How to Create a Customer Persona in 5 Easy Steps

Let’s face it, there are the sexy and fun parts of business and there are the boring (yet necessary) parts of business.

Making money is fun.

Creating customer personas is typically not so much fun.

Unfortunately, you can’t make much of one without the other.

This is one area where lots of brands fall short. When you ask “Who is your ideal target customer?” They can rattle off a few generalities, or worse, answer “everyone.”

Here’s an unpleasant truth: everyone is not your target customer.

Sorry, but it’s true.

The fact of the matter is everyone is too many people. You can’t serve everyone.

Even giant brands like Apple see a much smaller market share than you’d expect. You might think well anyone can have an iPhone but even Apple has a person they are targeting in their marketing.

For smaller brands, having a target customer is even more important. You can focus deeply on a fractional share of the market and see incredible success.

Many refer to this as the concept of 1,000 true fans.

Is 1,000 True Fans All You Really Need?

I first heard of this concept almost ten years ago from a Tim Ferriss blog post or book, I can’t remember where. He got into the idea from WIRED editor Kevin Kelly who wrote a blog post about in 2008.

Here’s the part that really resonates:

To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.

Though originally targeted at artists, I think the concept works for businesses as well and there is an opportunity as highlighted in this paragraph:

Now here’s the thing; the big corporations, the intermediates, the commercial producers, are all under-equipped and ill suited to connect with these thousand true fans. They are institutionally unable to find and deliver niche audiences and consumers. That means the long tail is wide open to you, the creator.

So what if your brand was able to jump on this, where the big brands can’t niche down to your customer personas? The field might be wide open and ready for you to grab it.

Here’s an interesting case study from Ramit Sethi. His 1,000 true fans have generated over $8.6 million in business for his brand since 2013.

That’s no small task. The average spend per customer is $8,600 and the majority of them are repeat customers.

1000 true fans ramit

The 80/20 rule applies here too. Note that just under 80% of those customers spent about $5,000 while around 20% have spent multiple times that.

All of this adds up to a very successful business.

One key thing to keep in mind is the 1,000 number isn’t a hard and fast rule but a general guideline.

If you’ve got a product that costs $15,000 a pop, then 500 customers generate $7.5 million a year. That might be all you need.

On the other hand, a business that sells a service for $100 a year will send you $100,000 annually.

So the numbers and prices can be tweaked but I think the principle applies regardless, targeting those die hard dedicated fans is where you want to be living when it comes to your marketing.

All this is something that you should keep in mind as we continue.

Getting Down to Business

Now that you see how important getting those true fans is, you need to know exactly who they are. This is where the hard part comes in, spending a lot of time figuring out who your true customers are going to be.

Research is the most important part, which is why I dedicate a few ‘steps’ to various portions of it, but hey, that’s the way things go.

Ready to actually dive in?

Step 1: Know Your Demographics

This is the basic ‘outer’ information on your idea customers. Information like age, gender, occupation, location, etc. For some products or services, you might really need to expand this to things like religion, neighborhood, race and body type.

This basic information is relatively easy to get. You can pull the data from your current customers and see which way it skews. If you have more than one example, say both men and women, who have the same occupation or live in the same neighborhood you can split into multiple personas.

In many cases, that will be necessary. You might have two or three personas that cover 90% of your potential clients.

Here’s a caveat, don’t go crazy creating three, four, five (or more) target customers. We’re looking at the largest segments of your niche you can find.

Step 2: Dig Into Psychographics

Psychographics is just a fancy word for things like hobbies, beliefs, values, and opinions of your customers. Here’s where you want to pull on your amateur psychology cap and try to dig into your ideal customers to find out more about what they think, what they like, and how they operate.

This post, from CrazyEgg has a really nice primer on psychographics that can help you dig into it a bit deeper.

psychographic-research-vs-demographicFor some brands, this part can really help you identify little things that might separate your target persona from a standard issue customer.

The main key here is to think about these psychographics as they directly relate to your business.

If you run a gym, for example, hobbies or anxieties can play a big role in determining those potential customers who you can target directly in your marketing by speaking to those hobbies or fears. If you run a printing shop, knowing your customer’s favorite sports team isn’t likely going to matter all that much in the scheme of things.

This can also help you come up with places to find potential customers too. There can be meetings, forums, conferences, and social media channels where you’ll find your true matches.

Step 3: Gather More Qualitative Data

The thing about creating your personas is you don’t want to guess. Don’t create this about what you think they should be, create them out of proven data that you have.

So, that’s why you need to keep getting more data before you start filling out your personas.

How do you do this?

By talking to current customers.

Crazy, right?

There are three main ways to do this:

  1. By getting on the phone (or email) with current customers and chatting with them.
  2. By sending surveys to current customers with key (open ended) questions.
  3. By having easy web surveys and popups where you can capture some real time data.

What you’re really trying to dig into with this is to understand things like:

  • Frustrations
  • Concerns
  • Needs
  • Requirements
  • Urgency
  • Objections

The thing is it’s not the basic stuff like job title that matters, you need to dig down into these frustrations, needs, and requirements in your personas. These are the things you want to target (ideally in the language of your customers) that is going to make an impact.

Here’s an example from this Kissmetrics post that highlights a customer persona map that incorporates basic demographics, psychographics, and qualitative data:


Now, when you look at a map like the one above what boxes are the ones that give you real insight into your customers?

The orange boxes.

It’s this information that allows you to really build a targeted persona. When you get down to that level of detail and speak exactly to the needs and frustrations you can get super specific all the way through your marketing funnel.

Granted, you likely won’t find a million Lucy’s, but chances are you can find 1,000 or even 500 of them, and that’s all you need.

Step 4: Analyze Data

Ok, by now, you should have a boatload of raw data on your customers. Take the information that you have and start analyzing it.

You want to look for things that stand out, patterns, words that are repeated again and again. Pay particular attention to things like buying intent and common objections. These are the first places you want to start when you begin to segment your customers, these segments are going to correspond with your target personas.

So, as an example, let’s say you have a group of customers that highlight urgency all the time as their biggest concern and another that talks about a smooth onboarding process as the ultimate need. You don’t want to speak to these people in the same way.

The urgency people likely don’t care about onboarding and the onboarding people aren’t feeling the urgency. When you blast out the same message to everyone, you’re not hitting anyone needs and whiffing on all fronts. This is really important when it comes to email marketing and sales materials.

This part is important, so take your time with sorting through the information you get.

Keep in mind that this data is not only good for creating personas but it can give you some amazing insights into your customers and the things that resonate with them. You can use all of this information in your marketing strategy and the content you create.

Step 5: Start Creating 

Now that you’ve got a boatload of information on your customers you can start creating your ideal personas.

You can make your own or use a couple of tools or templates to get you started.

Xtensio is a popular tool that is all about creating personalized templates that you can easily fill in. Here’s an example of a persona template:

persona template

Digital Marketer is also a site that has a great sample template you can use:

dm template

Here’s your starting point.

Fill these (or your own) out and you’ve got your ideal persona. Now, you can get to the fun part.

But always remember, whatever you create needs to speak directly to these people. If it doesn’t matter to them, don’t worry about it.

Also, it’s important to give your persona updates from time to time too. As your brand grows you might find your personas change, all you have to do is repeat the process and you’re there.

Alright, you’re set. Stop reading and start building those personas!