how to create personas

Creating personas for marketing that have impact

  • What are marketing personas and why do we use them? [Case study]
  • Steps and tips for creating marketing personas
Meet Robin. She’s the new head of marketing at a small but fast-growing technology company based in Edinburgh called Fast-Net.

Robin’s company has been around for just under 10 years, selling customised intranets based on SharePoint to clients in Scotland and the north of England. When Robin started at the company three months ago, she didn’t know huge amounts about building intranets or the Microsoft world, but she does have a post-graduate degree in marketing from the University of Leeds’ business school and a couple of years’ experience as a marketing exec at a sports company in Manchester. She moved to Edinburgh to live with her boyfriend.

During her first couple of months at Fast-Net, Robin has been settling in, gaining an understanding of the company and reviewing their existing marketing material while trying to build up a strategy to make the business grow. Besides an outdated website and a blog with two posts published in 2012, Fast-Net really doesn’t have a lot of marketing material to help her.

Put yourself in Robin’s shoes for a minute: she’s in a new city at her first major job and is the only marketing person at the firm. That’s quite a lot of pressure. She doesn’t know the company inside out and she’s keen to make a good impression on the CEO. And he’s not convinced that the company even needs to do any marketing since they seem to be growing quite well without it.

Why personas?

I believe creating personas for marketing should count among the first actions Robin implements. You see, personas are a very useful way of targeting your marketing material – content, ads, email campaigns and more – which provide information to, and answer the pain points of, a specific target audience who you think will be interested in buying your company’s wares. Fast-Net doesn’t have any personas at present, but when Robin creates her own, she’ll be able to produce content which does a much better job of accurately reaching her target audiences.

With this blog post, I am going to show how Robin goes about creating personas for marketing. She’s been given a pretty tight deadline to create a new marketing strategy, and wants to create and present her personas to the board in just a few days.

What’s an audience persona again?

You might have guessed it already, but Robin is one of the personas we’ve developed at Fifty Five and Five. She works as a marketer at a Microsoft Partner and is in need of our services. If the concept of a created persona attempting to create a persona for her fictional company seems a bit meta, I understand. But, there is a point to this! When we develop our audience personas for marketing, we focus on creating realistic characters with realistic back stories, personal lives, pressures, pain points and goals. Without these, our marketing would end up way too vague, unrelatable and, really, of no use to anyone.

Robin’s a great example of a persona, but to define one a bit more clearly, here’s a definition from our friends over at HubSpot:

“A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers”

HubSpot go on to mention that personas should include demographics, behaviour patterns, motivations, goals and more. So, let’s break that definition down a little to work out what exactly a persona really is and explore how you can create personas for marketing with long-term impact.

A “semi-fictional representation”

Of course, Robin isn’t a real person. However, I’ve designed her based on an amalgamation of similar marketers I’ve met while working with Microsoft Partners. Robin’s persona is therefore very detailed; the more detail, the better our content can be targeted to answer her questions, concerns and worries. Take the fact her boss – the founder of Fast-Net – isn’t convinced he needs a marketing department at all. This is common with small Microsoft Partners, and something marketers often need to overcome.

Your ideal customer

Sadly, Robin is simply a figment of our collective imaginations, but I know that we all want to work with people just like her. Of course, it’s best practice to have anywhere between three and five personas to make sure your marketing also answers the needs of different audience personas. I currently use four ‘ideal customers’ – some of them are in far more established roles than Robin – while others don’t even work as marketers. You get the idea.

Market research and real data

While Robin may be a figment of my imagination, the creation of her personality and traits are taken from real-life people and experiences. Before designing Robin’s persona, I did a lot of research, speaking with existing customers at firms like Robin’s and using examples of similar individuals from LinkedIn.

So, we now know what an audience persona is more generally, how can Robin create one that’s actually useful in her specific company? When she first begins creating personas for marketing, where should she start?

Robin needs to write between three and five personas for her upcoming presentation to the board. Less than that, and they won’t be specific enough, more than that and she won’t realistically be able to create enough marketing material to speak to all those people. To begin, let’s start imagining the kinds of typical people that will be buying Fast-Net’s intranets.

