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The Customer Persona, Revisited

Change in business is as inevitable as it is distracting at times.

People change, industries change and technologies change (typically at a pace that can make us feel like cats trapped in a laser tag arena).

Companies of all shapes and sizes make a point to navigate those changes when they see it affect the bottom line. It is far less common to see that happen during a period of sustained growth. In fact, those times present an ideal opportunity to refresh their perspective on customers.

A persona refresh is an ideal exercise to help gain that perspective because it forces you to rethink how you view and communicate with customers. A persona is essentially a fictional representation of a key audience segment, a kind of detailed illustration of your ideal customers and what drives them.

The process of creating (or refreshing) this illustration of your existing audiences can really help ensure that your content and marketing efforts remain relevant and aligned with the evolving needs of your customers.

Take, for example, a recent persona refresh we conducted with a long-standing client who has seen tremendous growth over the last two years. Because their success has expanded reach across a broad potential customer base, the business needs to reassess and evolve how they communicate with and serve these customers.

You can imagine that convincing any company to revisit customer personas when the success gods appear to be smiling instead of smiting isn’t an easy sell.

But regularly revisiting perspective on the customer is one of many reasons successful companies stay that way. In fact, I’d recommend companies revisit this process once per year to see how the audience has evolved.

So, in the spirit of empowering your business to regularly revisit the land of customer understanding, here are a few reasons why a regular persona refresh can be a valuable investment.

Get “fresh eyes” on existing customer groups

Often, the first stab at creating personas nets a pretty “birds-eye” view of how customers might be segmented. It isn’t until you have sufficient interaction with customers (both in person and online) that the view begins to zoom in to a degree that can be leveraged.

A customer persona refresh forces your company to pump the brakes on those original assumptions about who your customers are and how their needs can be best met.

Incentivize “customer-facing” teams to share insights

This is a perfect opportunity to create a healthy dialogue between sales and marketing to see where initial understanding of customers might have evolved (especially if this didn’t happen the first time), and to determine if both teams are speaking the same language when it comes to serving them.

Each department interacts with the customer from a unique angle (i.e. in person vs. online), so this conversation identifies blind spots in perspective.

See the gaps in your existing strategy

So much of marketing falls into a reactive pattern — when sales reach this point, we will do XYZ. Refocusing attention on customer personas gives your company a magnifying glass to see potential gaps in your existing marketing strategy. You’ll often notice opportunities that you hadn’t seen before simply because you weren’t looking through the right lens.

After the aforementioned client persona refresh, our team immediately identified a necessary shift in messaging that forced us to take a hard look at their website architecture and copy. Specifically, we saw a need to shift from the existing “program-driven” experience on the website to more of an “audience-centric” approach.

The shift meant both messaging and site structure (especially the home page) would need a face lift, but the bigger revelation was how this shift would impact content marketing and social strategy, and how we might have missed the opportunity if we hadn’t revisited these customer personas.

Shine a light on customer success

While it’s no mystery that using customer testimonials can be a powerful method of persuasion, we don’t always see these success stories surface unless a specific campaign push or a brand refresh calls for it.

Marketers often find themselves scrambling to dig up customer testimonials right at the moment they want to leverage them. Scheduling a customer persona refresh will give visibility to ongoing positive feedback with (hopefully) more than just the marketing team in the room.

The truth is, business and the marketers that love them are already tasked with constantly adapting to new technology and new communication platforms. Doesn’t it make sense to be equally prepared and diligent in adapting to changing customers, too?