You have an important story to tell about your business to ensure its success, so the question is this:
Are you writing a bestseller or a bomb?
With a few exceptions, if you think you embody your own audience, or that your product or service is the protagonist, then nobody’s going to buy what you’re selling.
Knowing whom you’re speaking to when you’re crafting marketing and sales materials or developing new products or services is the key to attracting and converting customers.
That way you can tailor your brand story to speak to their dreams, goals, pain points and challenges in ways that spark sympathetic or empathetic connections.
Once you have them hooked, they’ll want to know more. And that will move them from interest to engagement and onto action.
To identify your ideal buyer, you’ll want to create a customer avatar or persona, which is a fictional, composite character that reflects the key attributes of your audience. You’ll do this with the help of market research including surveys, data and interviews.
The good news is that you don’t need a degree in creative writing or even marketing to develop a strong persona profile. In fact, there’s a tried and true formula, including how to make an effective avatar creation spreadsheet.
By the end of this post, you’ll have all you need to speak to the true heroes of your business story: your buyers.
Want to get started right away? To help you devise the right questions to guide your fact-finding and then collate your answers, we’ve created a free downloadable Customer Avatar Template & Persona Research Checklist.
What Avatars Do For Your Business
Your business has its own personality, and that can be shaped by a number of factors including your founder’s vision, core company values or simply the idea that you’re selling a product or service people want.
To attract the right buyers, though, it’s not about solely telling your story. It’s about crafting a narrative that revolves around your customers first, with your products or services as the supporting characters that help them get where they need to go.
In other words, your buyers’ motivations write the story -- and strategy -- not the other way around.
By using an avatar to define your target audience, you can hone in on the people who align with your business ideals and will want your offerings. It’s not everyone, just the people most likely to buy into your story and help make it a success.
This leads to a core marketing principle: you can’t be everything to everyone, so focus on those buyers who most need what you provide.
As Copyblogger’s Brian Clark points out, “You don’t just accept who you find – you choose who to attract.”
And just as great novels have many important characters, your business will likely have several avatars representing different market segments. That way you can effectively personalize marketing messages.
For example, if you are the creator of a time-tracking app, you may have a freelancer avatar and a small business owner avatar. While they both use the same product, the freelancer’s pain point may be about accurately tracking time to ensure fair payment, while the small business owner’s may be about effectively managing his staff’s time.
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll use different themes and calls to action for emails, blog content and social media ads for each avatar.
You will also want to create personas that represent your buyers at different phases of the customer lifecycle or whenever you’re introducing a fresh offering.
The bottom line is that an avatar should serve as a messaging litmus test so you can be sure that anything you create, from a simple blog post through to a full-on new product, resonates with your desired audience. That way you’ll make smarter ad buys, choose the right social channels to reach your avatars and deliver on your brand promise to serve your customers with the best possible products and services for their most pressing needs.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what customer avatars are and why you need them, here are five easy steps to create them.
1) Determine The Characteristics Of Your Avatar
Like any other compelling central character, each customer avatar should have depth, purpose and details. After all, the reason to identify your ideal buyer is to discover what motivates them to take action so you can create and deliver powerful messages that convert.
This means that developing an avatar goes way beyond basic demographics. You’ll want to take a deep dive into who that person is, including:
- Job title & description: Move past listing just a generic title and detail what your avatar does – and the decisions he or she influences at work.
- Demographics: Fills in the basic blanks to bring your avatar to life including age, gender, income level, education, marital status/family and where he or she lives and works.
- Psychographics: Get into your avatar’s “head” and habits by describing hobbies, values, attitudes and interests.
- Goals, challenges and pain points: What is your avatar’s primary goals? What stands in the way of him or her accomplishing them? And what keeps your avatar up at night?
- Objections and role in the purchase process: Why wouldn’t your ideal customer buy from you? And how much power does that person have over the ultimate decision?
- Media use: Where does your avatar get his or her information? Favorite websites, books, news outlets, other programming?
To help you craft the right questions to guide fruitful fact-finding and then go on to document your answers, we’ve created a free downloadable Customer Avatar Template & Persona Research Checklist. If you’d like additional inspiration, Optinmonster has a whopping 188 questions that you can choose from to help suss out nuances.
2) Research Your Avatar
While you may have a good idea already about what your ideal customer looks like, your assumptions are just a starting point. There are several ways to conduct your research, depending on whether or not you have existing customers.
If you have existing customers and/or an established business (with a website): Use your resources and data.
Interview existing customers in person (if possible), over the phone or via Skype using your Persona Research Checklist. As far as how many customers to interview, you’ll want to speak to at least six to nine for quick insight -- or as many as 10% of your customer list, if you have time and want to construct a more comprehensive composite.
Ask your sales and marketing team members to weigh in on what they know about the people who purchase your products or services, as those buyers are your proven customers. Specifically question your colleagues about the most common queries they get, objections they hear and how they respond to customer concerns.
Also be sure to speak to your Customer Service team about what people like, love and dislike about your company’s products and services. What can you be doing better?
Look at your website analytics (i.e. Google analytics) and social media platform analytics. While many social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest have analytics built-in, there are also social analytic tools that have free versions you can use, including FanPage Karma (Facebook) and Twitonomy (Twitter).
Also take a good look at your email analytics. What offers have worked well -- and which ones have flopped?
