create a simple customer persona around those who buy. This will make it easier to double down on what’s working.

I Finished Creating My Customer Personas. What Should I Do Next?

Once you know who your best customers are, you will want to learn who is competing for your customer’s wallet.


Each customer uses different products to solve the problems they have. Understanding who your competitors are will allow you to rise above the noise.


You will understand who is competing for your customers by gathering competitive intelligence.

Jason Quey

I am the founder of Growth Ramp. I enjoy helping early-stage co-founders establish their growth strategy to get more traffic, leads, and sales.

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