Get In Your Customers’ Heads: Creating Great Personas

Kirsten Pickworth, Director of Client Services
  • How is it that some web sites just click, the moment you look at them?
  • What makes some people just love Grolsh beer, while others swear by Guinness?
  • Why do you like BMWs, while I like Teslas?
  • Why do I like one candidate, while you like another?

This isn’t luck. Someone designed these brands or campaigns to appeal to certain personalities. And they started with personas.

Personas: Your Imaginary Friends

Wikipedia defines personas as “fictitious characters that are created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product”.

In short, they’re your marketing campaign’s imaginary friends. Playing with imaginary friends helps kids learn to interact with real people. Your personas will teach you to interact with a real audience.

You should create at least 3 personas, defined by unique traits: Different levels of experience with your product, different benefits for your organization, different social classes, etc..

There are lots of ways to sketch out personas. This is how I do it – it’s worked for me and I’ve refined it since I started writing for a living way back in 1990.

Start With Layers

I look at personas in layers:

  1. Who they are, every day.
  2. What they want, all the time.
  3. How they interact with you and your competitors.
  4. What might make this interaction happen/not happen.
  5. How they may affect your organization.


This might include statistics, but you must at least gather a team that knows these personas. The team might include:

  • Experts on this audience.
  • Anyone working with these personas on a daily basis: Salespeople, teachers, trainers, bosses, installers, tech support, etc..
  • Writers who write documentation or marketing copy for these personas.

Statistics are pretty easy to find, too:

  • Social media: What do folks on Facebook, in the blogging world, etc. say about this brand, type of product or service? Don’t take the first post as gospel – make sure you research.
  • Quantcast (free): What are the demographics of people visiting similar sites?
  • Keyword data from Adwords (free), Yahoo (free), KeywordDiscovery, WordTracker. The phrases people use are a great peek in their heads.
  • Current site statistics, if you have ’em.
  • Industry-wide site stats (Hitwise and NetRatings) if you can afford it.
  • Geographic segmentation: Prizm (free).

While you research, write down the impressions and insights you gain into each persona. You’ll also probably dig up new personas as you go.

Then it’s time to write. I usually need 1-2 hours to complete each persona. It may take 4 hours if I’m stumped. But it’s worth the effort. A good persona focuses your whole campaign.

Writing: Answer these Questions

You don’t have to answer every one in detail. The idea is to write something (like this example) that makes sense:

Who they are, every day: Demographics

  1. Where do they live?
  2. What’s the climate like there?
  3. Typical stuff: Age group, children, married/single, salary, job, home ownership, ethnicity, education, nationality.
  4. What group might they belong to? What’s their status within that group? Are they influencers? On the fringes? By ‘group’, I mean something like ‘cyclists’, ‘travelers’, ‘skiers’ or ‘people who like to cook’.
  5. What’s their lifestyle?
  6. Any special interests? Party affiliations, etc.?
  7. Any accessibility issues?
  8. Are they internet novices? Experts?
  9. What kind of gadgets do they have?
  10. What’s their reading level?
  11. Would this user be comfortable using a chat program? E-mail? A web-based form? Or only on the phone?

What they want, all the time: Emotional

  1. What’s their self-image?
  2. Personality?
  3. What are this person’s beliefs? This isn’t about religion, necessarily.
  4. Where would they fit in a typical personality test?
  5. What are their day-to-day goals? Survival? Fun? Family? Something else?

How they interact with you and your competitors: Relationship

  1. Has this person used this kind of product/service before?
  2. Do they know much about it?
  3. When do they use this product or service, or otherwise take action?
  4. What’s their role in this interaction? Decision maker? Researcher? Something else?
  5. What’s the environment in which they’ll use this web page? At home? Surrounded by co-workers? Barking dogs?…
  6. How do they feel about it? Is this a product the get excited about? Or is it a necessary evil?

What might make this interaction happen/not happen: The Pitch

  1. What’s their goal in buying the product or service, or otherwise taking action? Think of the big and little picture here.
  2. During this interaction, should they feel adventurous? Secure? Confident? Luxurious? Powerful? Independent? Peaceful?
  3. What makes this interaction fun? Memborable? Maddening?
  4. How important is confidentiality?
  5. How much is trust an issue?
  6. What frustrates them about this product or service?
  7. What will make feel they’ve received value?

How they may affect your organization: Impact

  1. What effect is this person likely to have on the business? Help? Hurt? Earn money? Cost money? A long-term customer?
  2. How often will they come back and use this product, service or interaction?
  3. Will you enjoy working with this person?

When you’re done writing, you must at least get a picture of your best, just OK, and worst customer. See my next post for the may types of personas, and how you can make sense of them once you’re done.


Yes, this is a lot of work! It’s also crucial: As Chris Garrett says, empathy is essential to great copy. It’s also essential to great internet marketing: It affects your web site, your landing pages, and indeed every bit of your message and strategy.

*You can see a finished sample persona, here.

Once you’ve written the personas, read about the next step. Click here

Kirsten Pickworth, Director of Client Services

Kirsten Pickworth

Interim VP, Agency Services
Interim VP, Agency Services

Kirsten is Portent's director of client services, with more than 15 years of experience building integrated marketing strategies for B2B and B2C businesses and nonprofit fundraising. She is a marketing nerd who is always learning and looking for ways to collaborate and teach in her community. Kirsten is also a mom of two who enjoys writing, volunteering, baking creations, and adventuring in the mountains and waters of the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her family.

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  1. Personas really are a great way to start on the information architecture path for a new website, or even for a redesign. Too often as a designer I get myopic, thinking that people are only going to use my website the way that I use it. It’s good to branch out and it helps the user experience massively.

  2. At a past life, (very expensive) personas were created and actually put through photoshoots, so everyone in the company could think about (Judy) or (Bob) and create programs that answered them. It was very effective.

  3. This has really opened my eyes. You have managed to verbalise just what had been going on in my head.

  4. This is a really good way of looking at people. It can also be used for team building as well, both internally and with your clients

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