Marketing Microsoft

Give Your Prospects Personas

How persona-based marketing can be used to full effect to aim your message at the right target.

Meet Bill. He's the owner and CEO of a growing midsize manufacturing company. Bill is in his early 40s, wears glasses and tries to squeeze in an early morning workout whenever he can. He prefers golf shirts and khakis, rarely donning a suit. Bill drives an SUV with a booster seat in the back for his 4-year-old daughter. Despite this apparently calm, in-control exterior, Bill is harried. He worries tremendously about managing his company's growth. He wants to leverage technology to increase operational efficiency, to improve customer satisfaction and to offset the rising costs of doing business -- but he has no idea where to start. And that's keeping him awake at night.

Bill is not a real person, but he's an example of one of the most powerful tools you can use to better connect with prospects and customers: persona-based marketing.

Part Hollywood characterization and part business analytics, persona-based marketing involves constructing a fictional customer based on real-life data and intelligence, then using that character as a compass for promotional and selling decisions.

In addition to the simple demographic data that describes who a prospect is, the persona method answers questions about his or her behavior: What keeps this person awake at night? How does he spend his time? How does she like to be sold to?

This concept can help you create a vivid, tangible picture of your best prospects or customers, sculpt a marketing message pertinent to their concerns and move them to inquire and buy.

Getting back to Bill, let's say you're a systems integrator who is targeting midsize businesses like his. Using what you know about Bill as a representative of the typical business owner, you can make some tactical marketing decisions.

Because Bill is pressed for time, he probably wont attend an all-day seminar, and family responsibilities after work might rule out an evening dinner meeting. But he would be interested in an executive breakfast briefing with his peers from other local midsize companies. He also might say yes to a 45-minute, executive-level Web seminar he could attend from his desk.

This fictional CEO can even help guide decisions about minute matters such as brochure design: Because you know that Bill wears glasses, you'll make sure that the font is big enough for him to read easily.

Granted, Bill is a composite character, not a real person. But referring to him as if he were real as you formulate and execute your messages can make your marketing more effective. And it can prevent your promotions from becoming too generic to be noticed. Using personas shifts the basis of your decisions from starting with "I think" to "Our customer or prospect would think."

Building a Character
Convene a group of employees who interact with your customers and prospects. Bring in lunch and a whiteboard and ask them to help you build a persona for each of your target customers.

Start by describing each customer's role in his company. Next describe the company itself: What industry is it in? How big is it -- that is, how many employees does it have? How up-to-date is it? Does it have a lot of competition?

Then start getting specific: Give each persona a name, a title, an age and describe his or her appearance. How does he dress? What kind of car does he drive? What does he do in his free time? What kind of educational background does he have? Flesh out as many attributes as you need to give a full, rounded picture of this character.

Next, turn to your persona's problems and goals. What does this person's daily calendar look like? What are his most pressing concerns? Is he looking to roll up 20 databases into one, getting ready for an IPO, dealing with a new competitor who has just entered the market? What product or service attributes would be most helpful in solving this person's problems?

Then, when formulating your marketing messages, think about what path this person might pursue in seeking solutions. Would he turn to white papers or articles in trade publications, or perhaps seek input from a speaker at a peer-networking group? Let the personas steer the route, which you can pave with information that can help your prospects and customers move forward in their consideration and buying process.

If you've never used persona-based marketing before, give it a try. For Microsoft partners, it can be a powerful way to focus your marketing messages and offers, driving more leads and sales.

About the Author

M.H. "Mac" McIntosh has been providing marketing and sales consulting services for Microsoft and many of its partners for more than seven years. More than 1,000 Microsoft Partners across the United States and Canada have attended his Marketing Boot Camps and Marketing for Leads (tm) live and Web seminars. You can contact Mac via