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4 steps to uncovering the personas behind your brand

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Jack Holt
Jack Holt is co-founder and CEO of Mattr. Mattr is easily accessible software that segments brands' social audience with personality analysis. Jack founded S3 Matching Technologies in... More

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Do you know who your customers are? You probably know their age, gender, and location — you might even know their shopping habits or their favorite stores. But do you really know them?

Ten years ago, basic demographic information might have been enough, but in the age of big data, businesses need to dig deeper.

Right now, marketing platforms can help you personalize where and how you target ads, and social networks can show you who’s following you, re-pinning your pins, or liking your posts. That’s a start, but it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter: What’s the right thing to say? And where’s the right place to say it?

These days, brands aren’t just compiling numbers and statistics to get to know their customers. Innovative companies are investing in “personas”: full, honest descriptions of a specific type of person. When you identify your audience in this way, it’s much easier to tailor your messaging to resonate with these specific people.

Dissecting customer personas

What makes a persona? A persona is the difference between an awkward date that ends in a mumbled “bye” and an evening where you talk all night and leave feeling as though you’ve known that person your entire life. A persona tells you about your customers’ personality, interests, likes and dislikes, and media consumption.

Based on an analysis of the energy drink’s Twitter engagement, Red Bull has two main male personas as its followers: “daring” men ages 18 to 24 and “sophisticated” men ages 25 to 34. We can also tell that Red Bull’s daring fans favor news media from Bleacher Report and Deadspin, while their sophisticated followers prefer BuzzFeed and Complex.

Red Bull knows these daring types respond to new and exciting things, and they’re turned off by mass appeal and corporate speak. Sophisticated types, on the other hand, respond to celebrity, wit, and confidence.

From reviewing the kinds of media they consume, we have a better idea of exactly what would pique their interest and what wouldn’t. So does Red Bull. Can you think of better words to describe the brand responsible for a world-famous “space jump” than “exciting” and “confident”?

Discover the people behind your brand

Now, thanks to big data, the most successful brand strategists and product designers don’t just know who their customers are. They also know what makes them tick, and they can empathize with exactly what they want — and don’t want.

You can accomplish this for your brand, too. Here are a few ways to start:

1. Find out who’s engaging with you and who isn’t. You have two kinds of fans: engagers and under-engagers. Under-engagers are people who’ve shown an interest — by retweeting, sharing, or using hashtags relevant to your brand — but they’re not brand advocates yet. Make it your mission to find out two things about these fans: Who are they, and what do they follow?

2. Uncover their interests: Once you’ve figured out the basics about your brand fans (gender, age, and location), invest in social media analysis to dig into their interests. This is where building your brand persona begins. What do these people like? Why are they invested in your brand? Answer all these questions and more until you build a well-rounded outline (or several) of your average fans.

3. Create stories: Use your newfound knowledge to choose stories that will resonate with your personas. Keep an eye out for surprises in your under-engagers’ demographics. These unexpected insights will win you credit with your customers and drive results.

4. Target the right media: Make media buys that are mutually exclusive to your target personas as much as possible so you can feed them different stories with less risk. For Mustang brand fans, for example, the media would be Motor Trend or Car and Driver. But for the brand’s under-engagers, Mustang might target Mashable or The Onion.

When you engage in a way that’s authentic, thoughtful, and tailored to your customers’ interests, you’re creating a connection that builds brand loyalty. The more you know about your customers, the more you can talk to them as fellow humans, rather than numbers in an analytics dashboard.

So who are your customers, and how are you going to use personas to speak to them in a more memorable way?