Creating your Customer Personas – the right way and the wrong way

In case you missed it, the talented Tom Fishburne, under the brand name @marketoonist, released this as his “cartoon of the week”. It’s supported by a great article that introduces an approach to customer personas, “jobs-to-be-done”, credited to Clayton Christensen, a US academic and management consultant who unfortunately passed away earlier this year. This post isn’t about the principle of jobs-to-be-done – to be honest, I’d never even heard of it until last summer when I interviewed the brilliant Charlie Sung Shin for the second edition of my book  – it’s about the different ways to create customer persons. (I’ll write about jobs-to-be-done later – it’s a fascinating approach so if you can’t wait, take a look at this article.)

Creating your Customer Personas – the right way and the wrong way Winners FDD

What drew me to this cartoon was the suggestion that when creating customer personas – the cosmetic creation of your target customers, often portrayed visually with cartoon or stock images – there’s not a lot of reality in there. And I have to say, I agree with Tom – there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it

What’s the wrong way to create personas?

While your personas are “fictional”, they should at least be realistic – and to be realistic they need to be built on what you know about your customers, or even your potential customers: they need to be based on data.

Some organisations will design their personas based on market research – the completion of surveys, telephone interviews, and focus groups – but I have a real problem with that, because you’re asking someone what, how, when, or why, and you’ve no idea if what they’re telling you is fact; or just what they believe. 

So, what’s the right way?

When I talk about the difference between asking someone for a “data point” or looking for one, I use this example. 

If I asked you what you’re having for dinner tonight, you might be able to tell me, with absolute conviction, that you’re having pizza, that you’ve been planning pizza for the last few days and you even know which pizzeria you’re buying it from. But, later that day your friend rings and invites you to hook up with them for dinner at their place. Or your partner surprises you with restaurant booking. Or your boss calls you up and asks if you can pull a late one because a client called with an urgent request. And that’s it – your plans for pizza goes out the window.

Creating your Customer Personas – the right way and the wrong way Winners FDD
BBC Sport: User Persona.

Compare that to me asking you tomorrow “what did you have for dinner last night?”  You’re going to be able to tell me, with absolute certainty, what you had.

That to me is the difference between asking a focus group “would you buy tickets to my event if….” and looking at your database and seeing who bought tickets to your last event. Or visited your website to read about the event, entered a competition to win tickets to the event, or clicked on a link in your email campaign to watch a video promoting the build-up to the event.

Different way to create your personas

There’s no right or wrong way to create your personas – I just used a provocative title to see if it caught your attention – there are clearly several:

1) Issue surveys, hold interviews, run a focus group.

2) Look at your data and find the common behaviours.

3)  Jobs-to-be-done – in short this means think about the job that a customer wants your product or service to do, don’t think about the customer.

But if you do go with route one you still have to take those personas you created and match them to the customers you already know – those that are in your database or visit your website.  And if you go with route three, while I love the idea, you still must find a way to align those personas with your actual customers.

So, my advice is – go with route two: use your first party data. You can create your personas, segment your database into personas, AND send personalised messaging to each of them.

Recommended reads: Read about a Single Customer View, Data Visualisation, or our framework for using CRM and Data in sponsorship – ‘Changing the Sponsorship Dialogue’.

You can even sign up for our eLearning course Winning with Data which acts as a primer to understand all things CRM and Data within the sports industry.