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Customer research: how to create a persona

Friday, October 2, 2020

They say you need to know the enemy in the face. But not only the enemy and not only in the face :) Knowing the client, their habits, motives of behaviour and fears will help you not only gain their trust and loyalty but also increase sales and strengthen your position in the market in the final result. Today I will tell you about how and why you need to conduct customer research and how to create buyer personas.

Startup Jedi

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Why do we need customer research?

Customer research helps to better understand the audience, develop the product in the right direction and do not waste time developing features that are going to be useless to the users’ majority of users.

Customer research can be conducted on any development stage of the project and it will always be on the point, and if you do everything correctly, it will positively affect the product and in perspective, it will also positively affect the company’s revenue.

For startups at the early development stages, customer research will help to generate hypotheses and create the correct roadmap. Do you remember the interview with Yuriy Shlaganov and his EduDo project? Yuriy’s project is only a few months as created but it has conducted numerous researches of the target customer (Gen-Z) and based on the research they develop their product.

Another advantage: customer research will give a hint on what you should do to find your aha-moment when users understand that they want to use only your product.

The third advantage: customer research helps to identify client segments and understand who gets the most value from the product and who you should consider while finishing your product. Besides, customer research results will give an insight into what is the cheapest way to attract users during the PR campaign.

Customer research focuses on both simple demographic characteristics of user groups (age, gender, income level) and understanding a range of behavioural factors and customer motivations.

Customer research helps to make sure whether you’ve chosen the right direction of your marketing campaign. Apart from that, customer research can also be a part of the project’s concept development, in order to define the main characteristics and possibilities of the future product.

Uber's approach

Uber perfectly knows its customers: before launching in a new market, the company conducts the customer research. For example, thanks to research in India, the team found that most of the users there use old smartphones and the map freezes on the first screen, and because of this, people do not understand how to use the application. This is how the Uber Lite version of the app appeared without a map on the first screen.

Customer research helped Uber find out that users may have different priorities in different countries. In Brazil, security is considered the most important, in Africa — availability, in India and Egypt — the ability to pay in cash.

The product develops and the company grows due to the company’s research on customer behaviour patterns in each country of presence. For example, the Uber experiment in Kyiv with the possibility of ordering a car by phone was successful, as a result, it was scaled up to other cities. And in India, African countries, where comfort is not very important for users, the Uber fleet has been replenished with tuk-tuks.


Customer research: how to create a persona

Client segments and personas

Customer research in practise is defining the major client segments and on their basis creates a so-called persona, or in other words, the detailed characteristics of a client.

Client segment is a part of buyers who have similar characteristics: demographic, motivational, behavioural. Client segment helps you understand how different client groups make a buying decision.

Without defining client segments, you cannot fully understand all customer needs concerning the product, and you end up missing out on opportunities for product development in the market. Different segments require different messages, different communication channels, different pricing options. Plus, by having user segments in hand, you can identify the most profitable customers and then improve their service.

Personas (“buyer-personas”) are research-based archetypal notions of who your customers are, what they are trying to achieve, how their behaviour is driven by their goals, how they think, how they buy, and why they make buying decisions. In other words, personas are a detailed representation of customers and target audience.

By conducting customer research and composing personas, you will meet your typical customer and find out which person is behind the decision to buy your product.

An example of describing a persona: Pavel, lives in St. Petersburg; he moved there from Vitebsk, lives on the outskirts of the city and rents an apartment. He takes the subway to get to work. He uses Facebook, Telegram, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube. He is interested in business but is still employed, subscribed to publics and channels about starting his own business. Drinks cappuccino. He dreams of moving to the USA.

Knowing this will help you improve your product and targeting, and now you understand what motivates Paul and where you can find him.

It’s not hard to create a persona, it won’t take even a month. However, it is important to avoid a range of mistakes. Thus, while creating a persona, don’t be lazy and spend some time communicating with clients face-to-face, as this will help avoid stereotypes, which will bring all the work to nought.

For example, you’ve developed an innovative approach to produce animal feed and were able to collect general demographic data about your audience. You know the age of the buyers, their gender, income level. But you were too lazy to collect the key information about what their pets are eating now, citing the fact that you roughly represent the range of stores specializing in pet food. But in practice, it may turn out that it is your client who feeds the pet with food from the table or buys him a liver in the market.

What not to do: anti case of JCPenney company

JCPenney is one of the largest American retail trade enterprises, that has a network of supermarkets, and besides, it is the manufacturer of clothes and shoes under various trademarks.

In 2012, the company decided to carry out a radical rebranding. First of all, they ditched popular brands that were profitable and turned to designer brands that were too expensive for most buyers. Secondly, the company has changed the way it operates from traditional coupons to “low prices every day.”

The company took both of these steps based on the successful experience of another network, but they didn’t take into account that the portraits of clients, “personas”, are different. The company’s management proceeded from the fact that it was necessary to introduce something new into the operation of department stores but did not consider it necessary to collect feedback and wishes from customers.

As a result, the rebranding experiment failed and the company lost revenue and customers’ trust.


Customer research: how to create a persona

Gathering information about buyer persona

There is no specific standard for what buyer-personas might be. Every business is unique (and it doesn’t matter, how many competitors it has), thus, personas will also be unique.