If you use Facebook advertising, you may have installed a Custom Audience Pixel on your site. (And if you don’t, it’s a great way to gather information about the people that visit your website, which will include prospects as well as customers.)
Use Google’s Search Console to get insights into the questions, challenges and problems your audience is wants to solve. It tells you what keywords or phrases people searched for that brought them to a particular page or post on your website.
If you don’t have existing customers, a website and/or are in startup mode: Find your target audience from the solutions your product or service provides.
You can still potentially do survey research with leads or, if you have existing social media channels, your followers.
Look at your competition’s social media pages for demographic and psychographic insights, such as interests. Make note of the people who comment and engage most, and literally look at their pages for more information about activities, education, marital status and so on.
You can also look at your competitors’ analytics with a tool like SEMRush, Buzzsumo, or the resources just mentioned, FanPage Karma and Twitonomy. Each has a free version or free trial that can help you do at least basic research.
Read industry blogs and forums in your target marketplace, and be sure to pay particular attention to the comments made, the questions asked and the tone of voice used. Comments are an especially powerful way to identify pain points and challenges your avatar faces.
Identify industry influencers on social media. Do you feel that some of these people are actually your target personas themselves – or do lots of your ideal audience members follow them?
3) Record Your Findings In An Avatar Spreadsheet
Now comes the fun part of writing each avatar’s “story” -- putting it all together to create a concise yet rich portrait of each of your key avatars.
You’ll first collate all the commonly themed information you’ve accumulated into a coherent description. To bring personas to life, you’ll then give each one an actual identity, which includes naming him or her (i.e. “Freelancer Frieda, “Owner Owen”), finding an appropriate stock photograph to represent that person, and developing a backstory that illustrates his or her motivations and perspectives.
To help you do this, we’ve created a simple spreadsheet that makes it easy for you to distill your research into a powerful, precise format, and “humanize” each avatar.
While you may have started with a good idea of who your ideal customers are, during the avatar creation process you may find some surprising -- and enlightening -- results...
Back to our time tracking software example: while you already knew you were developing a freelancer and a small business owner avatar, your research revealed a third emerging customer -- parents. These are people that may have found your app for work, but now use it to manage their families’ busy schedules, too. Now you can add “Parenting Pat” as a new buyer persona.
4) Check Out Other Online Persona Creation Tools
In addition to the resources we’ve provided you with, there are also numerous free avatar creation tools online that you can refer to when creating your customer avatars.
Here’s a round-up of some of our favorites:
Digital Marketer’s Avatar Worksheet: A PDF download with versions for both a male and female avatar, this worksheet covers the five core avatar components: demographics, challenges and pain points, goals and values, sources of information and objections/role in the purchasing process. Simple to use, it creates a clear, one-page overview of each avatar.
Demand Metric’s Buyer Persona Spreadsheet: A powerful spreadsheet template that can be used to identify common pain points for each avatar, this document includes different tabs for different avatars.
Hubspot’s “Make My Persona” Tool: This simple tool has all the questions built in to build a basic persona -- all you have to do is select from multiple choice answers and type in quick responses, and the tool generates a buyer persona. (Be sure to also check out Hubspot’s Persona Templates.)
Copyblogger’s “Empathy Map”: A twist on the typical avatar creation process, Copyblogger talks about “empathy mapping,” which is a method of not only getting into your ideal customer’s head, but also his or her heart -- and motivations -- by “matching up values and worldviews.” The idea is to dive into what your prospect is thinking, seeing, doing and feeling, in order to complete the sentence, “Our ideal customer needs a better way to ____ BECAUSE ____.”
PersonaBold: An easy tool to help you build your avatars, you can take advantage of a free trial to use their manageable online software to customize your data. Be sure to also download their free white paper, “12 Best Practices for Audience & Market Research.”
Persona Generator is another great free tool that provides a blank template to start from, plus different examples to give you some ideas - such as a business owner, teacher and designer.
Finally, consider using the Personapp, a great free tool that's really easy to use which creates quick, informal personas you can share with your team. If I had to go with just one tool I'd choose this because its lightweight framework makes it so simple to use.
5) Consider Defining “Negative Personas” Too
As important as it is to know who your ideal customer is, it can also be a worthwhile exercise to identify people you don’t want to attract. Why spend your time, money and resources marketing to people who will never buy from you?
Hubspot has a great post on creating “exclusionary personas” that’s worth checking out. It’s an exercise you can do at the same time as you’re researching your avatar, because clarity around who isn’t your ideal buyer to save on sales and marketing budgets is just as valuable to your bottom line as figuring out who is.
Go Create Your Avatars
In our busy digital world where people no longer wait (or want) to speak to salespeople - and instead eagerly conduct online research to make significant purchasing decisions, it’s up to you to author a plan to deliver the perfect content, products and services that answer your customers’ questions and solves their problems.
After all, your ideal prospects and existing customers are the heroes of their own buyer’s journey - and by taking time to understand these leading “characters,” you’ll be better able to capture their attention, keep them engaged and ensure that your business offerings are bestsellers - with the healthy profits to match.
To help you craft the right questions to guide fruitful fact-finding and then go on to document your answers, we’ve created a free downloadable Customer Avatar Template & Persona Research Checklist. Let us know how you get on in the comments section below...