In order to get this information, Robin sets up meetings with her sales reps and the CEO to find out more about the different kinds of buyers at Fast-Net’s existing customers. She also reviews a customer list that Fast-Net has in Excel and does her own research from sources such as Marketing Land and CMS Wire to get a better idea of the lay of the land. She then creates a list of typical buyers:

Common job titles Common company types Common requests for an intranet Common pain points/issues
CIO: 50%

Head of IT: 40%

Head of communications: 5%

HR manager: 3%

Other: 2%

Media & advertising: 50%

Retail: 25%

Non-profit: 10%

Other: 15%

Better comms

Easier document management

Cloud access

Mobile access

Heard about SharePoint projects going wrong



Robin has already got a better idea of who she should now be marketing to. But, so far, so obvious. Things need to get a lot more specific before she can really present a serious set of personas to the board.

Picturing your ideal customer

Robin’s next step is to create a detailed picture of Fast-Net’s ideal customer. This is all about working out the buyer’s wants and needs. Let’s look at how she started developing her persona around the CIO – FastNet’s most common customer profile. Again, these details are drawn from her own research and interviews.

Role title: CIO
Company type and size: Medium sized TV company with HQ in Edinburgh and offices in Salford and London, employing 150 people
Current situation with existing IT: Uses an outdated intranet based on SharePoint server 2007. Lots of employees using shadow IT
What this CIO needs from an intranet: Cloud based tools – either private or public for storing large video files. A modern, fresh looking intranet
What obstacles the CIO might raise: They’ve used SharePoint before. It wasn’t a huge success – aren’t all Microsoft products a bit useless?
What might convince them otherwise? Free trials, demos, facts and visualisations. Marketing targeted specifically at showing how on intranet based in SharePoint 2016 will allow them to use the cloud and that it has a better user interface than earlier versions

As Robin starts creating a more specific persona, she’s already developing a much clearer idea of what her marketing needs to be like. She’s starting to picture the kinds of messages that need to be on the website; the kinds of landing pages her company needs to build; the kinds of blog posts she needs published and the kinds of third party magazines she needs to place ads and articles in.

But this still isn’t enough. Robin is creating personas for marketing that will need to be a lot more specific if it’s to really have any impact.

What do your customers look like?

The more detailed your buyer persona, the better. They must be much more than a few words on a page; the audience persona needs to come to life. It should almost be as if you know them yourself.

Let’s see what Robin did with the CIO she began outlining earlier.

Name: Dave Andrews
Demographic details Male, 47 years old, he’s Scottish and lives on the outskirts of Edinburgh. He’s originally from Perth and is married with two teenage kids.
Professional background Dave has worked as a business consultant in IT for most of his career. He joined the media company he works at 2 years ago
Education Dave began studying computer science at the University of Glasgow before transferring to a business degree, but that was in the 1980s. He’s topped up his education with refresher courses throughout his career
At work, Dave’s pressures include: He’s expected to bring about business change and use IT to align different departments. At present the intranet is a bit useless and people are using a lot of different tools for sharing files (especially Dropbox), which means there’s no central repository of important company documents. Dave knows CIOs get fired easily if they fail to effect change or projects fail.
Dave is looking for: He wants an intranet where all files are stored centrally, and it’s easy to use.
Points of resistance: He thinks SharePoint is no good. He’s worried about starting a new project and watching it fail/go way over budget
Personal goals and ambitions: Dave wants security. He likes his job. He wants to have a real impact on the company and he wants people to notice that it was down to him that this change happened (he’s a little egotistical!)

By creating such a detailed persona, Robin is now able to create marketing material that’s a lot more focused. When she presents this persona – and the others she has designed – to the board, they are sure to be impressed.

Giving those audience personas impact

So, you’ve created a set of believable, accurate and realistic personas. So what? All too often, personas get written in a burst of marketing enthusiasm before being left on a shelf somewhere, never to be used again. But this is a real shame – when used well, personas can have a profound impact on your marketing. So, here’s a checklist to ensure your personas actually get used:

  • Print out your personas, tack them to the wall beside your desk.
  • Define campaigns by who they’re targeted at. Robin, for example, would create marketing folders categorised by the name of her different personas. Any landing pages, articles, blog posts, SEO research or whatever else will be separated by persona.
  • Create a workflow for any piece of marketing content with a step which asks “which persona is this targeted at?”
  • Orientate all campaigns to specifically target the needs and challenges of specific personas

Creating personas for marketing is an essential stage in any marketing activity, and should form the basis of all your campaigns and long term strategy. To get started on creating your very own Robin, talk to us today!

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Len Williams

Len Williams

Len was the first full time writer to join the company, and speaks three languages (four if you include 'Microsoft').