Finding the Facts
“And this above all: to thine own customer be true”
- Shakespeare, if he was alive today and working as a business consultant.
The persona has become one of the more universally-adopted features of user-centric design. If you haven’t run across the term before, personas are hypothetical customers based off of real market data. They’re enormously helpful; personas can guide a company through tailoring product features to fit audience demand or proving market understanding while pitching a potential investor.
Well. If they’re accurate.
Guesswork goes into the creation of just about any persona, particularly those created by young companies without access to years of customer data, or the cash to fuel extensive market research. Startups in particular can find themselves flying largely on the back of some educated guesses. Actually confirming those guesses is vital, but it’s not always easy.
Our solution? Use Google Analytics and Facebook Audience Insights to build some data-driven, early-stage male and female personas for your company. You’ll need:
A company website with some traffic
A Google Analytics account
A Facebook account
(Optional but helpful) LookFar's interactive persona pdfs
Let’s get started!
Using Google Analytics to Grab Basic Audience Data: Getting Started
Powerful as Google Analytics already is, it gets even better with the addition of demographic and interest reporting. Adding these options gives us a wealth of new data that we’ll be using to get some baseline data on your personas.
Once GA’s set, you’ll need a dataset. If you’re a younger company, this is probably going to look like “all the visitors you’ve had to date” – larger datasets smooth out visitor-to-visitor quirks, and while there’s no magic number of visits that guarantee an accurate snapshot of your average audience member, it’s a good idea to draw from as many as you can. If you’re seeing low numbers (<1,000) of monthly visitors, you may want to set the date selector in the upper right corner to analyze visits from a longer period of time.
Analyzing Age and Gender
Alright, you’ve got a dataset. Let’s dig into it, starting with age. Head to the “Audience” tab on the left sidebar, click “Demographics,” then “Age.”
And, easy as that, you’ll find your visitors laid out into different age ranges.
While this is helpful, it’s not quite as detailed as we’d like it to be for our personas, so we’ll create a custom segment to separate our visitors out by gender. To do so, head to the “Add Segment” option above the graph.
Then click the red “New Segment” option to see a few demographic choices. Check either “female” or “male,” then name and save the segment.
Rinse and repeat for the other gender. Once you’ve got these new segments active, you’ll get a more detailed report that breaks age down by gender, and tallies the overall gender balance of your site visitors.
In our case, we found that our audience was slightly skewed toward males, and also that male visitors were apt to be slightly older than female visitors. With this in mind, open up your custom segments again, and edit them both (accessible via the down arrow on the top right of the segment boxes) to include the most likely age of your visitors.
Stay in the “Audience” section of the sidebar and click on the "Location" tab under “Geo” for some more information about where your traffic is coming from.
GA will present a heatmap of the world, which will show you which countries your demographically segmented audience members are coming from. To drill down to a regional level, click on the country name with the highest traffic – “United States” to get a heatmap of states, for example. Clicking on a state will get you a heatmap of cities.
Once you’ve got that it’s time to, you guessed it, edit your segment down again by region or city.
It’s possible to continue refining from here on out – categories such as preferred browser, desktop vs. mobile usage, and (for some companies) language can help narrow your segments down to more accurately represent your primary users.
But if you’ve got a smaller original dataset, now’s a good time to begin plunging into affinity categories.
Affinity categories are best understood as descriptions of your visitors’ lifestyles and passions. Categories are generated by audience activity on other Google sites and range from shutterbugs to dog lovers. To take a look at what interests your particular demographics, click on the “Interests” tab in the “Audience” section, then click “Affinity Categories.”
Note down the most prominent affinities for each of your segments, then lay out their demographics. You’ll wind up with something that looks a bit like this:
Look at that, bouncing baby personas! Now, let’s move on to a new platform, and start really filling these two out.
Drilling Down with Facebook Audience Insights
All of the above work on our two personas has already given us some handy information, but it’s also helped us narrow down the market demographic that we want to put under the microscope. This is important because, believe it or not, we have a very powerful microscope, and a very packed petri dish.
