Email marketers (and marketers in general) are constantly looking for better ways to connect with their audiences. While there are a lot of fancy new tools and fad strategies designed to do just that, one of the best ways is to get to know your audience.
And who better to get to know than your email subscribers? These are people who’ve raised their hand to hear from you and are some of your most valuable customers with an average email marketing return on investment (ROI) of 36 to 1 according to our 2020 State of Email, Fall Edition. While we’ve written about different ways to get to know your subscribers, what do you do after you’ve done the research? How do you take what you’ve learned and use it to inform your overall marketing strategy?
The answer may very well be: Personas.
What is a persona?
First, a definition is in order. A persona—sometimes called a user or buyer persona—is a representation of your key audience. It’s essentially a profile of your prospect or customer that includes:
- Demographic information like age, gender, location, income, role, etc.
- Psychographic information or the motivations and behaviors that likely inform their actions and decisions
- Influences like brands, celebrities, and products they like
- Goals that impact what they’re looking for in your product or service
- Pain points with existing solutions
- And anything else that might inform their world view
It’s important to note that personas are representations only. Good personas are based on actual customers, but they should be abstracted and averaged out for multiple people, not just a single individual’s biographical information.
Personas are useful when determining your marketing strategy. Since they’re based on real world prospects and customers, they’re an excellent reference to determine everything from campaign goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) to actual copy and design. They’re essentially a gut check when working on your marketing efforts to ensure what you’re doing aligns with actual customer needs.
What makes a good persona?
There are a lot of different ways to create and structure personas, but the best personas all share a few common characteristics.
They’re based on actual conversations
Although personas aren’t specific people, they should be based on conversations you have with real people. Truly effective personas are developed only after teams have spent time talking to a wide range of prospects and customers about who they are, what they do, what they need to do, their challenges, preferences, what your company does for them, and more.
These conversations can happen in person, online, through surveys, support cases, reviews, emails, or—ideally—a combination of the above. And the lessons learned from those conversations should be put into one spot for your team to review. Then your team can analyze them and tease out the main characteristics that will eventually make their way into your user or buyer personas.
They’re easy to digest
In your research phase, you’ll collect a lot of information. It can be tempting to work as many details as possible into a persona—from technology choices to biographical information, and even their choices in shoes. But not all of that detail is helpful when you’re using personas to inform your strategy and execution of marketing campaigns.
The best personas are easy to look through and digest. They’re designed to be scannable and expose key pieces of information quickly, so teams can reference them when needed.
They’re widely shared and accessible
You can spend all the time in the world crafting the perfect persona. But all of that time will be wasted if no one on your team sees it, or they look at it once and file it to yet another folder in Google Drive.
Make sure you can easily share your personas across your organization. The ultimate output format plays a role here—shared docs and presentations work well—but you also need to train team members how to use personas so that they become an integral part of their process. Holding kickoff meetings, properly documenting persona usage, and adding persona review to task lists in project management tools like Asana can help ensure your personas are used—and that your time building them doesn’t go to waste.
They’re constantly refined
Just like transactional emails, personas should never be “set it and forget it.” There will be a lot of upfront work in the initial persona creation, but revisit them every quarter to make sure they continue to accurately represent your customer base. Set up calendar reminders or tasks in your project management system to routinely take another look at your personas—and conduct new research as needed—to make sure they’re up-to-date and actually doing what they’re intended to do.
COVID-19 has proven to us how much and how quickly people and their behaviors can be turned around. So it’s important to lead through change, empathize with your audience, and flex to their ever-changing needs.
Avoid common pitfalls
The research and creation process around personas can be overwhelming, and mistakes can happen. A lot of time can be spent creating useless—or even harmful—personas, so here are a few tips to avoid some of the problems that usually accompany persona creation.
Don’t make assumptions
You’ll likely go into the persona creation process with a lot of assumptions about your customer base—especially if you’ve been at your organization for a while. You probably think you know a lot about your customers, so it’s only a matter of formalizing what you know in a slide deck, right?
Resist the urge to jump right into building your personas—no matter how well you think you know your customers. Your assumptions are likely based on limited information gleaned from conversations with a limited number of customers. Close that slide deck and engage in as much customer research as possible before opening it back up to finalize your personas. You’ll steer clear of false assumptions that could ultimately undermine your business goals and have a much better, more authentic understanding of your customers moving forward.
Engage your entire team (not just marketing)
Oftentimes, the creation of personas falls to marketing or design teams, since they’re the ones who will often leverage the resulting product the most. But relying on only those teams is another common mistake we’ve seen when creating personas.
Other teams—especially customer support and sales—are a wealth of information when it comes to your customers. They are on the front lines for your company, having some of the most important conversations about your product or service. Tap reliable colleagues across your organization to help in the persona creation process. They’ll bring a different perspective to the work and help you create well-rounded and more useful personas.
Curb your own biases
Just as you come into the persona creation process with assumptions about your customers, you enter with a whole stack of personal biases. When looking through customer lists, you might be averse to flagging smaller companies to talk to, or skip over customers with hard-to-pronounce or foreign-sounding names. Oftentimes, these actions are almost unconscious—they’re the result of a lifetime spent in systems that denigrate otherness.
Try to notice when this happens, as biases will only work to exclude people and groups from the process. There may be a language barrier when talking to customers from outside of your own locale, but they often represent an important part of your customer base. And, as humans, they have every right to be represented in those conversations. Try to be inclusive in your research phase and when building out what will become your final personas.
Inform your email strategy with personas
We use personas to inform how we think about our own email campaigns. They influence what emails we send, when we send them, how they’re written, and even how they’re designed and coded. While a lot of the information in our personas is informed by customer interviews, we also rely on our email metrics to shape them, too.
Get to know your own audience with the help of Litmus Email Analytics. See where and how your subscribers are engaging with your email campaigns and use that data to help build out your personas—and better email campaigns.
- State of Email Engagement report (Litmus)
- 3 Pillars of a Successful Email Program, Part 3: Perform (Litmus)
- The Complete, Actionable Guide to Marketing Personas + Free Templates (Buffer)
- Personas – a Simple Introduction (Interaction Design Foundation)
- Personas Overview (Usability.gov)
- A Guide to Personas (Ben Ralph)
- Putting Personas to Work in UX Design (Adobe)
- Just Enough Research (Erika Hall)
- Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories (Steve Portigal)
- Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights (Steve Portigal)
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