Making personas can seem a daunting task. You can use the special Make My Persona generator software to simplify the process. This will become your base, which you will supplement with extra client information obtained from research, surveys, interviews, analytics tools.

However, if you don’t want to figure out how the program works, you can make your persona in google sheets or in the notepad.

What information do you need in the first place? Qualitative. You have to find out the client’s motivation, behaviour patterns and fears.

To conduct quality research on user segments and gather information to make personas, it’s better to start by interviewing clients — online or offline — and using open-ended questions. This is critical to understanding what motivates clients and what needs do they have.

Ask a client 7–10 questions about his behavioural motives, obstacles on the way to the purchase. The questions can be as following:

  • When did you understand that you need such a product/service like ours?

  • What problems does our product/service solve for you?

  • What hesitation did you experience before purchasing?

  • What influenced the purchase decision?

Next, get to know clients in person during a user interview. Talking to your existing customers will help you gain valuable insight into their buying habits, find out what motivates the user, and find out what words they use to describe your product or service.

These interviews can be expensive, time-consuming and labour-intensive, but they can nevertheless provide insights that are vital to your project.

How to interview the client to make their persona

The interview is a key method, which will give you all the necessary information to make the persona. Here are top-questions, which you definitely have to ask during the persona-interview:

  1. Role questions:
  • What is your role in the company? What is your position?

  • How is your work evaluated?

  • does your typical day look like?

  • What skills do you need to do your job?

  • What knowledge and tools do you use in work?

  • Who are you accountable to? Who is accountable to you?

  1. Questions about the company:


  • In what sphere does your company operate?

  • What is the size of your company? What is its capital turnover? A number of employees?

  1. Questions about the goals:
  • What are you responsible for?

  • What does it mean to be successful in your position?

  • What is the biggest challenge for you?

  • How do you get new information for your work?

  • What media/blogs do you read?

  • What associations do you belong to? What social networks do you use?

  1. Questions about personal experience:
  • Collect customer demographic data (age, marital status, parental status);

  • Ask what education he received;

  • Find out what career path he went through.

  1. Questions about shopping preferences:
  • How do you prefer to communicate with sellers (in person, by phone, online)?

  • How often do you use the Internet for shopping?

  • Describe a recent purchase: why did you think about buying the item, what was the evaluation process, how did you decide to purchase the product/service?


Where else to search the information about clients

Here are a few additional methods to get the necessary information about the audience:

  • “Leaving the system” survey.

The question appears on the user’s screen when he is on your website for some time and doesn’t perform the action you need. These questions can help you figure out why the customer isn’t completing the purchase. The questions’ content depends on what kind of information do you want to receive: you want to know whether your website/product/service meets the needs of the client, or you want to understand what keeps the client from the purchase. You can experiment with the questions and change them from time to time.

  • Working with services like web-viewers to understand how the client behaves on the product’s website — which sections he views, what he clicks on, what distracts his attention.

  • If user registration is provided on the product’s website, create fields, where the client will type the information, which is essential to your research: for example, if you need the size of the company, where the client works, just create this kind of field to fill in.

  • Communication with the sales manager and the support department: the first will tell you what factors influence the client’s purchase decision, and the technical specialists will share what questions clients ask after the purchase.

  • Services for web-analytics: with their help, you will learn quantitative data about where do your clients come from, what time do they visit the website, what devices they use, what social networks they use, what media resources they visit.


Customer research: how to create a persona

Creating personas

So, you have all the required information. Let’s make a persona. Here are the characteristics it should include:

  1. Basic demographic information (gender, age, place of residence, income, spouse, children). This we get to know from personal interviews, services for web-analytics, registration fields (if a personal account is provided).

  2. Education and work personal account (area of activity, position, work experience). We get this from personal interviews, web-analytics services, registration fields on the site (if a personal account is provided).

  3. Motivation (who the client wants to become, what keeps him awake at night, how and at what point your product can be useful to him). We learn this from the client’s survey, personal (telephone) interviews, stories of a sales manager.

  4. Fears (what is your client afraid of, what prevents him from making a purchase, what is repulsive). We get this from surveys, interviews, information from sales managers and the support department.

  5. Monetization (find out what income this persona brings you in a certain period of time, how many operations they perform and how often. We learn this from data from sales managers, analytics systems, surveys.

  6. Name (what is your client’s name — the name should be as realistic as possible and reflect the client’s segment). We get this from feedback from colleagues after presenting them the data about the buyer persona.


What’s next?

Let your persona/personas work for the sake of your product. Here are some areas where it can be useful.

First of all, compose a message for the person in “her” language and use it in your marketing campaigns.

Secondly, “introduce the persona to your colleagues”. Make a list of claims on behalf of the persona, prepare the arguments for them and pass this information on to the sales managers and the support department — so your team will learn to work with a real client, and not with a template.

Thirdly, connect the persona to your current product and see how useful it is to her. After the test, modify the product.



Without knowing your client, his needs, motivation and fears, you cannot create a product that will become a sensation for the market and help the project to take off. Making personas is a convenient approach in customer research as it is creating the most realistic descriptive models of typical customers.

The most effective tools for creating personas are surveys and personal (telephone) interviews; auxiliary tools are registration fields on the site, pop-up questions, web analytics tools, data from sales and support departments. A well-researched persona will help to reduce advertising costs due to a more detailed target, improve the product, and increase sales.


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