How Well Do You Know Your Customers?

Building customer personas can give your company an edge.
Illustration by Tony Healey

Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates, specializing in brand and marketing strategy. She is also the co-founder of espNOLA, a Hispanic marketing and engagement agency. Learn more at and

My firm has recently finished a couple of projects where we had the chance to work through buyer personas — a process that proved to be both enlightening and somewhat fun. Understanding your customer as more than just a sales amount can help you fine-tune both your marketing and operation. The development of these buyer personas can help you know your customer as the multi-layered humans they are.

In general, personas are fictional, generalized representations of your customers that help you understand them — and prospective customers — better and make it easier for you to tailor marketing efforts to their specific needs, behaviors, and concerns.

Until you undergo a persona-building process, you will never truly understand the nuances of your customer base. Well-crafted personas can have the effect of aiding in the internalization of the customer — almost like knowing a friend, associate or family member. When you know a person well enough, you understand how to communicate with them more effectively and efficiently.

Consider how your business decisions, messages and perhaps your marketing channels might be influenced if you knew:
• What challenges your customers have to overcome;
• When, where and how they spend their time;
• When they are most prone to visit you; and
• The best messages and communications channels to reach them.

The strongest buyer personas are based on insights you gather from an existing database or through research. If you lack this sort of information, start talking to your customers. Whether on your sales floor or through a simple Survey Monkey or Google Forms survey, begin asking the questions that will help you get to know your customers a little better than what you see in your weekly sales reports.

There is also much to be gathered from tools you already have — such as Facebook Insights and customer comments. You can upload a list to Facebook and, thanks to the information the platform already has, your customer profiles can be expanded to include income ranges, spending habits, relationship status, job titles and more. If you’re working on the B2B side, LinkedIn is continuously adding more power to your lists.

Start with some basics, and then add more detail, such as:
• Demographics: Male or female? Age? Children at home or empty-nesters? Where do they live?
• Employment: Employed, retired or independently wealthy? Income range?
• Personality Traits: Life of the party? Always asking for coupons, freebie or discounts? Complainer or fan?
• Daily life: What does a day look like from the time they wake until they close their eyes? What is challenging them every day? Who makes the purchase decisions in the household? What influences those decisions?
• Values and/or fears: What’s important to them? What keeps them up at night?
• What your company adds to their lives: Why are they visiting us? How can we make their visit better or more memorable?
• When do they visit? Can we alter the pattern in any way, like add a day or upsell them in some way?

For more color, you can add common complaints, real quotes and ideal marketing messages (even if the words are not an exact match to the advertising) along with the channels that would reach them most efficiently and effectively.

Finally, I always recommend giving your personas names and faces to make them real to everyone. Print them, and add them to your conference room walls so that your customers are always front and center when decisions and plans are made.

Building customer personas is not a “one-time thing,” it is an activity that should regularly be revisited. Each time I attend a meeting or a conference, I reevaluate my personas to ensure they are still valid or adjust as needed. As competitors enter our markets or economies start to shift, your personas will need reevaluation since demographics and spending habits change over time, as do life stages.