Step back and join me in praise of the ‘Customer Persona’

Stepping back may be an unlikely mantra from a PR person I’ll give you – but I do often suggest to clients, particularly new ones, to take a step back and consider what they are doing and saying, to make sure they haven’t lost focus on who they are doing it for, or saying it to.

‘Going back to basics’ now and again is a pretty good tactic in life and business. It’s certainly one in business communications and PR – as if nothing else it provides a valuable check on whether what you are saying has any resonance with the audience you are saying it to.

Important things like this can and do get forgotten or perhaps just lost in the excitement of a new technology direction.   And that can cost – dearly.

Let’s re-familiarise ourselves with the ‘ideal buyer’

A case in point for me is the semi-forgotten idea of the Buyer Persona. A fancy term, but it’s honestly a real simple idea: before you commence any commercial activity, you need to build up a picture of who the ideal buyer is.

Why is that useful? Well, it’s a fantastic way to really clarify your thinking about what the customer looks like. What is their job title? What kind of challenges do they deal with on a day to day basis? What are their main pain points – what are the issues in their industry right now? What’s the ideal job title of someone we want to get a meeting with, and what does that tell us about the sort of priorities they need to deliver against for their organisation?

You can take this further, like I’ll show in a sec, but these are the absolute must-haves. Sales drives that try and solve every problem in the Universe just won’t get anywhere – it’s too scatter-gun. Trying to sell an enterprise solution to an SMB audience is likely to be ineffective, while talking consumer to a B2B ear will come off wrong, too.

Getting to know you and all about you

If you don’t know what the ideal customer is, then, my contention is you can’t sell to them. But in PR, we need to go even deeper. I’ve seen this done by very skilled facilitators, and it’s a fascinating process; on a whiteboard, you draw a real portrait of these people (there will be more than one) detailing what their education level is, how they might vote, what their motivation to be in the profession or sector is, and so on.

That ‘so on’, crucially, needs to cover off what kinds of media the Ideal Customer likes – where they get their news, who they are influenced by. That’s because it’s there that we need to be visible – that’s the conversation you, the client, needs to be involved in to be seen as relevant.

Isn’t this all a bit hand-wavey, PR indulgent, I hear you ask? Slipping slowly into Siobhan Sharpe’s world here J.  Many times on The Guardian of Your Voice we’ve talked about how the B2B tech world is a little bit egotistical and perhaps doesn’t always focus enough on the customer and what they want from technology – because unless it makes sense for a customer as a way to solve a problem, it’s just irrelevant.

Time was there was some great marketing discipline in the community that meant the Customer Persona build happened before any campaign. But it’s slid out of view a bit as we’ve all gone a bit keen on our shiny media toys.

And that’s a problem – as the explosion in media has meant that there’s so much noise, so much content splashing round out there, that it’s getting harder and harder to get any purchase at all. Which also means, that unfocused, over-general, non-specific stuff that isn’t really meant to lock on to any one job title in any one actual target niche,  just won’t win a hearing at all


Two quick examples. One, as you may remember from a while back, we did some great pro bono work for South Wilts Mencap . There, doing the Customer Persona task was incredibly valuable; I heard some amazing stuff about who the real audiences (plural!) were for what we had to do, and what sensitivities and passions drove some of the stakeholders. Honestly, I couldn’t have done 1/10th of the job I did if I hadn’t had that session.  Armed with this we could craft our communications directly targeting the needs of our customers.

Another one was for a great former client, TotalMobile, where I was privileged to enjoy the output of wonderful Customer Persona building process that was so well informed by relevant examples of real customers, that we ended up with a really useful resource that helped to guide our Marcomms & PR for a long time.


So, to sum up: if you haven’t ever done it, or not done it for a while, perform the exercise – do the work. Go back to basics and ask, with evidence to back up or disprove your assumptions, exactly what your preferred target customer is thinking today.

I think you’ll find it an invaluable tool – one that will really help you communicate with your market as the client better, and work so much more friction-free with the influencer space if you are a PR.

Happy Easter bunnies!


Founder of Digital PR & Brand Journalism agency, Sarum

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