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Keys to crafting an effective audience persona: make your marketing pop

Last Updated 
Posted on
March 4, 2024
Dylan Rhudd
Marketing Strategy

In January 1951, author John Steinbeck sat down to work on the most ambitious project of his literary career: East of Eden. He knew it would be a complex, emotionally-layered titan of a book. Yet within 276 short days, he already had a complex 700-page draft written. 

The secret to his success? Believe it or not: audience persona.

As he told his friend and editor, Pascal Covici, at the time: Steinbeck was writing the book to his children. That’s it. As Steinbeck himself later advocated, “in writing, your audience is one single reader.”

Something strange and magical happens when you adopt an effective target audience persona. Rather than narrowing your appeal to one person, you open it up and expand its relevance. Your work—or your business—suddenly matters to everyone experiencing the pain points of your audience persona. 

The data supports this approach as well. According to HubSpot, 96% of marketers say offering a personalized experience increases the likelihood of buyers becoming repeat customers. Like Steinbeck, they know to whom they are “writing.” And just as Steinbeck succeeded with East of Eden, marketers can use audience personas to pull together various demographics, attitudes, and customer-specific situations to build an effective campaign. 

There’s just one more question: how do you know the audience persona you design is the right one? Here are the keys to crafting an audience persona that clicks.

What is an audience persona?

An audience persona is a representation of your target audience’s demographic, psychographic, and behavioral traits. A persona is a fictional stand-in for who you believe your average customer may be. And with this audience persona in hand, you’ll know how to craft your message to speak to them directly.

When building your audience persona, you’ll want to focus on a few key areas:

  • Demographics: Age, income, education level, occupation, geographic location, marital status, family size, language spoken. These all fall under the umbrella of “demographics.” Your goal is to think like a census taker here. From the outside looking in, what are the primary economic and geographic characteristics that define your audience persona?
  • Psychographics: Similar to demographics, but applying to the attitudes of your customers. Their values, beliefs, lifestyle, interests, social standing, and even media consumption habits will all weigh in here. Your goal is to dive a bit deeper and get a sense of what your audience likes to think about.
  • Behavioral traits: Answer a simple question. How do the traits above affect your customers’ real-world behavior? What do they purchase? What products do they use? Are they brand-loyal or brand-agonistic? How do they engage online or with social media, and what kinds of buyer incentives motivate them to convert into customers?

Identifying your target audience

Finding your target audience isn’t like reading a treasure map. There’s no “X marks the spot.” It’s more like reading a blank map and figuring out where the X should go in the first place.

Based on your target audience,  here is what a persona might sound like. For example: 25-50-year-old parents who work in education and speak English. Or London-based IT Directors who work at a mid-sized eCommerce company. Start with a one-sentence breakdown of the kind of person you want to attract to your business. You can always add details later.

At this point, your question might be: “aren’t I just guessing?” Yep. That’s exactly where you should start: an impression of who might be looking for your business. But the process doesn’t end there; you’ll also want to use these assumptions to inform your research.

Analyze your existing customer base

If you were to examine a roster of your current customers, would any patterns emerge? There’s only one way to find out. Conduct this analysis before you craft your audience personas. It will help you discern who you think should be your ideal customer from who actually is your ideal customer.

Look for any areas where your initial “guess” appears wrong:

  • Demographics like age or location are easy to discern because you’ll have the hard data to work with. You may also consider running surveys and social media polls to uncover this information. (More on that in the next section.)
  • Customer behavior, including how most of your die-hard customers first found you. Did one happy customer download your yearly report or sign up for a free trial? If so, what kind of personas can you identify from that group?
  • Customer loyalty will help you identify not only who’s buying, but who’s staying. This can provide some of the most accurate information on who’s truly your ideal persona—not just a window-shopper.

Analyzing audience demographics

As the old saying goes: what gets measured gets managed. Crafting an effective audience persona is all about honing in on what messaging is working best for your brand. To accomplish that, you’ll have to know how to analyze your existing audience demographics. Here are a few ways to keep your finger on the audience's pulse:

  • Surveys and questionnaires. The simplest way to find out who your audience is? Ask them directly. Run post-purchase surveys and online polls. Send out questionnaires to willing participants. Make demographic queries as part of these questionnaires and gather the data until you have a large enough sample size to start looking for patterns.
  • Gather information from online reviews. This is where customers are at their most honest. Maybe they’re frustrated with a pain point. Maybe they explain how they’d hoped your brand could help them better. Maybe they’re raving about something they love about your business—but it’s not what you imagined it was. Point being: it’s all key data for crafting an effective audience persona.
  • Watch current industry trends. Current industry trends often highlight relevant pain points. Watch competitor ads, for example, to evaluate the pain points they’re addressing. Has the industry focus shifted? And how does your product or service weigh into this picture?
  • Use tools like SparkToro. SparkToro shows who your audience is, what they talk about, and where to reach them by providing in-depth insights into online behavior and preferences. Leveraging its extensive database, the tool analyzes social media engagement and content consumption, allowing users to create precise personas. Brands can use this information to tailor marketing strategies and simplify audience segmentation.