I’m talking about Facebook. Facebook’s Audience Insights engine is an enormously powerful piece of software – it collects data from both Facebook and partner sites to gather information on users of the social network (so, by last count, pretty much everyone). By using the information we already have, we can open up a wealth of new data to add to our developing personas.
To start, sign into Audience Insights (you’ll need a Facebook account with access to Facebook Ad Manager) and select the “Everyone on Facebook” option.
From here, you’ll begin creating an audience to examine in depth. Check out the “Create Audience” column on the far left of the page, and plug in the Google Analytics demographic data from one of your personas.
Once that’s set, click the various Audience Insights tabs for a closer look. Facebook gathers information on everything from relationship status to an audience’s detailed behavior on FB, but there are a few categories that we’d definitely recommend investigating:
Demographics: Education Level
Demographics: Job Title
Activity: Device Users
While the above fields are among the most useful in terms of completing a persona’s profile, exploring Audience Insights more fully can turf up plenty of valuable additional information. Not all audiences are large enough for Page Likes to be calculated, but for those that are, likes are valuable pointers toward the brands and products that your audience is engaged with and passionate about. Experiment, play around, and add the most important categories to your existing persona. Now, keep working on that Excel sheet you created earlier, and add in your information from Audience Insights.
And there you have it! That right there is the groundwork for a pretty darn good demographic-based persona, and one that has more than just guesswork behind the numbers.
We’re not quite done yet though. The next step? Bringing in some real customers to see how well your persona represents the people that are actually engaging with your service.
Confirming Personas with Customer Interviews
Actually talking to your customers is always, always recommended, but it’s a vital stage in persona crafting for a couple of reasons. First, it’s the only way to truly confirm some of the information you’ve already gathered. Google Analytics and Audience Insights are excellent data sources, but they’re not infallible.
More importantly, interviewing customers helps you slim your general site persona down into a buyer persona. At the moment, what you have is a high-level overview of your average visitor, not necessarily a customer. In fact, some of that traffic will come from negative personas – visitors that are actually less likely to engage with your product for various reasons.
By holding customer interviews, you can start to zero in on the traits that your buyers have in common with your site persona, but also see if there are any glaring discrepancies – for example, your general audience might be located in one city, but your actual customers could be coming from a relatively lower-traffic area.
Useful information, right?
So, do your best to gather together a group of customers, then lay out a set interview designed to test their information against your existing persona. SurveyMonkey’s an awesome, free tool for actually gathering answers to basic questionnaires, and comes heavily recommended for this phase of the persona-building process.
Once you’ve scraped together your buyer information, compare it against your site persona and consider changing contrary demographics to better reflect what you’re seeing from your customers. After all, they’ve already shown interest in your product.
Once you’re comfortable with your final information, it’s time to polish off your buyer persona. Find a picture, pick an appropriate name, and you’ll be ready to plug that information into our persona template – the result will look a bit like this sample:
Congrats! You’re now the proud owner of your very own demographic buyer persona! Let us know what you think, and if there’s anything you think we can do to help the process along. We’d also love to hear some persona names – the more memorable, the better.
PPC Hero has a very cool post on a similar workflow, just reversed and focused on validating Audience Insights data with GA.
HubSpot’s article on customer interviews is a solid, solid introduction to one of any startup team’s most important duties, and has some good general info on personas besides.
Speaking of HubSpot, they’ve also got a few suggestions for how marketers can put buyer personas to use. Definitely food for thought now that you’ve got your persona set.
Shlomo Goltz’s long guide to developing and using personas is absolutely friggin’ awesome. Part 1 and part 2 are both highly recommended reading for anyone looking to develop their buyer persona beyond the demographic level.
Don't have enough GA information to fire up stage one of this particular process? Moz wrote an excellent post on persona-building using just Facebook Audience Insights.
We'd heavily recommend getting your persona a memorable picture. Flickr is a great source for creative commons photos - just make sure you search using that particular filter.