“I think some young people want a deeper experience. Some people just wanna be hit over the head and, you know, if they get hit hard enough maybe they'll feel something. But some people want to get inside of something and discover, maybe, more richness. And I think it will always be the same; they're not going to be the great percentage of the people. A great percentage of the people don't want a challenge. They want something to be done to them—they don't want to participate. But there'll always be maybe 15% maybe, 15%, that desire something more, and they'll search it out—and maybe that's where art is, I think.”
Why it’s important to define and know your personas
The Bill Evans quote above perfectly summarizes the power of connecting with your core audience, whether you are an artist looking to connect with fans or a company looking to connect with customers. While 15 may not seem like an impressive percentage overall, defining and connecting with that 15 percent can completely alter how and who you market to, the messaging you use, and how far word-of-mouth spreads. They are your mavens, your early adopters.
Mavens are looking for something new—or as Malcolm Gladwell, who coined the term in his seminal book, The Tipping Point, refers to as “information specialists”—and they get excited when they find it. Finding it and sharing it with others makes them feel good. When done effectively, mavens become your most powerful promoters, and are crucial to your Net Promoter Score, which we’ll tackle in an upcoming article. As a testament to this, think of your favorite app, the best book you’ve read or the latest album you can’t stop listening to. How did you find it? Was it recommended by someone whose opinion you value? Thought so.
Mavens are also the ones who will stand by you or your brand; they are loyal customers. They believe in what you’re doing and thus they can forgive a flop, be more open to a change in direction, are less likely to jump to a competitor even when a lower-priced alternative emerges, and can look past bugs—sometimes bugs are even welcomed, but more on that later.
Begin by defining, at a high level, who you’re hoping to reach. If you’re an artist, who do you hope to see at your shows, or buy your art, or be impacted by the message and the meaning of your work? If you’re a tech company, what problem are you solving for your users, how will you be benefiting them and at what level or frequency? What is the purpose of your product and who are you helping?
Do your research
Personas are fictional people based on, in the early stages, what you already know, assume or aspire to, but they should also be rooted in research. There are a few main areas of research that you should be considering including:
- Background research: The personas may be fictional, but they should be based on real-life people. If it helps, use someone you already know either personally or a public figure and use them as your starting off point.
- Qualitative research: Talk to people, do research online, read forums, put out surveys and generate feedback. It’s important to gather ideas and insights beyond your own.
- Quantitative research: If you already have access to any audience or user data, use it. This can be as simple (or exhaustive) as combing through your own social media channels to see who is already interacting with you and building profiles that way. If you’ve already run social media campaigns or track website traffic, be sure to include this information. It doesn’t matter whether you see it as a restriction, opportunity or simply a number, it’s all important stuff.
If you’re already well-established, creating more aspirational or ideal personas can still be a useful exercise. They can be compared to, or derived from, any current demographic information you already have access to either to help you define any gaps or rework current messaging to better suit your existing core audience.
As with any marketing strategy component, you should see your personas as variable. People change, circumstances shift, and times evolve. You as an individual or your company will too, and that's a good thing! Test and measure your persona-driven marketing on an ongoing basis, it will only help you stay closer to those in your community, both online and offline.
Once you have a clear bigger picture, get granular. Consider opportunities and restrictions equally. Perhaps your product is designed for people within a specific geographic region or for a certain age group or demographic. It could be that current limitations are the very thing you’re looking to change or break free of. Whether you’re expanding within or entering a new market completely, draw up who your mavens are like a police sketch. What do they look like, what are they wearing, what are they listening to, what do they drive, where do they live, which technologies do they use, who are their friends—these are all questions that must be answered; in marketing speak, we refer to this as a psychographic profile.
There is no magic number as to how many personas you should create. Your research will help guide you here but it also depends on what you’re offering. If you’re a company, you may hone in on specific features or products and create personas based around what you see are your key features. Depending on the size of your company’s offerings, this could range from a few to double digits. Starting with five personas is a good baseline, building it out however and whenever you see fit.
