While working on projects over at Phases Design Studio, my clients (independent of each other) came up with a silly little phrase that made me blush— “can you Kandra-ify this for us please?”. Yup, they added a suffix to my name to create a verb for successfully marketing their brands.
Hearing them use that term of endearment makes me chuckle every time, especially since I know my clients’ know what my “big secret” is. They were part of developing it after all… I’m talking about customer profiles, also called buyer personas.
Understanding the ideal customer profile for any marketing effort is critical to developing a successful piece—whether it’s top level brand assets (like your company name), brochures, websites, or business cards. By understanding WHO we are designing, coding, and writing for, the majority of the pieces we develop are not only approved in 1-2 proofs, they are also highly effective, converting, positive ROI pieces.
So what exactly is a customer profile?
Simply put, a customer profile is a description of a segment of your target audience.
Much like shopping for gifts, effectively targeting your audience is only hard if you don’t remember who’s on the list and what they want. With a good persona, you know exactly who they are and what they want, allowing you to easily target them.
Each segment of your audience is defined, given a name to help you remember who’s on your list, and then details are associated with them—such as who they are, what they like, what influences them, and where to talk to them. Here’s a list of items included in profiles we work with all the time:
- Basic demographic profile
- Their goals (specific to the industry)
- Pain points keeping them from meeting those goals
- How to overcome their pain points / obstacles
- What they love and hate about the industry
- Do they research prior to purchasing, and if so, where
- What is their role in the decision-making process
- Personal values and influences
Is it worth spending time creating buyer personas?
Yes it is!
With a tidy document of customer profiles, each member of your team can always be on board with who’s on the list, and what they want. It makes each and every piece you develop simple(r) to concept, develop, and implement.
Let’s use one of my favorite logo design stories as a quick example. And just so you know, this story is true as shared with me by one of my mentors!
The client (let’s call him Bob) owns a B2B construction company. Bob is also the most dedicated father you have ever met, and loves everything that his 6 year old daughter loves, and is always thinking of her first. He’s a great dad!
While reviewing the logo and proposed color pallet, Bob has only one critique - what if we made it pink? Yes, PINK! Now, I don’t know if Bob was conscious about making his daughter love his logo or not, but there was a lot of effort put into making sure he understood exactly why pink was not a good color for a construction company. The customer profiles were critical to making sure that Bob’s construction didn’t have crews of workmen at job sites in not-so-manly pink shirts. In the end Bob was fully on board with a more masculine and professional color pallet.
When designing a logo, or any other component of your brand and marketing collateral, it’s critical that the art, color, and typography speaks to the target audience, not to you (the business owner). I’m not saying that the business owner shouldn’t have pride in, or love their brand. But the key elements that make the brand “work” need to be focused on the audience. If you clearly know who they are, that objective becomes easier for the designer to communicate, for the owner to approve, and for the consumer to buy into.
What custom personas can do for your business brand.
Creating your customer profiles also has the nifty side effect of helping you and your team really understand your business. As you determine which segments to profile, and what goes into the profiles, you are also taking a deeper look into your business and the space it operates in.
While creating customer profiles for our branding projects, we often uncover new potential audiences along with new product lines or service ideas that boost overall company growth.
You can also identify audience segments you DO NOT want to target. Creating buyer personas can help you determine who may be interested in your content, but might not want to purchase your products. That would be an ideal segment to put on the “do not target” list. On the more extreme spectrum, there have been instances where developing buyer personas for an existing brand identified that the brand was not on target and need to be rebranded.
How do you build an ideal customer profile?
When working with a new client, our first step is to complete a full brand discovery, which includes delving deep into customer profiles. If the brand is new or young, it probably lacks profiles, and we start with simple discussion to get the basic information.
We ask about who they sell to, how the business started, and focus on two broad levels of identifying the audience: demographics—the facts like age, gender, and income; and psychographics—the traits such as likes, dislikes, and habits.
- For some smaller or startup businesses, this top level information is all we have to base the branding efforts on, but it does provide a starting point for full profile development.
- For businesses with a larger budget, we develop full blown, data driven profiles that are packed full of the exact details we need to qualify every marketing and brand move we make. This also provides us with the opportunity to leverage the data geeks over at Inflow to help compile the data and to even build out full audience profiles for eCommerce clients
The nitty gritty behind developing ideal customer profiles
Building out full customer profiles is an evolution and cycle based on three steps:
Initial research collection and analysis provides details on what segments the full audience should be broken into. Once segmented into key groups, additional analysis (and potentially more research) is completed to expand and confirm key traits associated with each audience segment. Finally, the data is fully documented and formatted into what is called a customer profile. Once the profiles are “complete”, they are further analyzed as they are used, updated as new information is made available, and new profiles are added as new segments are discovered.
Some say the documentation is the “fun” part of building a buyer persona. Once the data is understood, you start to see a virtual person evolve for each segment. Typically they are given a fictitious name that represents their key traits (like Small Business Bob), and an image to represent them as well as help us human marketers associate with them (Small Business Bob would be wearing a pink shirt in our profile of him!).
Once we have a name and face for the buyer profile, we fill in the data and key insights from the analysis. This includes:
- an overview of demographic information
- a short narrative about who they are including:
- needs / goals as related to the business
- key pain points (both ones they are aware and unaware of)
- potential actions to take to overcome their obstacles and meet their goals
- resources for finding them (i.e. where to market to them)
So where does the data for customer profiles come from?
Here are some of the techniques we use to acquire buyer profile data:
Research on current customers can be gathered from interviews and a review of known data (I’ve always been an advocate for leveraging the knowledge the business owner has, some just need a guiding hand to see the value of the information).
Industry research such as reviewing publication data (including media kits), websites, or even mystery shopping provides information on what customers you may be missing out on, as well as to help define likes and habits of current buyers.
Scraping data from your website and social media profiles is also a viable resource, assuming that the site and profiles has adequate history to provide relevant data.
Focus groups of potential or current customers or even phone interviews often reveal hidden treasures of information about goals, pain-points, and new ways to better attract your potential audiences. These can be tricky, though—you have to be very careful with how you word questions, and to avoid leading the conversation. Let the members of the group talk, and have an independent party pose basic questions to spur conversation.
As our small business branding processes have become intricately tied to inbound marketing efforts for our clients, our customer profiles often match up with inbound buyer persona’s. And, much like “SEO” and inbound marketing clients, small business owners do not have a large budget to fully build out high profile personals. That’s why we have varying levels of personal development for each client budget level, and often work closely with our inbound marketing partners at Inflow on persona development. Here’s a great, and in depth, look at creating audience profiles for inbound from Everett Sizemore over at Inflow. You’ll also notice that Everett talks about the budget associated with creating effective profiles as well.
Everett Sizemore, Director of R&D and Special Projects at Inflow
What’s next after developing customer profiles?
Using customer profiles of course!
What color, font, message, or image will each marketing piece need? What new channel should be explored to reach new potential clients? Ask the audience! And, with effective profiles, you have virtual people to talk to.
I am always reviewing my client’s profiles to confirm that my recommendations are going to be effective (or to keep myself in check with any “great idea” that ends up being something I should just keep to myself and never admit to thinking of).
As I touched on earlier, customer profiles evolve. As your business expands, as the industry changes, and as new opportunities are revealed, it may be necessary to develop new profiles, and existing profiles are often updated.
Tip: Don’t forget to keep channels open when communicating with your designer. When evaluating the effectiveness of any new piece, keep the audience in mind. Referring back to the profiles to confirm or counter any objection you have with what is being presented to you often helps streamline the revision and approval process for your marketing pieces. See 11 more tips for branding and design project success.