Personas: How You and Your Team Get a Mutual Understanding of Your Target Audience

by Birk Schöneich

Let’s picture, you are giving a presentation to – say ­– 1,000 people and you are trying to convince them of your idea. That is an incredibly difficult task.

When we talk about marketing today, we are confronted with a similar problem: We usually face the task of convincing a large group of people with different desires, needs and interests. The larger the group, the more difficult. The challenge intensified since the rise of digital media. Digital media has given us the opportunity to reach large groups of people for seemingly little money. At least, that’s what we think.

What are we doing right now?

Companies spend millions on airtime slots, online and offline placements and keywords to advertise countless products and services to us. At the same time, the awareness and impact of advertising on a lot of media channels is not clearly comprehensible. (Have a look at the statistics on marketing expenses of companies and perceived marketing campaigns in Germany on statista.)

Sometimes, we do not even notice advertisement. We walk and scroll past it. In the worst case, we find the advertisement even disturbing. We switch off or delete what we don't want to see and "unfollow” companies that annoy us.

When we do brand marketing according to old patterns (more about brand and direct marketing), we often fall into this trap of trying to reach as many people as possible with the one and same message. The result is that, at worst, we reach no one, because no one feels really understood.

How can we shape our marketing activities?

Instead of getting lost in vague target group definitions and trying to reach as many people as possible with huge budgets, we should learn to choose the right people. In other words:

"Reach not as many as possible, but as few as possible!"

This way, we can focus our attention (our most important resource) on choosing the right words, in the right place, at the right time to resonate with the concerns, fears, wishes and goals of the very people we want to target.

The challenges of brand marketing: Success of individual measures or campaigns cannot be clearly measured. For effective brand marketing, a company needs two things: a big budget and a lot of time. If you want to reach many people (even a sub-target group) and want many people to remember your message, you have to advertise frequently and continuously, which costs a lot of money. Classic channels are also expensive to book, and it takes a long time for a message to settle in the minds and hearts of customers.

#Focus & empathize

Let's rewind to the beginning: Imagine instead of 1,000 people, we have to convince only one person of our idea. That is much easier! This allows us to empathize with the target audience.

In marketing, we do this by using personas. Think of a persona as an imaginary customer, who is a prototypical representative for a group of people, which is characterized by common behavior and psychographic characteristics. I like to point out that the important fact here is to focus more on behavior and culture than demographic data. The process of detaching our focus from demographic data and instead understanding the different cultures of our target groups enables us to really put ourselves in the shoes of the target group.

Why is this important?: If your target group is between 70 to 80 years old, male, wealthy, living in England, perhaps married for the second time and good businessmen, do you think of this person or this person ?
Same demographic data, but you would probably go for completetly different marketing messages, right?

#Develop a common understanding with personas

When developing personas, we either tend to get too involved in unrealistic details and making false prejudices or we are ending up being too vague by only using demographic data. Note: The prototypical customer should be fictional, but this doesn’t mean “out of nowhere”. The trick is to find the balance. And of course, the personas should be statistically validated beforehand or afterwards by data from market research methods. Appinio is a useful tool to do this for instance.

By doing so, we — as a team or as a company – develop a common understanding of the people we want to reach and help. It’s important, because if we lack a common understanding, our measures will be blurred. But if we manage to establish a common understanding, we cannot only make better decisions, but also work more effectively and efficiently.


And this is where it all comes down: Our goal is to ensure that the developed persona does not end up in the drawer but is used in everyday life and integrated into our daily measures. To help with that, I recommend, in addition to statistically validating the persona, for instance to print out the persona’s profile, and to place it in a position where it is visible to the core team on a daily basis. This way, we can keep the persona in mind in all actions we take.

To sum up

Instead of talking to 1,000 anonymous listeners (one directional) and reaching no one, because no one really feels understood, we focus our attention on the smallest possible audience we truly want to convince of our idea.

With the help of personas, we develop a common understanding within our team, but also with our target audience. We talk and interact (two directional) with them and try to understand their culture in order to choose the right words in the right place, at the right time. Because by doing so, there’s a bigger chance that our words will resonate with their concerns, fears, desires and goals.

This is not a one-time process, but rather an ongoing discussion, which is why it helps to visualize our results and adapt when required. And as a result, it’s more likely that this small group of people will take over our job of telling the others about us, because we have aimed for their culture – and our word will spread!

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Birk's Background

Birk helps businesses and organizations to better understand the complexity of today’s corporate communications and combine marketing, public relations and digital media in a meaningful way to connect with the people they want to reach and help. As a junior consultant at MINDACT Consulting & Content, he is preparing companies and people from a wide range of industries for the challenges of the future.