To show you what this may look like at the end, let’s look at some examples. With GHS, this client, a music streaming app, defined a series of 10 key personas that all followed the same template, pulling in key personal, professional, technical, and geographic details coupled with an overall motivation or goal, and a summary quote of what matters most to them. Here are two of the 10.
Persona 1 - Anna, the Festival-Goer
“My calendar and social life revolve entirely around music.”
Anna loves festivals. She attends a few every year religiously and plans her whole year, travel and finances around them. She volunteers at some, not only in an effort to save costs, but to feel involved. Her closest friendships have been made at festivals, it is where she fulfils her sense of community. Her dream job would be artist relations at a major festival.
- Single, early 20s, lives in a capital city
- Works in the service industry and retail for maximum flexibility, earning her slightly above minimum wage
- Loves social media, uses it as her main mode of communication
- She is concerned with her appearance but doesn’t spend much of her income on it, nor is she fussy. Chooses social accommodation (hostels, camping) over luxury options
- Her primary device is her smartphone, she does not own a desktop computer
- Wants to be seen as an insider, not a follower
Anna uses the app to show off her curation skills and stay connected to her international friends during the off season for festivals.
Persona 2 - Mike, the Music Journalist
“Music is an important part of our society and that should be reflected in the income our musicians earn.”
Mike is a fixture in the local music scene. He played in bands in his younger years with friends, some of whom are still pursuing music as their careers. A stronger writer than he is a musician, Mike chose to pursue music writing over writing music. His weekends are spent at local shows, never stadiums, it is his way to stay connected to his friends and community. He never asks for guestlist or illegally downloads content, he’s always happy to pay as a show of support.
- Married, mid 40s, lives in a medium-size city with a small town feel
- Writes for multiple music publications, self-employed freelancer, money is not a concern nor a constant in his life
- Shops locally, sustainability and health are important to him. He sees his dollar as his vote
- He is very tech savvy and has basic coding skills. His home office is equipped with the latest tech and tools, juggles many devices using his desktop at home, laptop and tablet on the road, his smartphone is always within reach
- Is passionate about teaching people about musicology and artists, sees himself as an educator, authority on music
The ability to create and control playlists with relevant suggestions is what keeps Mike coming back to the app and is the feature he most loves teaching others about.
In the book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, authors Chip and Dan Heath introduce the SUCCES model for “sticky ideas.” A sticky idea, at its core, is simply an idea that resonates with people. The Heaths lay out six common traits of a sticky idea that can be used as the foundation for persona-driven messaging. The more you use, the better, but utilizing all six is certainly not the only proxy for success. Certain features will work better for specific circumstances, certain audiences will be drawn to certain formats. Find your strengths and the combinations that work best for you.
S - Simple
Find the core of your message and prioritize it. Keep it clear and concise.
U - Unexpected
Get people’s attention and keep it. Answer a question, surprise them, or provide insight.
C - Concrete
Draw on the senses and use sensory language to create vivid images or descriptions. Help them paint a mental picture.
C - Credible
Vivid details can also boost credibility. Credibility can come from within or from outside sources via testimonials, quotes or statistics.
E - Emotional
The most basic way to make people care is to form an association between something they don’t yet care about and something they do care about.
S - Stories
Stories that inspire and stimulate drive action. Show, don’t tell.
Once you’ve defined and reached your mavens, keep them close. Consider them before any big event, online campaign or redirection. Give them first access, either with sneak peeks or exclusive content. Engage with them and ask for their feedback. Let them vote on what will be released next, or where. A lot of the biggest companies in the world have beta programs for exactly this purpose. There is no better group to try out a new feature - even if it’s not refined, in fact sometimes especially if it’s not refined, bugs can be good, remember - or share a new piece of work with. It will make the end product feel more collaborative and like they’ve contributed in some way through their support because they have. This will only make them feel more connected to your work or product, and connection—as is so often the case—is key.
Carly Sheridan is a writer and editor passionate about technology and the arts, and the intersection of the two in a digital world. Her experience over the last decade has ranged from working as a journalist in Canada and South America for lifestyle publications, to the Director of Content and Communications for a digital art blockchain company in Berlin, and as a consultant to several startups across Europe. A storyteller at heart, she is forever trying to finish her first novel.