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A version of this tutorial originally appeared in the free Primer app.

Having a target audience of “everyone” puts you in danger of appealing to no one. But even a narrowly-defined audience can still contain wildly different types of people. “Female millennial college students in urban areas” can include liberal arts majors, engineers, studious homebodies, social butterflies, part-time students, and more. 

It can be challenging to reach your entire target audience without resorting to ineffective generalizations. That’s where audience personas can help.

Personas are fictional profiles that represent groups of similar people in a target audience. They can help you figure out how to reach people on a more personal level, while delivering the right messages, offers, and products at the right time.

Let’s check out four steps you can take to use personas in your marketing.

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1. Ask lots (and lots) of questions

First, define your target audience’s general makeup. For example: “soccer moms” or “motorcycle enthusiasts under 35.”

Then it’s time for audience research. Really get to know them via interviews, surveys, and focus groups. Learn about their favorite activities, their professional and personal ambitions, what makes them anxious, their personalities, their attitudes toward life, and what items they can’t live without.

Ask them about their typical day—when they get up in the morning, how they get to work or school, what kinds of meals they eat, what time they get home, what they do during their free time, and so on.

Finally, ask them how they go about solving the problem that your product or service is designed to solve. You can also get marketing insights by asking what drives them to try a new product or service.

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2. Look for patterns, then fill in the blanks

Group people together who had similar responses during your interviews, surveys, and focus groups. Then create a fictional audience persona to represent each group.

For example, a restaurant catering to college students might use these personas: the serious student who puts good grades above all else, the fun-loving party guy who hates early morning classes, and the activist student who wants to change the world. In reality, most people possess a variety of characteristics. For this exercise, you’re grouping people by the most dominant trait they displayed during your audience research.

Use the answers to your interview questions to fully flesh out each persona—detail their ambitions, anxieties, a typical day, and so forth. To make your personas more relatable and “real,” assign each a photo and a fictional first name. Also find a quote that sums up what each persona stands for. The restaurant might use these names and quotes:

Alice, serious student: “I worked hard for a scholarship. I won’t waste this academic opportunity.”

Mikey, fun-loving party guy: “College is all about the people you meet and the memories you make.”

Troy, the activist: “We’re the future. We can, and must, affect positive change in society.”

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3. Create a journey map

A journey map is a visualization of the path your personas might take as they discover, buy, and use your product or service. Your maps should identify all the moments or touchpoints when and where your personas would interact with your brand.

Let’s explore this by using the restaurant’s persona of Alice, the serious student. The touchpoints on Alice’s journey map might be:

  1. She’s studying in her dorm room and decides to order food.
  2. She searches online for food delivery options.
  3. She finds the restaurant’s site.
  4. She sees the menu.
  5. She orders.
  6. She waits for the food.
  7. She pays the delivery person.
  8. She eats the food.

At each touchpoint, the restaurant should map out how its business and marketing might interact with Alice. This includes its search ads, landing page, and menu, as well as how easy it is for Alice to order, how long she waits for her food, her experience with the delivery person, and her enjoyment of the food.

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4. Create an empathy map

Empathy maps help you better understand the challenges your persona might face when interacting with your products or services. This, in turn, helps you create better solutions.

To make an empathy map, put your personas in a hypothetical situation. The restaurant, for example, might imagine that Alice has a study group in her dorm room. She needs to order a lot of food without breaking the bank or the group’s concentration.

Write down how your persona might feel during this situation and what they would say, think, and do. Also, write down what their needs are during the situation and the reasons for those needs: “Alice needs to quickly and easily order 15 sandwiches and several side dishes because she and her classmates are studying for an incredibly important test.”

Then, brainstorm ways your product or service could help your persona with these challenges. These don’t have to be fully thought out. They’re just starting points that you can work from later. For example, the restaurant might come up with the idea to offer an “All Night Cram Special”—a bulk package of sandwiches and sides that busy and stressed study groups can order with one click.

Marketing personas can help you to better define your audience. And by getting to know your customers on a deeper level, you’ll ensure your brand is appealing to each and every one of them with the right message.