The Science Behind Customer Personas

Quick question, when was the last time you took a long hard look at what makes your customer base tick? If it’s either been a while or you’ve never come around to it, then you need to keep reading this.

Once a strategy reserved for the ‘Apples’ of the business world, small and big businesses alike are now coming to the realization that they too can leverage customer personas to use their assets more efficiently. And it’s about time too. According to a survey carried out by Responsys (with over 2,000 adult respondents) to uncover how consumers feel about their relationship with brands, a whopping 34% said they had called it quits with a brand owing to the poor, disruptive and/or irrelevant marketing messages that they kept receiving after a purchase. A classic case of mistaken identity.

Who or what is a customer persona?

A customer persona is a fictional representation of a segment of a buyer based on real data that reflects their behavior. The main purpose of creating a customer persona is to put you, the person behind the company’s decisions, in to the shoes of the customer. But why go through all the trouble of creating imaginary people?

You see, the current-day customer demands the most personalized customer experience when it comes to brand interaction. However, the majority of these customers are quite stingy with personal information preferring not to part with any personal data. And this is what makes it hard for your customer service agents to respond to individual questions and complaints. Apple seemed to have figured this out quite early; did you know that this tech giant had actually created its iPad buyer persona way before the product was built?

Building Effective Customer Personas is all about Foresight

Patching together information about your customers with good intentions, gut feelings and duct tape is not a recipe for success. And neither is basing your customer persona on irrelevant data, poorly sourced data or worse yet no data at all. JC Penny’s 2012 rebranding debacle can stand witness to this fact; fresh from Apple’s retail stores, Ron Johnson took the initiative to make tremendous changes on the look and feel of JC Penny stores ignoring what exactly drove customers to the shops resulting in cataclysmic drops in sales.

So how do you gain an insight of what motivates the different segments that make up your customer base so as to have a foresight of what different customer personas want? Here are 4 valuable ways to go about it.

  1. Multiple-choice customer surveys- Create demographic information that includes age, ethnicity, gender, location and income
  2. Ethnographic research- Follow social activity and use both forum and keyword research to observe your targeted consumers. Sites such as,, and also gather information for specific online communities.
  3. Internal data- You can utilize your own sales figures and user profiles. Please note that buyer profiles and customer personas are NOT the same.
  4. Focus Groups- invite 6-10 participants and have sessions that last no longer than 90 minutes. These sessions should be mediated by a skilled moderator.

If done right, the content that you create will focus on what your customer personas value most and how your solution will fit in to your life. However, keep in mind that customer personas are tools, and like all tools, they are only as good as the people using them.

Do you have customer personas for your products and services?

  • Share: