How can you best reach your customers? The merits of personas for choosing advertising platforms

By Bruce Hakutizwi

You’re a business owner with an unexpected cash injection of $5,000 earmarked for marketing spend. So where do you spend it?

Don’t put it all on your Facebook account or into billboard advertising, newspaper spreads, or anywhere else just because that’s what you’ve always done.

Marketing spend should be allocated not to the platforms you are adept and experienced at exploiting (or those that provide instant gratification) – though this all helps too. – but to media your customers, or prospective customers, tend to engage with the most. Otherwise, your advertising will be seen by the wrong people – those with little inclination to buy your products.

So how can you best understand which platforms will reach your target customers? Answering this question was one motivation that underpinned the emergence of “personas” as an indispensable marketing tool.

The persona concept

For marketers, a persona is a profile of a fictitious person who represents a specific group of target customers. Grouped together by common interests and characteristics, these groups are better understood when distilled into a single persona. Marketers are therefore better placed to optimize their messaging to reach and connect with their customers.

Personas help you personalize your message, the tone in which that message is delivered and the medium through which it is delivered.

As well as crystallising what your target customers like and want, personas also do so for what they don’t like or want. And, by separating customers into groups, you can run multiple campaigns so that your messaging doesn’t overlook or alienate important customer archetypes.

Creating personas

It is generally recommended that you should develop between three to five personae – any more makes things too complicated, any fewer will generalize too much about your prospective customers. You can base your personas on data collected about customers – for instance, through newsletter sign-up forms and at the conclusion of purchases – and your own guesswork, educated by your experience in the industry.

Also pick the brains of your sales team, customer services department or anyone else in regular contact with customers.

For practical purposes, you could capture the details of each customer persona on an individual card. Producing these as a handy, laminated set will create a useful reference tool to remind your marketing team about customer needs when they’re developing new advertising initiatives.

Beware the broad brush

Many companies create personas using only socio-demographic features like age, gender and income.

This approach can have limited success and does benefit from simplicity. However, this very simplicity also poses shortcomings.

Broad-based profiling could, for instance, put characters as diverse as Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and rock music legend Ozzy Osbourne into the same category. It’s hard to believe their consumer needs would be at all similar.

For more meaningful results, persona portraits should incorporate more nuanced traits such as emotions, goals, needs, and behaviors. Some systems use descriptive terms like ‘Adventurer’, ‘Traditionalist’, ‘Harmonizer’ or ‘Performer’ to delineate distinctive personalities for target groups.

Hypothetical case studies

Let’s say you retail sportswear. One persona might be 25-year-old Brad, who has a modest income, enjoys football and baseball, and uses Facebook regularly. You could target Brad through Facebook marketing with pay-per-click campaigns that spotlight the variety and value of your team-sports apparel and equipment.

Another could be 42-year-old Jennifer, a high-flying mom of two who attends gym classes three times a week. Leaflets and posters in high-end gyms in your vicinity – perhaps part of a reciprocal arrangement where the gym advertises in your shop too – might work well. Cash-rich but time-poor, Jennifer might respond well to a message that highlights the premium quality of your gym-wear and your home delivery service.

Forty-nine-year old Bob, meanwhile, exercises only intermittently. He doesn’t buy sportswear often but when he does he spends big. He also likes golf, but plays less often than he’d like.

Driving as part of his job and rarely using social media, Bob could be effectively reached through highway billboard ads that remind him of what he’s missing out on when it comes to the fun and camaraderie of golf and the benefits of exercise.

These are just theoretical examples, but the key takeaway is this: we are better at understanding and empathising with individuals than groups – it’s basic human psychology.

By giving the persona a name and even a face (generally using a stock photo or illustration), you drive home the important fact that target groups are not an abstract concept, but consist of real people with genuine needs – all the better for the effectiveness of your marketing strategy.

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Bruce Hakutizwi is USA and International Accounts Manager for, the world’s largest online marketplace for buying and selling small and medium size businesses.  Bruce has over 7 years’ experience working within the US business transfer marketplace connecting buyers and sellers.