Know Your Users: Developing Actionable Customer Personas

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Customer personas can be hugely helpful for any organization that’s designing, developing, and marketing their product. Creating and validating specific customer personas that span a company’s various and potential customer types makes it easy to understand what pieces of the product/marketing strategy are most effective.

You can’t build everything for everyone or market to every person: Knowing who you’re building for is just as important as knowing who you’re not building for.

3 Tips to Developing Actionable Customer Personas:

Tip 1: Psychographic > Demographic

Good personas combine both demographic data (age, gender, occupation, relationship status, etc) with psychographic information (goals, motivations, concerns, shopping patterns, etc), but great personas emphasize the psychographic. Demographic data can help determine appropriate market sizing and can be leveraging in certain marketing channels (i.e. PPC advertising), BUT customers don’t purchase a product because they happen to be in a specific demographic. Understanding why a customer might buy a product and what types of messaging motivates them has a much greater impact on product /marketing strategy than demographic data.

Tip 2: Focus on the “Jobs-to-be-done”

The “jobs-to-be-done” framework, created by HBS professor Clayton Christensen, was developed to help companies focus on the problem their customers have, NOT the current solution the companies are offering. Customers don’t buy products/services but instead “hire” them to do a specific job: understanding the “job-to-be-done” makes it much easier to build a solution to the problem. 

Don’t ask customers what they want: ask them what their problem is and focus on developing a solution to solve it.

Tip 3: Use a Variety of Data Sources (hint: it’s easier than you think)

Develop personas using both qualitative and quantitative from a variety of sources. One data source will only cast your target customer in one type of light: the more sources you use, the clearer idea you’ll have about who your target customer is.

Use the following data sources to build your persona:

Analytics Data: Pull data straight from Google Analytics to determine demographic data for visitors (age, gender, location, etc).

Survey Data: Use surveys to target both individuals currently visiting/engaging with your site AND individuals within specific demographics that aren’t visiting your site.

  • Onsite Survey (using Qualaroo or Qualtrics).
  • Email Survey to Existing Contact List (using SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo or FluidSurveys).
  • Offsite Survey (using Google Consumer Insights Market Research Surveys).

Phone Call Data: Phone calls with current customers are THE best source of qualitative data and are 100x easier to schedule than in-person interviews. Create a 10-15 minute call script with questions to ask and distribute internally so your entire team/company can participate.



Developing customer personas is a relatively easy exercise that can give more direction and focus to almost any marketing effort. Personas are narrative in nature and are meant to be tested: don’t kill yourself trying to get a persona completely right the first time. Gather some data, create a persona or two, and start executing tests to see how your personas stack up.

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