Quit the Customer Personas and Uncover your Real Audience

Discussing customer personas and the alternatives

Customer personas are overrated

We don’t use customer personas. This is not to discredit the value of consumer psychology, the deeper understanding of your brand psyche and consumer habits are important in the wider marketing space. However, we work with a lot of start-ups who are overly focused on the potential “who”, rather than curating genuine live data from their target audience. 

What are customer personas?

For those that haven’t heard of this, customer personas refer to the detailed exercise of creating invented customer profiles based on characteristics you would expect your target audience to have. Brands typically pay a lot of money for this exercise, giving them around 3-10 profiles of sample customers. 

See this example:

The brand: A new recipe app, “Portions”, offering a range of simple and healthy meal ideas for individuals who want to create a more balanced diet.

Example customer personas - 

Sarah, 36

Sarah is a 36 year old mum of two, she loves to exercise and eat healthily when she has the time. She is concerned that her kids aren't getting the nutrients they need due to their fussy eating habits.

Sarah regularly scours websites such as Mum's Net for tips on fussy eating, but feels like she needs some fresh ideas.

Her main pain points when it comes to healthy family dinners are "realistic" options that the kids will eat, time saving and affordable ingredients. 

Sarah is wary of new technology and products, she prefers to buy things based on a free trial or recommendation from other parents or social influencers.

The goal of customer personas is to pinpoint key elements of the customer’s interests and reasons to buy. This can be helpful but is fairly limited in prescription, with many audiences being made up of various iterations of personas. This would also mean developing individual ad designs and copy to suit each individual iteration. The value is there, but it is very much a cookie cutter approach.

Analysing the market

When you begin a new venture, market analysis is vital. This analysis allows you to set the playing field, identifying existing players, upcoming competitors and addressing the pitch. You need to know, what is out there? Were these companies successful? How do they frame themselves? How can *we* stand out?

This is a good opportunity to source market data and get an indication of what your target audience might look like. It is not enough to broadly speculate about who your audience is, you need to learn about your audience on a granular level. We typically recommend test advertising to achieve this.

An alternative to customer personas

As seasoned Digital Marketers, our recommendation would be to undertake a low-cost testing period to actively source live data from real leads, using personalisation and custom targeting to specifically target leads that have bought or shown interest in similar products or markets. 

You can flexibly amend areas such as age, gender, location, relationship status and hobbies/interests, to get an indication of what works best and why that might be. Each week of testing can hold a different focal point, such as copy style/narrative, imagery, call to action, headline, offer… You name it – then you can analyse how the audience responds. 

Your engagement will fluctuate early on as you learn to optimise your content, however it is important to interact with your audience at this stage to test the waters. It would be inadvisable to plug a large marketing budget into a campaign that has no testing, or real data on your audience. You can hedge a guess, but sometimes your audience make-up is different to what you expected. 

The value of data

Especially for start-ups, sourcing that early data has immense value. It cuts out a number of steps that involve additional costs and time, and give you tangible results.

For start-ups who are looking to gauge interest ahead of launch, this is a great option. It also puts you in good stead if you plan to provide evidence for investment pitches later on. It is also more helpful for future partners to see custom audiences and data than persona details that are potentially less relevant.

From customer personas to personalisation

Yes, customer personas can provide a personal insight, but strictly using them to advertise will limit your scope and give you a pigeon-holed view of your target audience in the early stages. Using informed market research to build custom audiences is a good first step. Once you know who’s listening and what works, you can personalise your content to suit!

What’s your market strategy?

Looking to launch a product or want some advise on refining your marketing strategy? We can help.

BrandRefinery are a UK based Digital Marketing Agency with strong roots in product launch, research strategy, crowdfunding and digital marketing.

Reach out to us for a free call to learn more about how we can support you. You can get in touch here.