NOTE: This is the fourth installment in a special 5-part series on Understanding the Target Market for Your Product or Business. This series was inspired by a talk that Bob gave at the Podfest Multimedia Expo in March 2019. In Part 4 of this series, we explore the following question:
“How can I use customer personas to help me better understand the target market for my product?”
In last week’s post, we talked about how to use customer segmentation to move from your TAM to your SAM, which essentially represents your ideal target market. To catch up on Parts 1-3 of this 5-part series, be sure to check out the posts for Episode 81, Episode 82, and Episode 83. This week, we’re going to learn how to turn more of our SAM into our SOM; and we’re going to start that part of the process by introducing the concept of customer personas.
Since your Serviceable Obtainable Market (SOM) more or less represents the portion of your target market that is actually expected to consume your product, your main goal is likely going to be to grow your SOM as much as you can. And the best way to do that is by truly understanding the needs of your target markets, and then addressing those needs better than any of your competitors. This is where customer personas can really help.
The concept of customer personas, at least as they’re used in a business sense, go back to the 1998 book The Inmates Are Running The Asylum by famed software designer Alan Cooper. In that book, Cooper presents the concept of assigning a name, face, and personality to a single ideal user of your product. The idea behind this methodology is to design your product to completely and entirely address the needs of at least one targeted user, with the theory being that there are likely going to be many more customers who all share that same user “persona.” As might be expected, the persona that you identify – which can be as detailed as providing a name, age, gender, occupation, family situation, and outline of key needs and behaviors – is meant to be quite specific in nature. The reason for this is to encourage designing a product to completely address the specific needs of the few rather than inadequately addressing the broader needs of the many.
Somewhere along the way, customer personas came to be used in the marketing space as well – mostly as a way of representing entire market segments. On the surface, this might appear to make sense since it is certainly helpful to capture how a typical segment representative might look, feel, and act. And, in this way, personas can be very useful tools to help you do just that. However, one of the drawbacks of using personas in this way is that you may lose sight of the fact that individual members of your segment will not all look, feel, and act exactly like that one singular persona that you create. And this does tend to throw some people off. Because of this dynamic, when using personas in a marketing sense, I tend to create multiple personas for any one given segment. This serves more as a way for me to visualize typical customers within that segment rather than having any one persona represent any one segment completely.
Whichever way you choose to use personas, there is no denying that this can be a very useful tool for understanding the true needs of your customers. There is also no denying that, because personas can be used in a variety of different ways, there really is no “textbook” methodology for developing them. As such, the best I can do is provide some general guidelines that you may want to follow.
Better yet, let me just show you two of the personas that I created for my Dear Strategy podcast:
So, here we have PM Paula and PM Pete – two entirely fictional representatives (right down to the very much paid for stock photo images) of our “Product Managers” market segment. As you can see, although some of the needs between these two personas are certainly similar, there are also some key distinctions that are useful to analyze separately. And that’s where the power of using multiple personas per segment really comes into play.
So how do I use these personas once they’re created? Well, every episode that I record, I record with these personas in mind. Every post that I write, I write for them. Whenever I find myself addressing a problem that I believe my audience has, I look to my personas and think instead about the problems that they believe they have. And, inevitably, my product changes as a result. I even go as far as to hang these personas on the walls of my podcast studio so that I can always be assured of talking directly to my ideal audience rather than talking to some nameless, faceless concept of what I think my audience might represent.
Even with all that, the use of personas is just one of the methodologies that can be used to help turn more of your SAM into your SOM. Next week, I’m going to introduce you to one more tool that will help you not only understand the individual needs of typical customers within your segments, but will also allow you to identify the broader segment-level drivers, issues, and needs that personas tend to step over.
And that tool, by the way, is one that I actually created and that I’m fully authorized to give away for FREE! So you definitely won’t want to miss out on Episode 85!
Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 084
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Bob Caporale is the founder of Strategy Generation Company, the author of Creative Strategy Generation and the host of the Dear Strategy podcast. You can learn more about his work by visiting bobcaporale.com.