Learning brand positioning

Brand positioning is the process of establishing a unique identity for your company, especially as this identity relates to the minds of those in your target audience. Ideally, your brand’s “position” in your customers’ minds is that it’s a unique value relative to your competitors in the same industry.

In other words, as we’ve previously quoted via Jeff Bezos of Amazon: “Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” 

Positioning refers to the strategies and tactics you use to achieve that kind of reputation. As you develop your audience persona, keep these questions in mind:

  • What about your brand is different enough to make your ideal customer want to buy from you instead of your competitors?
  • Knowing where your target persona lives, browses the Internet, and shops, what can you do to distinguish yourself from competitors who appear in the same places?
  • What can you do to alter your brand’s current “personality” to mesh better with your target audience?

Questions to ask when building B2B buyer personas

Let’s get specific about what crafts an effective audience persona within the B2B space. Don’t finish your research until you have an answer to each of the following questions:

  • What does it mean to be successful in your role? Especially relevant to B2B customers, this question aims at a key point: what can you deliver that makes them a satisfied customer?
  • What is your job role or title? Sticking with the B2B angle, you’ll want to know the job title of your ideal customer. A CFO, for example, is going to have a lot more buying-decision superpowers than a new employee.
  • Who do you report to? You’ll have to satisfy more than your immediate buyer’s concerns. Their mandate—and their budget—often comes from higher up in the organization.
  • What are your biggest challenges or pain points? Search for the impetus behind every transaction. Your product or service is a missing piece of a customer’s puzzle. It’s up to you to find the ideal shape for that piece.
  • What are their essential demographics? Learn an age range, income range, level of education, and geographic location.
  • Which publications, forums, or blogs do you read? These are especially useful for niche industries. Use those forums and publications to your advantage! Look at their most popular stories and posts. What kind of content drives high engagement, and how can you position yourself with similar content?

How creating audience personas can help solve your marketing pain points

Have you heard about the “cookieless” future? In short, Google and Apple, two of the key procurers of customer data across the entire Internet, are implementing sweeping consumer privacy changes. Google, for example, is looking to potentially phase out third-party cookie trackers by 2024.

As a result, 42% of marketers said measuring their campaigns was a top challenge in 2023. And 39% said their lack of preparedness for the increasingly private future was a top challenge.

The cookieless future is great for consumers, but tricky for marketers. It’s hard to know thy customer when you can’t track what they’re doing. Fortunately, you can get a leg up on this cookieless future by baking your marketing solutions from scratch. And that begins with a thorough understanding of crafting your audience persona.

Choosing more effective channels

Knowing your customer persona means knowing a bit about their daily browsing habits. What are the channels they browse looking for solutions to their pain points? 

If you learned that with C-level executives in your industry, 95% of them made buying decisions only after a phone exchange with someone at your company, how would that change the way you market your products? You’d probably make “scheduling a phone call” one of the key calls-to-action in your digital content.

Tailoring your messaging

You can find a great example of this at Wix, the website building software. Rather than highlight the speed of their tools or their low prices, they got down to the psychological benefit of building a website. And that’s reflected in the headline: Create a website you’re proud of

That’s the beauty of a highly-specific audience persona. It’s why John Steinbeck’s children helped him seamlessly integrate the familial themes he wanted to include in East of Eden. He wasn’t thinking about everyone. He was thinking about the hopes and dreams of two very specific people. Something magical happens to your writing—and your messaging—when you do the same.

Optimizing your content strategy

No one likes to spend 30 hours producing a piece of content only for it to get one “like” on X, Instagram, or YouTube. But why does it happen? It’s not because the content isn’t valuable. It’s sometimes because you haven’t properly matched the medium and the message to where your ideal customer can find you.

Take one target audience example: Airbnb. Airbnb could have optimized its content for global keywords like “rental income” or “vacation rentals.” But they experienced a “substantial boost” in organic traffic when they started meeting their customers where they were by leveraging local listings, including content translated into different languages.

Improving your brand positioning

If you advertise to C-suite level executives but have a reputation as being the “bargain-bin” option in your market, you have a mismatch. CEOs and CFOs may have huge budgets in search of premium options. They’re not looking through the bargain bin.

Building an effective audience persona helps you refine this positioning. If you know who your customers are and what kinds of budgets they’re working with, you can initiate a rebrand to reflect the latest positioning.

Supercharging your content with an effective audience persona

When you know your audience, the marketing starts to take care of itself. John Steinbeck knew that with East of Eden, where he accomplished the rare feat of using the specific and personal to touch on the themes of the universal. Work similar magic with your SEO and content by figuring out your audience before you start creating content. 

Need a reference as you work? Download our In-Depth Guide to SEO + Content Optimization and learn what you’ll need in order to utilize your audience persona to its fullest potential.

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