Friday, April 4, 2014

Do You Know Who Your Customers Are?

30,000 ft view image courtesy of Erin
Do you really know who your customers are? Do you take a 30,000-foot view or a more granular, zoomed-in view in understanding and describing them?

I did several workshops this week on personas and journey mapping. The two are intimately intermingled, and that's an important point to remember.

But first, back to my original question: Do you really know who your customers are? How does your company define or segment them? Do you talk about "target segments" or "target customers" or "target demographics?"

Guess what? Your customers are not target anything. If you think your customers are men between the ages of 18 and 49, for example, you're dead wrong. When it comes to understanding who customers are, what their needs are, what they're trying to do/achieve with your organization, and how you'll design a better experience, good luck with that! Targets are broad, ill-defined, and meaningless.

You can't take a 30,000-foot view of your customers, which is what targets do. No, there's a better way to describe your prospects or customers. You need to drill down deeper and develop personas, which will focus on the needs and jobs to be done by the customer.

"What's a persona?" you ask. Grab a cup of coffee, and let's dive in.

Personas are fictional characters created to describe your ideal prospect or actual customer. They are derived through primary research - research that can then also be used for your customer journey maps. Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. They are descriptions that represent a behavioral segment and are specific to your business, not to the industry. The descriptions include vivid narratives, images, and other items that help companies understand the needs of the customer (contextual insights) and outline motivations, goals, behaviors, challenges, likes, dislikes, objections, and interests that drive buying (or other) decisions. And let's not forget that each persona includes a human face and name.

A recent, much-talked-about persona is Jennifer, the quintessential Big Lots customer. Never hurts when the CEO is on board to talk about your ideal customer to anyone, much less on an earnings call to analysts.

"Why is all this important?" you might ask next. For a variety of reasons.

  • Shift the organization's focus outside-in (on the customer), as it should be, rather than inside-out
  • Really put the experience in the customer’s perspective and make you think about the customer as a “real human”
  • Help everyone understand who the customer is and obsess about the customer’s needs
    • And keep people from forming their own opinions about who the customer really is - everyone is on the same page
  • Develop empathy for the customer
  • Bring the customer to life
  • Shift “target demographic” thinking to a more-actionable definition/view
    • Targets don’t provide details about needs, goals, attitudes, behaviors, emotions
    • Targets are too far from reality
  • Drive engagement and ongoing understanding of the customer, especially since they need to be reviewed and updated on a regular basis
I mentioned journey maps earlier. Personas and journey maps go together like peanut butter and jelly. Why? (I've intentionally repeated some of the bullets from above.)
  • Some of the research (and resultant insights) used to prepare the personas is also useful in building or enriching the journey maps.
  • It shifts the focus outside-in, as it should be, rather than inside-out.
  • Really puts the experience in the customer’s perspective and makes you think about the customer as a "real human."
    • Together they humanize the customer, making it easier to focus on emotions and empathy in designing and delivering a great customer experience.
  • Combined, they put the focus on what the customer is trying to achieve.
  • Maps provide depth to your personas by illustrating how the customer uses or experiences your products, service, or services.
  • Maps then bring to life the experience, including breakdowns and bright spots.
  • Personas help mappers stay in tune with the customer, his needs, and what he’s trying to achieve.
  • Together, they support customer-centric design.
  • They help you make improvements and more personalized to specific needs.
Together, we get a full picture of who the customer is and what they are thinking, feeling, doing – experiencing.

I've heard that storyboards don’t get read or used for a variety of reasons, so it would seem that visualizing the experience with maps simplifies the connection from the customer (persona) to the experience.
Personas are the starting point for journey maps. Are they your starting point, too?

Not all those who wander are lost. -J.R.R. Tolkien

Understanding is much deeper than knowledge. There are many people who know us, but very few who understand us. -Unknown


  1. Great post! Very importantly, you point out that Persona should be based on primary research. Ideally, Persona should be based on customer profiles derived from quantitative research as well as qualitative research.

    1. Thanks, Alex. Yes, both quant and qual research.

  2. Annette,
    Thanks for that.

    I think that firms often find it hard to develop personas and stick to a persona led approach. I think that this happens for a a couple of reasons. One, the development of personas requires firms and marketers to empathise with all sorts of different customer. This can be hard. The second issue leads on from the first where personas are often not completely right and need to be refined over time. This adds extra effort and a requirement for continuous vigilance into the process.


    1. I think you're spot on, Adrian. I think there's a valiant effort to define them, and then the box is checked. On to the next item on the to-do list...

  3. Annette,

    I can understand the importance of personas when your organisation serves a market niche, maybe teenage boys on skateboards or middle aged men buying brief cases but how do you use personas if your business supports a wide range of customers, maybe a supermarket chain or a bank?


    1. Good question, James. It's the same approach. A company could have 100 personas. Think about it less from the high-level segment perspective and more about what job they are trying to do.

  4. @James - I think personas become even more important in mass appeal products. You must create that personalized relevance to overcome being a commodity and you do that by knowing their needs, preferences and journey on an intimate basis.