Marketing Personas: Five Areas to Focus On … and Five Areas to Ignore

Marketing personas are a pretty sweet deal.  Basically, you or I can read a page or two of content and gain a relatively thorough, base-line understanding of the customer.  Who wouldn’t take this deal? 

It gets better, too.  Multiple functional teams within an organization will benefit from a set of customer personas.  For instance, armed with personas, a marketer will better craft positioning.  A salesperson will more easily discover customer pain points.  R&D teams will have better direction – and empathy – for whom they’re building a product.

However, this is all assuming a persona is done well.  

Like most things in life, personas run the risk of getting drowned in noise, thus losing its appeal and, ultimately, its audience.  Unfortunately, it’s quite common for one to read a persona and ask “How does this actually help me?”  So, how do we avoid this risk?  After speaking with dozens of seasoned product marketers about personas, we summarized some of the key learnings.  

  1. Spend more time on: Role and responsibilities.  Don’t shortchange the basics.  Job title is a great descriptor, don’t be afraid to go a bit deeper on the role.  What was this persona hired to do?  What is their domain at their organization and why is that important?  Are they a subject matter expert?  If so, of what?  

… and less time on: Demographics.  Often, folks want to add fun details to the persona to make it seem “real”.  Examples might include age, political leanings and favorite book or tv show.  We totally get that this might be fun, and in some rare use cases, relevant.  However, these made-up factoids often distract from the real information rooted in real research.  Unless the demographics help tell the story or help your peers better understand customers, we’d recommend you drop the marital status or hobbies of your persona.   

  1. Spend more time on: Challenges and goals.  The value of knowing what a persona is currently striving to achieve and what stands in their way is the information your teammates are desperate for.  Ultimately, your organization exists to help the customer solve the problem and hit their goals.  These insights are a goldmine.

… and less time on: Personality traits.  Wouldn’t it be great if all of your customers shared the same personality?  Not only is adding this unwise, it’s inaccurate; a downright waste of time.  Save the Myers Briggs tests for working relationships with real peers, not fictional characters who – in aggregate – don’t have but one personality.

  1. Spend more time on: Sharing and distribution.  What good is a set of personas if no one can find it?  Having one source of truth for personas across your entire organization enables less confusion, better management of the document and certainty that everyone is speaking the same language.

… and less time on: Graphical design.  I love a great design as much as anyone, and if you can land a slick design that’s appealing to the reader, by all means go for it.  But the snazzy persona document that no one can find won’t win you many points.

  1. Spend more time: Specificity through persona types.  What seems obvious deserves a mention: Differentiate your buyers from your users and perhaps your champions from your detractors.  This distinction will be helpful to all.  By ignoring aforementioned information that isn’t helpful, focus more on persona variations.

… and spend less time on: Alliterative titles.  Eh, who am I kidding?  We love Charlie the Champion and Debbie the Detractor.  Keep these coming!  

  1. Spend more time on: Living documentation.  Your business will change, and your customers will too.  As customer needs change, technology evolves and you grow your business, make it a habit to update personas at a cadence that instills in your cross-functional teammates that personas is an ongoing investment and reflective of the world today.  

… and less time on: Perfection.  As they say, don’t let perfect get in the way of good.  If you don’t have personas at the moment, simply publishing the information you have gathered from research has serious value for your peers who can make good use of it.  

What do you think? What did we miss? Want to manage your personas (and product launches!) with Launch Day? Shoot us an email at

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