How to create a persona
Personas are important because they let you know who you’re talking about and what’s important to that person. How are you going to “enter the conversation that’s already in their head” if you don’t know what that conversation is?
A persona includes information that gives you an idea of where your target audience is coming from. It includes information such as their job, their goals, their challenges, and even demographic information such as gender and approximate age. Some models are more specific than others; some, in fact, are specific enough to be parody-able.
The general idea, though, is to get enough information about your reader that you know what it is that they are interested in.
Why are personas important?
There are a number of different reasons aha personas are important, including topic definition, content creation, and promotion.
Maybe the most obvious reason to understand your reader is when it comes to topic definition. After all, you want people to consume your content, obviously you want to know what kind of content they’re interested in consuming. Some of that will come from your own head, of course, as you likely have a similar mindset as your audience. (Or at least, I hope so!)
Other times, though, you can use information from the persona to find topics you might not have thought of other wise by checking out the sources of information they follow or talking about topics that are raging in their community.
Personas are also useful when you’re creating the actual tutorial or other content; choosing examples, cultural references, or even tone are going to depend on who you’re speaking to. For example, if I were talking primarily to English teachers, I would have insisted on ending that sentence, “are going to depend on the audience to which you are speaking.”
Finally, personas come in handy when it comes to promotion, because they let you know where to find your audience and what messages are going to resonate with them.
Creating the persona
There is no single way to create a user persona. Pert of that is because personas are used for so many different purposes. For example, some are used for sales, some for designing user experiences, and still others for marketing or content creation.
If you look around, you’ll find there’s no single “right” way to do personas:
- [DOWNLOAD] Customer Avatar Worksheet: Finally, Get Clear on WHO You Are Selling To! (DigitalMarketer)
- How to Build Buyer Personas That Build Sales (Content Marketing Institute)
- 20 Questions to Ask When Creating Buyer Personas [Free Template] (Hubspot)
- A Guide To Creating Buyer Personas That Will Improve Your Content Conversion Rates (CrazyEgg)
I have a tendency to be a perfectionist, so I have to limit myself or I’ll spend all my time on personas, and none on actually producing content. Personally, it think it’s important to answer these questions:
- What is your reader’s job function?
- What are your reader’s goals?
- What are your reader’s values?
- What are your reader’s challenges?
- What are your reader’s pain points?
- What is your reader’s function in the sales process (if you’re writing marketing or content marketing-related content)?
- What are your reader’s concerns?
- How old is your reader?
- What does your reader already know?
- What topic-related resources does your reader have?
So how do you go about finding this information?
In some cases, you have a good idea of who your people are, but it’s always good to confirm; just make sure that you don’t’ fall prey to “confirmation bias”. Confirmation bias happens when you have an idea of what you’re looking for, and you ignore information that contradicts it.
One good way to get a good sense of your audience is to interview actual customers, asking these questions. (Make sure to also give them the opportunity to give you freeform answers.) This process can also help you by give you insights you hadn’t even thought to look for.
Once you’ve completed your interviews, you’ll begin to see patterns emerging; use those patterns to group your customers into buckets, then name the buckets something appropriate. Frequently, customers will be grouped by job function, or by the type of business. For example, the creative director for a large company’s advertising division is going to have different concerns than the creative director for an ad agency, just as a SaaS IT person is going to have different concerns from a telco IT person.
Personas are great for helping you to get into the head of your reader, but they’re a little paradoxical. On the one hand, you need to remember that not everyone is the same, but on the other, you can’t reach everyone with one piece of content; remember, you’re writing for one person at a time. Do that, and you’ll reach more than you think.