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Keeping your buyer personas fresh and real


5 Steps to a Fresh Persona

Markets shift, landscapes change, and your buyer personas represents real people living real lives. Change is the constant so how do you ensure your personas are also evolving over time? Follow these five steps so your personas keep up with the times and don’t become obsolete.

Create a Buyer’s Journey sub-team

Create an internal team of people who interact with clients and prospects. Work with them so they know the types of information you are asking them to notice during their typical interactions. Decide how they should provide this input to you and consider making it easy. Some teams meet monthly to keep it top of mind, some have it as an agenda item on an already established meeting, and some use technology (questionnaires) that you send regularly to teams to get any new information. All of this input should be documented and shared so they understand that their input is providing value.

And don’t forget to start at the basics of explaining to the team what a persona is and why it is important to your business. Hubspot describes personas as “fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers.” We create personas so we stop looking in the mirror and instead focus on who we market to, sell to, and service long term. By outlining our personas, we are reminding ourselves that our prospect and customers should be at the forefront of our business day in and day out.

Step 1: Brainstorm internally

Kick off this team with a brainstorming session capturing thoughts. Come prepared with a set of questions you would like to discuss. For example, you can brainstorm around their pain points, their influencers, and even the channels where you think they spend their time. Ask teams to answer your questions on sticky notes so you avoid group think. Ask teams to then share some of their points as you gather their notes for later transcription. Although you are gaining information from the team, you are teaching them about the types of information they should be noticing on calls. For example, pain points, challenges, and of course what they are yearning to learn. Remember: though you spend a lot of time thinking about personas, it may not be second nature to your sub-team. Reiterate the practical importance of this brainstorm by showing them examples of how persona knowledge is put into practice in your current marketing efforts like website copy or advertising.

Step 2: Create interim personas

From the information you gathered internally, start to fill out persona templates . Since the end goal is to gather information directly from your actual prospects and clients, this stage is the “interim” as it is from your internal experts. Here are the main objectives of your persona framework.

  • Identify the top 2-5 personas that represent the majority of your target audience
  • Include enough demographic data (gender, age, education, experience) to start to visualize who this persona represents
  • Clarify their business role (title, responsibilities, who they report to and who reports to them
  • Include enough psychographic data (interests, behaviors) to start to understand what makes them tick and what they like to spend their time doing
  • Outline their goals and pain points
  • Outlining a “day in the life” so you truly get a mental picture of their day-to-day
  • Lastly, don’t forget to name them and select a photo to cement this mirage as a real person

Step 3: Validate with data

Starting with the persona information you gathered internally, begin to validate or layer in data. Look into your sales database and analyze the titles of your customers and prospects and determine which titles align with which persona. You may learn that you’ve missed an entire persona that is sitting right in your database to sell to. Be careful to also cull this information and weed out extraneous information. The goal is a short and compelling persona that is easy to digest (not a laundry list of individual characteristics). Look at Google Analytics and AdWords to determine who has been responding to your marketing campaigns and converting on your website. Consider using Facebook Insights to augment this information with more knowledge around their interests and social behaviors. And of course your customer base should be analyzed at a deeper level to determine additional characteristics that are shared by your different personas including their location, their income bracket, their family size, etc.

Step 4: Move outside your office walls

Now that you’ve done your internal homework, it is time to step outside your walls and truly interact with your personas. Develop a set of questions that you can ask each persona so you can easily compare the answers. Yet also don’t be afraid to be spontaneous and dive into topics that come up. Making this a natural conversation will get you the best results. Also be sure to have done your internal research so you aren’t wasting their time on simple answers you already have internally. Interview a range of existing clients, happy and unhappy, to learn more and validate or disprove your interim persona.

Be careful when ignoring new information that contradicts your current working knowledge of your persona. You might have been wrong. You might need to add a question that gets at this information better and see how future interviews go. Or, you might have stumbled upon a new persona that you need to identify.

Step 5: Evolve over time

And this step is the key to ensuring your personas have longevity. Pick a cadence, perhaps every six months, to re-interview some of your personas to see if their answers start to change with the evolutionary nature of online buying behaviors. Make sure your original questionnaire has questions that will target this type of changing behavior, for example “What did you stop doing in your job last year?” and “What do you hope to start doing in your job in a year?” and relate the questions closely to what you want to learn about them.

Personas are an important step in customer obsession. Truly putting yourself into the shoes of who you market to. But if this information is not shared with your company, its value is limited. Educate your company on what a persona is and why they are useful. And help inform your teams of the always evolving nature of personas. Waiting for perfection, or analysis paralysis, will simply slow down your chance to be effective at marketing to, selling to, and lastly nurturing your prospects and clients.

Download our Persona Workbook