Know Your Audience: A 6-Step Plan to Creating Personas

 Your messages aren’t going out to faceless silhouettes. Put a face on your audience by creating personas. Flickr Creative Commons photo by  ephidryn .

Your messages aren’t going out to faceless silhouettes. Put a face on your audience by creating personas. Flickr Creative Commons photo by ephidryn.

A successful message isn’t about the message’s creator. It’s about the person who is reading, watching, or hearing it. 

What does she value? What is she hoping to achieve? What motivates her? What will turn her off? What will spark her to take action?

These are crucial questions — and they are important whether you’re composing an email, shooting a video, putting together an annual report, or creating something else.

Yet in a world where many of us are busy trying to keep up with our crowded editorial calendars, it’s often difficult to take a step back and think about the individuals who are on the receiving end of our messages. As a result, chances are pretty good you’re missing the mark with at least some of your target audiences.

Now imagine if your communications team truly understood the intended audience for every one of its messages.

Your open rates would be higher. Your social media content would get shared more regularly. Your revenues and brand awareness would soar.

There’s one especially effective tool for helping you achieve this state of communications nirvana: personas

Personas are composite profiles of your key audience segments that help your team identify, understand, and talk to these key audiences.

When created and deployed properly, audience personas can help time-strapped communicators understand and connect with their key audiences. Personas help put a face on the people you’re trying to get to take action — and they offer true insights into what your target audiences care about most.

Scott and I have come up with what we have found to be a great system for creating personas through working with groups like the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America and Wolters Kluwer.

Here are 6 lessons we’ve learned along the way:

1. Identify your goals

Before you define and learn about your key audiences, it helps to understand your priorities. Are you looking to advocate for an outcome, raise more money, launch a new product or service? By articulating two to three key organizational goals, you can begin to identify your highest-value audiences and work backward from there. 

2. Map your audiences to your goals

Once you define your priorities, identify which audiences you most need to reach in order to achieve these priorities. Perhaps you need to find more people who are similar to your existing donor or customer base—or you need to target an entirely new audience to achieve your goals.

3. Gather the relevant data

The most useful personas blend art and science. The science, in this case, is data. Review your organization’s CRM, web analytics, donor surveys, and any other key data about your current audience to begin to better understand who they are and what they care about. When possible, supplement these data with information from external sources to paint a more vivid picture.

4. Put a face to the numbers

Data is crucial, but so are insights from real people. We recommend interviewing people who are in your target audiences to gain insights that go beyond the numbers — and to reach outside of your organization to talk to folks who aren’t familiar with you. These interviews will help you learn more about what they value, what they think about your organization, and what it will take to gain the attention of others like them.

5. Make them engaging and accessible

Personas are designed to be easy to understand, so try to avoid word-heavy narratives. Use photos, quotes, and breakouts to give them color and help your team feel connected to them. And present them in accessible formats, such as posters that can be tacked up in office cubicles or flip books. Here’s an example of a package of personas we helped create for Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.

6. Embed them in your culture

Train everyone in your organization on how to use the personas in their marketing and communications efforts. Find ways to incorporate your personas into your planning process for events, new campaigns, and other activities that involve interacting with your key audiences.

The Takeaway?

Creating personas takes some work, but when done well, that investment is more than paid for by the added clients, donors, customers, and champions who come your way when you know how to speak their language.

Want to learn more about how personas can help your team? Drop me a line (peter@turn-two.co) and we can chat more.