An introduction to user personas |

An introduction to user personas

By Katie Bennett / February 19, 2016

kate-personas-list3Can you define your audience as anything more than someone who wants to buy your product or service?

If not, perhaps you should consider how user personas can take your digital marketing campaign to a whole new level. Whether you are using SEO, PPC or social media, without knowing who your audience is, you are going to struggle creating content that will appeal and convert or uncover all the language they use to find what you offer.

Which is why when the opportunity to talk at Optimise Oxford came up, I jumped at the chance. It had been 2 years since I joined and it was to be my first public speaking opportunity.

It’s a difficult challenge thinking about what your audience might be interested in and what they might enjoy you speaking about. I went down the route of talking about a topic I knew a little on but wanted to learn more about, it was a way I could expand my own knowledge.

So, why personas? I feel personas often aren’t considered in detail, if at all, in digital marketing strategies. As something I’ve recently been considering in our campaigns, I wanted the audience to understand not just their importance but how to create them.

What is a persona?

A persona is a fictional character created to characterise the key traits of a particular target audience. This will generally contain information such as their needs, motivations, and interests, along with any characteristics that will impact how they interact with your brand and it’s online presence.

The aim of developing personas is so that we can build digital strategies with these different groups in mind, and use the personas to help optimise the user journey at every stage of a website. By asking the questions Does this work for persona X? at every stage of developing our strategy, we can create a user-focused development process.

What we are looking for is different

One of the biggest challenges I feel marketers struggle with is differentiating between what they perceive to be the customer journey and what users are in reality looking to achieve and how they interact with your site.

When working within the digital marketing industry, taking a step back and placing yourselves as the user is increasingly difficult. You know your products or services inside out. You know what your site or content marketing campaign is trying to achieve.

It’s important for a digital marketer to strip back their knowledge and see the user’s perspective. This is where personas play a vital part; they provide the character(s) to consider when planning a marketing strategy.

Considering your target audience

target audience

Not all our customers are the same. Whether you work in house or agency side, understanding customers is a difficult process. Each customer has different demographics, interests and motivations, but they are still your customers.

Despite all these individualities they still buy from you. So how do you market to a group of individuals who differ so much? By knowing your audience.

Defining your target audience is the first step to creating your personas. By creating a list of elements that make up your target audience, you are building the foundations of the characteristics for those personas.

How do you create personas that work?

Although personas are fictional, you build them with realistic details. Ideally, you base them on some understanding of your real audience(s). Finding previous audience research is a great start.

It’s easiest to create accurate personas if your organisation has identified demographics and has data on habits and interests. When you base online personas on previous research, you can be sure that you’ve based them on reality. If you get stuck, check out Search Engine Watch, they have a great quick guide to creating customer personas which is a useful breakdown!

What does a persona look like?


Your goal is to create a persona that typifies each of the segments within each of your identified audiences. Each segment groups those with common habits, wants or preferences. You should limit yourself to three audiences, and three segments of each. That means a max of nine personas for your organisation.

The precise details you’ll want to include depend on your organisation’s marketing.

  1. Are you aiming to motivate volunteers for your mentoring program or build the number of visitors to your nature preserve? No matter your goals, here’s what you’ll want to include in your personas:
  2. What is the person’s first and last name, age, gender, face (find a photo online) and personal information?
  3. What are a few details about the person’s life? Interests or habits that make each person unique and memorable? When you start here, the hypothetical building blocks start.
  4. How does this person spend their day? Outline their daily work day or day at home, including specific habits, likes and dislikes.
  5. What is this person’s work environment (if you’re targeting professionals, rather than individuals). Consider their length of time in the job. Their professional development preferences and habits. Their information-seeking habits and favourite resources. Their personal and professional goals. Their relationship with colleagues and more
  6. Who does this person trust?
  7. Where (or from whom) else is this person getting information about your issue or similar programs or services?
  8. What are the person’s personal and professional goals in relation to your organisation’s programs?
  9. Who else is encouraging them to “do the right thing” (e.g. follow through on your calls to action for this person/group)?
  10. Where are they in the Stages of Change about doing the right thing (from “I don’t see it as a problem” to “I can/want to do this now.”)?

Combining personas with customer journeys


Ensuring that your personas match the customer journey on the site is critical. If you don’t spend the time mapping your audiences journey, you can’t create a site that is useful and logical for your audience.

When combining personas with user journeys, it’s useful to start with storyboarding how the users will interact with the site. For example where they will land, what links they will click on and where calls to action might be most effective?

You can also pinpoint the different types of content you might use too. By doing so, you can map out their user journey in wireframe form, and utilise the personas you have created to identify where your different types of personas may go to on the site.

Once you have a clear storyboard process for each persona, you can then create the actual pages based on the persona and customer journey information. You can be happy knowing you have developed a website or website pages that tailor to your types of audience.

If you’re looking for some extra reading material to help you understand more about personas and how to create them, check out:

Or you can check out the full set of slides from my talk:

Do you spend time defining personas? How do you define them and what challenges do you face? Let me know in the comments or tweet me on @klbennett_!

Katie Bennett


After developing a passion for marketing whilst studying Business at GCSE, Katie then went on to study Marketing and Public relations at University. Since graduating she joined in March 2014.

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