..Do you know the things in life they’re hoping for? If not, why not? Having a complete picture of a specific ‘ideal customer’, or persona, can help you to develop the right products and services just for them. If you know exactly who it is that you are dealing with, your business can be much more strategic in its approach to catering for their needs. Understanding their values, and what drives them, will make it easier to present them with solutions that fit their daily lives.

Basically, you want to have a clear picture of each of your ideal customers – what’s important to them, and how you should communicate with them.

Not so long ago, mobile company Orange came up with a series of packages for phone-users, that they named after cuddly things like Dolphin and Raccoon. In order to come up with those, they probably drew a complete picture of the customers who were a fit for each package – down to the papers they read and the coffee they drank. That may be going too far for many small businesses, but for most, taking some time out to develop customer personas can be a useful investment – and might even be fun!

Get others involved. Try to paint as detailed a picture as possible – and if at the end of it, you want to have life-sized cardboard cut-outs of each one in the office, factory or staff room, then go for it!

Whether yours is a business dealing with other businesses or consumers, you are still dealing with people at the end of the day. There will probably be a few distinct personas for your products and services. The general recommendation is to aim for around 3 to 5 distinct personas but you could start with one key persona and see how you do.

Building personas

Personas are based on real customer demographics and online behaviour, with a healthy dose of educated guesswork on their personalities, fears and motivations. The key elements of building a persona are:

1. Demographics

What do they look like? Age, style, gender, relationship status – give them a name to make them more real (and a photo if it helps). Where do they live – are they rural or urban? What’s their job? Where do they work? How do they get there? How much do they earn?

If it’s relevant, you might also want to consider what they do with their leisure time, or their plans for the future, career, retirement. Once you have a feel for who you’re dealing with, you can get to know them better.

2. Their goals and challenges

What is it that they hope to achieve; how can your product help them achieve their goals? What challenges might be getting in the way and how can you help them deal with those challenges?

3. Their buying habits

What are they looking for in the buying relationship? Why/how/where are they likely to be buying products like yours? How are they finding out about them? Do they do research online, ask friends/colleagues, and/or read reviews? Who helps or hinders them in making the final decision to buy? What might put them off a purchase? What will help make the process easier for them?

By considering this as part of the buyer persona, you can think about how to counteract any objections in the selling process, and also help to inform your marketing messages.

4. Finding the right message

How do they communicate with friends and colleagues, and are you speaking to them in the same way, or in a way that they would expect, given the product? What are the stories that get their attention and where do they go to read or hear them?

Admittedly, it looks a bit daunting at the start, with so many questions to consider before you can build the perfect customer, but you probably have many of the answers already. For example, Google Analytics can give you a fair idea of where your online target audience is based, and customer surveys, audience interviews, and research on social media can all add to the picture.

Have fun with the process and get other people involved. If you have a sales or customer services team, they will have valuable insights and their own perspectives on what makes your customers tick.

This is not a cynical exercise to enable you to manipulate your customers… this is an opportunity to really think about who it is you are catering for and to make sure that they get what they need, at a price and a place they want it – in a way that suits them and you. At the end of the day, that is essentially what marketing is all about.

Have you built a persona for your ideal client?

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